30 May 2009

Johnson + PR + Lib Dems = salvation?

An interesting alliance of right wing and left wing columnists speculating today on the latest scheme to save New Labour's ass - e.g. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian and Peter Oborne in the Mail.

The plot, roughly speaking, goes like this:

  1. Alan Johnson becomes Prime Minister.
  2. He introduces proportional representation.
  3. He calls a general election.
  4. The Tories fail to secure 50% of the seats.
  5. Labour go into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.
It's an interesting theory. Although I have previously suggested that Alan Johnson would be seen as not young or fresh enough if he attempted to run for the leadership after an election, before an election might be a different matter. There are several ways in which it could fall down, though. For instance:

  • How, precisely, does Alan Johnson stage a coup to get rid of Brown? The most obvious scenario is if the whole cabinet - or almost the whole cabinet excepting Ed Balls - just tell Brown, perhaps following the Euro election results announcement on Monday 8th June, that his time is up, and he either resigns or they will back Johnson as a candidate in a leadership campaign. That will take a lot of coordination and balls - not Ed Balls but real balls - which have been in short supply recently (and indeed perhaps always).
  • Could Johnson get PR through the house of Commons with the current composition of MPs? Presumably all the Tories would vote against, and all the Lib Dems would vote in favour. Could enough Labour MPs be pushed through the lobby to get it through? Maybe.
  • When the election is held under the new system, can Labour and the Lib Dems poll enough between them to command a majority of MPs? With Labour on approximately 20% (on a good day) and the Lib Dems on 15% (on a good day), this looks unlikely. But then again, the Tories are polling at around 40% rather than above 50%. So, assuming that minor parties like UKIP and the Greens would improve their support under PR, we might be looking at some very weird coalitions emerging after the election. Which would certainly be interesting, but perhaps not what Labour had originally intended. A Tory-Lib Dem coalition might be the most stable outcome - and fear of that might stop Labour from introducing the reform in the first place.
There would inevitably be huge accusations of opportunism confronting Johnson, or anyone else who tried to implement this kind of scheme. Having said that, this could be the best possible time to do it. Johnson could say to his critics: (a) everybody accepts that fundamental reform is needed, and (b) we need a general election asap - and as soon as we've changed the voting system, you'll have it. My guess is that once we've moved away from the lunacy that is first past the post, we'll never go back to it.

The poll just published in the Telegraph reinforces the feeling that change could be near. With Labour down to 22% in general election voting intentions (below the Lib dems for the first time since 1987), and 19% in the Euro voting intentions, Johnson and co. may have a relatively easy time of persuading Team Brown that the game is up come June 8th. But I'm still rather sceptical that Gordon will Go Quietly.

Euro-elections: Be aware that if you vote for the Tories, you are voting to strengthen the hard right

The Guardian leads today on Dave Cameron's plans to withdraw from the European People's Party (the main centre right grouping in the European Parliament - Merkel, Sarkozy etc.) and form an alliance with anti-gay fascists hiding under the "league of families" banner in Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia.

Apparently this is an outgrowth of a pledge Cameron made during the 2005 Tory leadership campaign (about the only pledge he's ever made on anything?) that he would withdraw the Conservatives from the EPP grouping - to try to increase his support from the right of the party after the ludicrous (but at least honest) Liam Fox, who'd been standing on a hard right nationalist ticket, dropped out. 

I guess you could give Dave some plaudits for consistency, but that's about it. How does allying the Tories in Europe with a bunch of politicians who would be operating under the BNP banner if based in the UK square with "progressive Conservativism"? I don't see any way that it can. The key question is: is Cameron just advocating this shift in Europe to honour his 2005 commitment, or is this a symptom of what his real agenda is. If the former, why on earth jeapordise his political credibility by jumping in bed with these nutters? If the latter, then we may find the allies of the BNP a lot closer to power than we'd like - partly as a result of Dave lending them credibility. Absolutely appalling. 

27 May 2009

Why on earth would the Queen be embarrassed by the BNP? It's in the family

Interesting news that BNP leader Nick Griffin has decided to pull out of attending a Buckingham Palace garden party in July "for fear of embarrassing the Queen". 

