Politics.co.uk Blog

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 – who, it must be said, appears likeable and attractively detached in her public appearances – doesn'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 d├ęcor 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 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