Politics.co.uk Blog

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

In response to Leo McKinstry and the Daily Mail

So there I was enjoying my Christmas, in fact I'd just been to the cinema, to see Avatar before you ask and yes it was rather good, when I was confronted with the front page of yesterday's Daily Mail on the Tube.

Now there are plenty of things I find offensive in this world but I suspect the Daily Mail comes very near the top of the list. Mostly because I am unable to escape it and its racist, bigotted downright stupid uttterances and the people that work for it.

Here's the peach of a sentence that was plastered just underneath the masthead of yesterday's paper:

"A country that reveres such junkies as Kate Moss has no right to lecture China on its drugs policy".

Let's leave aside the Kate Moss reference. Oh, don't get me wrong I hope she sues the Mail. She'd win in a heartbeat but she's a big girl and can take care of herself she doesn't need me to defend her.

That leaves me with the rest of what might laughably be referred to as an opinion peice by Leo McKinstry, who when he's not defamining Kate Moss is claiming that Akmal Shaikh was not mentally ill, had a checkered financial history, sexually harrassed women and a multitude of other crimes which ultimately led to his death.

One quick listen to the "pop song" Shaikh recorded should tell amyone that the man was barking mad but I suspect McKinstry didn't bother with doing even the basic research that would have led him to have heard the song.

McKinstry reckons the British government could learn a thing or two from the hardline approach of China to crime and human rights. If we gave less regard to human rights we'd have less crime, he argues. He also accuses Labour of downgradging the classification of cannabis and cocaine. Oh and this beauty: execution is actually compassionate because you are protecting the majority of law abiding citizens from the scum that take drugs and commit crime. There are few times when I lift my eyes to heaven and thank God but on this occasion I did just that and thanked a non-existent deity that Leo McKinstry is nowhere near the reigns of power.

I know the trend is to ignore the Daily Mail. For some reason everyone seems far more concerned about The Sun because, of course, The Sun gives us hard news rather than just celebrity gossip these days. I think the tactic is a bit odd as, well, its like dealing with the school bully: ignore him and he'll go away.

Me, I'm far too concerned about the Daily Mail and I can't ignore a newspaper that had a once glorious history as the first tabloid newspaper in Britain which truly represented the working classes and which has utterly lost its way in the desperate pursuit of circulation.

And part of my concern is the number of women that read the Mail. See, it used to be that the Mail's readership was largely female, middle-aged and most likely to vote Tory at the next election. You know the type: the blue rinse brigade. Well hell if the Mail can let Mckinstry call Kate Moss a junkie because she was once caught on camera snorting cocaine I reckon I can get away with defaming an entire section of society. I'm not Rod Liddle, I'm just making a sweeping generalisation I'm sure any Daily Mail reader might appreciate. Anyway, it's not these women I'm concerned about: they're the hard core of the Conservative vote anyway. They're also usually married to men that read the Telegraph and whatever the Telegraph might think of the Mail it can hardly pretend it and the Mail aren't cut from the same cloth.

No, my concern is the casual Daily Mail reader that could be influenced by the newspaper because the Mail is so rabidly right wing these days. It's like our version of Fox news. I suspect that Rupert Murdoch is actually pretty envious of the Daily Mail as it has taken the ground he would love one of his newspapers to take. The only problem being that if say The Sun did take that sort of stance on issues and concentrated less on the celebs it would lose more readers and he can't afford that at the moment. And if you're wonderinjg how I know this, well let's just say I have my sources.

I do think however that long term this self appointed guardian of British morality is - thankfully - fighting a losing battle. After all, look at the reaction to Jan Moir's article about Stephen Gately recently; although she wasn't sacked more's the pity. And I suspect had Mckinstry written his article at any other time than the Christmas holidays he would have been jumped on by the bleeding heart liberals that he hates so much just as quickly.

I would also question how is it that Leo McKinstry is a jobbing journalist? No seriously, how does this man get work? Especially when there are so many good journalists out there struggling to get work at the moment. From a purely journalistic point of view this is one of the most poorly researched commment pieces I've ever read. He claims that government policy on drugs has led to an increase in crime because it's not tough enough on offenders. If he'd bothered to take a look at any evidence at all then he'd know that it's because drugs are illegal that we have some crime rates at the level we do. There is a great deal of evidence that supports making drugs legal, taxble and controlled because that would cut crime by anything up to 50%. Don't believe me? That's fair enough but have a read of the piece by my colleague Ian Dunt, who put the case for legalising drugs much more eloquently and in a much more thoroughly researched comment peice than I suspect McKinstry is ever likely to be capable of: The case for legalising drugs.

McKinstry even tries to make the case for the death penalty comparing 1950's Britain with Britain today and claiming that there were only 180 murders a year in the 1950's compared to around 900 a year today. Of course, he claims the death penalty was responsible for the low murder rate in the UK in the 1950's. It had nothing to do with the reduced male population under the age of 40 thanks to the Second World War. And of couse, the death penalty works fantastically well in the United States doesn't it Leo? Oh yes and let's not forget the British government was wrong to ask for clemency for one of its own citizens on death row.

According to McKinstry;

"The hysteria over Shaikh's death penalty echoes the preposterous outcry in 2002 over another British man who was executed by a foreign government.

"A career thug, drug addict and alcoholic, Tracy Housel was put to death by the U.S. state of Georgia for raping and killing a woman, Jeanne Drew, whose body was so badly battered she could be identified only by dental records."

Did you maybe forget the fact that China is still a totalitarian state in which the vast majority of the population keep their heads down because "justice" is swift and merciless? Since when did China stop being a one party dictatorship Leo?

Not to mention the fact that he has the cheek to criticise the government for working on behalf of two British passport holders. I really hope that one day you find yourself in a foreign country - maybe Dubai or Saudi Arabia - up a certain creek without a paddle, just your passport and the desperate need for help from the British government you seem so keen to condemn. Oh except I forgot, you'd expect help from the British embassy - you're white.

And let there be no mistake. The death penalty is not compassionate to anyone. But then I'd love to see whether you had the guts to pull the trigger, administer the lethal injection or strap another human being into the electric chair. I suspect you're full of....... hot air, you're the kid at school who would egg someone else on to do something then do a runner the moment you spotted the teacher coming round the corner without warning your mates.

Tell the Birmingham Six or the Guildford Four or any number of people that have suffered a miscarriage of justice that the death penalty - which would have taken their lives for crimes they didn't commit - is compassionate, you prat!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Why journalists hate expenses

It's not just MPs who are sick of stories about their expenses. Journalists aren't particularly keen, either.

This was a trend detectable within the Palace of Westminster a long time ago. "I don't care," one moaned in August, as he recalled the weeks of rooting through forms for titbits of unallowable allowances.

Since then the scandal has dragged on. Most hacks had got over the trauma of this scandal to end all administrative scandals.

Today it has come back to haunt them, with devastating effect.

Most appeared at their desks, bright and early this morning. Up popped the claims on parliament's website. They got to work, rooting - in electronic form - through the forms all over again.

By mid-afternoon most have a glazed look on their eyes, a numbed sort of blankness. There have been some corkers unearthed - the best is undisputably a bell-tower refurbishment - but most are utterly exhausted.

The hacks have had enough. And, in even more bad news for MPs, they're determined to take it out on their elected representatives.

At lunchtimes the atrium of Portcullis House, where MPs gather for coffees and meals, was filled with the sound of little children singing Christmas carols.