Whilst my main advice to Mr Griffin on his future schedule is that he should flush himself down the nearest public convenience en route to where he belongs - in the sewer - I'm surprised that journalists and commentators should feel the Queen would be embarrassed by Mr Griffin. Fascism runs in the British royal family. The Queen's uncle, Edward VIII (latterly the Duke of Windsor) was a well known Nazi sympathiser, and the Queen Mother was apparently a staunch supporter of the 1980s Botha regime in South Africa. With people like these as ancestors, the Queen would have probably been able to have a perfectly reasonable conversation with Griffin. But instead she will have to make do with the BNP's Greater London Assembly member Richard Barnbrook instead. Oh well. If only the Queen Mother was still alive to say "I like that Richard Barnbrook, he's the kind of fellow this country needs..."

24 May 2009

For a Church that supposedly lacks moral leadership, these guys are doing a damned good job

Absolutely excellent intervention by Church of England Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu on the BNP today. Basically saying "please do not vote for these people under any circumstances". 

The C of E is often accused of lacking "moral leadership" but on this issue the archbishops have grasped the nettle and rightly so. 

The BNP's Nick Griffin says it is time the church "grew up" and started talking to them about issues. 

Well, one issue is that a message of hate for anyone non-British (which is the BNP's basic stance - that's what the 'voluntary repatriation policy' boils down to) seems to my, admittedly not well-informed religious compass, fundamentally at odds with any reasonable interpretation of the Christian message. 

I went to a (C of E) Christening service for a family relative's baby in Halifax a few years back. The priest's sermon was in many ways woeful - he went on a diatribe against gay priests while saying that although he himself had split up with his wife, that was OK because "it's above board and everybody knows about it". It was like something out of a David Peace novel. So the guy was objectionable and woefully inconsistent, but even so, he still spent ten minutes explaining why it was important to mobilise against the BNP in Halifax and encouraging people to attend public marches and demonstrations. 

The Church of England has many faults (although not as many, I would argue, as the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches, both of which are far more reactionary in most ways)  but putting up with fascism isn't one of them. And Amen to that.

Also big props to Polly Toynbee of the British Humanist Association, who issued a statement supporting the archbishops. If we can get (sane) non-religious people and (sane) religious people pulling in the same direction on these issues, that's got to be the way forward. 

22 May 2009

Expensesgate: the political fallout

  • More than 2 weeks into the Telegraph's expenses scandal, and I'm still riveted by it. I can understand that many people will be bored stiff by the whole thing, but it may still be that some of the best is yet to come.

For example, Tory MP Anthony Steen spectacularly misjudged the public mood by saying that the only reason people were angry was because they were jealous of his big house, and that Freedom of Information legislation had been a Very Bad Thing because it had fed public envy. He seemed to have conveniently forgotten that these bastard taxpayers were paying for his goddamn trees to be maintained. Pay the piper, call the tune.

Sir Peter Viggers (why are they giving honours to wankers like this)'s floating duck island was also a rare moment of high comedy. Well done mate.

But it's not clear yet to what extent Expensesgate will manifest itself in changes to voting intentions. The latest ICM survey in the Guardian compares European election voting intentions with the results in 2004. Some noteworthy findings are:

  • Labour on 24%, 1% above its 2004 polling.
  • Greens at 9%, up from 6% in 2004.
  • UKIP on 10%, down from 16% in 2004. If these figures are right, reports of a big swing to UKIP are simply wrong.
  • BNP on 1%, down from 4% in 2004.
I'm not sure I believe that BNP result - it's highly likely that they are up at about 10% (say) and people are too embarrassed to admit to pollsters that they're voting for them. So as well as being fascist tossers, BNP voters are cowards as well. Quelle surprise.

These poll results don't indicate a seismic shift in voting intentions though, especially bearing in mind that the Euro elections are much more likely to attract a protest vote than a Westminster election. If the Tories and Labour were both down below 20% then we would begin to see some interesting gains for minor parties, even under first-past-the-post. But, unless there is a wave of independent Martin Bell-type challengers (certainly possible), the expenses scandal is not on course to upset the Westminster applecart - yet. For that to happen, public outrage has to translate to much bigger shifts in voting intentions.

20 May 2009

Enough to give anyone a severe distrust of the Catholic Church

Absolutely frightening revelations from Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse.

As the Guardian reports, "thousands of boys and girls were raped, abused and exploited by the religious brothers and nuns who were supposed to look after them."

