Politics.co.uk Blog

Monday, 26 April 2010

More hung parliament malarkey

More hung parliament malarkey dominating the headlines today, as every poll points towards no party securing a majority.

The Tories have been put into an absolute frenzy. It's all they talk about. David Cameron spent his entire trip to Romsey trying to get voters to prevent it happening. As I write, George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt are giving a press conference in Millbank, complete with a mock-up broadcast from the hung parliament party, which, I will freely say, was unspeakably awful.

On the one hand the Tories have to come out and argue against a hung parliament, and face the reality of the 2010 general election. On the other hand, the Tory attack gives an aura of vulnerability to the party, which, given the unpopularity of the government, is a profound comment on how the country still thinks of the Conservative party. It also puts them in a weird position – their 'vote Clegg, get Brown' campaign highlights the irrationality of an electoral system they are committed to maintaining.

Strange times indeed in British politics.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cameron says no to Panorama

He ignores joint politics.co.uk/Yahoo! interview request too!!

It's just emerged this afternoon the David Cameron is refusing to be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman for the BBC's Panorama programme. According to Paul Waugh that's causing Aunty a little bit of a headache in that they've now got to come up with something to fill next Monday's programme slot with.

Oh dear.

Ian Dale has been quick to pick up on this and to call it a shame.

He adds: "I'd have liked Cameron to have accepted the Panorama interview as I think that, like Nick Clegg, he'd have emerged well from it, and Brown wouldn't. But it seems now we will never know."

It's certainly true that Clegg came out of the interview the other day well. And who knows maybe Cameron might have as well. But it's probably a bit weak to suggest, as Dale does, that the reason Cameron isn't going to do the interview is because he's going to be prepping for the TV debates.

The Conservative leader needs to be able to show that he can handle both an in-depth interview and a set of TV debates. Otherwise why should anyone take him seriously? Surely he has a firm enough grasp on his party's policies to be able to meet the challenge of being asked serious questions about them? Or is Dale trying to suggest the Conservative leader cannot meet the intellectual challenge?

And given Cameron appears to have backed out of the interview surely the prime minister will now jump at the chance to face Paxman and show he has the intellect and the belief in his own policies to put his case to the British people. Why you would turn down a chance to talk to nine million voters is a little odd.

That said, politics.co.uk gave the Conservative leader a similar opportunity to talk to as many as 20 million users – not ours granted we're not that big….yet – in a joint venture with Yahoo!

Both Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg took up the challenge of facing questions put to them by a member of the politics.co.uk team from users of both websites. It was their opportunity to speak directly to voters and they understood that. Mr Cameron's team have ignored repeated attempts by our team to secure an interview. Apart from being extremely rude could Cameron's people be running scared of the public? I guess we'll never know either, seeing as Cameron's press team refuse to talk to us. And we're nowhere near as scary as Jeremy Paxman!!

All's well in the ancien regime

The greatest political rivalry of our age - or one of them at least - hotted up again this morning as Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson exchanged personal jibes.

The shadow business secretary and the first secretary of state have not been able to face off against each other in the Commons thanks to Lord Mandelson's ennoblement.

As a result they are forced to let off their enthusiasm through other means. In a Financial Times interview yesterday Clarke said Mandelson's grants to companies in need of a leg-up meant he was like a "Bourbon monarch [who] went round in his coach throwing out gold coins".

"He sneeeeeers" at me, Mandelson said at the conclusion of this morning's Labour press conference. It had been a relatively easy half-hour, with Mandelson gaining special pleasure from lording it over the Brownite figure to his left, Ed Balls. He couldn't resist but get in the final word, even mentioning the "Bourbon monarch jibe" as he attacked Tory plans to scrap regional development agencies.

"I think as he looks down his rather long, toffee nose at the regions, people will come back and say thank you very much," Mandelson said glibly.

Andrew Neil, whose chief purpose in this general election appears to be to heckle during press conferences, said he thought Mandelson was more like the Hapsburgs.

"We'll keep the footmen," Balls joked, as Mandy shimmered out of sight. No doubt Balls would suit a footman's outfit himself.

