Labour’s tactics against Coalition neatly summed up

Janet Daley, in Sunday’s Telegraph, has neatly summed up Labour’s unsubtle tactics to split the coalition government. Not for them the honesty of political debate, or serious discussion on policy, more a question of “lobbing rocks” at the coalition as she says,

“In the best tradition of desperate, unscrupulous opposition politics, Labour – leaderless and rudderless as it may be – is lobbing rocks at the Coalition with all the fervour and anarchic witlessness of a mob of teenage insurgents.”

“To this end, [Labour’s aim of destabilising of the Liberal-Conservative alliance] they are scraping up every shred of incompatibility and contradiction which they perceive – or pretend to perceive – and hawking it to their friends in the media, whose loyalty to the Labour cause (whatever it turns out to be in its coming reincarnation) is of North Korean proportions.”

Janet worries that there’s a danger of a split coming soon. I think she falls to easily in line with the Westminster-centric pundocracy who see in problems at every turn. The general public to my mind see the need for change, and are happy, wrong word – not happy, are genrally accepting of it.

Review of BBC’s ‘Five days that changed Britain’

Remarkable, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson’s ability to assemble a large cast for his Five Days That Changed Britain TV programme of how the Conservative & Lib Dem coalition government was formed.

Nick provides interesting detail on the making of the programme in A leap in the dark, and Tim Montgomerie has some useful notes on who said what.

Full of cameo interviews from most of the key players in the drama, that is all except one notable absentee, Gordon Brown. Nothing new there I imagine you conclude. What a missed opportunity for Gordon to be reflective and statesmanlike.

My star of the show was William Hague, all smiles, insight, and openness. What a change from the earnestness of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary. Hague’s lovely imaginings of what Gordon Brown, in No 10, was thinking, while the coalition discussions were taking place just yards away in the Cabinet Office.

From watching the interviews it’s easy to conclude that Labour’s players were all about grievance, while Conservatives and Lib Dems were about opportunity. Openness – that’s what Labour’s players seemed to lack; Ed Balls all indignant grievance; and from Lord Mandleson such carefully chosen words, but never quite enough to expose the truth.  

The Liberal Democrats – Clegg, Laws, Ashdown, and Hughes, all impressive. Ming Campbell less so, showing a sense of loss of what might have been.

How interesting that the Civil Service, and especially its head Sir Gus O’Donnell, had prepared for a coalition outcome, and urged on the discussions. Fed up, probably, of Gordon Brown’s indecision.

Finally, about Cameron. I think he’s showing the essential difference between Tories and all other parties, and that is while Conservatives have values and principles, the key difference is intelligent pragmatism. For a lifelong political people-watcher like me, this programme was fun. Nick Robinson, ignore all your critics, well done.

PS: Caught a bit of the Newsnight discussion on the programme, in which Ed Miliband offered the now normal Labour denial of the need for change. And he’s second favourite for the Labour leadership. Hmmm – Labour, you’ll have to find better than a Miliband to lead you.

PMQ’s analysis: Clegg confident

I managed to catch Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday before having to dash off to a meeting.

There were high expectations on how Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, would perform. He was pitted against Labour’s old warhorse Jack Straw. As Jerry Hayes splendidly writes, the omens were not good for Nick Clegg.

Well, well. What a turnabout. Jack Straw was a rambling wreck of himself of old, yet still well-turned out in double-breasted suit, which merely seemed to accentuate that’s all that was left of him, a veneer of importance.

Let’s get to Nick Clegg. He was polished, confident, well-briefed, amusing, and even managed an edgy self-defining comment about the illegality of the Iraq war. If Labour think that they can prise apart this coalition, then they’re going to have to work a darn sight harder than Jack Straw did.

Political commentator’s and Labour politicians seem to want to skewer Nick Clegg on some sort of mis-speak on the cancelled government hand-out for Sheffield Forgemasters. Much as they both think that this will run and run. The public, in my view, aren’t interested. It’ll be one of those topics that interests political propellor-heads but no one else

Verdict in marks out of ten: Nick Clegg – 9; Jack Straw – 4; John Bercow – 3.

Shouldn’t have to mention the Speaker’s performance, but what an irritating personage he’s become. This was an end of term PMQ’s. The next one isn’t until September. Where’s the harm in a little boisterousness. Anodyne political debate is much more dangerous than a rowdy PMQ’s.

Question Time analysis: a useless blood sport?

I’ve pondered whether it’s time to bin the BBC’s Question Time programme in its current form. I said then that “the format does not work when the country has a coalition government and is in the midst of an economic emergency”. Big national issues need intelligent discussion, not to be treated as a point scoring blood sport.

