Politics.co.uk Blog

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

New generation: He didn't mean it literally, of course!

Ed Miliband wanted to clear up a point or two as he answered questions from Labour party activists in Manchester, 24 hours after his first leader's speech to conference.

The phrase 'new generation' had popped up again and again in his speech. Could it be Ed Miliband, the youngest of the three main party leaders, is turning his back on the elderly vote?

"It's not an ageism thing," he explained. "It's about an attitude of mind and an attitude of willingness to change."

Almost as if it had been pre-planned, the 77-year-old Doreen Chadwick of Collyhurst jumped up (well, not quite) to pledge her support.

"I am part of the new generation," she said, getting an enormous cheer. "It's not how old you are, it's what you do that counts."

If the setpiece keynote leader's speech is designed to address the country and grab the headlines, this Q and A session was the exact opposite. All the talk was of increasing party membership and other deadly dull topics.

Eddie Izzard was drafted in to provide some colour as the session's compere – and inspiration following his 43 marathons last year. "Humans can do way more than we think we can do" was the lesson he drew from his achievement. He struggled to enliven the audience, however, despite suggesting that Ed Miliband was less like Wallace and more like his furry friend.

"You're actually Gromit," Izzard said. "He's the really cool dog who builds a spacecraft that goes to the moon. He defeats an evil penguin."

"I think we should take some more questions," Ed Miliband replied. Izzard, ever the loyalist, obeyed.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brown's exit: An awkward farewell for an awkward politician

After the embarrassment of Tony Blair's memoirs – which suggested Gordon Brown was mentally unbalanced – the former leader's appearance at yesterday's leadership conference was a fine opportunity to bow out gracefully.

It almost worked. In the end the impatience of the audience to know who was going to be their next leader overwhelmed the exit.

Audiences can only clap so much. In an ideal world Brown should have been applauded out of the conference hall, receiving the adulation which as leader he had become used to.

Yes, they did give him a standing ovation for 50 seconds. Waving and cheering, Brown slowly made his way towards the exit as most of the conference hall finally sat down.

But there was a problem. Brown had not left the room. He had embarked on a lengthy shaking-hands tour of the front row. For an awful period only those around him were still applauding. The majority of the conference hall had stopped and were simply watching his exit in silence.

This was painfully awkward to watch. Perhaps sensing he wasn't quite getting the send-off he'd have liked, Brown and his wife finally made their way out.

It was an unfortunate exit from a politician whose lacked the personal touch. There is affection for Brown – but nowhere near as much as he would have liked.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Tories pray for Ed

The system used by Labour to choose its leaders is already so absurd it may as well have another layer added to it.

In addition to the votes of party members, affiliated unions and MPs being given I would suggest those of opposition parties – specifically, the Conservatives – be considered.

Ignoring minor technical difficulties, this would involve working out who the Tories don't want to be leader and knocking off votes accordingly.

It is a matter of no small significance that the senior coalition party are dreading a David Miliband victory.

They fear his New Labour rhetoric would prove extremely awkward to combat. They know David Miliband's politics are of the centrist, pragmatic, concede-and-move-on type which worked so well for Tony Blair. And we know what effect he had on the Conservatives' general election performance.

By contrast an Ed Miliband win, which bookies are getting excited about after a flood of last-minute money on the younger brother, would delight the right of British politics.

He is a more uncompromising candidate, prepared to return Labour to an earlier era which the Tories are far more comfortable with.

These views, surely, are useful in informing the choice of who should become the next leader of the opposition. If the government don't want them in, so much the better, say all champions of decent British politics.

(This article may be followed by more details about my proposals for the fifth, sixth and seventh layers of Labour leadership voting: a panel of newspaper political editors to ensure a flowery personality, the readers of the hotornot.com website and – most ridiculous of all – the general public. Pshaw!)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Miriam Clegg denied access to Lib Dem conference

She might be the wife of the party leader, but even Miriam Clegg doesn't get into the Liberal Democrat conference without her pass.

Photographer Steve Back just heard from a senior police officer that Nick Clegg's wife was turned away after she turned up at the conference centre without her access pass. She is sporting a rather dashing new outfit though.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

We're in for a treat

There is no other verdict: this year's Strictly Come Dancing will be essential viewing.

The woman who once said she would not touch an image consultant with a ten-foot bargepole might seem like an improbable choice for a show dominated by sequins, glitter and short, frilly dresses.

It does not seem to have deterred Ann Widdecombe, the former prisons minister who stepped down as Maidstone and the Weald's loyal MP in May.

Her appearance on the show - it would surely be folly to assume anything other than that she would be voted out immediately - will be a magnificent affair. Politicians are usually adept at covering up inadequacy, if nothing else. How will the indefatigable Widdecombe cope?

Perhaps the clue is in her tenacious spirit. She is bound to give the judges a piece of her mind. She will shatter those bright studio lights with her screams if her dance partner steps on her foot. She will 'ave a go.

Perhaps - and surely we are now entering the realms of fantasy - her brash, no-nonsense attitude will see the public fall in love with her in ways she could only dream of as a politician. Reality TV has sprung more absurd surprises on us, as the terrible lesson of Jedward teaches us.

If only Turner were alive he could probably paint a portrait of our Ann being towed away to be broken up. The Fighting Widdecombe, they would call it. Perhaps Strictly Come Dancing is the 21st century's equivalent.

Monday, 6 September 2010

End of the honeymoon

Returning after two weeks away from Westminster, it's striking how out of date our last blog post now is.

Instead of a sluggish summer period when the unabashed smugness of new ministers left a distinctly queasy feeling, we're confronted with ministers under pressure from scandal and officials facing controversial allegations.

A colleague, who was on holiday until two weeks ago, was understandably upbeat about the timing of his own summer break. "It's been very busy this last fortnight," he said. The William Hague revelations. The News of the World claims. And wasn't there something else, too? I seem to remember something about the publication of a book...

There is nothing worse than the political honeymoon, that terrible period when novelty dampens the usual cynical zeal of public discourse in Britain. Thank goodness it's over. Normal service has, thankfully, been resumed.