Don't sniff the bubblegum

Modern political campaigning holds many perils. Being photographed sniffing powdered bubblegum can now be added to the list.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg's visit to the 2K Manufacturing factory on an industrial estate in the tight Luton South seat had, until then, been going swimmingly.

There was the usual milling around beforehand, the interview with the excited local candidate and the smartly-turned out staff hopping around nervously (but representing what was undoubtedly a very impressive green business).

After the usual handshakes came the interrogation, in which Clegg subjected his hosts to a vicious grilling. At times this was a little too demanding. "Where do you get the raw materials from?" Clegg asked. "From recyclables," a starstruck employee stated a little too obviously. "Oh, right," Clegg said. We got the impression he'd already worked that out.

After the polite questions came a little bit too much interactivity. Clegg tested the finished product, a green kind of plywood, by giving it a couple of forceful raps. The material did not dent. He then plunged his hands into jars of the raw materials - little chips of plastic. Laughs and jokes ensued, before the final kind of material: a strangely coloured fine powder.

"It's bubblegum," the factory boss said enthusiastically. "You can smell it."

Clegg, eager to please, raised the powder in his hands to his nose and cautiously inhaled. The motion was accompanied by a swarm of shutter clicks as the 70 or 80 photographers in clicking distance, capturing the moment for posterity.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

From Pole to poll

The death of Polish president Lech Kaczynski is a real tragedy.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron expressed near-identical sentiments on the issue this morning, sending their sympathies to the families of all the 87 victims who have died near Smolensk.

There is nothing especially unusual about this. Either man could be prime minister a month's time, so it makes perfect diplomatic sense for the two political leaders to express their sympathies - on behalf of the British people as well as themselves.

But I can't help feeling a slight sense of unease at the timing of their announcements. It wasn't David Cameron's fault that he put out a statement before Downing Street (who, in purdah, are probably only half-awake anyway). For a few brief moments, though, it felt as if there was the slightest, subtlest sense of oneupmanship going on.

This is probably getting a bit carried away, of course. We're only one week into the general election campaign and I can't afford to lose my head just yet. For a bit of self-refreshing perspective, international news offers us another thought-provoking object lesson in seriousness.

The general election is a big deal and we're in exciting times, but the ongoing political crisis in Thailand - which has now seen the government resort to rubber bullets and water cannons - is in another league altogether.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Goodbye, McMPs

It's been a strange week in parliament. And not just because it was only three days long.

After the small matter of a general election being called we've had the bizarre wash-up procedure, in which the government's bills have been rushed through at the pleasure of the opposition.

With the excitement of the campaign getting underway most MPs have disappeared to their constituencies and the all-out fight for survival now developing.

After parliament finally finished an incredible end-of-term atmosphere pervaded. Harriet Harman and John Bercow's handshakes and awkward kissing had to be seen to be believed.

Emotions have been soured somewhat by a goodbye interview with one of the grandest of Tory grandees, Sir Patrick Cormack.

Daily Politics host Andrew Neil paid tribute to Sir Patrick by getting his name spectacularly wrong.

"I'd be in a slightly better [mood] if you'd got my name right," the miffed veteran mused unhappily.

"You obviously made a big impact when you were an MP.

"I think a slightly bigger and more positive one than you've made. I'm sorry we're ending on a slightly acrimonious note."

Sir Patrick then called Neil's introductory spiel "absolute twaddle", to show there were no hard feelings.

The Daily Politics team underlined the error by misspelling the MP's name on the website - first as McCormack and then as MaCormack. Have a look at the (now corrected) website here.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sad faces on the last day of term

The similarities between parliament and school are endless, not least of all because they contain the only humans who still use the phrase 'half-term'.

My colleague and I have just been watching MPs file out and say their goodbye to the Speaker and the leader of the House.

One by one they shook John Bercow's hand and exchanged pleasantries. But the real action was just behind the chair, as they gave their best wishes to Harriet Harman.

Surprisingly warm and amiable, Harman had three modes: A handshake, a hug, or a hug and kiss. The warmest option was offered to a surprising amount of members, even many of the old-school posh Tories. Sitting right above them, just a couple of metres away, it was the first time we'd ever felt like we were eavesdropping.

