Monday, 31 March 2008

Boris Johnson wimps out again

Just received this from the editor of Time Out regarding their Mayoral Hustings this Wednesday:

"We were excited and proud to be able to offer you direct access to all our four main candidates on one platform, which would give you an opportunity to quiz them in person on their plans for our city. Disappointingly, Boris Johnson, who had initially confirmed his place at this hustings, has withdrawn from the event and so will NOT be attending. I'll leave you to surmise what this says about the Tory mayoral candidate and his commitment to London."

This comes after Boris also pulled out of 'Any Questions' on Radio 4 and after this revealing comment from Times journalist David Aaronovitch:

"There is hardly a senior soul in this business who hasn't turned up to an evening with Boris, to discover that it is an evening with anyone but. "I'm sorry," says the chair, anticipating the boos of disappointment, "but Boris Johnson is unable to be with us." followed by some lie."

Does anyone else see a pattern emerging?

---UPDATE--- Team Boris have accused Time Out of lying! Talk about rubbing salt in the wound. 
---FURTHER UPDATE--- Time Out accuse Team Boris of lying! How to make friends and influence people eh?
---EVEN FURTHER UPDATE---The Guardian spot No Show BoJo

Why the Tories would regret breaking up the BBC

The Right accuse them of  dangerous bias, but a weaker BBC would be dangerous for all.

The news that David Cameron would cut £250 million from the BBC should come as little surprise to the seasoned Tory watcher. An inbuilt hatred of the corporation and it's non-partisan, multicultural outlook has long had a hold on the average Tory's heart.

And Cameron, however much he poses as the modern liberal media man is still fundamentally a Tory leader. And much like his pledge to leave the European People's Party, this pledge to take on the BBC is still very much part of the deal.

But while this announcement will please many free-market tories, the real target of this pledge will have been a certain Aussie pensioner named Rupert.

Opening up the licence fee to the market will be the latest and possibly most decisive step towards a Murdoch domination of the airwaves. And a quick look across the water to the excesses of Fox News should give anyone a reason why this should be avoided.

But more importantly both the Left and Right should realise what a decisive role the BBC has played in maintaining a British culture. 

Unlike in divided France where taxpayers subsidise elite cinema, in Britain the licence fee has ensured a nation united under common humour, stories and characters. And for all that culture snobs look down on them, programmes like Only Fools and Horses, Eastenders and the Royle Family have done more for our sense of Britishness than any government initiative ever will.

Of course the corporation isn't perfect. Much could be done to broaden its reach and to shift its focus from the South. But the only way that this can be done is by maintaining our commitment to it. Starving it of income will only make it more insular and less brave in its output. 

Fundmentally a poorer BBC would be a duller BBC and a weaker BBC when Murdoch comes a calling.

And while a stronger Murdoch presence may in the short term help the Tories, in the long-term it will leave governments of all colours tightly in his grip. A weaker BBC would mean stronger media monopolies. And an American style democracy where not voters, but money holds sway.

So while breaking up the BBC might buy him an election, David Cameron should realise that there may be a bigger price to pay.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Are The Tories the Sick Men of Europe?

Everybody knows the type. They've never got a cold but a flu. Never got a headache but a migraine. And when you ask them how they're doing, they actually go and tell you. In horribly minute detail.

Well it seems that at some point in the last few years somebody made the mistake of asking the Tories how they're doing and now they just won't stop going on about it.

First they moaned about the neighbours, and then about the darkies. Then about those pesky kids and then about their workshy parents. 

But seriously guys enough now. We get the point. Britain is broken. People are lazy, kids are evil and we're all about to get sucked down into a euro-commie-islamic-recession-vortex.

Tory hopeful and self-proclaimed 'old git' Iain Dale really got into the swing of it today, stating on his blog that:

"I think 40% of children in Britain are born to single parents."

The key part of that sentence being 'I think' of course. The most recent statistics put the figure at around 24 per cent. Not particularly brilliant you will agree but nowhere near as gloomy as the Tories would like it to be.

Because despite all of their worst wishes, Britain somehow manages to get through the day. And while they're all whingeing from their sick bed, the rest of us are quite happy to get on with our lives.

Would a Win for Boris be a loss for the Tories?

Have the Tories landed an Albatross?

