October 2009 Archives
Rarely has Question Time been such a political hot potato. Probably never has it allowed itself to be taken over by the presence of one man.
The basic premise of QT is to discuss the issues of the week with a group of politicians, not to focus on the politics of one of the panel.
But maybe this is what it takes for the BNP's home-made cloak of respectability to disintegrate in the thunderstorm of critical analysis.
It's probably the biggest week for politics in quite a while. The BNP's future could well be decided this week, depending on how well (or otherwise) Question Time goes on Thursday.
The BBC has taken some flack for allowing the BNP on to the show. It's argument that the BNP has been elected by voters to a role, therefore it has to let them on would only hold water if there was a constitutionally-endorsed rule which said that was the case.
As it is, there isn't, but the BBC says it wants to be fair. But to be fair, it needs to treat the party, proportionally, in the same way it treats other parties. Sadly, that hasn't been the case so far - the BBC has given the party too soft a ride as a recent interview on Radio 1 showed.
It had two members of the party on. Many of their comments deserved challenging, but weren't. It was soft soaping of the worst kind. And they didn't even reveal the backgrounds of the two young party members who were portrayed just to be two average Joes.
Whenever the mayoral debate raises it head, you can put money on the following sentence coming out of the Westminster bubble: "In Hartlepool, they voted for a monkey. A monkey!"
And so it proved when the Tories dusted down the elected mayoral policy last week. Stick the phrase "conservatives elected mayors monkey" through Google and you get 155,000 results, normally originating from very people who don't like the idea of an elected mayor - generally politicians already in local office or senior council executives.
Well here's a newsflash: Stuart Drummond, the independent mayor of Hartlepool who was the local football team's mascot has been in office since 2002. And the people of Hartlepool keep re-electing him.
So he must be doing something right. Compare Mr Drummond's position to that of the elected mayor in Stoke-on-Trent, which did away with the office earlier this year after public referendum on the issue.
I never thought I'd find myself writing a post which was sympathetic towards MPs as a result of the expenses crisis. But here goes.
Sir Thomas Legg was charged with auditing MPs expenses and seeing if rules were broken, even if they had been approved by the now widely discredited fees office.
He wasn't brought in to set up his own rules within rules, or to decide what the acceptable amount to spend on a cleaner or gardener was.
To have someone making up the rules as he goes along is almost as bad as MPs creating a remarkably vague system which was open to abuse themselves in the first place.
Ben Bradshaw is the latest Twittering MP to get into trouble.
Here's what he said:
'The camerons got good nhs care thanks to Labour's investment and reform. is this the "big government" he derides?'
The thrust of the Telegraph's story was that Bradshaw was making political hay out of the death of David Cameron's son Ivan earlier this year.
Throughout his speech at the Tory conference last week, Cameron made continual references to "big government", clearly aiming to take the widely held belief that the public sector is bloated and turn it into a bogeyman for Labour in the forthcoming election.
Bradshaw's tweet in response appears to set out to argue that the Camerons wouldn't have received such good treatment on the NHS (the Camerons did praise the doctors and nurses who helped them at the time) had Labour not operated "big government" within the NHS.
That's codswallop. The NHS has improved massively under Labour but it hasn't been money well spent. If someone suffers depression, they might go and see a GP, who is paid for by the local primary care trust. That GP may decide mental health treatment is required, at which point the local mental health trust will get involved. That patient may then have to go and see a shrink, probably paid for by the PCT from the mental health trust and probably housed at the local hospital, run by a separate hospitals trust. All of which is managed by a regional strategic health authority which in turn reports to Government.
The Government, in turn, pays money directly to the PCT to commission services from the mental health trust, NHS hospitals and the private sector, and it'll also pay the GPs. The SHA will try and direct how the PCT should behave, taking government policy forward. That's big government at its worst. Each trust has a chief executive, a board of directors, lots of paper-shufflers, some of whom find their jobs are pretty much entirely about dealing with the other trusts involved.
So Cameron is right. Big government doesn't equal better services. But people aren't criticising Bradshaw for his opinion on the NHS - they're having a go for bringing Ivan into the equation.
Had Bradshaw seized on Cameron's praise for the NHS in looking after his son, then he's be deserving of the criticism.