I knew a bit about this anyway as my grandmother used to tell stories about being regularly beaten by nuns in school in Ireland (she was an orphan).

All this will horrify rank-and-file Catholics as much as the rest of us. I just hope that reforms have been put in place to stop this kind of thing ever happening again. But given the reactionary nature of the present Pope it is hard to hold out hope of fundamental reforms. The problem with the Catholic Church is exactly the same as the problem with Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union - when you have an authoritarian unelected apparatus with no accountability, it will inevitably attract people who feel that their vocation is to bully, exploit and torture people. In the end, democratic accountability is the only way forward for religious institutions, just like political institutions.

It is very unlikely that I would ever join up to the Christian religion - although not impossible. But if I did, it would have to be one of the denominations which gives power to the rank and file - for example the Methodists or the Quakers.

Not sure really why I'm blogging in any detail about this, given that I'm no Christian and certainly no Catholic. I guess it just struck a family chord.

15 May 2009

Who's gonna get it (in the neck?)

The last instalment in a three-post series analysing what the most likely - and (probably not the same) the most desirable - scenarios are for the next Labour leader.

As each day passes I'm driven towards the conclusion, which many of you will have reached already, that Labour is headed for an absolute landslide defeat. Probably down to less than 200 seats in the next parliament.

Polly Toynbee has recently been converted to the view that Brown should go before the next election - in fact, that he should step down now. She is now backing Alan Johnson as an alternative leader. This is a turnaround from the last few months, when she was saying Brown was the only hope - and then before that, in mid-2008, when she was saying Brown must go - and then before that, in 2007, when she was saying Brown was the best thing since sliced bread. I think Polly is very good on most things, but on this particular subject, she's lost it.

I don't think Johnno would do much good at this stage anyway. There's not enough time to put together a coherent political strategy between now and next June. The main battleground (apart from MPs' expenses) is the economy, where Alan has not really had much experience (not that Cameron or Osborne have either, but there you go). In 2006/07, even in 2008, I was saying yes to a Johnno bid for the leadership, but I think it's too late now.

I think Polly Toynbee is wrong anyway: best to let Gordon Brown take the hit and preside over an annihilation of the New Labour project. Then we can start over. It sure as hell ain't gonna be easy. But it doesn't have to be such a complete cock-up as the William Hague/Iain Duncan Smith era was for the Tory party.

Why? Because the Tories made the mistake of retreating into a more extreme version of the Thatcherite policies which the voters had soundly rejected in 1997. Hague and Duncan Smith were hard-line Thatcherites.

The analogue would be if a rump Labour party just retreated into a hardcore Blairite or neo-Blairite agenda - Alan Milburn/John Hutton/Steve Byers territory - after the next election. But I don't see any reason why they'd do this. The main leadership contenders - the Milibands and Cruddas - don't have a huge ideological attachment to Blairism. (OK, I'm not totally sure about David Miliband, but we'll come back to that). The party base and the unions sure as hell don't want it. Whether the parliamentary Labour Party wants it depends on its composition after the next election, which would take me too long to analyse at this point, but I would imagine that most MPs will be flexible enough to try a move away from the Blair/Brown agenda, rather than more of the same thing that has just destroyed the party electorally.

So, with Blairism (and Brownism, which is much closer to Blairism than most people think) discredited, there will be a space for genuine radical thinking in the Labour party - in the same way that Dave Cameron moved in with genuine (for the Tories) radical thinking after 2 election defeats for the post-Thatcherite agenda in opposition. The main thing, though, is that whoever the leader is, they need their shit together from day one (or at least Year One). Labour cannot afford to f*** about in opposition in a Tory 1997-2005 style, let alone a Labour 1979-83 style. (In fact Labour can't afford much of anything as the party owes millions - they will probably have to go bankrupt and start again - but due to the wonders of modern bankruptcy law designed to encourage 'entrepreneurial behaviour', that's no great problem, so we won't worry about it.)