None expressed the slightest flicker of interest. All hunched past, absorbed in their own world of expenses ordure.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Brown's karaoke clampdown

The prime minister's temper is infamous along Whitehall, but his criticisms come in many forms. Sometimes an item of stationery whizzing through the air is the preferred method of censure, so scurrilous types report. Sometimes the criticism is of a more jovial kind.

Formula One champion Jenson Button has, perhaps, received the lowest level of criticism possible. Gordon Brown's spokesman helped elucidate what this would entail in his Monday morning lobby briefing for journalists.

The prime minister, we were told, was due to present Button with an award at the British Racing Drivers' club. He was to congratulate Button and "gently tease him" over his rendition of We Are The Champions in the immediate euphoric aftermath of his World Championship victory.

Brown in avuncular mood is always worth savouring. So long as Button doesn't become a civil servant and make any disastrous blunders with Treasury figures he should be alright. It doesn't seem likely, does it?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

MPs go clubbing

It's not a joke. Officials at the Home Affairs select committee just confirmed to me that its members are planning on going clubbing as part of their investigation into Class A drugs.

Media reports that they were taking soundings on where to go are only half true. They're not, because they already have. Who provided the advice? I asked. 'The staff here, and the police.'

Now the police make sense if you're looking for the most druggy club in London I suppose, although, if that's the case, why did they ask their staff as well? On the other hand, if they're just looking for a fun place, I can understand why they might ask their young staff members – but not why they'd ask the police.

The police are literally the very last people you ask for directions to a fun night out. There's my mother of course, who - as far as I know - has never been clubbing in her life, but the shortlist is, well… short.

I once met a bloke called Ketamine Pete, who only allowed fruit, water and ketamine to pass through his body. They could give him a ring.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Brown romps home

Gordon Brown is getting better and better.

The prime minister won today's exchanges with David Cameron hands down. When the leader of the opposition made a decent point, Brown made a scathing one. When Cameron trotted out the same old soundbites, Brown came up with new ones. Best of all, the PM looked like he was having a good time.

It's a fascinating tradition, and about the least predictable shift you could possibly have imagined. Is this the same prime minister who was forced into a last-gasp emergency reshuffle back in the spring? As one lobby colleague said, "it's only one poll". But it seems to be doing Brown a world of good.

If the momentum continues to shift in this way we might end up with a much more interesting election campaign than many feared.

As George Osborne signalled in his speech to the Conservative conference, it looks like the fight for power will become deeply personal. Fortunately for Labour, it seems Brown is prepared to give as good as he gets.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Don't mention the special forces

Usually politicians are keen on round numbers. £100,000 of funding here, 250 new hospitals there. But there are some occasions when the 99p approach is more appropriate.

Gordon Brown's statement on Afghanistan is one such occasion. Britain has 9,500 troops now committed to the country, we were told. That much-vaunted figure has in fact been the subject of two statements, not one, for today was merely a confirmation of the figure initially proposed last month. It's certainly sticking in the headlines.

But it's not quite true, is it? In fact the total number of British forces is slightly higher. So high our troop levels have increased from a four-figure to a five-figure amount.

"For understandable reasons of operational security, we shall continue to withhold
information about their deployment and the nature of activities of our special forces," Brown said.

"I believe the British people have a right to know and deserve the assurance that our highly professional widely respected and extraordinarily brave special forces are playing their full role not only in force protection but in taking the fight directly to the Taleban, working in theatre alongside our regular forces. And I want the whole country to pay tribute to them.

"Taking into account these special forces, their supporting troops and the increases announced today our total military effort in Afghanistan will be in excess of 10,000 troops."

Today's statement shows Brown's commitment to Afghanistan - but also his nervousness about public sensitivities towards the struggle against the Taliban.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The X (in my ballot box please) Factor

Here's a guest post from politics.co.uk's own Jonathan Moore:

In what can only be described as the latest indicator of British politics' slow march into the populist gutter, the Conservatives launched a new campaign poster last night featuring Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling superimposed onto an image of Jedward, immediately after the Irish twins were voted off the X Factor.

To compound this monkey-see-monkey-do approach to political campaigning – attempting to appeal to the 'yoof' vote by associating politics and politicians with whatever happens to be on the tele at the time – the poster doesn't even make a great deal of sense and can only be described as an offensive assault on the intellect of the British public.

The tagline "Jedward are gone but we're still left with… Deadwood" is embarrassing to say the least; uninspired, lazy and insulting to add a little more detail.

If they have any excuse – they don't – the Conservatives can point to the fact that they didn't start this latest round of vomit-inducing pandering. This poster is, in fact, a response to a Labour campaign from a fortnight ago depicting Cameron and Osborne as John and Edward with the line "You won't be laughing if they win".

Quite apart from the disgrace of political parties jumping on the bandwagon of a hate campaign against a couple of teenagers, if this is the level and quality of how this election campaign is going to be fought then it's going to be a long march to May 2010.

A cursory glance at the major films to be released around election time next year shows two major sequels: Iron Man 2 and Oliver Stone's follow up to his 1987 hit Wall Street, Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. After these two posters, expect campaigns depicting Gordon 'the Iron Man chancellor' Brown protecting us all from financial despair and either Osborne or Darling as a "greed is good" Gordon Gekko. God help us all.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Megrahi clings on

Families and friends of the 270 Lockerbie bombing victims will be tapping their watches impatiently today. The only man convicted of Britain's worst ever terrorist attack remains alive.

The diplomatic storm which followed his release on August 20th was bad enough. But, from today, Scottish justice minister Kenny MacAskill's judgments starts getting more and more embarrassing.

Medical advice cited by Mr MacAskill stated Megrahi's life expectancy was around three months.

Now he's survived that date pressure will begin to grow for him to - well, for him to die.

Labour MSP Richard Simpson knows more than most how delicate the situation is.

As a prostate disease specialist in his former life as a doctor, he's especially well qualified to demand regular independent updates on the bomber's health.

"That should be something simple saying whether he is doing well or not," he told the Scotsman.

"I think the public are interested to know whether the original advice about his life expectancy was correct or not."

As the days pass by, more and more people will begin to feel like Megrahi is cheating justice.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Osborne takes it personally

The remarkable thing about George Osborne is how personally he takes it.

Watching the Tory front bench yesterday while Cameron eviscerated the Queen's Speech, it was amusing to note how tragically transparent Conservative's faces are.

To his left, William Hague and Sir George Young watched over the Commons like angels on the gates of a cemetery. Hague had a smile plastered on his face throughout, and he sat quite still, almost zen-like. He gives the sense of reliability somehow. Sir George never looked up from the ceiling. He looked as if he should have a post-coital cigarette. We were informed today he was the man who had a phone call with Sir Christopher Kelly yesterday. When? No-one's really sure. If it was before the Speech was delivered, it would be considered naughty.

Ken Clarke looked perturbed, and interestingly, he looked most perturbed when glancing at Cameron. I was reminded of Sir Edward Heath's analysis of William Hague while he watched the then-Tory leader destroy Tony Blair at the despatch box. Apparently, he turned to Charles Kennedy and whispered: "Such a vulgar little man." I don't agree, really, but I very much enjoy that he said it.

