Thursday, 26 November 2009

Punch and judy politics

When Dave Cameron became Conservative leader he pledged at his first PMQs to eschew punch and judy politics. Unfortunately he does have a tendency to play a 'Flashman' role in relation to Gordon Brown, attempting to humiliate him at question time. Yesterday he asked a series of questions about alleged extremist influence at two Islamic schools which had received public funds. Unfortunately, he had not got all his facts right and has subsequently had to beat a partial retreat.

I was able to watch PMQs yesterday and Dave started in low tempo asking questions about how long it would take to erect temporary replacement bridges in flood afflicted areas of Cumbria. He then switched on to the Muslim extremist issue where he obviously thought he was on to a winner. The flaw with this type of approach is that it makes him look more like a combative leader of the opposition rather than a prime minister in waiting.

One poll at the weekend showed the Conservative lead narrowing to 6 per cent. It was only one poll and one would want to see more for confirmation of a trend. However, private polling for the Conservatives shows that Dave's austerity message has not been going down too well and he has started to talk about growth again.

How much does all this matter in the broader scheme of things? Probably not very much. The Conservatives are still on track to be the largest party in the next Parliament at the very least and in that event Nick Clegg has said that he will support them. This may be a constitutionally proper stance, but it does seem like showing one's hand before play has commenced.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Passing laws to solve problems

'Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit,' the Queen was obliged to say in her speech from the throne yesterday. There will also be legislation to abolish child poverty by 2020, as if that could be done by a stroke of the pen.

Any political scientist knows that it is very easy to set up a legislative factory churning out meaningless pieces of legislation. What matters is whether the legislation can be implemented and enforced and that depends in turn on a willingness to comply and, above all, sufficient resources. Nick Clegg had a point when he said that legislation was like a comfort blanket for Labour.

At the moment there seems to be little appetite to tackle the deficit with Ed Balls reportedly calling for spending on schools to be protected. That would mean that if the NHS was also protected, other programmes would have to be cut by 20 per cent. None of the proposals put forward by the Government yesterday seemed to have any hard numbers attached to them.

Having said that, civil society is probably too weak and uncoordinated to take the strain of service provision that David Cameron would like it to bear.

At some point reality will cut in, but not during a protracted election campaign which we now face.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Cat's death sparks panic in Canada

The death of a cat led the Canadian prime minister to think that Mrs Thatcher had died, but in fact it was a cat named after the former prime minister: Thatcher

A resounding victory?

Whether Labour's retention of Glasgow North-East was a resounding victory for Labour as the new MP, William Bain, claimed is matter for debate. They did get nearly 60 per cent of their votes but less than a third of the electorate voted. However, it certainly avoids any embarrassment for Gordon Brown on his native heath.

The Conservatives came in third and just managed to save their deposit while the BNP were just behind them and lost theirs. What this shows is that Dave Cameron does not travel well the further north one gets, but the Conservatives will jave been relieved to have not come fourth. The Liberal Democrats got just 2.3 per cent of the vote.

There has been a lot of talk recently about independent MPs being returned at the next election, but the baggage handler who was the hero of the Glasgow Airport terrorist attack, John Smeaton, backed by the Jury Team, got just 258 votes.

Colin Campbell standing for The Individuals Labour and Tory (Tilt) got just 13 votes which must be close to a record low. This does suggest that the deposit should be raised to deter frivolous candidates.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

It's the Sun what overdone it

The Sun may have overdone its latest attack on Gordon Brown in its 'Don't you know there's a bloody war on?' campaign and elicited some sympathy for the embattled prime minister. The public mood seems to be against its vociferous attacks on him over his alleged spelling errors in a handwritten letter of condolence sent to a mother killed in Afghanistan. What appeared to have been a spelling mistake may have been poor handwriting resulting from the prime minister's deficient eyesight.

Some 65 per cent of respondents to a PoliticsHome poll characterised the tabloid's coverage as 'inappropriate' rather than legitimate journalism and 48 per cent said they were more inclined to defend the prime minister as a result. Government insiders claimed to have detected signs that News International, the newspaper's parent company, were 'slightly rattled' by evidence of a backlash.