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.

My election result prediction: Tory majority of 8

Prompted by Iain Dale’s request to Help predict the election result, I suppose I ought to let you know my submission to his survey.

On January 10th this year I predicted a Conservative majority of between 35 and 45. Too far out to be a sensible prediction. Wiser heads than mine, notably Iain Dale, were predicting a majority of 12 at that time.

I stick firmly to my view that this is the hovering pencil election. The electors pencil will hover over the voting paper in a moment of quiet contemplation in the polling booth. Pondering five more years of Gordon Brown, beguiled by Nick Clegg, but rationally deciding to dump Gordon, and to reject the leap into the unknown with Clegg, settling for change with the Conservatives.  

So, here’s my prediction in number of seats: Conservatives-334; Labour-221; LibDem-70; SNP-7; Plaid-2; others-16; Total 650

 Am I confident in my prediction? no. Am I optimistic? yes. Am I hopeful? you betcha.

Cameron shines, Clegg blows up, Brown exhausted

Well, that’s it. I’ve watched the debate, caught the various news channels, watched Question Time, and finished with This Week. I’m pooped, plus have caught man flu from wife. So, I’ll keep it short, and will provide more later today.

Brown: Yes, he was combative, but my oh my so negative. A couple of times I thought he’d simply collapse like a pricked balloon. What resilience, what dedication to the cause of state control. However, sadly for Gordon there’s no way he’ll gain any votes in as a reward. Brown is burned toast. Resigns on the day of election defeat.

Clegg: All that earnest youthful imploring to vote for him failed. Not sure when, early on I think,  suspect it was the question about growing our manufacturing base, the Clegg hot air balloon lost its tethering ropes, and was gone. Occasionally he managed to haul it back, but then loosing his grip, it was gone again. The stuff at the end was plain cheesy.

Cameron: Only the most tribal would disagree that Cameron was the outright winner. The one time when Cameron’s passion and presentational fire shone was in the answer to a question where he said,  ‘damn right’. Oddly, he seemed to rein himself in after that. Maybe Michael Portillo, on This Week, had it right when he said that it was the compromise he had to make to appear prime ministerial. Control, that’s what Cameron exhibited. Refusing to be drawn into answering the other leaders questions. Oh, and having enough ammunition, in terms of argument, in the follow-up discussions, after the initial question. That’s real control, saving ammunition, which you might not get a chance to use, and yet being comfortable about it.

Done. Dusted. Lemsip and honey drunk. Now to bed

Second train wreck of the day: Nick Clegg

The first train wreck of the day was Gordon Brown, obviously. The second one is Nick Clegg’s interview with Eddie Mair on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. This is no joke. Clegg was an unmitigated disaster. [The audio clip is not yet available, will post when available].

Nick Clegg struggled to answer Eddie Mair’s questions. Oh, what a superb interviewer is Eddie Mair. Starting off by asking Clegg to confirm his interest in being Prime Minister, to which Clegg said yes.

Mair then said he’d ask questions about the man who might be Prime Minister, such as about Clegg’s lack of religious faith. Clegg’s answer was shambolic. All pauses, ums, aahs, … bluster, bluster. and no sensible answer given. Most un-prime ministerial.

Clegg only got into his stride when asked questions about LibDem policy, but even then he was caught by the sharpness of Eddie Mair’s questions on Trident, and voting reform.

Ending the interview, Eddie Mair went back to question about Clegg’s inner man, asking, ‘When did you cry last?’ Nick Clegg, pause, hum, aah, … more pauses, bluster, bluster. Shambolic.

Result; Impression given is that Clegg is a political chancer with no inner values. Heck, this is a man who says he wants to run the country and is outwitted by an interviewer. Phew.

Quote of the day: on political donations

Jeff Randall, on Sky News Randall and Boulton Unleashed, just signed of with a lovely quote about Labour raising £1.49 million in donations in the second week of the campaign, against £2.22 million for the Tories, and £120,000 for the LibDems,

“If money talks, it’s not having a conversation with Nick Clegg.”

Questions on hung parliament expose Lib Dems weakness

It takes political skill to deflect questions about a hung parliament and it’s ramifications. Here are three statements.