Who should the next Labour party leader be? I would be happy to see either Jon Cruddas or Ed Miliband do it. Cruddas has the advantage that his powder is very dry, politically speaking - he's not been a government minister at any time - and he has a reputation for plain speaking coupled with an intelligent and logical analysis of political issues, which is an unusual combination. (Many current political heavyweights don't have even one of those attributes, let alone both). Ed Miliband has managed to be about as radical as one can be in the present New Labour cabinet without actually getting kicked out, and has been reasonably effective as Climate Change Secretary - overturning at least some of the shitty decisions that Gordon Brown has made on the environment. He's also a very good speaker, albeit with less of the common touch than Jon Cruddas. On the flipside, he's younger than Cruddas (but I don't know if youth is really that important. Ming Campbell was supposedly deposed from the Lib Dem leadership for being too old, but Vince Cable is one of the most popular politicians in Parliament, and he's almost as old as Campbell. Go figure.)

David Miliband, some journalists' favourite choice, would be less my inclination, partly because I felt the guy sucked up to Tony Blair far too much (indeed my nickname for him was "microBlair" at the time), and partly because I'm not really sure he has the same kind of progressive ideological backbone that Ed has. That's no barrier to a successful top-flight ministerial career - indeed he has already achieved that, as Foreign Secretary - but a decent Labour Party leader needs to have strong ideological convictions. The fatal flaw of Tony Blair was that he didn't in general - and on the occasion he did, they were brainstormingly right-wing. Gordon Brown claimed to have strong ideological convictions, but we've seen precious little of them from him as PM. In fact we've seen precious little of anything from Gordon - the word 'failure' doesn't even begin to cover it.

Other options for leader look dreadful or unrealistic. I've already covered Alan Johnson; I think he'll be seen as too old and he won't really want it anyway, except as a caretaker - but why go for a caretaker when you can have the real thing? The arguments against Jack Straw are pretty much the same as Johnson. Harriet Harman is popular with certain activists but would go down like a lead balloon with the public, and is not as radical as she claims to be, by any stretch. The old guard of Blairites - Milburn, Clarke, Byers, etc. - are delusional if they think they can run successfully for the leadership. How, exactly?

James Purnell is an interesting one. My instincts on Purnell are that he's pretty duff but an acquaintance of mine who works for him suggests otherwise, and as this acquaintance is not in the habit of talking bollocks, I have to at least weigh that in my deliberations. According to Guardian journalist Allegra Stratton, there is some kind of backroom plot among Blairites to pair up Purnell and Jon Cruddas in some kind of 'dream ticket' (a phrase last used about the Neil Kinnock- Roy Hattersley combination, which admittedly was somewhat underwhelming). I'm inclined to think this is just yer standard "journo attends think-tank party and is desperate to write something" bollocks - but it is nonetheless marginally intriguing.

You can assume that any Labour MP not mentioned here in connection with the leadership is either too boring, too extreme (which doesn't mean they wouldn't be good - John McDonnell, for example, would be a class act as leader, but he just ain't got the power base to run for it) or too damn heinous to spend any time on. But we can always come back to this as I don't think that election will be any time soon, no matter what expenses claims excitement emerges from the woodwork.

14 May 2009

Best football article EVER in a national newspaper

Steven Wells (who I remember from my NME-reading days: his Fish interview in 1989 was a classic) on why the Premiership should be nationalised.

I can't disagree with a word of this. Classic stuff.

The Boys are Back in the Bubble... Worrying signs on QE?

An interesting piece from Edmund Conway of the Telegraph on quantitative easing here. Conway's political stance sucks (the Institute of Economic Affairs has never published "an excellent pamphlet", and given that for the last 60 years they have been advising governments to reduce regulation of all markets as much as possible, their claim that the credit crunch was caused by lack of financial oversight, while true, identifies them as culpable, along with the rest of the Right wing) but his basic argument looks sensible, and is pretty terrifying.

Conway's basic allegation is that investment banks and hedge funds are making money by buying government debt at cheap prices, and then selling it back to the government (via the quantitative easing operations) at higher prices. I don't have the price data to hand to check this one way or the other, but if it's true, basically the government is handing out taxpayers' money to investment banks and hedge funds. Yes, it's boosting nominal economic activity, but at vast taxpayer expense, and for how long?

Buying private sector debt, not government debt, would be a far better policy, and I don't know why the Bank of England isn't doing that. Hell, printing extra banknotes and dropping them in the street would be a better policy.

It looks like all we're doing is inflating a new bubble to take the place of the old one. That would explain the brief stock market rally of the past few weeks. Forget "green shoots": stage 2 of the economic implosion could be even worse than what we've had so far. Stock up on canned food, kids.