Last night’s programme was again a humourless affair, shedding no light on any topic.

I’m wondering whether a change of presenter might make the difference. I get the impression that David Dimbleby sees himself as some grand inquisitor, trying to draw blood from sharp jabs of questions. In this he’s aided and abetted by producers whose aim seems to be to create unbalanced panels where the most strident opinion is favoured over the most thoughtful.

What were the delights we were offered last night? There was George Galloway, no longer an MP, with views at the very margins of our society; Sally Bercow, famous, or is it infamous, for the verbal dribble she commits to Twitter, and who happens to be the wife of the supposedly impartial Speaker of the House of Commons; Francis Maude, a rather earnest government minister with the rest of the panel likely to be against him; Andy Burnham, a failed Labour minister seeking to justify his recent political judgements and to promote himself as the new leader of the Labour Party – enough of elections, pleeeeease, and finally Nick Ferrari, a talk show radio host given to offering pithy and populist opinion.

Where, oh, where was the thoughtful discussion? I rest my case.

Review: This Week of two weeks ago and political honeymoons

Reviewing old news, what use is that? Well, there are a few useful conclusions from Andrew Neil’s This Week programmes that I’m not sure have been fully commented on.

Two week’s ago one of Andrew’s guests was lead singer with Scouting for Girls, Roy Stride. He was revealing on the thoughts of youngish and keen LibDem supporters. His view was that the coalition is positive development in British politics, and that it should be given a chance to succeed. Roy felt that the coalition has rid the country of the overly tribal nature of British political discourse and reporting.

Know what, I think he’s right. For years the internecine warfare among the Labour hierarchy, and the twisting of the truth by Labour spin doctors, has poisoned the well of goodwill towards politicians of all parties. The other notable thing in the interview with Roy Stride was the strength of his optimism about the coalition. This was said in face of strong political negativity from others on the programme.  

A small point on political honeymoons. I believe this one to be different, in that there’s a separation of honeymoons for individuals in government, from the hopes of what a coalition might be able to achieve that a single party could not. That’s why this honeymoon will be longer than might be normally expected.

Andrew Neil has invited all the Labour leadership candidates onto the sofa with Michael Portillo, and then grills them hard on their political vision. He despatched Diane Abbott’s ambitions with cruel efficiency the week before. In this show it was the turn of Andy Burnham, who fared little better than Diane. Pressed hard about why he should be Labour leader, Burnham’s replies were insipid. Again Neil was a clear and easy winner in the exchanges, leading to the conclusion that another contender had bitten the dust of political disappointment.

Petition response from No10 on extra funding for Surrey

In my email in tray this morning is a response from Government to the on-line petition I signed earlier this year, for the Prime Minister “to urgently review funding levels for local government in Surrey.”

I’m pleased to receive the response, but not surprised that it hasn’t had much effect, as this part of the response shows:

“This means that generally an authority with a high need to spend on services, for example due to deprivation, and a low ability to raise funds locally, i.e. council tax, will receive more formula grant than an authority with a low need to spend and high ability to raise funds locally.”

One positive to take out of the response is the committment to devolve power to local authorities. The only pity is that is doesn’t come with any more money. Here’s what they say about this committment:

“”We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance. “

PMQ’s analysis: Cameron in command

Out for most of the day and World Cup footie in the evening, so have caught up with PMQ’s through BBC Democracy Live [Also available HERE].

Two things to note about this PMQ’s. One to discuss its content, but the other about the Speaker’s view of its purpose. I’ll address the second point in a separate blog post.

I imagine there are many still adjusting to the new look of PMQ’s, what with the LibDems and the Tories in coalition, and still no leader of the Labour Party, PMQ’s is very different. The one person who seems to have adapted most quickly is David Cameron. He seems made for the role of Prime Minister. As Sky News’ Joey Jones comments in his excellent PMQ’s analysis, David Cameron showed a “remarkable command of statistics without notes”.

Interestingly, three of the most media-savvy new Labour MP’s managed to get called to ask a question by the Speaker, Gloria del Piero, Rushanara Ali, and Chuka Umunna. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from these three MP’s in the future. I hope so because, as I’ve noted previously, the Labour party sorely needs new faces.

As to the overall result, I’m still of the opinion that marks out of 10 for performance isn’t quite appropriate, maybe later perhaps. However, my overall view is that David Cameron is the most commanding presence in the chamber, and that Harriet Harman would be more effective if she’d decided to enter the race for Labour leadership. It would have given her more edge to the exchanges with the Prime Minister.