May 2010 Archives
When I heard on Saturday evening that David Laws had decided to resign in the face of allegations that he'd played the expenses system, I thought it was a case of him jumping before he could be pushed.
After all, throughout the general election campaign, David Cameron and Nick Clegg battled hard to be the fresh faces of a new era of transparency, promising to be tough on those MPs who broke the rules.
And while there are more new MPs at the start of this parliament than at any time in recent memory, in hindsight it was always going to be a bit of a leap to imagine that the general election was going to sweep away all the skeletons in cupboards.
Less than a fortnight into the job, and Michael Gove, the education secretary with the incredibly slappable face, has unveiled his great vision for schools.
It goes like this: Any school rated excellent can apply to become an academy. In return, these schools will be 'freed of local authority control' with 'power restored to headteachers' because 'teachers know how to run schools, not politicians.'
Gove, a former journalist, should know a thing or two about being spun. He's certainly done a bloody good job of spinning.
Cut through the waffle from the newly-renamed Department for Education - note the LibCon slash and burn on waste doesn't apparently extend to the endless rebranding of government departments - and there's nothing really new here at all.
In a nutshell, we have what happens whenever a new government takes over. The education secretary criticises the previous regime and unveils his/her vision for the future. And so begins the merry-go-round all teachers will be familiar with. At the end of the day, nothing changes: Some schools are great, others are not. And there's nothing in Gove's plans which will change that.
Watching George Osborne and David Laws announce their first phase of slash and burn in the public sector, one thing surprised me more than anything else.
That thing was how little anger I felt toward George Osborne as he salivated over the cuts he was making. Bearing in mind that less than a month, the Tories were promising to be the party which listened to voters, it seemed a bit odd to now be lectured by a Tory chancellor who insisted on saying things like 'let me remind you.' Of course, in a Tory safe seat like Tatton and safe in the knowledge he's married into a huge fortune, Cyril Sneer probably doesn't feel too vulnerable about the electorate at large.
No, the thing which surprised me was just what the Lib Dems have done to themselves to get a hand on the levers of power. Make no mistake, while they might have a sweaty mit on the decision making process, the Tories are the ones still calling the shots. Much like the relationship between Mr Burns and Homer Simpson in The Simpsons, whiie Homer Simpson maybe the one who actually presses the button in the nuclear reactor, and therefore has a false sense of power, there's no mistaking who is really in charge.
Less than six weeks ago, Nick Clegg was facing down a minor party rebellion over the party's decision to shelve its commitment to free university education. It seemed the party was prepared to stomach the idea of scrapping its commitment to scrapping tuition fees for now. Quite how the Lib Dems have made the leap to being part of a coalition government which is now scrapping support for an extra 10,000 university places and may yet be part of a government which lifts the cap on university tuition fees is something yet to be answered.
One of the criticisms ahead of the election about the Conservative Party was that it was short of experience of government. Fair point, but in their defence, the Tories could point to the likes of William Hague and Dr Liam Fox as members of their shadow cabinet who had been around pre-1997.
There was no surprise when Dr Fox (no relation to the old Top 40 show DJ) became defence secretary, but it hasn't taken him long to get into a muddle.
The Tories sent out three cabinet members - Foreign Secretary William Hague, defence Secretary Dr Fox and international development secretary Andrew Mitchell - out to Afghanistan to present a united front to the Afghan leaders.
Sadly, Dr Fox hadn't read the script. Or if he had, he chose to ignore it.
Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley make for a strange double act at the best of times. Between them, they run Unite, the country's biggest union and, it would appear, the most ineffective.
Their tactics in dealing with British Airways have been amateur to say the least. The gob on a stick they used to front their work at the start of the strike, Len McCluskey, appeared to have little interest in solving the dispute, preferring to anger British Airways bosses with all manner of allegations, none of which took the cabin crew any closer to solving the dispute. Anyone would have thought the top job at Unite was up for grabs soon. Oh yes, so it is.
Then there was the inability of the union to conduct the first ballot correctly. When they got the second one right and went on strike, the number of flights BA managed to run was remarkable. The number of cabin crew prepared to cross the line was also a low point for Woodley and Simpson.
