Saturday 31 January 2009

Brown laps up US reporter

Jeremy Paxman would’ve been bursting at home, smashing his coffee mug into the TV screen and shouting “stop him, stop him!”

I honestly don’t think the Prime Minister had ever spoken so long uninterrupted during an interview.

Sky have just finished showing Brown talking with a CNN reporter in front of a room of journalists at the World Economic Forum.

Back home the PM would’ve been sneered at from the start, blamed and challenged – or ‘held accountable’ as they say.

But this interviewer was an American and more of a cat rubbing herself on the PM’s ankles than an attack dog.

She gave him as much time to answer as he wanted – let him roam.

He started by saying how the world economic crisis reminded him of a story about Titian.

Moments later he was discussing the Latin root of the word credit.

Then there was a little anecdote about a meeting of European economists back in the thirties.

I must admit missing the end of the story because I was too busy trying to dodge the PM’s head, now expanding out of the television.

People actually clapped his answers – at a press conference.

And when they did a little sparkle in his eye revealed his thought – “I really did save the world.”

Friday 30 January 2009

Hazel Blears having sex

...the thought makes you shiver doesn't it.

Unfortunately she reminded us all that she might have done it once with this campaigning tip from Progress magazine.

Make campaigning fun. Campaigning is like sex – if you’re not enjoying it, you’re not doing it right.

Video competition

Who sent a message to Gordon and what did it say?

Can anyone offer Lobbydog hope?

More gloom from Honda on the jobs front today.

You wonder whether workers will be thinking that if the car industry plan had come earlier things might’ve been different.

It’s impossible to say really. The key to the problem though – the drop in sales – is still to be directly addressed.

Until it is, through loan guarantees for car buyers, we can expect to read more of the same.

I’m not even certain that would make a difference now either to be honest. Lobbydog feels things are distinctly ominous today.

Brown on the peers...

Could peers just be old fools?

A while back there was a news story about an old man who pretended to be a war hero.

He'd been a cook in the army but decided that was far too mundane and wanted more prestige.

So he bought a bunch of medals from an antique shop and went around pretending he'd single handedly defeated the Nazis in North Africa, or something like that.

An MP I spoke to suggested the current "peers for hire" scandal was similar in its simplicity.

He reckoned it would be difficult for a peer to change a bill in the way being suggested.

Instead he thought if peers had been saying what was reported, they were merely inflating their role to win consultancy contracts.

If that's the case then the losers in this whole affair have been the companies hiring peers.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn has apparently lost his "consultancy" with Nottingham based credit check company Experian.

The Guardian reports today: Experian said it was "surprised" by the Labour peer's descriptions to undercover reporters of his role for the firm.

"We have agreed that Lord Taylor will retire with immediate effect," a spokesman said.

Taylor is the second peer to lose a consultancy in the row over possible abuses. Lord Truscott resigned from Landis+Gyr on Wednesday night.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Ainsworth takes job too seriously

Is the role of 'Armed Forces Minister' starting to have some odd side affects on Bob Ainsworth? He's up in the Commons now. To be fair he hasn't quite got the oratory right yet.

Tax-payers' cash goes to political parties

Over a quarter of MPs use taxpayers' cash to rent offices from their own political parties.

Some 26% of the 646 MPs - that's about 162 of them - rent from a party.

About of third of those - a total of 54 MPs - pay more than £5,000 for it each year.

If all 162 were to pay exactly £5,000 a year for their offices that would be £810,000 going into the three main parties coffers.

Technicaly there's nothing wrong with it - but there's something that doesn't feel right.

The basic figures came from a question asked by Notts MP John Mann.

Heathrow loyalties

It turns out that of the three Notts MPs who signed the EDM calling on the Government to scrap the runway only one voted against it last night.

Not surprisingly it was Alan Simpson (Nottingham South), while John Heppell(Nottingham East) and Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) sided with the Government.

When the chips are down...

Crap attack

At a Number 10 drinks do last night I was chatting with hacks and one of the PM's aides about parties' attack lines.

Earlier in the day PMQs ended up a battle between Brown’s "they’re the do nothing party" line and Cameron’s "admit we're in boom and bust" attack.

Most seemed to think Labour's strategy of nicking Tory policies and then calling the Tories "do nothing" was working, while my opinion – that it's crap – was in the minority.

Lobbydog still holds to that. I don't necessarily agree with Tory policies but they undoubtedly exist.

Only occasionally do ministers note their existence and when they do, as someone noted last night, a much more effective attack is to show where Tory policies are badly thought out.

Hoon did it well against Villiers in the Heathrow debate and Darling has also shown the flimsiness of Tory policy when challenging Osborne.

Rather than branding Tories as evil free-market capitalists that think the recession must take effect – the basis of the “do nothing” line – the “flimsiness” attack exposes them as lightweights, a more damaging strike.

The way things are going it won't matter soon anyway, as the recession deepens people will cry out for change whatever it is.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Heathrow vote

The Tories have rather cleverly worded their Heathrow motion, now being debated, along the lines of the EDM that 57 odd Labour MPs have already signed.

