Friday 9 January 2009

Facebook strikes again

A leading young Tory activist was kicked out of the party today for boasting about dressing up as Madeleine McCann at a New Year bash.

Conservative Future (CF) member Matthew Lewis wrote on his Facebook site that his costume would include a blonde wig, "pink pyjamas, a teddy bear and a vial of fake blood".

Tory chairman Caroline Spelman today branded Mr Lewis's behaviour "totally unacceptable" and confirmed he had been expelled.

"This offensive behaviour is not only shocking but intolerable and completely unacceptable," she said.

"There is no place for this sort of person in the party."

Perhaps the Tories need to roll out their watchlist to CF?

Regional fluff

Attempts to make people in the regions think they count are all the rage at the moment - but so often are nothing more than fluff.

I've just been chatting to a Labour comms bod about what an Assistant Regional Minister actually does - see below.

"Well they are not actually assistant regional ministers," she said.

"They are assistants to the regional ministers. They are not ministers or assistant ministers themselves."

On Labour sites they are referred to in both ways. Either way I'm still answerless to my first question.

Lobbydog says this is more pointless lip service paid to make regions think they're listened too.


The East Midlands Assistant Regional Minister has waded into the row over the Gaza crisis.

Tom Levitt, who represents a Derbyshire constituency, said the rockets Hamas are using are “little more than catapults” – what?

As a pup Lobbydog used to shoot cans of fences with a catapult, and none of them ever exploded as a result.

The irritation is that Levitt makes a further point which is worthy of the debate.

He says civilian support for Hamas is a consequence of the Israeli blockade of Palestinian territory and the treatment of its people.

Lobbydog has been out to the West Bank and Gaza and seen the horrendous treatment doled out to Palestinian citizens.

But the catapult comment is so counter-productive that it immediately destroys any valid point Levitt might make.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Big beasts

Apparently Mandy also wants Clarke to return to the shadow cabinet.

BTW: Sorry for yet another post on Clarke today, I guess we're all looking for something to talk about while recess tails off.

Ben Brogan reports that Mandy says he would appreciate the competition of another big beast.

The Daily Mail hack gives an insightful run-down of reshuffle shenanigans.

Cowley's thunderbolt

Just as Tories were becoming accustomed to a Ken Clarke come back University of Nottingham Professor Philip Cowley throws a spanner in the works.

An essay by the Nottingham academic, published on ConservativeHome, highlights Clarke as the most rebellious Tory MP.

He notes that the member for Rushcliffe's rating may be inflated by repeated rebellions during voting on the Lisbon Treaty – a harbinger of things to come.

Another interesting point is that if the Tories win with a majority at the next election then almost half of parliamentary party will be rookie MPs.

Duncan's response

You heard it here first folks. Responding to the claims his job is on the line in various reports, the shadow business secretary said:

"Speculation like this always happens in politics.

"This is all emanating from a totally unquoted source and I’m quite relaxed about it. It would seem silly season has come early this year."

Not surprising. Confident, or over-confident?

In the mean time Lobbydog has been discussing his future with other unnamed sources - it feels bleak.

School's out!

A cracking cartoon by Tony Rose. Geoff Hoon, Ken Clarke, Ed Balls and Ed Davey are all former pupils of Nottingham High School.

TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) is the school's motto. They must've all been skiving off that day.

The Post's lobby correspondent asks what they put in the school's water in his column in tomorrow's paper.

The knives are out

There is an increasingly forlorn feeling around the shadow business secretary Alan Duncan.

The Telegraph has a senior Conservative saying MPs involved in the Tories' regional visits programme are the ones who will be included in a new shadow government.

The piece claims Duncan ruled himself out by going skiing instead and incurred Cameron's anger, but that's just hot air.

If Cameron wanted to get rid of Duncan, he wanted to do it before Christmas – the ski trip is neither here nor there.

The Tories might be a new party, but if there is one thing they’ve become expert at over they years it is manoeuvring against each other.

Clarke is waiting.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Mandy woos our regions

God forbid. Lord Mandelson will be giving a speech in Manchester tomorrow talking about the importance of the regions.

It follows the start of Brown's regional tour, he was in Derby today and will end up in Liverpool towards the end of the week.

Some Tories have suggested it's all an attempt to link with voters in the 'real world' away from Westminster before an election.

But everything seems to be some sort of sign for an election to Tories at the moment.

Oddly enough it's probably the last thing Cameron wants deep down right now.

Moving into position

The clamour around whether to bring Ken Clarke back seems to have led to some interesting manoeuvring behind Tory scenes.

It was suggested to Lobbydog that Clarke supporters were building up talk of a comeback that they knew wasn’t going to happen to provide cover for a return for David Davis – who will turn out to be the real comeback story.

Certainly grass roots Tories would be happier with a Davis return than a Clarke one, what with the European baggage.

But the whole idea that such a thing could be orchestrated between the two groups seems a bit silly.

More interesting was a story that appeared about shadow business secretary Alan Duncan in The Times today.

The piece said David Cameron had been embarrassed by Duncan nipping off on a ski trip when other shadow cabinet members were touring the country.

The shadow secretary is apparently being sniped at by “some parts” of the party.

Could it be those parts that want their man to have his business job in the next reshuffle?

Duncan’s people assure me he feels secure in his position.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Embarrassing Tory memo

Hacks seemed unimpressed with this leaked memo from an internal Tory party meeting, but Lobbydog thinks they're overlooking something.