But Cameron took a calculated call last week to remind us of the death of his son, to tell us the impact it had had on his life, and to say:
But for me and Samantha this year will only ever mean one thing. When such a big part of your life suddenly ends nothing else - nothing outside - matters. It's like the world has stopped turning and the clocks have stopped ticking. And as they slowly start again, weeks later, you ask yourself all over again: do I really want to do this? You think about what you really believe and what sustains you.
There was no obvious reasons for mentioning it, but mention it he did. And at that point, he's opened up his life and is using it to connect with the public. That makes it political.
Just as Tony Blair made his family political when he paraded them on the steps of Number 10 in 1997: Here I am, just like you. Honest.
So was Bradshaw wrong to mention Ivan? In fairness, he didn't. He referenced the Camerons' experience of the NHS.
All he did was reference two parts of the same speech and previous comments made by Cameron.
That to me isn't insensitive, it's making a political point. A political point which deserves to be challenged because it's wrong. Criticising Bradshaw for making the comment is a victory for style over substance - when it's really the substance which needs correcting.
And without Twitter, and that instant comment, we'd perhaps not have realised just how wedded to a bloated public sector Labour really is.
This champagne issue just won't go away for the Tories, despite their best attempts to hustle Daily Mirror-hired waiters away from George Osborne.
On the front page of the Manchester Evening News today is the story of Phillip Whittington, a 27-year-old conference delegate who was arrested inside the Midland Hotel for failing to pay the bill for a ÃÂ£150 bottle of champagne.
Mr Whittington is keen to stress he's done nothing wrong, and was more than happy to pay for the plonk.
Well, George Osborne certainly didn't fail when it came to setting out policies. For years, the Tories have rocked up to conferences and made mutterings about what they might do, without ever setting out the details.
Thanks to the remarkable situation our country finds itself in, the gloves are now off in the race to see who can be seen to be making the boldest cuts. Labour announced their high-level pay freeze the night before Osborne's speech, and Osborne followed that up with a promise of a lot of pain all round.
Retire at 66 (although I suspect it'll be much higher by the time I retire). Inheritance tax reform pushed into the long grass. No family tax credits for families earning more than ÃÂ£50,000. No end to the 50p tax rate for top earners. The pain and misery was etched in every sentence.
How remarkable that a would-be chancellor comes along promising to punish us, and then keeps quoting a line most memorably last used in a High School Musical movie: We're in this together.
There's a lot of finger wagging going on at the Conservative Party Conference today over the Daily Mirror's front page picture of David Cameron drinking champagne at a fringe meeting in Manchester.
Believe those around Cameron, and it's mischief on the part of the Mirror which doesn't tell the whole story.
But to my mind, it's a little bit more serious than at. Cameron has been busy telling the world and his wife that the Tories are the honest party - they're the party who will reveal the facts and be straight with the public.
It was the very essence of the speech from George Osborne: "If anyone tells you this won't hurt then they aren't telling you the truth."
I'll blog in more depth on the Conservative Party conference tomorrow but some early thoughts for now:
In his speech today, David Cameron said: "We have been to conferences for the last 12 years to set out our policies." I'm not sure what he said next, as I was stunned by that sentence. The very reason why the Tories have only got a 12 point lead in the polls is because they haven't set out any policies for the last three years. Get real, mate.
In the same speech, he criticised Labour for focusing on the Tories rather than the outside world at their conference and insisted the Tories would not spend the week criticising Labour. Which, of course, he already had done, and then went on to do again.
The tumbleweed continues to blow around Westminster as village bubble continues its annual tour of first Bournemouth, then Brighton, and now Manchester.
For Labour, the party conference season will probably go down as a success. The party appears to be behind Gordon Brown again, and Labour has seen a bounce in the polls.
Of course, that could change by the end of this week if the Tories get things right but to me, this is potentially the toughest conference yet for David Cameron. As Andrew Marr put it a few moments ago "He's glided along with a smile on his face - but who is the real David Cameron?"
While Cameron is trying to prove to those of us who don't vote purely on the advice of The Sun that he's the man for us, the job for Labour is to build on the galvanisation of the troops and mount a serious pitch for the votes of the rest of us.
With that in mind, here are 10 things I feel Labour must stick to if they seriously want to win: