Monday, 22 October 2007

Age need not be a 'cloying blanket'

Just a week after Ming Campbell's resignation as Liberal Democrat leader, its interesting to see Senator John McCain 'winning' Sunday's Republican Presidential nomination debate.

Part of McCain's appeal was what Washington Post correspondent Chris Cillizza calls 'his trademark wit'. And the target of this wit? Why, it was Mr McCain himself, 'poking fun at his advanced age in a question on Social Security'.

Mr McCain was 71 years old on 29 August, almost 5 years older than Mr Campbell. Which just goes to show that the issue of one's age, treated in the right way, need not be the 'cloying blanket' that Mr Campbell found it.

Two years ago, as Lib Dem Foreign Affairs shadow, Ming Campbell added considerable ballast to a little known front bench, and widened the party's appeal among the political intelligentsia; as leader, and thus the public personification of the party, he added mainly jokes - and not ones made by him at his own expense. One popular satirical show compared his role in a recent Brown-Cameron spat to that of Grandpa from The Simpsons.

Sadly this sort of thing is what the vast majority of ordinary non-political people will remember, and it will be difficult to undo the damage to his reputation, even if he returns to his former role, which I rather doubt he will.

I'm afraid the whole episode of Ming's leadership does reflect rather badly on the political judgement of all those who supported the idea of putting him in the 'figurehead' position in the first place (including many Lib Dem MPs). Whatever leadership skills his supporters claim he has demonstrated over organising the Lib Dems internally, his reign has been a disaster for the party in terms of its popular appeal. I always believed (and argued in another forum at the time) that he was unsuited for the role of appealing to the general public at large.

At least he was honourable enough to recognise others' mistake, and go before he was pushed. Liberal Democrats now need to elect a leader capable of appealing to a wider public.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Election will not be this Autumn

The mainstream media has been feverishly speculating about the possibility that Gordon Brown will call an election this Autumn.

All the main political parties seem keen to stoke the rumours, too. But that is only so that they can tap their richer donors for early cash. Cash now will enable them to set up their call centres and campaign headquarters, and to send out more target letters and surveys to find out how each punter in a marginal seat might vote and what might influence him or her to vote their way.

But take it from me: the date for the next General Election will be Thursday, 7 May 2009.

I will eat my hat if Brown goes to the country before then. He has no reason to call an election any earlier. His term lasts till May 2010 if he wishes. Conventional wisdom suggests that he should go a year earlier if he is in a good position in the polls, as his room for manoeuvre would steadily decrease over the course of the following year - much as John Major's did in 1991-92.

It would be silly for him to risk an election this year, and his reputation for being a man of fairly sound judgement would be gone forever. Unlike Wilson in 1970, he would not survive to become Prime Minister a second time, and would go down in history as the most feeble PM since Goderich. (He is unlikely to be the feeblest ever, poor Goderich having resigned in tears after a few months in 1827, forcing the King to accept Canning, who was anathema to him.)

And why am I convinced that the election will be on 7 May 2009?

Because that is the day when many Liberal Democrat and Tory activists up and down the land will be defending their County Council seats. Therefore, they won't have so much time to travel to their nearest marginal Westminster constituency to campaign. Meanwhile many urban Labour Metropolitan Councillors will not be fighting elections in their own back yard, so WILL be able to travel.

Maggie won all her elections on County Council election day - when her main threat was not the far left Labour Party, but rural Liberal and SDP activists getting together to fight marginal Tory seats as if they were by-elections. 'Twas ever thus with a system which enables to PM of the day to choose the timing of an election. It spares us the two year build up they have over, say, a Presidential election in the USA, but at the expense of giving the incumbent a huge advantage.

Mr Brown will not want to squander that advantage.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Long live the ECHR!

The case of Mr Chindamo, the murderer of headteacher Mr Lawrence in north London in 1996 has provoked significant debate in the media this week, after it was decided at a Tribunal that he could not be deported to his country of birth upon release. That well known 'liberal' Mr Cameron, scented blood, and within a few hours, the odious Mr McNulty, Minister for Security, Counterterrorism and the Police, was assuring the public that the Government would appeal.

It was, however, reported on Channel 4 news that Mr Chindamo has lived in this country since he was six years old, speaks no Italian, and has no family in Italy.

I do not know if this is true, but if so it seems to me that we should take responsibilty for an offender who was largely a product of London gang culture.

Or would those who feel he should be deported be prepared to accept a similar offender from the Italian court system, just because he was born in Britain?

Because of increasing travel and migration, Europe - and increasingly the whole developed world - is necessarily becoming a single, unified administrative entity. We should accept common standards with our fellow humans, stick to them, and encourage others to stick to them by our example.

Long live the ECHR!

Friday, 3 August 2007


Prominent among the critics of British Airways' carbon offset scheme is Tory MP for South Suffolk, and Chairman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Timothy Yeo. The failure of BA to market the scheme adequately is, he claims, "little short of scandalous".

Constituents of Mr Yeo's will recall that his commitment to protecting the environment did not always run so deep. He was once banned from driving after accumulating too many speeding convictions in his expensive Japanese sports car, and was known for a while to some in his local area as 'Tim Yeeeeooowww!' (Best said with a swift sideways movement of the head, as if watching him speed past.)

In any case, voluntary carbon offsetting is a curiously limp way to go about saving the planet. Perhaps Mr Yeo's indignation at BA is designed to overshadow his party's complete failure to come up with any concrete policies to achieve carbon reduction?

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Religion or logic; prohibition or permissiveness?

I find it extremely worrying that some Muslim posters on the BBC's current World Have Your Say debate seem to think ALL Western liberals are immoral, fail to care about their extended families and children, are sexually promiscuous, etc.

Clearly their ARE examples of this is Western Liberal cultures, and arguably some of the problems are worse than in more religious societies.

But it seems that some posters are not aware that many of us in the West would subscribe to many of Ali's ideals, even if we do so from an understanding that it is logical to treat one's fellow human beings with respect, rather than because a religious leader tells us that it is right to do so.

My own view is that there are disadvantages to the strict prohibition of even harmful activities. Prohibition breeds secrecy - so you are less likely to know about the hypocritical behaviour of your neighbour.