But most interesting of all was George Osborne. Every joke by Cameron he laughed boisterously at – even genuinely. Every attack on Cameron, he stared at the MP like a vicious dog protecting its owners. He is a shadow of his leader, replicating Cameron's inner thoughts. It's obvious these two are close. But yesterday they looked like Romulus and Remus.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Another grassroots victory

The Labour party's new party political broadcast isn't, it turns out, so new after all.

'Fighting and believing', which presents Gordon Brown's policies in the same tradition as the suffragette campaign for women's votes and the creation of the NHS, was initially broadcast to the Labour party conference before the prime minister's leader's speech.

There it would have stayed, if it wasn't for a bright idea from an activist known to the Twitterati as BevaniteEllie.

Her campaign quickly gathered pace, leading to its adoption as the Labour party's Queen's Speech PPB this evening.

"Funny what can happen when you put your mind to something isn't it?" she wrote on her blog.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

They didn't mention the war. Neither will I

It's good to see that, on this day of all days, Anglo-German relations are slightly better than they were 91 years ago.

New German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has popped across the North Sea for a quiet dinner with the foreign secretary this evening.

In a press conference taking place, in time-honoured fashion, 20 minutes late in the Foreign Office, the pair exchanged the usual compliments. Mr Westerwelle, according to Mr Miliband, is a "strong European and a strong internationalist". Mr Miliband was told bilateral relations were "excellent" and that Germany and Britain were "genuine partners, genuine friends".

As is always the case, personal relations between the pair are analysed carefully. Feedback, apparently caused by their interpreter headsets being placed too close to the microphones, provided an opportunity for awkwardness.

"I think it's a trick!" Mr Westerwelle exclaimed, apropos of nothing. Perhaps bilateral relations were about to take a turn for the worse.

Mr Miliband, somewhat baffled and just about to mention Tony Blair, tried to make light of the situation. "You think this is designed to stop me mentioning the TB word," he said, with the air of a theatrical impresario trying to convince the audience nothing is going wrong.

"No - I think it is to force me to speak English!" Mr Westerwelle replied. It was an embarrassing, self-deprecating remark of the kind the Foreign Office is not accustomed to from foreign diplomats. Perhaps over dinner Mr Miliband will be able to offer some kindly words of advice.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Iain Dale takes on the Daily Mail

Interesting post from Tory blogger Iain Dale yesterday. Dale is one of those people who occupies an important place in the area where politics and the internet meet – so much so that you forget, when talking to outside friends, that he's not really known at all in the population at large. It's a curious, very focused sort of celebrity that he inhabits.

Personally, I've always had time for him. I frequently disagree with his conclusions, but I always got the impression he was a gentleman.

So it's disappointing, and entirely unsurprising, that the Daily Mail wrote this about him:

"Overtly gay Tory blogger Iain Dale has reached the final stage of parliamentary selection for Bracknell, telling PinkNews: 'I hope any PinkNews readers who live in Bracknell will come to the open primary on October 17 to select their new candidate.

You don't even have to be a Conservative to attend.'

Isn't it charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause?"

Dale reported the newspaper to the Press Complaints Commission for this little titbit, and yesterday it found against him:

"The complaint seemed to be that describing him as 'overtly gay' at the same time as saying it was 'charming how homosexuals rally like-minded chaps to their cause' was spiteful to the point of homophobia. This was a more subtle and subjective charge against the newspaper.

In coming to a conclusion on the matter, the Commission had to have regard to the context in which the remarks were made. They appeared in a diary column which is well known for its mischievous – and sometimes self-consciously fusty – remarks that poke fun at the antics of public figures. The piece followed the complainant’s own comments to PinkNews – a news website aimed at gay people – about his attempt to secure the nomination in Bracknell. It may have been an uncharitable account of the complainant’s position – and any intended humour may have been lost on some readers – but the item appeared to be relevant to the news, and to fit into the column’s style, rather than constitute an arbitrary attack on him on the basis of his sexuality.

This might strike some as a fine distinction to make, but where it is debatable – as in this case – about whether remarks can be regarded solely as pejorative and gratuitous, the Commission should be slow to restrict the right to express an opinion, however snippy it might be."

Before I go any further, I should mention I used to work for PinkNews, just because if I don’t someone else invariably will. On the other hand, I'm not gay or Tory and neither of those facts discredit my opinion either. It seems to me the PCC got this one right. Coming from the Mail, of all newspapers, you can just smell the sneering mean-spiritedness of the overtones clinging on to the copy. Dale felt they were insinuating, and I would have probably come to the same conclusion. But….

I have another disclosure I feel I should make. I made a couple of retweets on the Jan Moir article the other day, which ended up causing such a palaver she was forced to make one of those sort-of apologies. The article just irritated me in a big way. But afterwards, surveying the wreckage, I didn’t feel very proud of myself. It felt like we'd just closed down debate a little. That's unfortunate, even when the sentiment is ugly and sad. I think probably the same is true here. It's wise of the PCC to take account of the tone of the piece. We need to be wary of this new PC censorship, even if I am much more sympathetic to its values than the Mary Whitehouse school that came before.

Dale says something interesting at the end of his post: "I can but live in hope that the Daily Mail will think twice before writing such tosh in the future." Perhaps these appeals to PCC will achieve that. It's one of those weird situations where Dale behaved correctly in complaining and the PCC behaved correctly in rejecting it. Everything behaved exactly as it should, and it's not often you can say that in Britain right now.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Miliband's European future?

Here's a guest post from politics.co.uk's own Emmeline Saunders:

Has David Miliband already accepted the European foreign secretary role he was hotly tipped for?

Senior Labour figures seem to think so. Rumours abound today that the Blairite foreign secretary will be announced as a European representative within the next fortnight, even though his mentor's hopes of assuming the presidency of the European council have faded.

Despite his ardent insistence last week that he was "not available" for the post, Labour sources say he has already taken up the offer.

And, in a deliciously smooth New Labour coup, Mandelson could soon be settling back into the green seats of power with a triumphant beam writ large on his face.

If, or when, Miliband announces his new job, he will have to stand down as constituency MP for South Shields, triggering a by-election. Mandy's old stomping ground Hartlepool borders the constituency, so it is widely expected that the business secretary will contest the Labour safe seat, and could even wrestle the reins of control from Brown after what is sure to be a dire election for Labour.

A Labour source told politics.co.uk that Mandelson will keep the leadership seat warm for one term only, before resuming his position as kingmaker and all-round smoothie and handing over to Miliband, who is bound to have come back from his gap-term suitably tanned and raring to go.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said today she had not heard that Miliband had accepted the job, but there has not been an out-and-out denial from the minister's people.

He became a serious contender to the EU's first high representative for foreign policy role last week, with his name put forward on a shortlist which also included √Člisabeth Guigou, a former French Socialist Europe minister.

Brown and Miliband were involved in a tense exchange at a Brussels press conference when they were asked about the shortlist of candidates. Brown quickly dismissed rumours that Miliband had been proposed for the job.

"Let me just say, I have been at the meeting," the prime minister said. "That was not their decision, just let me tell you. Also if there is a shortlist I am sure David would be on it because he has excellent qualifications. But he doesn't want to be on it. And indeed there is no such list."

Miliband laughed off the suggestion, and replied: "Not available, as the prime minister said."

The new post and the presidency of the European council are expected to be filled in the next month, as the Lisbon treaty has now been ratified by the Czech government. EU officials want both jobs to be operational by January 1st.