13 May 2009

Gorbals to Martin

Good to see that a no-confidence motion in House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin is being tabled for next week. The motion is tabled by Tory MP Douglas Carswell but has support from a selection of MPs in all parties. 

Martin is the absolute definition of a real turkey. When the allegations regarding MPs' abuse of the expenses system surfaced, he took a "my MPs, right or wrong" attitude and decided to ask police to investigate the source of the leak to the Telegraph.

When criticised for this by Labour's Kate Hoey and the Lib Dems' Norman Baker, he then lashed out at both MPs. To Hoey, he said "I listen to you often, when I turn on my television at midnight, and I hear your public utterances and your pearls of wisdom on Sky News. It's easy to talk then." To Baker: "another member who is keen to say to the press what the press wants to hear."

The implication being: what, exactly? That MPs who talk to the media are not doing their job properly? 

The man is a cretin and should be removed from his position. There are 650 MPs and almost all of them could do a better job as Speaker, I don't doubt.  The Speaker is, by convention, unopposed by the other parties when standing at elections, but given how duff this guy is, if he stays in the post there's a good chance an independent challenger could beat him. Which would be a cause for celebration. 

12 May 2009

Who wants it? Continued

As promised last week, more thoughts on who might become Labour leader after the next election will emerge from this blog shortly. Today, I want to give you my overall take on what the most desirable post-election scenario is, in terms of how badly Labour is defeated. 

Although the present MPs' expenses scandal is now turning to backbench Tory MPs claiming for swimming pools and the upkeep of their country mansions, which may rub off rather badly on the Conservatives, on balance I think it's a safe bet to assume that the Government will come off worst from this because they are the people who should have been doing something about it. 

Combined with McBridegate and all the other crap that has happened over the past 2 years, it seems to me almost inconceivable that Labour could now emerge from the next election with an overall majority. I think a general election campaign would narrow the poll gap between the two parties, mainly because the economy would be a key focus, and although Labour's promises of an end to boom and bust have been revealed as total eyewash, the Tories - and in particular George Osborne - still look completely unconvincing in terms of economic policy. Does anybody know what they would do differently to Labour if in power? OK so they might be deliberately vague in the style of pre-1997 Tony Blair, but Labour at least had a few soundbites to rely on - "more teachers", "tough on crime" etc. The Tories haven't even got that. 

Having said that, Cameron is popular (largely because the British people seem to have this obsession with political leaders being carbon copies of Tony Blair, for reasons I will probably never understand. We have two of them now - Cameron and Clegg...)  and so I think the Tories will at least be the largest party. Because of the bias in the electoral system, they probably need to be around 6 points in front to secure an overall majority - which again, is likely.

From my POV the relationship between number of Labour seats and my confidence in the prospects for Labour going forward (in terms of becoming a real force for positive political change in this country) is U-shaped. The scenario of a hung parliament, and the scenario of a complete wipeout - Labour reduced below 200 seats or so - are both more appealing than a clear but not landslide defeat - say a Tory majority of around 50. 

Why? Because a hung parliament or a wipeout offer more opportunity for change and less opportunity for more of the crap we've had to endure over the last 11 years. 

In a hung parliament the Conservatives would probably go into coalition with the Lib Dems. If Clegg has any political ability whatsoever (still largely unproven either way), some form of proportional representation would have to be introduced. Which could lead to a huge political realignment, with at least 4 main parties: 

  • hard right (low tax Eurosceptic. David Davis, Michael Gove, maybe George Osborne. ).
  • centre-right/post-Blairite (authoritarian, stealth privatisation of public services. Dave Cameron, Steve Byers, Alan Milburn, Charles Clarke, Ken Clarke)
  • rump Lib Dems (civil liberties, localism, pro-EU. The Nick Clegg personality cult essentially. If it goes more libertarian, we could see David Davis in this camp as well). 
  • left (tax and spend, social democrat. Jon Cruddas, Ed Miliband, maybe Vince Cable. Would be most effective if combined with the Greens for a red/green agenda)
This would be a much more honest cut of the British political cake than the current two-and-a-half party mish-mash. 

Of course, without PR (and it's possible Clegg wouldn't have the political acumen to make that bargain) a Tory-Lib Dem coalition could be disastrous; a moderate cover for savage right wing tax cut and spending cut policies. But there is at least a possibility that this scenario could produce a good outcome. 