The most interesting moment came when she bid farewell to James Purnell, who offered a lot more warmth than she did. The body language was all his, and she kept her distance as he acted friendly. For hundreds of members, today is the last day they'll step into that room, unless they opt for the public viewing gallery.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Lobby pangs

A twice-daily cycle is deeply embedded within political journalists' body clock. Every morning and every afternoon, at 11:00 and 15:45 to be precise, they feel an urge to ask the prime minister's spokesman questions.

Usually No 10, a sympathetic bunch, ease their suffering by providing them with the outlet they need. Whenever parliament is sitting, so convention goes, Downing Street is obliged to field questions from senior hacks twice daily. Twas ever thus. Or rather, twas ever thus until today.

Parliament is sitting today and tomorrow, before dissolution takes place on Monday. But, to the shock and horror of all those who regularly attend these meetings, there are no lobby briefings taking place.

The prime minister's spokesman broke the news in a kind and gentle, but nevertheless firm tone yesterday afternoon. The government has entered its 'purdah' period, in which major announcements are deferred in order to prevent the incumbent party gaining an unfair advantage during the campaign.

According to the PMS this means Gordon Brown's civil servants are obliged to zip up their mouths. Journalists begged him to stay on a little longer - but, alas, this was not to be. "Even this is me fraying at the edge of what is possible," he explained.

By way of sweetening the bitter pill we were left with the bizarre story of Gordon Brown in romantic mode, which he told in an informal speech to Downing Street staff after calling the general election yesterday.

The prime minister, during his courting days, cooked his wife-to-be Sarah a meal. All went to plan, until he realised that he had mistakenly used a duvet as a table cloth. This was "a slight tactical error, but it didn't stop romance blossoming".

What was meant to have been an endearing little story was soon turned on its head by cynical hacks. This is the man in charge of the country, after all. God knows what he might substitute the nuclear launch codes for.

The PMS, in his last ever lobby briefing, thus concluded with the immortal words: "I wouldn't suggest the prime minister has any difficulty in distinguishing between these two objects."

His successor - whoever that happens to be - may face slightly tougher questions.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Election fever

My, what a busy day. We'll it's good news the campaign is finally off, at least. We've been struggling to contain our irritation at every political event being dubbed the 'unofficial start of the election campaign'. But this is the start of a frantic, frenzied period of political journalism, with late bed times and early, early mornings. The politics.co.uk team is, of course, above things like sleep or health and wellbeing. But we are quietly preparing our loved ones for doing without us for a while. The best part about elections is the way politics spreads around the country in a way it simply doesn't during the normal run of things. That gives us all the ability to take some trips, spread our wings a bit from the Westminster village and check out the lay of the land elsewhere.

Over the next month, politics.co.uk will be bringing you news from the frontline coming in straight from our citizen journalists, all the national news from our dedicated editorial team, and as much analysis and comment on the day-to-day dramas of the election campaign that you can shake a stick at. We'll also have more content than you could ever read, unless of course you want to take the laptop to bed with you, which we would anyway suggest as an appropriate way to end any evening. From candidate profiles, to constituency analysis, to party profiles and betting odds, politics.co.uk is a one-stop shop for all your general election needs.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Pinch punch first of the month

The great British tradition of prankster articles on April 1st continues apace this year.

The Telegraph led the way with a story on ferrets delivering broadband to rural areas. "The development could help increase broadband in current internet 'dead zones', giving access to inaccessible places, and helping bridge the 'digital divide'," the paper fibbed.

It's always harder to tell with the Sun whether a story is supposed to be serious or not, but we enjoyed the 'Fish attacks angler ' story very much regardless.

The Guardian did very well with a ludicrous piece suggesting Labour aides were going to focus on the prime minister's alpha male personality in the election. The piece featured a mock-up poster of Gordon Brown with the slogan 'Step outside posh boy' on it.

But award of the year has to go to the Tribune, the left wing magazine which told its readers it was facing a hostile takeover from Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev. "Mr Lebedev, who also owns the London Evening Standard and the Independent, as well as Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, has offered to buy 75% of the magazine's shares for a nominal payment of £1.50, 50% more than he paid for the Evening Standard, valuing the magazine at £2," it read.