No 10 would be most put out if a senior minister was perceived as bailing out before a horrendous Labour defeat. Miliband has distanced himself from the position, but has never ruled himself out, yet he was seen to be canvassing for the post when he was delivering speeches on how to campaign for a global Europe.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Harry Potter readers and the chamber of kids

The Commons is one of the most childish places in the country, so you'd think children would fit right in.

In fact the opposite is the case. As is being seen today, members of the Youth Parliament are far more grown-up than their adult counterparts.

MPs might talk as if the chamber is sacrosanct, but the reality is very different. Most days, when the cameras are far away, they sprawl across the green benches like there's no tomorrow. They shout and heckle each other. Some have even been known to break wind.

Our squeaky-clean MYPs, by contrast, are treating the day as an extra-special treat. They are inevitably awed by their surroundings, in much the same way the very squeaky-clean Chloe Smith behaved on her first appearance in the chamber. Sitting on the green benches is a privilege of historic proportions. They take things seriously as a result.

Of course most of these learned individuals are, ultimately, children. They can therefore be safely pigeon-holed as serial Harry Potter readers.

It would be interesting to find out what percentage of them make a comparison between the Palace of Westminster and Hogwarts. politics.co.uk's educated guess: 100 per cent.

That's probably what these bright sparks get in their end-of-term exams.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Daily Mail does it again!

It's got to be tough going working for the Daily Mail, I genuinely feel sorry for the hacks that work there. They must find the place soul destroying.

While I'd usually shy away from having a go at any media institution or newspaper, I've long held a hatred for the Mail borne as much out of personal experience - no I'm not going to share what it was - as out of a genuine dislike for the things it promotes.

Therefore imagine my delight when I came across this gem on the guardian website.

Compare and contrast these two images for instance: (The top one is the Daily Mail's image)




Did you spot the (ahem! deliberate?) mistake?

It seems the Daily Shame has been at it again. Not only doctoring the Question Time leaflet to create a story for the main paper and its website to enable it to have yet another go at auntie but doing such a bad job of it that once again it gets caught out. Why oh why does it bother? It takes political point scoring to a new low when a paper as crass as the Mail attempts to accuse the BBC of manipulation and then can't even do the job properly itself!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

It's that tie again

Far be it from me to lower politics to mere fripperies. But did anyone remember the last time they saw David Cameron wearing his bright purple tie?

The Conservative leader was sporting the very natty number during his first press conference since the Tories' autumn conference earlier this month.

He had been wearing it, or something very similar, when he made his rather sombre speech to the party faithful in Manchester. So it seemed a bit strange that he chose to don the same tie for his biggest outing for the media since then.

The circumstances couldn't have been more different. There is nothing more all-embracing than the buildup to a leader's conference speech, nothing more that raises the leader to demi-god status (at least in the way he's treated). As a journalist you're lucky to get within 50 yards of him.

What a contrast with the quiet little club in St James' where Cameron met reporters this morning. The questions on Europe kept on coming, the pressure over what to do if the Lisbon treaty is ratified built and built.

Up close and personal, Cameron's choreographed conference speech seemed long gone.
Here's my favourite quote, on the Lisbon treaty's potential ratification: "If that circumstance comes to pass, a new set of circumstances will exist."

He wouldn't have said that in Manchester, would he? At least the tie provides a bit of continuity.

Monday, 26 October 2009

More work for Wilberforce's heirs

Last week, in the wake of the super-injunction storm, ministers pointed out that just because an Act was passed in the 19th century doesn't mean it has suddenly stopped applying.

Usually legislation, helped along by common law, can just about get by. But it turns out the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 is in need of a fundamental shake-up. Today the Lords is voting on whether to expand its remit, or not.

It seems strange that William Wilberforce's work is not yet done. Yet that is what Liberty and Anti Slavery International are arguing. "The current law does not adequately protect the human rights of victims," they state. It's the 21st century, and yet there is no stand-alone law which clearly states that those who can't escape from working for little or no pay deserve the right to freedom.

Forced labour, 'servitude', virtual labour - call it what you like, it's a problem which needs urgently fixing. Updating the law, through the coroners and justice bill, might seem like a theoretical, academic step to take. But Liberty reports police are reluctant to help those who run to them for help. It's up to peers to help remove that reluctance - and help those in need.

Liberty have an excellent briefing on the situation here.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Griffin fallout – does that sound bad?

Hmm. Griffin's fallout. Doesn’t sound great exactly, but when the fallout is as good as this, it's worth it.

We're still dealing with the after-effects (that's much better) of last night's Question Time appearance by BNP leader Nick Griffin. What kind of after-effects? you might ask. Not the political, obviously. Heaven forbid. Far more important is the lack of sleep. After 12 hours of solid live blogging, and a 17 hour stint covering events, politics.co.uk is feeling a little battered. That didn’t stop Alex doing an interview with Australian radio this morning, or me chatting to a cultural programme on Canadian radio this afternoon. It's impressive how much international attention the show, and the protests against it, received.

One thing the party conferences teach you: how to give a radio interview while hallucinating from fatigue. That's a precious skill, right there.

On a lighter note, check out this little gem from legendary audio sampler Cassetteboy. Just in case anyone wants to sue us for chucking this on – it's for laughs. No one is suggesting Griffin said any of this. This is not what Nick Griffin really said.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The most prominent rod in the land

Every so often journalists in parliament's press gallery treat themselves to a pleasant lunch, where illustrious speakers from the world of politics lecture them on this and that. Today the lucky few enjoyed the words of wisdom of the former Black Rod, Lt Gen Sir Michael Willcocks, who completely failed to avoid making phallus jokes about his title.

Sir Michael, reflecting on his eight years in the role, has few regrets. He avoided the advice of Labour peer Margaret Jay that he was "far too good for this job" and viewed the opportunity to wear a "bloody silly uniform" as a mere extension of his previous military career.

At one stage the apparently never-ending stream of anecdotes threatened to pause, as he touched on "recent events" - the unveiling of a little bit of corruption here, expenses fiddling there. "We're now tainted and I think the country has lost complete trust in the whole system." He added: "The momentum for reform is now unstoppable. The question is what form the reforms will take."

All this reform appeared a little much, so it was back to the usual cut and thrust of story after story after story. At least, having hung up his black rod for good, he knows his successor is in for a pretty easy time of it.

"All you do is knock on the door and walk backwards," he said modestly. Not a bad way to pass the time of day.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Messirs Clegg, Cameron and Brown

The press pack was in full attendance today for Brown, Cameron and Clegg's appearance in front of the Speaker's conference on diversity in parliament.

I've gone into the serious details here and here and I've jabbered on almost entirely without meaning here.

But there's something else worth noting, which is how utterly lovely John Bercow appears. He must have a collection of children's feet underneath the bed or something because his demeanour is so all-encompassing in its friendliness that it's difficult to believe he has ever set foot in parliament. I didn't see him talk to anyone without smiling genuinely.

Could this really be the man who was once more right wing than Genghis Khan – and why do we use this Genghis Khan phrase anyway? Just because he slaughtered all those people? Doesn't seem right somehow. Perhaps he's just defending himself against a future regicide along the lines of Michael Martin.

Regardless. In a place full of broken facial expressions, subdued principles, and very pleasant indeed. I noted all this while sitting in the Boothroyd room, by the way. Might we one day reflect on him with the same warmth? Time will tell.

Friday, 16 October 2009

X-Factor politics has gone mad!