The Left once convinced themselves that Boris Johnson couldn't win. But now it is clear that he can, a new assumption is taking shape. The new assumption is that a win for Johnson would be a loss for the Conservatives. The assumption that Mayor Johnson would be a dead albatross for Goodship Cameron. But is this the case?

Recent reports show that David Cameron is all too aware of the pitfalls that lay ahead and is making detailed preparations to keep Boris finger's off the red buttons. Ex-Evening Standard editor Max Hastings also suggests that Boris would be more of a chairman than a chief executive.

However, it is quite possible that even this could be overplaying his role. Boris handling of the job could be as light as his treatment of the job application. Boris signs off a policy here, endorses an initiative there. A Boris mayoralty could be one long line of rubber stampings and carefully arranged photo calls, while the Conservative party get on with their agenda behind the scenes.

So although Boris' capacity for gaffes should not be underestimated, neither should the Conservatives determination to prevent them.

But where the real problem for Boris will arise, is that when problems do come, Boris would no longer have the power to shake them off. All the leeway that Boris has enjoyed so far would be gone and the scrutiny he had avoided would be upon him. He would no longer have the comfort blanket of failure nor the mask of comedy to shield him. And when his problems come a' knocking, the walls will start a' rocking.

Because the media love a good story and there would be no better story than a Boris fall from grace. And the slightest sign of weakness would set the whole press pack upon him.

And Boris' old gags would wear desperately thin and the day to day job would wear even thinner for him. And the charm would be lost and the tempers would flare and a restless Mayor Boris would tear out his blond hair.

But when the dust settles will the Tories really be in a worse position, or could a Boris win be just the first of many to come? Clearly it is a huge risk that they are willing to take. And certainly a bored and boring Boris would be but a small price for the Tories to pay. But if things start to go wrong, the benefits for Londoners themselves are much harder to see. 

So before you vote Londoners, think long and and think hard. Is this really an experiment in which you're willing to take part.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Any Questions? Yes: Where's Boris?

We have all seen the cartoons, but has anyone seen the man?

After successive appearances from both Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick on Radio 4's 'Any Questions' I was looking forward to Boris Johnson going through a similar public grilling. However, all my hopes were dashed when it was announced that Boris had well and truly bottled it.

Jonathan Dimbleby told the audience of the popular BBC radio show that: 

"inevitably we asked the other leading candidate Boris Johnson, if he would like to join the programme, and he declined, saying that he didn't wish to discuss national issues while he was concentrating on the London Mayoral election."

Now quite aside from the extraordinary nature of Boris not wanting to appear on a panel show, this is quite unbelievable. Here we have a man who may soon be the most powerful Conservative politician in the land, who could be a regular feature on both the national and the international stage, and yet he is too scared to submit himself to even a fraction of the scrutiny that he will face if he becomes London Mayor.

There have been reports here and here of Boris being hidden from the press, and other reports that he is being kept off the booze. But are we now facing the serious possibility that Boris could pedal into City Hall without undertaking any serious public scrutiny at all? 

Coverage of the mayoral elections has so far been entirely dominated by allegations of cronyism from the Evening Standard and their pals, with the occasional light relief of Boris planting trees and chatting to bus drivers. But on all the key issues that the capital faces, there has been almost no serious analysis of what the different candidates are offering.

But even more important than policies is the question of whether these three men can do the job. Brian Paddick is a celebrated police chief who is willing to make brave decisions and to answer to the consequences. Similarly, Ken Livingstone has put in place radical and controversial policies and has faced his critics head-on from day one. And then we have Boris.

Boris can cope with reading a speech or making a video. He has even managed to bluster his way through the occasional interview. But when it comes to facing point by point, issue by issue scrutiny, Boris is just completely and irreversibly sunk.

Demonstration of this can be found in today's Independent where Johann Hari interviews each candidate on gay issues. Paddick puts in a workmanlike performance, and Livingstone is as ever totally on the ball. But when it comes to Boris, Hari is astounded by his lack of knowledge:

"on all the questions, he seems to go into a sort of panicked free association where he desperately tries to find a link to something he knows about. When I ask him what he would do to reduce the sky-high rate of suicide among gay teenagers, he starts talking about the need to get kids out of gangs."

