Saturday, October 07, 2006

Do We Have A Right To Know?

The Guardian has published a detailed interview with David Blunkett here in which he claims to have had clinical depression at the time of his resignation. Interestingly, when he consulted on what was wrong with him, "the Commons doctor recommended antidepressants". In this instance David Blunkett turned the offer down, but how many other ministers are using antidepressants at any time? How many MPs? Depression is a terrible illness and people who suffer from it deserve our utmost sympathy, but should they be running the country? Should they be making important decisions about whether we go to war?

Blunkett states that "I was barely sleeping, and yet I was being asked to sign government warrants in the middle of the night." This is an outrage. Who is watching these people if our elected representatives are incapable of reviewing the important documents put in front of them? Blunkett also claims that on Iraq "I did not take enough notice because I was home secretary, and I did not argue enough about what we were doing presentationally about the dossiers. I just did not." Was this linked to the illness?

The points raised by Blunkett should be pounced on by the mainstream press. It is vitally important that our government ministers, Cabinet or not, should be physically and emotionally fit.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Hole Is Getting Deeper

As I wrote here a week ago, Jack Straw has written off any chance of becoming the next leader of the Labour party because of his inept handling of questions on Question Time. He's pretty much banged the final nail into the coffin with his comments about muslim women wearing veils. If this was a final attempt to get good coverage and prove what a leader he is then he's made a massive miscalculation. I think his time may be up.

It's A Small World After All

My apologies for not posting over the last 24 hours. I'm actually in Marrakech for a friend's wedding. For those of you that haven't been to Morocco before, I highly recommend coming here. My ryad (hotel) is wonderful and you should check it out if you ever decide to visit. The website is here.

If you can believe it, I shared a hotel taxi with a lady who had just spent the last week at the Conservative Party Conference. She's over here for the next five days relaxing at a yoga retreat and looked like she needed it. Clearly Bournemouth had taken it out of her.

On the way into town I took the opportunity to grill her on her impressions of the previous week. I suppose what surprised me most was the zeal with which she repeated back the Conservative party slogan of the week - "social responsibility". It was harder to get her to explain exactly what it means. She's very much a Cameroon and had swallowed the new Tory language hook, line and sinker.

She was a little annoyed with the mainstream coverage of Cameron's speech and thought that some of the journalists had over-egged the commentary. In particular, she thought that one journalist's description of a "sharp intake of breath" when Cameron talked about gay marriage was simply wrong. She didn't disagree with the fact that there was distinctly less applause at that point in the speech.

She is one of the new generation of Tories and looks like she's signed up to the new agenda. It feels a lot like New Labour in 1994 and the cult of personality around David Cameron is growing stronger by the day.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Declaration of Independence

When approached by my good friend, who finds himself disillusioned and bored with UK politics, to write a column focusing on a US view of things, he gave me simple parameters. I could write anything I wanted. Needless to say, as a stout patriot, I had been hoping he would impose some sort of oppressive stamp tax or other Intolerable Acts (which I believe you in the UK quaintly call the Punitive Acts) on what I wrote, but here I am, a former colonist given a free hand by the mother country. Life is sweet indeed!

As such, you will find in this column my unexpurgated American perspective on UK politics. And given that they are from an American perspective, you can rest assured that 95% of what I say will have nothing to do with UK politics. So I must ask your forbearance on that in advance.

A brief note on my credentials as an American: I am 100% American. I was born here, live here now, and have no plans to travel abroad in the immediate future. I don't understand the rules of cricket (although to be fair I don't follow NASCAR either). One of my favorite poems is “American Names” by Stephen Vincent Benet, mostly because I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. I have driven cattle, been thrown from a saddle bronc in a rodeo a time or two, and believe New York is the greatest city in the world. If none of that does it for you, I would reference a delightful former co-worker of mine, a descendant of not one but two of your Prime Ministers, who described me as the "most American person" in the office. I mention that less for his judgment (which arguably was based on a very small, and skewed, sample), but rather for the fact that I took it as one of the biggest compliments I have ever been paid.

But please don't think me a knee-jerk provincialist. One of the great things about the US, I believe, is the multitude of cultures, beliefs and backgrounds that co-exist in our system. We are often intolerant--many of our founding fathers were slave owners and a few days spent on an Indian reservation won't leave a very good taste in your mouth about our living up to our ideals--but I believe our system of government, and our constant cultural renewal, allows us to constantly strive for something better. I often think of an anecdote from your side of the pond: Disraeli was asked to adjudicate a meeting of the Royal Society, wherein the leading scholars of the day took turns debating the great issue of the day: Darwin's ideas on evolution. When the learned professors had finished their back and forth, Disraeli rose to offer his pronouncement. Always the diplomatist, and not wishing (or perhaps not able) to join the battle armed with scientific studies, he offered a simple summation: "The question is, is man an ape or an angel? I, my lords, am on the side of the angels." Anyway, that’s how I see the U.S. on a good day.

(If you agree, click here.)

As regards my views on UK politics, let me start by saying that I simply don’t understand the system. Fundamentally, I can’t. I don’t understand the Queen. I don’t understand how a government can just collapse. Or even that “governments” come and go. Dirty secret: When I read “Conservatives” I have to translate this into “Republicans” and when I read “Labour” I first have to translate it to “Labor” and then I have to translate it to “Democrats,” at which point I worry that this makes the Democrats seem like socialists, which doesn’t play well in Peoria, as we say. I do love that you have a Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I even understand that this is just Shakespearian English for “Secretary of the Treasury.” I read somewhere that Tony Blair is retiring, although he didn’t specify when, so not too helpful. I like this Blonde Assassin fellow, because he seems nuts, and I like crazy. It’s good theater.

I think I’ve gone on long enough for now—but I look forward to more postings on topics that I hope you will find of interest.

The Minuteman

They Think It's All Over... It Is Now

I keep banging on here about the tedium of modern speeches because of the leaking of content and this was no exception. I had heard the "Tony Blair used three words: education, education, education, but I am going to use three letters: N-H-S," part about 500 times by the time it came out of Cameron's mouth. It was no better for the re-telling.

A speech that was again short on policy, but full of "vision", Cameron repeated his big idea of "social responsibility". At this point in the conference he wasn't so much telling his party, he was beating them over the head with it. The only problem was that the delegates didn't seem to understand half of what he was saying. In particular, a distinctly weak round of applause was given to his support of gay marriage.

It wasn't a great speech and it started a little shakily. Cameron's joke about Boris was, I suppose, his Cherie Blair moment, but it wasn't very funny and people didn't really laugh. The quality improved marginally, but then dipped in the middle as he went through a multitude of non-policies, such as his worries about Darfur. It picked up towards the end, although never approaching Blair for theatre.

I think a quarter of the conference attendees will go away feeling incredibly excited about the new environmental direction the party has taken, a quarter will feel a little nervous that there were no specific policies to underpin these moves and half will go back and wonder where the hell they've been all week. There isn't a big clause 4 moment for Cameron and so it's unclear whether the party has moved or whether it is just the language that has changed.

It should probably be judged a success purely because the Tories resisted their recent love of intrigue, fighting and chaos. Whether it will translate into a sustained increase in the polls will be dependent upon what happens to Labour now that the spotlight is being turned back on Westminster and back onto the fight for leadership. Gordon anyone?

A New Column

I am excited to let you know that a new columnist is joining the blog and I hope to add a few more over the coming weeks. The first is The Minuteman and you'll recognise his articles because they'll feature the logo on the left. He will be writing about issues from an American perspective and will be covering a broad range of subjects.

Please join me in welcoming him to the site.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Sheer Genius


The UK Independence Party has put up a fake site at The site itself has nothing on it other than the video below and a link to the UKIP website. The video, from Time Trumpet, is absolutely brilliant and the perfect choice.

There Is Life In Bournemouth After All

The Guardian Unlimited has posted an absolutely brilliant video of Boris Johnson trying to escape from the media horde. It's been a tough day for the blonde assassin.

He's apparently put his foot in his mouth four times today. The first over whether parents should be stuffing their kids faces with pies through school fences - he thinks they should. The second for saying that Gordon Brown shouldn't be Prime Minister for being Scottish. Thirdly he branded booster seats ridiculous and finally thought that local autonomy could lead to Sharia law in Tower Hamlets.

Absolutely first class and about time somebody said something interesting at this conference. This will be huge in tomorrow's press as there is absolutely nothing else to report. I don't believe in politically motivated apologies and I hope Boris sticks to his guns.

If indeed Francis Maude does lose his job after this conference - a possibility because of the poor execution of the accreditation process - then Boris could be a victim of any reshuffle.

The Daily Show On The US Mark Foley Scandal

Fun And Games By The Sea

Both Iain Dale and Guido have been reporting on the never ending queue to get into the Conservative Party Conference. Guido is also predicting the demise of Francis Maude as Chairman.

I thought I might help the situation (perhaps taking the pressure off Francis) by preparing a few games that could be played while those outside wait for their badges. These are all twists on popular travel games for children that can be found here.

1. Two truths and a lie
Each player gets a chance to make three policy statements - two which are true and one that is false.
The other players have to guess which statement is the lie - number one, two or three, by indicating with their fingers.
The winner is the one that correctly identifies that they are all lies - there are no policies.

2. Buzz words
Players need to be quiet to listen for words in this game.
Choose a word and listen out for it at the conference.
As soon as a player hears the word they shout ‘buzz’
Extra points are awarded for the words "social responsibility" and "sunshine".

3. Whispers
One player starts by whispering a message, only once, to the next player. This player then whispers to the next player and so it goes on until the last player who has to say it out loud to the conference in a Hot Topic Debate!

4. I went to the government and bought...
The first player starts by reciting what he or she had to pay for a peerage.
The next player then has to recite what the previous player paid, as well as add their own amount to the list.
The player who forgets an item is out of the game, while the rest battle on, till there is eventually only one player left. They get arrested.

Feel free to suggest any others.

Conservative Party Conference May Be Most Boring In History

I have been sitting at my computer racking my brain for something interesting to write about and I'm afraid I've given up. This is the most boring conference of all time. There are no leadership battles, no policy announcements and a limited number of scandals.

The newspapers have picked up on a couple of issues, but these are just page fillers. Talk of a crisis on tax policy, peerage scandals or Osborne's comments about autistic Chancellors is pretty low end stuff. Oh how we long for the drama and intrigue of last week.

Maybe today will be more interesting, but I doubt it. Cameron and Co. are playing the "keep your hand down and nose clean" strategy. It might work strategically, but it's bloody boring.

Update: There is a lot of hand wringing in The Mirror about Osborne's supposed autism comment. They really need to grow up and I hope he doesn't apologise.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Three Stooges

Perhaps the saddest sight at this year's Conservative Party Conference has been the three old hands who just don't know when to keep quiet. You'll typical find Edward Leigh, John Redwood and Norman Tebbit at fringe meetings and on 24 hour news channels that are desperate to fill their programming. Yesterday's men, they continue to perform the same old tired act. Little do they realise that the world has changed, the audience has moved on and their time is up.

Labour Launches New Health Plan

Tory Lovelies

The Sun is this week reporting on the talent in the Conservative Party after doing the same at last week's Labour conference. I wrote of my irritation at this story here. I still don't understand why this story is covered, but at least the Tories have done a little better in the talent stakes.

Are The Wheels Falling Off?

Well, the Convervatives managed to keep it all together for about 12 hours before the infighting started. The issues aren't anywhere near as great as the problems Labour had last week, but they are beginning to mount up. I suspect that part of it is the press struggling to find a story of the week. Here are some of the latest issues being reported elsewhere:

Conservative peers arrested in cash for peerages probe
Party Chairman booed over A List candidates
Party Chairman in shock porn ownership
New calls for tax cuts
Calls for investigation into funding centre

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Cameron's Sunshine and Promises

Possibly the oddest speech of the conference season so far was David Cameron's to the Conservative Party Conference today. A very strange closing line about sunshine winning the day made me stop and think. I'm not sure what about, but it made think.

The speech was leaked well in advance, so no surprises, no ideas and ultimately no point.

Cameron's JFK Strategy

The comparisons of David Cameron to JFK have to stop. There have been countless articles referencing different pieces of the Cameron story to JFK and it now looks like a concerted attempt to plant this image in the mind of the electorate.

The key pieces so far are:
  1. The comments from Senator John McCain about the similarities between the two
  2. The leaked quote for Cameron's speech on Monday echoing JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."
  3. The strategy to paint the Webcameron blog as Cameron embracing a new communication medium in the same way that JFK did with television
Comparing Gordon Brown to a modern day Richard Nixon is probably not a bad strategy, but not to be outdone, John Reid has also been getting in on the act. He quoted JFK at last week's Labour Conference saying "we have to be prepared to bear any burden, pay any price, face any foe and support any friend to ensure the protection and survival of liberty." You wait 33 years for a JFK and would you believe it, two come along at once.

I thought I might get in on the act and quote JFK myself: "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie: deliberate, continued, and dishonest; but the myth: persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. "

Why Bother Giving The Speech? Part 2

As I commented on this site last week, I hate the fact that major speeches are now leaked to within an inch of their lives. David Cameron's is the latest to follow this example. I know it's something that's been happening for a number of years, but that doesn't make it clever and it doesn't make it right. The theory is that pre-leaking a speech gives maximum air-time to the story. It will be in the Sunday papers and talk-shows, will be picked up live and will then lead the evening news with video footage of the actual speech. I get it and hate it.

Are we that stupid that we need to be told that on Monday so and so is going to say such and such? I'm not interested in hearing that David Cameron will ask us "not what the state can do for us, but what we can do for each other" until he actually says it. And more to the point, it isn't that original a line.

For these reasons, the word of the day is Rumen. This is where food goes when a cow swallows the first time. It softens things up, is regurgitated, chewed as cud, and swallowed again. Then it goes to the other three stomachs. Sound familiar?

Socialist Oops...

The News of the World is reporting a potentially damaging tape recording of MSP Tommy Sheridan talking with his close friend George McNeilage in 2004. Read the story here for even more details about his hairy back than you probably wanted to know.