So there I am on the train into work flicking through the Metro when I come across this little gem: Kirstie Allsopp set to join House of Lords.

No I'm not kidding. The paper tells us the 36-year-old Location, Location, Location star - daughter of Charles Henry, 6th Baron Hindlip – will be elevated to the House of Lords by David Cameron should he become prime minister next year.

Now I'm no Kirstie hater. I'm really not. In fact I genuinely think she's quite lovely but I'd really like to know what Chris Grayling thinks of this appointment.

After his rather public gaffe over the appointment of former Army chief Sir Richard Dannatt at last week's Conservative party conference he's probably going to keep schtum. But nonetheless this seems like a headline grabbing – yet ultimately pointless - appointment. What's Kirstie going to advise the government on? The best drapes to hang in Number 10?

This is a woman who, bless her, knows nothing about scrutinising the laws of this country. And in case I'm mistaken I was somewhat under the impression that was the job of the House of Lords. This might sound somewhat snooty to some people but honestly it's not. When Kirstie Allsopp came out against Home Information Packs two years ago she was asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme to justify why she thought they were a bad idea. It was a train wreck!! She basically just kept saying 'Hips bad', without being able to put together a cogent argument.

David Cameron is going to be treading on thin ice if he appoints people like Miss Allsopp as government advisers. Personally I'm with Grayling on this one - it just looks like another publicity stunt that if there's any justice in the world will blow up in the Tory leader's face. Hasn't he himself criticised Gordon Brown's 'government of all the talents' nonsense before. Yet he chooses to ape him. Worst still, according to the Metro Allsopp is close friends with the Cameron's and "mixes in the same social circles". If that's true then we can already begin to get an idea of what the Conservative government is going to look like and it ain't good.

I'm fairly certain that the current government suffers from nepotism and there have been plenty of accusations of cronyism. But if you're trying to get elected on a platform of change this isn't the way to go about it. I don't mind the likes of John Major being elevated to the House of Lords. That's perfectly acceptable. After all, plenty of former prime ministers have been elevated to the Lords.

But the revelation that the Miss Allsopp is part of a list of twenty people drawn up by PR firm Mandate after speaking to MPs at their recent party conference is very disturbing as is the below quote:

'As they prepare for a difficult first year in power, the Conservatives are planning to use Lords appointments to sprinkle some star dust on their front bench,' said Fiona Mason, Mandate's managing director of political affairs.

Stardust? Stardust? It's not bloody X-factor!!!!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Carter Ruck tries to justify itself

Lawyers Carter Ruck sent a rather interesting little letter to Speaker John Bercow today.

After a week which saw its reputation badly damaged, its conduct reported to the Law Society and Gordon Brown promise to clear up the area of super-injunctions because of its behaviour, the firm decided to clear things up with the political authorities.

It all began when it launched an injunction against the Guardian trying to stop the newspaper from covering a parliamentary question. Well, almost. Actually the injunction was against coverage of a confidential, but super-embarrassing report involving their clients Trafigura. Trafigura, you may remember, just paid out for dumping toxic slops in the Ivory Coast. But with an MP about to mention the report in a parliamentary question, Carter Ruck decided it applied to coverage of the question too. The only problem being of course, that parliament represents the British people and contains its elected representatives. Apparently, that's not important.

Anyway, if you care to see how someone may wish to justify that sort of thing, have a look at this.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Thanks, Silvio

England's debt of gratitude for one very special Italian is, as I speak, being piled higher and higher this evening.

I don't mean Fabio Cappello, of course, despite his magnificent efforts in getting England through to the finals of the World Cup in South Africa.

No - I mean Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, who has very graciously endorsed Tony Blair's candidacy to be president of the newly revamped European Commission.

Blair was great pals with Berlusconi when the former was in Downing Street and so the endorsement in itself is no surprise.

What is up for debate is the extent to which Blair's campaign will be boosted by Berlusconi's backing against EU arch-bore Jean-Claude Juncker.

The Italian PM, who has had a torrid 2009 defending himself against all manner of sex scandal allegations, now finds himself facing prosecution while in office.

Could it be his endorsement is the kiss of death for Blair? How will the uncertain Angela Merkel react? All Europe is on tenterhooks.

And anyway - has anyone asked Blair whether he endorses Berlusconi? We suspect the former prime minister wouldn't offer much more in response than a cringeworthy "no comment".

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Twitter makes the news again

Some things in life are so simple, you just don't get them at first. That's the way with Twitter, which initially seemed just a glorified version of Facebook updates.

But this summer the social media tool really has come of age. It began with the #welovetheNHS tag. After first noticing it that morning, I watched the tweets build up by their hundreds every second, like microbes in a Petri dish. By the time of the Labour conference in Brighton, the event had turned into a key talking point. The level of support the NHS received on Twitter was a major event for Labour strategists, and initially Gordon Brown and Andy Burnham used it well. By the time they were persistently drumming on about it months later, they were of course using it less well, but that's the thing with politicians – they never get it right for long.

Then we discovered Sarah Brown had more followers than anyone else in Britain, a fact which presumably had something to do with her appearance introducing the prime minister – again – for his keynote Labour speech.

But today, Twitter changed facts on the ground. We'll never know for sure, but it looks like the vociferous reaction to the injunction placed on the Guardian preventing it from reporting on a parliamentary question may have broken the legal attempt to gag the newspaper. Social media or people power? Both. Twitter is becoming more pivotal to the political process every day.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Limpet-like protestors finally prised from parliament

People stay out all night for all sorts of reasons. As sports fans, queuing for the top tickets on centre court at Wimbledon. As hedonists, engaging in all-night drinking binges. As fugitives, on the run from the secret police.

For 31 environmentally committed individuals, their justification for staying out all night was political. Having enjoyed a relaxed Sunday afternoon protesting on the roof of parliament, there was little left to do come nightfall than continue protesting. Still on the roof.

When dawn broke, after a more-than-chilly night surrounding by police gnashing their frustrated teeth, the protestors were still there. True, they were diminished in number. Around 24 less committed individuals had sloped off as things got a little frostbitten. But the hardened core remained, clinging doggedly to the grey roof of the mother of parliaments.

Was it worth it? Did they attract attention? Yes and no. There were headlines to be won, but - like even the best old master exhibitions - they lacked a certain animation. There was little scope for amusement beyond sitting, or occasionally standing, around. No climate change-themed silly dances were on offer. The protestors did not tell jokes. They merely protested.

As nightfall fell for the second time the demonstration slowly drew to an end. Or at least that's what it looked like, from the eyrie of my own office in the Palace of Westminster. The roar of traffic is being occasionally pierced by ragged cheers of defiance, but the writing is surely on the wall for these plucky activists. They've made their point, and at least it'll be warmer in police custody.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Exclusive: Ken Clarke speaks (for 30 seconds)

politics.co.uk is a growing and well-respected internet publication, providing insightful comment and analysis on the latest development at the heart of the political world. But even we sometimes struggle for an interview.

The Conservative party conference in Manchester should be an ideal hunting ground for shadow Cabinet members eager to vent their views. The florid Ken Clarke, in the running to step into Peter Mandelson's shoes as business secretary in the event of a Conservative general election victory, is about as colourful as they come. It was the work of a moment to arrange a timeslot to interview him.