Even on his own voting record, the Henley MP was lost at sea. When asked why he voted to support Section 28, Boris appeared unsure as to what exactly that vote was all about. By the end of the interview Hari was left with little more than a few gags to fill the article.

The problem for Boris and for London is that there is only so much bendy buses and conductors can do for you and at some point over a term as mayor, some other questions just might come up. And whether you like Boris or not, this election could leave his clumsy hands on one of the most powerful and wealthy cities in the world. 

And when the camera crews have gone and his office door has swung shut, we could be left with a very lost and helpless man looking out over London. 

---UPDATE--- Clues as to why Boris is being kept off the airwaves can be found at Dave Hill's 'Live' Blog of the mayoral hustings

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Boris Johnson to plant 98% fewer Trees.

In any other campaign, a pledge to plant 98% fewer trees than your rival would be seen as laughable. But this isn't any other campaign. 

In fact in this campaign the two major media outlets covering the elections were both happy to spew out the line that Boris Johnson had pledged '10,000 new trees' for the capital.
David Cameron stealing a tree
Speaking to the BBC, Boris said: 

"in the last few years a third of (London) boroughs have seen a decline in the number of street trees - the mayor has done nothing to reverse this trend."

Well nothing that is except to plant 400,000 trees since 2004 and to make a pledge to plant a total of 1 million trees by 2012. By comparison, Boris would plant around only 10,000 of the 600,000 trees due to be planted.

Despite this The Evening Standard seemed more than convinced. For them, Boris pitiful announcement was in fact the start of a new green dawn for London. They explained:

"A tree lined street has only 10-15 per cent of the dust of a street without trees, as well as being 6-10C cooler. They absorb some traffic noise as well as providing habitats for local wildlife. Street trees also mitigate the effects of global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, cooling streets that are suffering from the "heat island" effect and by soaking up rainwater from flash floods. Urban trees can confer economic benefits as well, the Tories say. They point to estate agent's claims that the presence of trees in an urban area correlates with higher property values, perhaps as much as five to 15 per cent higher."

So more trees equals cleaner air and extra money in your pocket. All of which must mean an Evening Standard endorsement for Ken Livingstone can only be days away.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Let Sunshine Win the Dave

Now I could have lead today on the sacking of a Tory councillor who called for poor people to be sterilized. Alternatively I could have pointed to yet another Tory apology for racist comments. But to be quite honest all of that stuff is just like soooo old Conservative and The Tory Troll is like soooo over it.

So rather than open up old wounds I thought I would look forward to the brave new world that lies ahead in a Nu-Con utopia:

In Nu-Con land every day is Saturday and we all sit together in the mornings and eat wholesome bowls of muesli. And after a sip of organic juice we open the latest copy of The Guardian and recite the whimsical musings of Hoggart, to our politely giggling children.

Then we take the Daily Mail out for a nourishing and earnest walk. And as we pass the local yobs we remind them of the evils of chocolate oranges. And as they hang their hoods in shame we point them to the trendiest of youth projects.

And as we trek across the fields, baby deer scatter into the bushes. We lift our kiddies onto our shoulders and tell them of brave daddies and evil pheasants. 

And at midday we kick off our wellies and we sit in our local celebrity gastro-pub. And we chew subtle slices of fennel from our lightly manicured fingers.

And as the salmon pink sun sets down, on the horizon of second-homes, we pick up our copies of The Daily Telegraph and wonder at yet another efficiency saving.

And the leader columns cry of yet another boost to marriages and yet another cut in taxes and yet further house price rises.

And as David Cameron takes Blair on yet another eco-get-away, we look at Cameron surf a wave and think: thank god sunshine won the Dave.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

David Cameron's Bird-Blender to Spin again.

His party have rejected his green policies and now the green movement have rejected him. But that naughty boy David Cameron just will not be stopped from playing with his bird-blender.

Putting the wind up the neighbours - Daily Mail 

Greens turn their back on Tory Blues - The Tory Troll

Conservatives to ditch green taxes - The Times

Cam calls wind turbines "giant bird-blenders" - Conservative Home

Monday, 24 March 2008

Why Gordon Brown should NOT allow a free vote on the 'Frankenstein Bill'.

Opposition to the bill has been more about political theatre than moral or scientific debate.