The document, leaked on Michael Crick's blog, reveals the Conservatives are taking measures to ensure gawky candidates don't humiliate the party.

It reads: "Care needs to be taken over the candidates that have the potential to embarrass the Party - there will now be a fortnightly meeting to assess the watch-list of candidates, and the reasons they are on the list needs to be taken into consideration."

An underwhelmed James Forsyth at the Spectator says it would be irresponsible of the party not to monitor its candidates.

He asks if anyone really believes the other two parties don't do the same.

They probably do. But it's not the other parties' leaked memo that is making them look stupid.

Obviously from the point of view of a party with aspirations to form Government it's good practice to keep rookies on a tight leash.

But it's not the point of view of the party that matters here, nor that of Lobbydog, Forsyth or any other bloggers or hacks.

It is the point of view of Joe public that counts. The Tories know that - it is why they worry about graceless candidates.

Joe public's immediate assumption will not be to consider that other parties probably do the same, it will be either:

  • The Tory candidates are so lame they need to be monitored 24/7 in case they do something stupid. Or:

  • The party has become so ridden with control freakery from the top that it's having to muffle those underneath - something it lambasts Labour for.

  • That's why Conservative Central Office should be fuming.

    High achievers

    Mike Smithson at politicalbetting writes today:

    "After the last thread on Ken Clarke’s possible return to a front-bench position it’s quite striking to note how many of the potential 2009 political betting 'movers' were all educated at the same school - Nottingham High."

    Read the full piece complete with odds on how the High School boys will fare here.

    Former pupils include Geoff Hoon, Ken Clarke, Ed Balls and Ed Davey - who is currently third favourite to succeed Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader.

    Early bird, or quackery?

    Graham Allen has a knack of turning any story going into one about "early intervention".

    Drugs and crime problems? Early intervention. Rubbish school results? Early intervention. Not enough English players in the Premiership? Early... you get the picture.

    The term means blitzing state intervention to young mums and children to try and break the cycle of deprivation.

    His devotion to what is a good cause is admirable, but it means it was no surprise when he suggested to me earlier that the Government could tackle the economic downturn by investing in, you know what.

    He wasn't holding his breath on it being in the next fiscal stimulus package though, so instead he's cooking up a way of paying for it for free.

    The basic concept is this – early intervention would mean you save money in the future because you’re not spending on things like lowering teen pregnancy and crime etc.

    So councils investing in such policies should be able to do so with money borrowed (that increasingly ugly word) against future savings – so technically no new money is needed.

    The Nottingham North MP apparently has a group of top financiers (an even more ugly word) working on the detail.

    It sounds risky and dubious to me, but I'd be intrigued to discover just how they think it will work.

    Harsh liberalism

    A senior Lib Dem has caused lasting damage to the party’s nice-guy image after launching an unprovoked attack on helpless individuals – actually, perhaps ‘useless individuals’ would be a better description.

    Transport spokesman Norman Baker, Hoon’s opposite number, was trying to peddle a story on how terrorism laws had been used to arrest trainspotters.

    An interesting tale of sorts, but for no fathomable reason he suddenly said: “Trainspotting may be an activity of limited and indeed questionable appeal, but it is not a criminal offence and it is not a terrorist threat.”

    Talk about kicking them when their down.

    Gord is coming

    Gord will be passing through the East Midlands tomorrow for the first leg of his regional "recession" tour.

    The idea is that he gets out to meet Joe public and tell them all about things he's doing to fight the recession.

    I can't tell you exactly where he's going yet, but I'll have a chance to quiz him tonight.

    The Tories for their part are sending Andrew Mitchell up to Nottingham to meet business leaders today, better something than nothing.

    Monday 5 January 2009

    Back patting

    A group of unnamed sycophants burst into spontaneous applause during David Cameron's press conference earlier.

    Clapping is not a sound usually heard at these events.

    More common is a hack's guffaw or a press officer's grinding teeth.

    It was unclear from watching it on TV who the culprits were, and a Tory press officer I spoke to was none the wiser.

    However, she assured me that no one was holding placards reading "applause now".

    New(er) job for Hoon

    Rumours are spreading that Geoff Hoon is still to be offered the European Commissioner job.

    His people say the Notts MP is "fully focused" on his transport role, but the Guardian has a senior Labour colleague commenting that Hoon is "gagging" for the position.

    Lobbydog says a department like Transport should have a long term appointment and consistent leadership.

    The next round of EU appointments might not be till the end of 2009.

    But if Hoon was always a possibility for the commissioner’s job (his name has been attached for sometime) then someone else should have been considered for Transport in the last reshuffle.

    If he goes to Europe it’ll only mean civil servants having to explain all the issues to yet another newbie and more wasted time.

    Of course it also means there could be a new MP for Ashfield.

    Voters there might appreciate having someone less high-profile, who can concentrate on local issues.

    But with Ashfield a safe-seat it might be tempting for Labour to parachute someone in at the next election.

    Fight over Clarke begins

    The Telegraph has printed comments from top Tories who are chucking their toys out of the pram over Clarke's touted return.

    One senior shadow cabinet member said: "Ken is a great guy, he is popular, and highly effective at attacking the government.

    "But are we really going to be able to trust him to stick to the party line on Europe? Course not.

    "He is too much of a risk. The party is united under David. We can't afford to go back to rows about Europe all over again."

    Interestingly they say a reshuffle may come this week. Read the full story here.