Alas, it seemed for many lingering hours as if it were not to be. Mr Clarke darted from Radio 5 Live to News 24, from PM to Sky, like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. Your correspondent hopped from foot to foot as he did so, growing ever more impatient as Ken strode through the media colossi standing in his way. After what felt like decades, the opportunity arose. One question, right in front of the main lectern of the auditorium. The opportunity of a lifetime. Well, of an afternoon.

Question: How important is experience in government - and how much is it a problem that you're the only one with any in the shadow Cabinet?

The answer began before the second half was complete - and focused solely on George Osborne, who Clarke revealed is "impatient to become chancellor".

"He's doing a lot of work now which he can't put into practice because, as it were, Gordon won't get out of the way," he began.

"I talk to these things with him. I go to meetings. Some of the things I go through with him in detail. Some of course he does with the rest of his team. I just hope my experience is useful.

"I have strong views on the subject, so I let him have the benefit of his opinions, but he's free to agree or not."

A magnificent haul of journalistic gold, you will doubtless agree. You have to, for the suggestion otherwise that this was a poor result of an hour's impatient labour would be devastating in the extreme.

"I'm sorry," Ken's minder interjected. "That's got to be it." A final chuckle from the man himself, before he flitted off once more into the Manchester sunset.

The day will come when politics.co.uk commands the instant attention of prime ministers around the world. For now, at least, we must settle for what we can get.

Monday, 5 October 2009

How to hack up a Pickle

So we're in Manchester for the Conservative party conference and so far all the talk has been about Europe but more about that in a little while. Before that it's worth noting the journalists reception last night in the Midland hotel if only for the fact that hacks can prove to be terribly immature, even really really respectable ones.

Take the moment when Conservative party chairman Eric - if you're a Lib Dem come home to the Conservatives - Pickles stood up to welcome the press to the Conservative party conference. The speech was, to put it mildly, a shambles. And it didn't take long for the assembled great and good of the fourth estate to get well and truly bored. All of a sudden a mobile phone was heard to go off, a second or two later another, then another and soon we were being treated to the dulcet ring tones of, well, quite a few mobiles, with several journalists looking around trying desperately not to fall into a fit of the giggles.

Fortunately, Mr Pickles realised he wasn't getting very far and wrapped up as quickly a possible to a, well I wouldn't call it applause more of a trickle of people clapping out of politeness while others were making a noise that could probably best be described as somewhere between and cheer and a jeer.

And then it was all over and everyone got back to doing what they did best, ignoring the elephant in the room and talking to each other.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

'In our hour of darkness'...

Forget the bunker. Gordon Brown's motorcade swept out of the Labour conference centre at around 21:30 yesterday evening, taking the prime minister off to gnash his teeth and cry into his pillow after being dumped - rather publicly, you have to admit - by those judgmental individuals at the Sun. At least he would have the love of his wife to keep him warm at night. What could more lowly creatures do to comfort them in the cold chill of a late September Brighton evening?

All they could do is sing and be merry, so they did. As the presses rolled throughout the night, spelling impending doom, the man who hit back at another Murdoch's comments about the BBC led the way in escapism.

The culture, media and sport secretary sang: "When I find myself in times of trouble..." The Beatles, Robbie Williams, it didn't matter who: in the wee small hours, Ben Bradshaw deployed his dulcet tones in an astonishing example of the arts as escapism. He may have erred by questioning the judgment of a Murdoch. Perhaps he should be more pitied than censured. Either way, with the morning news programmes just hours away, there was very little he could now do.

So Ben and co forgot the misery of the polls, the looming electoral disaster. They forgot the damning withdrawal of support which will make a very big difference. For our Ben and his band of worryingly willing backing vocalists the only purpose in life appeared to be bawling out emotive popular hits at the loudest volume possible.

"For in our hour of darkness there is still a light that comes to me..." In his best Paul McCartney voice they sang on and on. Alas, poor Bradshaw - I knew his anti-Murdoch policies well. Even the merest possibility of a glimmer of hope seemed woefully delusional. But with camaraderie there always comes a grim optimism, perhaps all that is left for this ailing party. It was time to slip away into the night, leaving Bradshaw to his music and Brown to his headlines.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Oh my God....

......it's just got worse former GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips has just taken to the podium! And quoted Mandy!

And now she's declared her love for Alan Johnson it's a car crash. Seriously watch this on youtube when it comes online it's a disaster.

They've all gone slightly barmy

I'm watching Jack Straw right now and I swear to God he's trying to out Mandy, Mandy. I can't wait to see if Alan Johnson takes his lead and shouts his way through his speech as well!!!

It's a really bizarre little display.

One minute he's giving a speech, the next he's shouting down the microphones in front of him about how rubbish the Tories are and how he's going to be introducing "LEGISLATION FOR A NEW SECOND CHAMBER FOR THE PEOPLE ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE".

I think Jack managed to get himself worked up afer watching the performance of two local councillors, one of whom referred to delegates as comrades - my God what was he thinking? The other councillor decided he was going to give a spoken word performance. At one point I genuinely thought I was listening to The Streets.

Jack is clearly struggling with a cracking voice anyway but seriously the shouting is unbearable. And what's all this nonsense about: "Don't vote Tory don't take the risk". For crying out loud is this the best Labour have got: "Vote for us coz it's a bit risky voting for the other guys. It's better the devil you know than the one you don't".

If that's the best Labour have got they might as well roll over and die now. Jack Straw would improve the chances of the Labour party if he were leader according to the polls. Really? Not based on this load of utter rubbish. The best he can come up with in terms of policy proposals is a National Victims Service. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's very worthy, but Jack Straw needed to come up with something better than that after the expenses scandal. Offering a fully elected chamber you've never been in favour of and are only going to give the country because you've been forced to doesn't exactly cover you in glory either Jack. Poor show!!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Labour infighting begins anew!

Ah it's that time of year again when the press pack heads to the seaside to watch the political grandees in the Labour party try to kill each other in new and innovative ways.

Labour has been particularly good at the this over the last few years. It's all well and good talking about the Lib Dems falling out last week and washing their dirty laundry in public but actually at least most of that was about policy. Within the Labour party you get the feeling that most of the members of the current cabinet just hate each other. Not only that but there have been some distinctly personal attacks on the prime minister. Where, for example, did this nonsense about him living on prescription pain killers come from? And why on earth have there been stories about the possibility he might go blind in his one good eye? And more importantly, what the hell does that have to do with his ability to do the job? If David Blunkett could be home secretary why couldn't we have a blind prime minister?

Charles Clarke has managed to creep out of the woodwork once more to call for Gordon Brown to step down.........again......yawn!

Baroness Scotland has been caught out employing an illegal immigrant, Baroness Vadera resigns as a minister in Peter Mandelson's department and what of the dark lord himself? Well apparently he would consider working for a Tory government, because he is so patriotic, or so he wants us to believe - or is it that his thrist for power makes him so morally bankrupt he'll work for anyone. I'll leave that for you to decide.

This year's Labour party conference is different to last year.