In the wipeout scenario, by contrast, Labour goes below 200 seats. This would be very tough in the short run, with a lot of bloodletting and recriminations. The silver lining to the cloud is that the Blairites - and the duff elements of the Brownites - would most probably lose control of the party to a reconstituted left wing. The blinding reality of the total failure of Blair/Brown as an economic strategy would probably see to that. Dave Cameron would be left to carry on the legacy of Tony Blair, which will largely manifest itself in huge rises in economic inequality, the decimation of public services as a prelude to privatisation, and other right-wing nastiness. Given that there is a real likelihood that the Tories will make a complete hash of things (in the Ted Heath style), this outcome really isn't as bad as it looks. Labour could sweep back in after just one term out of office as long as they get their shit together. I will come back to likely leadership candidates in the final post (for now) on this topic, later this week.  

The most dangerous scenario is the moderate defeat - because it won't be enough of an electoral beating to dislodge the cretins who are running the party at the moment. Of course Brown will go, but there's a much greater chance that a Brownite (or Blairite) candidate would prevail in the leadership contest to follow. This is also a risk in the hung parliament scenario, but due to the possibility of electoral reform and the fluidity and instability of the situation, that looks preferable to me. 

For this reason I am actually rather encouraged by the latest batch of polls showing Labour at 23%. If they can get below 20, I am fairly confident of the wipeout to end all wipeouts. Then we can Take Out The Trash and start again. It will not be easy, but then neither is the prospect of another generation of Blairite/Brownite zombies running things. 

I will come back to the leadership contenders later this week. 

09 May 2009

National Mild Day

As organised by the Campaign for Real Ale

"What's mild?" I hear you ask. It's probably the UK's greatest style of beer. Sweeter than bitter, less heavy than stout or porter. 

If you can find a pub that does it (in the south and east of England, free houses are your best bet; in the midlands or north west you'll have more luck with regional brewers as it's more popular there)... ENJOY. 

I've been an obsessive for mild ever since 1993, when I was having a pint with my dad in Oxford and a punter came into the bar and asked for mild and the barman said "I'm sorry, we don't serve it". Dad muttered "what sort of pub doesn't serve mild? This isn't a pub, it's a shithouse".

Nice one, dad. 

08 May 2009

Perhaps surprisingly, the Telegraph has done the public a great service

I'm finding the reports from the Telegraph on MP's expenses very interesting. They got hold of the details of all recent expenses claims via a leak. This page gives details of the . Some of the claims do look pretty extraordinary. £22,500 to treat dry rot at a seaside second home? A £320,000 profit in 27 months on a house bought with taxpayers' money?

I must single out for a special mention Labour MP Barry Gardiner, because (based on the testimony of people I know who have worked with him) he is such a complete dork. Gardener made a profit of £200,000 on a Westminster flat renovated using payments which he then claimed as expenses - despite the fact his main home is only 8 miles from parliament. 

It seems to me that we are in for a wave of anti-sleaze sentiment which will make the previous high-point of anti-sleaze, at the 1997 election, look positively tame. That election delivered Martin Bell to Westminster on an anti-corruption ticket. It is possible that next year's election could see dozens of anti-sleaze MPs elected. Next year could be the year when millions of citizens rise up and say they've had enough of MPs on the take.

For the most part, the MPs' attempts to defend themselves miss the point completely. "It was all within the rules", they say. Undoubtedly. But who made those rules? Parliament. The point is that the rules are so lax as to allow ludicrous expense claims that no-one in a job elsewhere (outside senior executives in the banking sector, perhaps) would be entitled to.  Gordon Brown says that the system requires reform - which it does - but why hasn't anything been done in the last 11 years then? Aren't he and previous Prime Ministers guilty of negligence for allowing these crazy expense rules to exist for so long? 

Certainly, MPs living too far away for a reasonable commute need accommodation in London. But why should they be able to make hundreds of thousands of pounds on accommodation which the taxpayer is paying for? If the taxpayer pays, the taxpayer should get the returns. Better still, MPs' offices could include proper overnight accommodation facilities - bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens etc. The Houses of Parliament should really be like a big hotel. 

I think the Telegraph has done us a great service by publishing all this stuff. I hope they make the complete list of expenses claims available for download and perusal at some point in the near future as it would be good to have a database where everyone could see exactly what their MP has been claiming. Let's have all this out in the open. 