As an MP you are elected to represent the best wishes of the people who elect you. You are not elected to pursue a religious crusade against the pursuit of science and medicine

In fact, if we wanted to be run by the will of Popes and Monarchs then the House of Commons would never have been built and democracy would never have been sought.

So if members of the cabinet want to resign over this bill then they should do so. If the creeds in their Bibles are more important than the future of their people, then they should do the honourable thing and remove themselves from politics.

Because despite what Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Co may believe, this country is not a land under god, but a people under their own collective will. We have spent centuries removing our country from the grip of religion and we are not about to surrender it now.

But at least these fundamentalists have the excuse of faith. Free market small-staters such as Paul Staines are also pretending outrage at this bill. Outrage at legislation which could extend hugely benificial and profitable scientific developments to our country. 

Future generations will not care about their hypocrisy and opportunism, nor the political difficulties of the present government. But they will care for the science and medicine that killing off this bill would delay.

So if Gordon Brown has any courage he should stand up to his cabinet, stand up to the fundamentalists and stand up to the Luddites. Because while religion has allayed the miseries of famine and disease for millennia, it is only with science that these evils can be truly matched.

Friday, 21 March 2008

David Cameron, Easy Rider

Rebel without a Cause?

The news that David Cameron has been finally caught cycling through red-lights and the wrong way up one-way streets will not change my opinion of him. I thought he was a self-righteous arrogant gas-bag before and I will continue to think the same way now.

However, Cameron had been seen breaking the laws of the road many times before and had indeed been warned in the media. Cameron's team even sent out a statement saying that Dave 'cares very much about road safety.' 

When questioned about cycling into Westminster without his helmet on, he replied that he took it off in order to be recognised by the security. In fact the truth was that he never wears it all. The self-styled family man is too careless or too vain to wear one and until now he has been quite happy to risk his own life and that of others.

Now again, I don't want to get too preachy about this. If Cameron wants to risk lives and then lie about it, then that's up to him. But what has really been revealing has been the reaction of many of his supporters. 

Like the fans of Top Gear who watch with glee as their hero Clarkson tears up a mountainside with his 4x4, Cameron's actions have and will be seen as somehow heroic. And like the army of middle aged men who go out in the dark of night to blow up Gatso cameras, Cameron will be seen as yet another warrior against that great tyranny of the people: road safety.

For these people, speed limits and parking fines, speed bumps and traffic lights are part of one big machinery to 'keep the people down.' For these people, every man's saloon car is his castle and who is 'the man' to tell him he can't use it how he likes?

Groups like safespeed and their extremist cousins speedcam, use statistics and cans of petrol to try and force through their view of the world. For these people, the greatest danger is not people dying on the road, but people being forced to drive below a speed limit. And for these people, David Cameron may well have presented himself as a new leader.

Top Tories Fear Over Boris Win

Will this be the most powerful tory in Britain?

Michael Portillo became the latest top tory to express his fears about Boris Johnson winning the London election.

Speaking last night on BBC's This Week, he refused to answer whether he thought Boris to be a serious politician. He told Andrew Neil:

"I have not seen Boris putting forward serious policies. That clip I saw a moment ago when he said it was all about crime is the first time I have seen him make a serious point, because until now he has just been about bendy buses... Even in that clip one had no understanding about how he was going to fight crime."

He went on to describe the possibility of Boris being the most powerful Tory in Britain as "extraordinary."

Portillo's unusual reluctance to endorse the Tories main hope for electoral success was explained by Diane Abbott:

"He thinks he is a joke. He thinks Boris is a joke."

The comments come just a week after it was reported that a member of David Cameron's shadow cabinet described the possibility of Boris winning as "terrifying"

You can watch the latest This Week here.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Greens turn their back on the Tory Blues.

When David Cameron became Tory leader he told the country that they should Vote Blue to go Green. Out went the fossil fuel blue flame and in came a climate-friendly green tree. Out went the stiff suits and sensible shoes and in came the scruffy trainers and green laces. Whether it was planting saplings, driving huskies, or constructing wind turbines, Cameron made it clear that the green movement was his own.
Cameron's green laces (green coloured car just out of shot)
But when environmental groups rated Tory policies as the least green out of the three main parties, it became clear that their brief affair was to be over. 

Within months, the Tories signaled an end to their support for green taxes, and this afternoon the Green Party lashed out, saying a tory administration would destroy the green agenda in London.