Last year the prime minister had to give a make or break speech in order to stay in charge of his own party and therefore in charge of the country. There is little, if any, real chance that Mr Brown will now be toppled from the Labour leadership, whatever the latest polls suggest - and in case you've missed it this morning, ComRes reckon Labour would stand a better chance of winning the election if either David Miliband or Jack Straw were in charge. What does that mean in real terms? Well this - rather than the speech he gave last year - is the make or break speech.
It will be, like Nick Clegg's speech to the Lib Dem conference last week, a direct appeal to the nation, to the voters, to you. It has to be. It can't be anything else. The question is: will he be able to convince you to keep him in the job come the general election next May (well we think it's next May anyway)? I suspect it probably wont be. Iain Dale, attending a fringe event at the conference last night, made several parrallels between the Conservative party in 1996 and the Labour party of 2009. Most of these involved infighting between Cabinet ministers, a general lack of sense of direction and old warhorses trying to tell the press and the public that Brown, like John Major before him, is simply a very private man. Then there were the "personal attacks" on David Cameron, mostly involving Labour saying voters can't trust the man behind the smile in much the same way that the Conservatives used to attack Tony Blair. How long will it be before we see a Labour election poster that shows David Cameron with devil's eyes, he asked? And he's got a point. In fact, he put together a very persuasive argument.

I'm not saying it's over for Labour but this conference hinges on the party being able to gear itself up for a fight it might only half heartedly want and put on, at least, a show of unity that convinces the outside world it can carry on in government .

It worked for the Tories in 1992!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Sarah Brown hits the Twitter jackpot

Sarah Brown is now officially the biggest Twitterer in the UK, surpassing Stephen Fry, with 774,000 followers. Now this is either some mad example that voters secretly still love New Labour and are merely lying endlessly to pollsters for reasons of their own, or it's proof, as if any were needed, that you can serve Brits the most tedious tripe in the world and they will merrily shovel it into their compliant Anglo-Saxon faces.


Sarah Brown Рwho, it must be said, appears likeable and attractively detached in her public appearances Рdoesn't do party political tweets, or, frankly, tweets with interesting content. The stakes are too high. Just one mention of the fact George Clooney looks nice in a poster and the Sun will run: 'PM's wife in Clooney sex romp bid' all over the front page. So the poor darling is forced into drearily commenting on the décor or how utterly wonderful development charities are. They are, of course, quite wonderful, but it's such a tiresome thing to point out. It's equivalent to saying: I don't wish to brush my best friend's teeth for him every night, or I prefer women without male genitals. It's just a given.


But there she is, at the top of the mountain, with more followers than I've had good nights' sleep. You know what they say: This many people can't be wrong. Except in Britain - where two mind-numbingly inane talent shows can trigger reams of coverage merely by being scheduled at the same time - they really, really can.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Charles Clarke - an unusual centre-left envoy

There is no environment more awkward, more unnatural, more uncomfortable for a politician than a party conference other than his or her own. Being seen with the enemy can risk being tainted with suspicion.

Fortunately Charles Clarke does not worry about such problems. Yes, he appeared in Bournemouth for the Liberal Democrats' bash. But everyone knows he's a troublemaker, as seen in his latest comments to Progress magazine.

"Our leadership is weak, uncertain, tactically unsure and lacks vision," he said.

"For Labour itself the stakes are far higher than the personal futures of a few politicians. It is about the future of the party itself."

As a man who has stood up, in front of the entire parliamentary Labour party, and told Gordon Brown to his face what he thinks of him, Clarke's comments come as no surprise.

He will cause huge headaches to the PM in Brighton, and loyalists will be gnashing their teeth as he carefully undermines Brown's leadership.

They will look askance at his recent trip to Bournemouth. They will carp and criticise, as their only response to his outspoken attacks.

Supporters of Clarke might want to point out that, while in Bournemouth, he actually did a very good job of appealing to Britain's third party.

Perhaps anticipating a hung parliament in which the Lib Dems could play a kingmaker role, Clarke actually played an ambassadorial role seeking an alliance of the centre-left against the Tories.

"I would say to my very good friend Nick Clegg - don't focus on Labour seats," he pleaded.

Brown might wish Clarke would keep his mouth shut in Brighton. But in Bournemouth at least he was on Labour's side.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Ashdown's itchy feet

It may have been years since Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon relinquished command of the Liberal Democrats, but it's clear he still gets itchy feet every so often.

Take last night's fringe event, for example, when Ol' Paddy was explaining in his inimitable style quite how important internationalism is to the Lib Dems.

At least he was polite enough to lay a smokescreen by deploying his comments in relation to the old Henrik Ibsen quote about not wearing your best trousers when you go out fighting for freedom and truth.

"Sometimes we Lib Dems go around wearing our best trousers too often," he said, to laughter. "I think that a little more activism would do us good."

Michael Moore, the party's international development spokesman, looked suitably chastened. The ever-charitable Paddy, perhaps realising he was veering into criticism, tried to backtrack.

"It's not a criticism of the leadership because it was a problem in my own time," he explained. Good to know the Lib Dems are making progress then.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Nick Clegg accosted on the streets of Bournemouth

It had to happen I suppose. Nick Clegg was making his way to a fringe meeting on climate change this lunchtime when he was accousted by a slightly irate member of the public over the banking crisis.

I didn't stay to linger for too long but the giste appeared to be that the man was angry at Mr Clegg - make that all politicians - over the banking crisis. The only snippet of the conversation I heard went along the lines of: "The banks make us pay back the money we borrow from them......".

So I'm not entirely sure what the man's point was. However, it was refreshing to see Nick stop and take the time to rather patiently explain, as he undoubtedly must have done, that it wasn't his fault nor his party's and should the gentleman in question chose to vote Lib Dem at the next election his second in command (Vince Cable in case you're a little unsure) would soon sort out the economic mess.

Well let's be honest; every vote counts and Nick was probably quite pleased to find a member of the public that at least appeared to recognise him - oh yeah I know I'm being a little cruel but c'mon you have to admit that he's the hardest political leader to name!!

Lib Dems celebrate blogging successes

Last night saw the fourth annual Lib Dem blog awards which, for the team at politics.co.uk at least, provided the most entertaining event of the entire conference so far and to be fair we doubt it'll be topped by anyhing else.

The great and the good of the Lib Dem blogging community were in attendance at what have become affectionately known as the "botties", including one Iain Dale, there no doubt to record the event himself and clearly out of a genuine interest in what his fellow bloggers are doing even if he was booed by the crowd - all in good humour it must be said, they are Liberal Democrats after all.

There was much jocilarity to be had with Lib Dem voice editor Stephen Tall doing an admirable job of compering the evening. A few jokes at the expense of his fellow bloggers, Mark Oaten (again....clearly popular) and the Lib Dems glorious leader Nick Clegg.

Stephen apparently doesn't like doing TV interviews, or so I was told last night, which seems a bit of a shame as he is clearly very articulate and media friendly, which would undoubtedly help raise the profile of Lib Dem blogging. And given some of the quality blogs and bloggers on show last night he would do the Lib Dem cause little harm. Just a thought Stephen.

The winners were as follows:

Best new Liberal Democrat Blog (started since 1st September 2008)Mark Reckons by Mark Thompson.

Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)Lee Green Councillor by Brian Robson.

Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal DemocratJo Swinson MP for her live-tweeting from Parliament, plus engaging with the public through Facebook and website.

Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2008)Parliament, The Telegraph and Jo Swinson by James Graham.

It has to be said Jo Sminson looked as if she hadn't expected to win and it's always quite endearing to see a politician appear a little shy on receiving an award!

Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blogSlugger O’Toole

Liberal Democrat Blog of the YearHimmelgarten Cafe by Costigan Quist.

This was a popular event only spoiled a little by a random member of the public wandering in to Old Harry's Bar at the Marriott Hotel to shout that all MPs were crooks! But it was a short lived moment and didn't ruin what had been a genuinely fun evening.

