Politics.co.uk Blog

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.