Labour: Ed Balls succeeded with ease in deflecting Jeremy Paxman’s questions on the subject of a hung parliament on Newsnight. I thought Ed Balls performed strongly against Paxo, rightly saying,

“Nick Clegg at the moment is giving the impression that he himself can decide who will be the prime minister of this country, but that will be decided by the people at the ballot box.”

Conservatives: David Cameron tells a crowd in Romsey that,

“The great plan of Nick Clegg is now becoming clear – he is only interested in one thing. That is changing our electoral system so we have permanent hung parliament, we have a permanent coalition. It is now becoming clear he wants to hold the whole country to ransom just to get what would benefit the Liberal Democrats.”

Meanwhile Nick Clegg for the LibDems merely offers confusion in spelling out his conditions for support in a hung parliament. Tom Bradby, ITV’s political editor, in A serious mistake? thinks Nick Clegg’s choice of electoral reform over the economy as the key election topic is a serious tactical mistake.

Paul Mason, Newsnight’s economics editor, eventually in the The economics of a hung parliament, concludes that the bond market [aka the economy] may pass judgement on a hung parliament faster than politicians can handle, which supports Tom Bradby’s view.

Quote of the day: Nick Clegg

Nick Wood of Media Intelligence Partners has an article on the Conservative Home blog, in which he writes about political press conferences, and how to manage journalist’s questionings. In his article says,

“Clegg has an endearing, but ultimately amateurish tendency to answer the question, often at great length.”

The second Leaders’ TV Debate and follow-up stuff

I watched, enjoyed, and possibly endured four and a half hours of political news, debate, and reflections last night. Beginning with the Leaders’ TV Debate, follow-up reactions, Question Time and This Week. I’ll make it short.

Leaders’ TV Debate: I thought David Cameron won by a country mile, [hell, I’m conservative you know] even though I spotted a couple of weak responses. It’s these that drag down his overall rating, methinks. Brown put in a strong performance, although looked worn out. Amazing to me that he’s lasted this long, a tribute to his resilience and inner drive. Clegg again delivered a polished presentation. But, I’m probably in the minority in not warming to his, or the LibDem blandishments. When Clegg mentioned climate change in his opening speech, I was surprised. Where’s that come from. Are the LibDems going for the student vote? Result: No knockout blow from any leader. They all live to fight on, in the final debate.

Conclusion: It’s taken me a while to come to get here; I think the result of the MP’s expenses scandal and loss of trust in politics, has morphed into an amorphous desire for change, which the LibDems have successfully captured, through both luck and policies for change in the political system. We’ve just got to live with the consequences now of a three-way fight, however uncomfortable.

Post debate review: Can I say how much I loathe senior politicians being interviewed after the debate. They offer no perspective whatsoever. Much better to talk to commentators, or intelligent observers.

Question Time: Anne Leslie was my star in Question Time, particularly for debunking the LibDem halo on party funding, and also on a hung parliament. Good on her. In an odd way, I get the feeling that the public’s desire for a hung parliament is an easy way of avoiding giving direct support to any one party.

This Week: Tiredness was overcoming me from a long day out. Politicians, commentators, and journalists must all be sleep-deprived wrecks, living on adrenalin. Surely, they can’t all be happy to have the uncertainty of a hung parliament after the election, with the mayhem continuing.

Wall-to-wall politics, choices, choices

I’m more of a WATO man than a Daily Politics man. Preferring to listen to the World at One on Radio 4 while on the move, rather than be sat in front of a screen of whatever kind to watch the Daily Politics

And so it was that I listened to Nick Clegg take questions from listeners for 40 minutes on Radio, than watch the Chancellor’s TV Debate on the Daily Politics

Nick Clegg is no where near as good on radio as he is on TV. His verbal tics grate on radio, unleavened by seeing his accompanying hand gestures. His interrupting of questioners, or speaking over them, a regular LibDem tactic, aren’t in any way appealing. They are plain rude.

The overall impression that Nick Clegg gave, was not of measured urgency in his answers, it was frantic, a sort of panic to convince. Many audience questions weren’t directly answered, with Martha Kearney often having to get Clegg back to the question. An unconvincing display.