We'll be back again next year to see how the "botties" are getting on. I suspect it might not be in Old Harry's Bar though, next year they might need to find a bigger venue.

Lembit watch year two

Yes...it's back!!

To be fair we weren't going to ressurrect Lemit watch this year, mostly because we didn't want to appear as if we were picking on the, segwaying alien. But after last night, well..... we've got no choice.

This is actually just a little annoying and slightly slimy of the man from Mars if we're honest. We all know he likes the ladies but seriously the ego of the man....it's briliant!!

Overheard by our spies last night Lembit said to a friend: "See that girl there. She owes me........... physically........... if you know what I mean". (No Lembit we're a bit stupid what do you mean?)

Said friend was overheard to reply: "I look forward to hearing all about it" (yuk!)

To which Lembit was overheard to say, and this is a killer line if ever we heard one: " Well you'll just have to read about it in the papers like everyone else."

The ego has officially landed!! Lock up your daughters, hell lock up your sons, No-one is safe!! And said girl, whoever you are, we really, no really, hope you managed to escape.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cracks appearing in Bournemouth

Conference season is well and truly underway and the sandal-wearing, muesli-eating hippies (Sarah Teather's words, not ours) have descended on Bournemouth - largely a Tory town to be fair - once again.

So far so good it would appear, but already there are minor cracks appearing.

For instance, Charles Clarke was notable by his absence from the Centre Forum/Fabian Society fringe meeting this lunchtime which meant it was a slightly poorer - and less well attended - event.

But then last year he had just put the boot into his mate Gordon Brown and most of the journalists at the conference were hoping that he would do it again at the fringe meeting.

Unfortunately, he didn't and got rather annoyed with everyone asking him questions about the prime minister. This year he obviously decided to give the event a miss. So, once again there was a certain amount of disappointment.

It didn't stop Sarah Teather twisting the knife for a few colleagues of her own last night however.

Mark Oaten might well be standing down at the next general election but he is nonetheless still a member of the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party. There were more than a few sharp intakes of breath at her jokes at his expense. Meanwhile, Evan Harris' (God complex apparently) and Lembit Opik's (Life on Mars, yeah we know he's weird but that was a little harsh wasn't it?) were also unflatteringly name-checked. It's hard to work out whether some of the jokes were appreciated but we'd expect that she has a bit of explaining to do to the victims of her "wit", as her glorious leader Nick Clegg called it when he took to the stage betraying at least a hint of annoyance with her. Given this was supposed to be her big moment (she's been touted at one of the party's main election spokespeople for the general election) the question became whether or not she blew it. The answer? Probably!

Meanwhile, there were also a number of disapproving comments about the choice of the background colour for the stage in the main debating hall. "Too turquoise" was the remark which sprang forth from many a party activist's lips. It certainly looked a bit too similar to Tory blue for far too many people - and given the protestations about the differences between liberal Democracy and Conservatism (apparently, Dave, Nick says the clue is in the name, whatever you might believe). And let's not forget the question that former party leader Charles Kennedy asked of his audience "What is the largest land mammal on the planet?" ERIC PICKLES came the shout from the audience, to howls of laugher. Clearly this crowd think the differences between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are more than just paper thin.

Back to today and I found myself giving aid to an elderly woman who was struggling up the near-mountainous incline to the Marriott hotel from the Bournemouth International Centre thanks to a party delegate who clearly was looking to dump her on somebody. I duly did the right thing which afforded me the opportunity discover that there really are a few nuts out there among the political parties. Possibly the best bit however was when said lady stopped Vince Cable as if he was a long lost friend. Poor Vince didn't have a clue who the lady was but was polite as always before making a sharp exit. If nothing else I suppose it goes to prove just how some people really do think they own MPs - it's an odd thing to have seen in practice.

Having taken my charge to the hotel and achieving my one good deed for the day (well… month is probably more like it) I then observed - well let's call him a senior BBC journalist getting rather flustered trying to find his hotel room in the Marriott. Asked by a party activist if he was looking for a particular fringe event, said journalist frowned almost contemptuously before complaining: "No I'm looking for my room!" Having then found someone that seemed to know what they were doing he almost - I say almost, it was bubbling up you could literally see it, but it never actually reached the surface - had a 'Do you know who I am?' moment.

Oh dear.

If this is what it's going to be like and it's only lunchtime God knows what we can expect by this evening. Check back tomorrow to see just how messy it gets!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Unfriendly fire

I'm going to kick off my blog contributions with the reflection that sometimes, in politics, the funniest things you hear are often overheard.

I was seated close to the front of the packed Central Hall in Westminister yesterday evening as the "pre-eminent practitioner of the military arts in the world today", General David Petraeus, gave a speech to his British friends.

His jokes about loving Boris Johnson, the royal family and PMQs - in that order - were quickly lost in a flurry of serious-minded strategy and tactical instruction, showing quite how impressive a mind he is.

But the main event came shortly before he took the stage. I was seated among a bevy of former top brass - men who had commanded British forces in theatres around the world, and battled with ministers and mandarins within the Ministry of Defence's walls.

One of them was in grumbling mood. "Whoever wins, it's going to be a rough old ride," he said. It wasn't clear whether he talking about the war against the Taliban, or the internal struggles of the MoD.

While praising David Richards, who "did very well in Sierra Leone", this particular former head of the British Army had less than complimentary things to say about the current defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth.

He summed up his cutting assessment with two concise words: "Silly moustache."

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Welcome

Welcome to the new politics.co.uk blog.

Here we hope you'll find this the home of the slighlty more anarchic, bizarre or downright amusing side of politics, politicians, political journalists and other bloggers.

Our plan is to try to amuse, point out the silly or unusual, and genuinely interesting events, articles, comments or speeches that might sometimes get ignored or missed, to give our own personal opinions on certain political issues and poke fun at those who have a tendency to take themselves a little too seriously sometimes.

The blog will have a number of contributors:

Matthew West is the managing editor of politics.co.uk.

His previous roles have included acting as news editor of IFAonline.co.uk, a business-to-business website for the independent financial adviser community, which twice won the prestigious Headlinemoney.co.uk personal finance website (trade) of the year award in 2006 and 2007 and the Periodical Publisher's Association interactive business and professional magazine award in 2005.

Ian Dunt is the editor of politics.co.uk. After studying philosophy at University College London, he spent the next year travelling from London to Beirut before undertaking a Masters in International Relations.

Ian worked in the research and marketing departments of various NGOs before settling on journalism. He began his career with pinknews.co.uk, which he joined as an intern before eventually becoming stand-in editor. He also contributed to the Independent before moving on to politics.co.uk, first as an intern, and later as editor.

A political obsessive, Ian also writes regular dating columns for lifestyle magazines as well as managing his own specialist interest websites in his own time.

Alex Stevenson is deputy editor of politics.co.uk and the website's Westminster correspondent. After leaving Cambridge University, where he set up a news service at Cambridge University's student radio station, he worked in the House of Commons for the Liberal Democrats, wrote a guide to shooting film locations overseas and put in a stint at the BBC History Unit.

Campaigning for the 2005 Cheadle by-election proved, once and for all, that participating in active politics was far too much like hard work. Journalism beckoned as a result and the last few years have seen Alex's focus shift towards the twists and turns of British party politics from the sidelines. He now specialises in foreign policy and international affairs and is based in parliament