Chelsea deserve dodgy refereeing

I was LMFAO when I read about the Chelsea-Barcelona result

All these lame fools who are trying to kill or maim the 'dodgy referee' should remember that Chelsea is only where it is because of the financial input of Roman Abramovich - one of the dodgiest businessmen in the world. An oligarch who made his money via the World-Bank sanctioned robbing of the Russian people after the fall of the Soviet Union, as the sell-off of state-owned industries concentrated huge amounts of wealth and power in the hands of the few. 

Given the immense bias of UK Premiership and European football towards clubs with the financial clout to buy all the best players and management expertise (and the lobbying clout to persuade UEFA to structure the "Champion's League" so that they get in every year, even if they haven't won anything), I would say it is the duty of referees to interpret the rules in a biased manner. The bias should, if possible, be approximately equal to the differential in money and power between the teams. So that means if I put together a Sunday league side to play Manchester United, I should be allowed 200 players on the pitch, my goal should only be 1 foot wide and my team should get penalties roughly every 90 minutes as a matter of course. 

Football would suddenly become interesting again. There is a similar system in golf. It's called "handicapping" (a rather offensive term, but then golf clubs never were known for being very PC) and it works rather well. 

I'll probably apply for a management job in FIFA armed with this theory. You never know. 

04 May 2009

Who wants it? Leadership contenders and hopeless cases come out of the woodwork

Now that the media has decided swine flu is a big hype (gives them a chance to make big headlines when it comes back and bites us on the ass later in the year, but not the most helpful way of covering the story), we must be thin on news, 'cos there have been a persistent stream of contenders for the Labour leadership coming out of the shadows. 

First it was Salacious Crumb, aka Hazel Blears. Then "Harriet Hitman". And they also threw Johnno into the ring. (Great hand movements, Alan). 

I have to say this does look like yet another big hype from the media, with no real substance whatsoever. Yes, the government is down in the polls; yes, there's been one crisis after another. But so what? We've been here before. Nine to twelve months before, to be precise. Now it is just possible that if Brown hadn't had that spike in the polls after the initial banking bailouts in October, someone - maybe David Miliband - might have made a move for the leadership. At that stage, with 18 months to go to an election, there was a reasonable chance of making a stab at a policy platform for a new leadership and going to the country without the new PM looking like a complete gamble. 

But that was last year. Even if a leadership election was triggered now (an unweildy process involving trawling round getting signatures from dozens of MPs and then a full ballot of MPs, party members and trade unionists) the winning candidate would have less than twelve months before June 2010, which I think is the last date an election can be held. The whole thing would look extremely rushed and it's unlikely that an alternative candidate could perform better than Brown under those circumstances.

So it looks like a very poisoned chalice to take up, even assuming a leadership challenge could be successful (far from a foregone conclusion). But let's pick the ball up and run with it for the sake of intrigue. Who would be the best candidate for Labour leader? 

We can dismiss Hazel Blears and Harriet Harman straight away. The fact that Hazel Blears was right to criticise the Government's decision on the Gurkhas should not lead anyone - least of all The Guardian, in a strangely wrong-headed editorial - to conclude that she has any clue about policy in general. She couldn't even come higher than fifth in the deputy leadership contest, let alone carry the country in a general election. A total bullshitter, absolutely useless. 

Harman at least managed to win the deputy leadership, but only by being a complete opportunist - appearing to be anti-Iraq war until precisely two minutes after the campaign finished, where it suddenly emerged she had apparently been pro-war all along. Less useless than Blears, but not by much. 

Johnson would be a good choice: he avoids the worst aspects of both Brown and Blair, and is more likeable than either Cameron or Clegg. He's probably the guy that Cameron is most scared of. I still don't think he really wants the job, though. There are circumstances in which you can become Prime Minister without really wanting it (Jim Callaghan in 1976 comes to mind) but that normally only happens if the incumbent resigns. And can anybody really see Gordon Brown resigning before the election? Surely there's no way.

What's most interesting in a way is who isn't being mentioned at the moment. No-one from the younger generation: in particular, David Miliband has been absent from the discussion, which is in stark contrast to summer '08, where he was being viewed as the main contender. Why is that? This is already quite a long post and I want to move on to talking about the most likely - and/or desirable - scenarios are at the next election and afterwards - so I'll continue this v soon.