LIAM BYRNE is said to be very brainy, which is why Labur stuck him in the treasury. Yesterday, he proved there was a fine line between clever and smart arse.
What should we make of the note he left in his red box before the election, to be found by his successor? It read: "Dear Chief Secretary. I'm afraid there is no money. Kind regards - and good luck! Liam."
Mr Byrne, one of those bland looking ministers who is fodder for those 'who is this man' vox pops TV stations carry out when they want to prove no-one cares about politics, tried to dismiss it as a 'private joke.'
Really? How so? Mr Byrne had no idea who would open the red box. He had no idea who was going to win the election. If he was to have drawn up a list of would-be sucessors, I doubt the top 10 would have included a Lib Dem. Surely a joke is only private if you know who you're talking to, and better still, they're also likely to find it funny.
It's been reported today that David Cameron has scaled down his personal security because he thinks that detail which surrounded Gordon Brown was a bit over the top.
Specifically, Cameron won't have a police outriders when he goes on trips in his car, something Brown did have.
While it's possible to understand why Cameron wants to key security as low key as possible, especially when you consider his desire to have as normal a family life as possible, but his gesture potentially does the country a massive disservice.
His car might be bomb proof, but what signal would the sight of an attack on Britain's prime minister in his own country send to the rest of the world? Regardless of the outcome of such an attack, it would be a massive PR coup for the terrorists.
One common theme seemed to dominate the morning press today - a sense of sneering at the new Con/Lib government - better known in Fleet Street as a 'love in.'
With the tents being taken down on College Green, Kay Burley back in the Sky News studio away from the chants about being sacked, and Adam Boulton perhaps dreaming of a sunshine break, the serious business of parliament is resuming.
To me, what we saw yesterday was the creation of the Westminister version of the Chuckle Brothers: Quite amusing as a double act in front of the Press, but how much can we, as the electorate, trust them to get things right?
In fact, how much trust can voters for each party place in their respective party to honour the manifesto commitments which, just seven days ago, 65% of the voting nation passed judgement on?
If you're a journalist, then becoming a Twitter trending topic is never going to be good news. Much as Twitter is a brilliant tool for two-way communication, it certainly isn't a place thousands of people will join in praise of a journalist.
So what should Adam Boulton be feeling this morning after his remarkable bust up with Alastair Campbell on Sky News yesterday afternoon?
Unfortunately for Boulton, reacting so badly to the born-again spin doctor has given plenty of people with axes to grind something to crow about.
Coming up first, you have the anti-Murdoch brigade who believe that Sky News somehow subverts OFCOM rules and is biased against Labour at the moment (something the Tories used to accuse Sky of too, when they were struggling in the polls).
And not far behind, you have the Labour losers, who still can't get their heads around the fact that Labour lost the election, and who refuse to believe that it could be because a) the public thinks they've run the country very badly; b) The Tories actually ran a better campaign and c) the public can't warm to Gordon Brown.
To them, their election defeat is all down the big, bad media, which ganged up on Gordon Brown and didn't let them get their message across on a level playing field. It's ironic in the extreme that Alastair Campbell has become chief campaigner in the second camp, given the support New Labour enjoyed from parts of the Murdoch Empire - not Sky News - until just a few years ago.
In my column in Tuesday's Liverpool Daily Post, I make the point that over the weekend, the discussions around a coalition government over the weekend seemed to have all the urgency of an end-of-term PTA meeting.
With the clock ticking to the opening of the stock markets for the week, we should have been frantic back-and-forth, not some gentlemanly Sunday discussion before retiring for tea before the Antiques Roadshow.
Of course, the pace quickened today somewhat, not least because it turned out that Nick Clegg was having secret meetings with Gordon Brown. Secret in the sense that David Cameron apparently didn't know anything about these meetings. How secret Clegg really expected the meeting to be isn't known. If he did expect it to be a secret, then he was a tad naive. If he wanted it to get out to the Tories, then it was masterstroke in playing games.
Either way, it doesn't bode particularly well for a coalition government. In fact, over the last 24 hours it's become increasingly clear that the Lib Dems don't really want to make a decision. They are behaving as though they are just enjoying the attention, suddenly being in the thick of things.