In an article for the New Statesman, the Green Party candidate Sian Berry urged her supporters to stop Boris Johnson at all costs and to give their 'insurance' vote to Ken. She warned them that:

"(Boris) stands for scrapping affordable housing requirements and abandoning higher charges for gas guzzlers. He opposed the minimum wage and the Kyoto treaty. He has tried to hoodwink London over airport expansion and he was a cheerleader for the war in Iraq. Johnson is no joke, and I cannot bear the thought of London under his cruel and careless control."

Indeed on all the key environmental issues, from airport expansion to emissions, Cameron's flagship candidate is as blue as a British Gas flame.

And despite all of Cameron's best efforts, the green movement in Britain have finally recognised him for what he is. Gone now will be the days of Cameron posing in front of Greenpeace banners and gone now will be the days of him being voted a British green icon.

Because now Dave's green days lay behind him, and only the blue Boris days lay ahead.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

How to Stop Boris

With little more than a month before the elections, and with Boris 12% ahead in the polls, the left are finally focusing on how to stop the man so many of them have ruled out.

Early attacks on Boris as a bungling racist toff clearly had little effect. They were a lazy effort which played only to their own side's already held beliefs. Even worse, they were a symptom of their complacency. No incumbent candidate, no matter how underwhelming their opponent, can ever expect an easy ride into a third term. Ken, a battle-scarred politician with a lifetime of enemies, was always going to find it especially tough.

And yet, when the left looked at their opponent, an incompetent bungler, a much-sacked man of letters, they just couldn't work themselves up to be frightened. 

How could this clown, how could this disaster-prone buffoon ever be a credible threat to an experienced and wily politician? And how could the public ever be so stupid or so careless, to vote in a man with little previous interest or experience in real politics? 

They took comfort too in Livingstone's satisfaction ratings. The majority of the public it seemed, were happy with Ken and London. Why would they be so foolish as to risk it on an established and notorious disaster-zone?

And yet, as the latest opinion polls show, that is exactly what they are prepared to do. Three months of campaigning from the Evening Standard and a tightly controlled and alcohol free Boris have left many with the sentiment of: "Time for a change".

Boris' team have run a deliberately low-key campaign. His appearances have been tightly controlled with interviews limited. His only 'serious' interview with Andrew Marr, was laughable with Boris blustering through a pre-prepared speech.  Marr was half-angered and half-amused by his own failed attempts to get a word in edgeways. 

Performances since then have been firmly in the hands of Lynton Crosby. Today they announced that Boris would take part in a 'debate' in a 'virtual speakers corner.' This debate consists of Boris making speeches to web camera, and users posting responses below. This is hardly the kind of presidential debate that David Cameron made such a fuss about.

In fact despite Cameron's mocking of Brown, both Livingstone and Paddick have tried and failed to secure a set of television debates with Johnson. And with his position in the polls, why should he risk it?

And yet if the left are to defeat Boris, this is exactly what they must achieve. Boris is safe when reading a speech or making a gag, but he has repeatedly shown a failure to grasp figures and detail. To expose him, Livingstone and Paddick must get him out into the open. This is where he will be on a daily basis if he becomes mayor, so that is where they must drag him now. 

Boris past and policies will not keep him out of City Hall. But seeing him scrutinised and flustered just might. 

(Images taken from the StopBoris campaign and Facebook group.)

Monday, 17 March 2008

Willy Hague, billy goats and flying pigs

Banks are collapsing, wars are raging, and teenagers are gunning each other down on the street. But you certainly can't accuse the Tories of shying from the big issues.

To be fair to the tories I'm getting quite addicted to WebCameron now. It's a bit like Jamie's School Dinners, but without the politics.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Tory right tell Cameron to be a man

                   Tory Man?                                    New Man?                   
It has come to something when even Matthew Parris is telling you to man-up. But such is the situation David Cameron finds himself in on the morning of his spring conference speech. Writing in today's Times, Parris tells him:

"The cartoonist Martin Rowson's image of David Cameron as a flower-picking, chubby, lace-cuffed, purple-pantalooned butterfly-chaser is potentially fatal...

"If I were in charge of shaping the new Conservative message I should within six months be wanting to hear from focus groups that if the Tory party were a sauce it would be Tabasco; if it were a garment it would be a hair shirt; if it were a physic it would be smelling salts; and if it were weather it would be a bracing northerly breeze."

So presumably focus groups currently say that the Tories are like salad cream, blouses and drizzle. 

What Parris comments show is that despite all of Cameron's best efforts to win over women voters, the vast majority of the male and stale Tory party couldn't give a stuffed shirt about policies such as extending parental leave

For Cameron's army of sports-car driving, forest-burning, cow-eating, Euro-bashing meat-heads, there are only two words that sound sweeter than the theme tune to Top Gear, and those two words are Tax and Cuts.

Egging him on further, Parris tells Cameron that he should be as 'unsentimental'  in scrapping Labour policies as Thatcher was in opposition. Scrapping policies such as:

"Gordon Brown's tax-credit system; the abuse of incapacity benefit; the New Deal programme; the near-doubling (to such modest effect) of spending on the NHS..."

So come on Mr Cameron, tear off your pink shirt, throw that puppy off the cliff and let's get messy. If it's time for a change then let's see it. Tories want less hospitals and more poverty and they want them now. And if you're not man enough for the job; if you're just happy hugging the Labour slow-lane; then there is one star in an average-priced car, who is just itching to get his hands on the wheel.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Why Cameron should leave his family out of it.

There has been much play in the papers about David Cameron inviting a camera crew to film his family eating breakfast. 

The Daily Mail for one judged that it was 'a swipe at Gordon Brown who is visibly uncomfortable talking about his private life and interests.' 

Because like many politicians and public figures, Gordon Brown is wary of the media getting too close. As others before him have learnt, the media will be reluctant to leave your door once you have ushered them over the threshold.

The ITV crew were invited by Cameron for a tie-in with a Conservative announcement about maternity leave. However, the real message for the public was this: 

Brown is odd and aloof, Cameron is a man of the people. Cameron understands you guys out there. Cameron understands your family life. Hey look, Cameron eats Cheerios and plays wih his kids. Not like that weirdo Brown. I wonder what Brown's family does for breakfast? Cold porridge and bible passages no doubt. Cold bloody porridge and miserable bloody bible passages. 

Now putting aside the sheer desperation of parading your disabled child on the eve of a policy announcement, this piece of public relations grates to a painful degree. In fact ever since I saw John Gummer shove a burger into his child's unsuspecting face during the BSE crisis, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with politicians using their families for political gain. 

Now I don't want to sound pious here. If Cameron really wants to pimp out his kids to the morning papers, then that's up to him. But if we have to sit here and suffer our national political debate descending into a battle of who's got the most fashionable kitchen, then something is going to go seriously, seriously wrong.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Henley Residents on Boris Johnson

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Will this video be shown at the Tory Conference?

As the blue-rinses waited for their dear leader at the last Tory Conference, they were treated to this stunning piece of Nu-Con propaganda. 

The BBC weren't allowed to show it so they instead focused on the reactions of the frankly bewildered audience.

And as the trance beats and old jungle bass boomed out into the hall, dystopian slogans rained down on the sleepy masses, too fast for them even to get their reading glasses out. They spelt out a new world with new challenges. Such as this one:

"It is now cheaper for a teenager to buy an ecstasy pill than a ticket to the cinema"

Oh dear nodded the rinses. That sounds bad. I wonder what Dave will do to stop that. Put a tax on ecstasy tablets perhaps? Or subsidise cinema tickets maybe.

No time to think about that so on to the next one: 

"The streets of Soweto are safer than the streets of Hackney."

Oh yes nodded the rinses. Bloody country going to hell in a handcart. Third world country it is. Bloody third world country. 

As I read this factoid something about it just didn't quite ring true and sure enough Hugh Muir points out:

"The original source for the (Soweto) claim was Donal Shanahan, then a consultant surgeon at the Homerton hospital in Hackney, who made the claim during a trip to Soweto. But that was in 2002. So what has happened since? 

Well crime has fallen in both Hackney and Soweto, and a good comparison can be made with 2005-6. Official figures say Hackney that year saw 6 murders, 256 offences of grevious bodily harm, 136 rapes and 3500 burglaries. In Soweto over the same period, there were 400 murders 7800 assaults with GBH, 1726 rapes and 5140 carjavkings. The population there is four times larger, but even that doesn't begin to account for the disparity. Still it's a nice video. Looks really great."

This is the old politics says the video and the Tory Troll completely agrees. Some change is definitely required.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Tory Right Would Love to Take the Michael

Is this the man to unite the Tories?

Just as the claws come out over Osborne's spending pledges, the man I tipped as his replacement has received a strong boost to his chances.

Tory activists have overwhelmingly voted the ex-treasury spokeman Michael Fallon as their Parliamentarian of the Year.

Fallon is a respected member of the Treasury Select Committee. He was also widely praised for his attacks on the government over Northern Rock, at the very same time as Boy George was derided for his.

This coupled with his principled support for tax and spending cuts means that he must now surely be the favourite to succeed Osborne as Shadow Chancellor. 

Putting Fallon on the front benches would unite the party and remove voter's doubts over placing their trust in the boy Osborne.

Unfortunately for the Tories, this is a fight which Cameron shows no sign he is willing to take on.

Tory Tax Mess: Could the Tories Increase Taxes?

Taxes could rise under a Tory government it was revealed today.

Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond told the Financial Times that reduced borrowing would take priority over tax cuts in the first term of a Tory government.

Although he repeated the Nu-Con mantra that they were a tax-cutting party 'by instinct' he refused to pledge any cuts that would lead to a cut in public services.

This came despite George Osborne's commitment on the Andrew Marr show that they would 'squeeze' spending on welfare and Andrew Lansley's statement that some cuts were inevitable as health spending rises.

The comments from Hammond suggest that the Tories could be going into the next election both pledging to cut spending on the one hand, and refusing to cut taxes on the other.

In fact as Lansley's admission suggests, an increasingly aging and dependent population could well lead the Tories to both spend and therefore tax at a higher level.

All of which will leave most voters wondering just what the Tories are for.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Why journalists have their snouts in the politician's trough.

It is received wisdom that we are much less deferential to our politicians than ever before. We are told that the media has never been so powerful, nor our leaders ever so scrutinised.

In fact it has never been easier for a politician to influence the media than today. Never before have politicians been less scared of our nations journalists and never before have readers been more poorly served.

In the past, all newspaper stories had to be fought for on street corners, with each journalist using their ingenuity, contacts and perseverance not just to get a scoop but to get a better scoop than everyone else.

But those days have now past.

Newspapers are now routinely constructed from the sedentary position. Both the internet and freedom of information requests means that journalists no longer need leave their desks. Often a journalist's deepest investigation will be of the choice of ciabattas at the staff canteen.

And in the land of anti-social journalism, the PR man is king. Devoid of scoops and mired in commentary, your average Isle of Dogs hack has become a sitting target for the incoming press release flak. 

Take the Conservative retreat on defence spending. This was by any measure an embarrassing climb-down, but eager to cover incoming fire, they sent out press releases claiming that the government had broken the military covenant and that the Conservatives would not reduce spending. Anyone interested in what the headline was for that press release should just take a look at some of the headlines it produced.

The Metro: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable that the Conservatives would cut the defence budget."

Daily Star: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable that the Conservatives would cut the defence budget."

The Guardian: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox:"I find it inconceivable..."

Selkirk Weekend Advertiser: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable..."

Sunday Express: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable.."

MOD News: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable..."

Liverpool Echo: Tories make defence spending pledge
Liam Fox: "I find it inconceivable.."

The list of identical stories goes on much longer than I have the patience to list here, but what is interesting is that not one of the papers questions why this press release was sent out. Not one paper sought to question the party line to even the most trivial degree.

At the end of another day reprocessing the words of PR men, your average hack at your average rag, merely cuts and pastes and clicks publish. Day by day this is repeated and day by day readers desert them. 

And as PR agencies boom, newspapers bust, and the best creative and journalistic talent are lost to Public Relations. 

Yet whilst the business-end of newspaper offices are now manned by work experience kids and unpaid interns, the headlines and leaders remain in the hands of those with contacts. In fact it is the old fellas who lunch with our leaders who now almost solely hold sway. 

While once a newspaper editor's most valued asset was his reporters, the job of bringing in the scoops now lands almost solely in the laps of the politicians and their dining chums.

The effect of this all is the merging of the establishment and the media. It is politicians and their mates alone who now create the stories we read. Scoops come from lunches, leaks and moles; spin, counter-spin and spin-in-advance. Put simply, the value of a story is no longer measured by the amount of door-steps mounted but by the number of dinner bills accumulated. 

With every prime joint scoffed, and fine wine sloshed, our top journalist's bums get even further wedged into their seats. And from their doggy bags and leftovers, a weary nation is fed.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Getting Tangled in the Webcameron

Last week David Cameron launched the 'Friends of the Conservatives' campaign which sounded a bit too close to a 'Friends of the Earth' campaign: we all know it's an old and dying lump but by God it keeps on spinning.

The campaign was built around the idea that kids willing to spend a pound on the latest Dizzee Rascal number might consider doing the same for The Conservatives. Lord knows Dave probably thought Dizzee's fox-hunting video was a mark of respect to the Cameron crew:

In reality the whole thing is a pale imitation of Obama's internet campaign. But what Cameron doesn't realise is that Obama's message has only had success because it has been combined with enormous support from an army of activists on the ground. 

Just imagine Cameron sending out his own troops to get out the British youth. I can just see the blue- rinses marching on the street corners now. Just think of the thrilling activities that await our net-savvy youngsters when they stride into a local Conservative association. 

When Cameron ran for the leadership, he persuaded his party that he understood the web generation. The Conservatives had come third amongst under-35s at the 2005 election and Cameron positioned himself as the man to turn that round.

Which makes it all the stranger that he should come out with this campaign in the Daily Mail. According to the Mail the Conservatives would impose 'huge civil fines' or 'criminal charges' on websites such as Youtube that carry violent or sexual footage.

Now quite aside from the practicalities of a British government pressing charges on a US-based website run by the most successful internet company in the world, this story just doesn't ring true.

Indeed as The Mail readers helpfully point out in the Comments section of the article, Youtube has a policy of removing all illegal material as soon as it is pointed out by its users. And with hundreds of thousands of videos being posted every day, it is inevitable that some nasty ones will slip through the net.

In fact if you read further down the Mail article, you see that the Conservatives would only impose these fines if sites 'ignore' complaints that are given to them. Quite how a judge would decide what had been ignored and what complaints had been made is quite another matter. But the fact is that this policy has as much chance of success as the Friends of the Conservatives campaign. 

Because the internet is open and free to all, and its users access what they want, not what Conservative HQ think they should want. 

And there is no amount of 'liberal conservatism' that will change that.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Tory Logic: Defence Spending is Pitiful. That's why we we won't raise it.

Liam Fox has done a great job in criticising the government on defence. He was behind this headline in the Telegraph last year:

Defence Spending is Lowest Since the 1930s

and this one in the Financial Times in January:

Tories Press National Audit Office on Defence Spending.

Fox has tirelessly fought his corner, arguing that with two major wars in operation, government spending is woefully inadequate. He said of the government's level of spending:

"To drop to this level of our national wealth seems absolutely crazy. We have a smaller navy than the French and our ships are being mothballed. What a triumph for new Labour."

What a triumph indeed. So it must have been with some distaste that Fox went to announce that the Tories would not increase defence spending.

So why did this happen?

Well as I said here, Osbornes commitment to overall levels of government spending means that any Tory commitment in one area of government, necessarily means a cut in another. The Tories were deliberately dithering over which area to raise and which to cut for some time. Each shadow spokesman warily eyed the other as they went into Cameron's office. 

So when Andrew Lansley publicly committed his party to an increase of £28 million in health spending, the shadow cabinet must have kicked off in style.

Cameron's first reaction was to blame the story on mis-reporting.  ConservativeHome also rode in to the rescue and tried to put the announcement down the memory hole

Unfortunately for them the cat was out of the bag. All of the papers ran with the story and the impression that the Tories would increase spending was out there.

Faced with this situation Cameron had to make a cut. Not willing to cut services in real terms, Cameron had no choice but to cut planned increases elsewhere.

So Liam Fox's defence increases had to take that chop.

Although wounded in battle, Fox took a falling swipe at his fellow shadow cabinet member. Asked about Lansley's comments by the Telegraph,  Fox replied:

"I just think it is a timely reminder of the need to be very disciplined and careful when discussing any spending plans."

I think we can imagine what disipline Fox would really like to exercise.