It urges the Government to rethink its third runway plan.

So anyone that signed the EDM should theoretically vote with the Tories.

Any of the 57 Labour MPs which doesn't will stand accused of being a mindless Government stooge.

Three Notts MPs signed the EDM – Nick Palmer, John Heppell and Alan Simpson. I'll be watching what they do.

The Tories would need 38 Labour MPs to rebel to win the vote. That probably won't happen because right-wing Tories too will rebel against their leader and vote for the runway.

Simpson to ambush Hoon

Lobbydog has been calling for Alan Simpson to savage Geoff Hoon in the Commons over Heathrow for weeks.

The self-styled eco-warrior has just promised that today he will go all out at the Transport Secretary, who is his Notts Labour colleague.

I'd like to say that I want it to happen due to an environmental conscious on my part, but really I'm just a voyeur.

It's not enough

"We are concerned that piecemeal measures introduced by the Government may not be adequate in the face of the crisis in lending."

This from a cross-party group of MPs amounts to a pretty damning indictment of what's been done so far.

The Treasury Select Committee's report was basically disregarded by Alistair Darling's officials this morning.

Rather than saying what they thought of it - in usual irritating fashion - they simply listed the measures they'd already taken.

Parking Probe

Lobbydog wants to see MPs on the Transport Committee push Nottingham City Council on their plans to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy today.

The proposals would see 500 firms in central Nottingham paying £185 a year per parking space they provide for employees, rising to £350 in 2014.

At a time when firms are being pushed to the brink by the downturn and as councils could soon get the power to bump up business rates anyway, it’s a prickly subject.

If the levy means less traffic, better transport, and no harm to the economy then great.

But I need to see the plan stand up to proper public scrutiny before I’m convinced.

Hoon's secret

The best thing about being a journalist is the feeling you get just before you break a controversial story.

It’s like telling someone a secret, but instead you’re going to tell thousands of people all at once – a thousand jaws dropping.

Today Geoff Hoon has the exact opposite of that feeling. A low, rumbling dread at what is about to become clear.

The cabinet papers from March 7 to 17 which are about to be released – despite the best efforts of the Cabinet Office – should tell us what Tony Blair, and Hoon thought of the legal case for going to war.

What hacks will be looking for is any suggestion that either were not fully confident in the case or that they thought they might have to push it or spin it in some way to make it support what they had already decided.

And all on a day when the Commons will debate the third runway at Heathrow – who’d be a cabinet minister.

UPDATE: Just spoken to the Cabinet Office - they've not set a release date which suggests they're considering appealling the tribunal's decision. That means going to the High Court.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Big Beast feeds on Pearson

During his speech in the Commons today trade minister Ian Pearson was a bit like the kiddies who run on pitch at half-time in a football match.

He was kind of sweet, but no-one really cared what he was doing, they just wanted the match to start again.

Moments earlier Mandy had made a statement in the Lords and soon after Ken Clarke, in his first speaking appearance, would rip it apart.

But Pearson first had to repeat the statement for MPs. He did it in the same way the kiddies mimic the real players, not kicking the ball hard enough so it doesn’t reach the goal mouth let alone go in.

All the while you could tell Clarke was relishing what was about to happen. He tried to look calm, but his fingers fidgeted, and then he stood up.

“I’m grateful to him for his courtesy in repeating to this house the statement made moments ago by the Secretary of State in the upper house. I think it’s a constitutional outrage and it’s a very poor way of accounting to the House of Commons.”

1 – 0

“But given the details of the package such as what it is I can say I’m slightly disappointed. I thought the Secretary of State who I shadow would produce some new ideas, some dynamite – a massive programme of support for the automotive industry.

“Unfortunately the minister has the task of producing pretty small beer here. Is it the case that the secretary of state is not producing a bail out because the Treasury have finally won an argument inside the Government and explained to him that they can’t afford the kind of support for the industry that was being trailed?”

2 – 0

Ten years of pent up bombast was poured forth, so much so that Clarke got a little over excited and out of breath – his voice adopting a slightly maniacal high pitch.

“Can the new trade minister… be asked to do something to improve the Government’s competence, its ability to keep up with events and its ability to produce programmes that work? Can I advice the minister, do not involve the Prime Minister.”

3 – 0

“There was a great deal made by the minister…of the money from the European Investment Bank, which I think was first announced back in September last year.”

4 – 0

That was three minutes in. And so what was thought to be a loss for the opposition – that Mandelson would not answer to the Commons – is revealed as the Dark Lord’s Achilles heel.

While he jaw-jaws in the upper house his minions and policies will be mauled by the Big Beast in the Commons, where he cannot come to their defence.

House of Conway

A reality-challenged individual has suggested to me that making the House of Lords fully elected would fill the honesty gap that chamber is suffering from.

That’s right - because elected politicians have shown themselves to be utterly incorruptible.

Derek Conway’s son did in-fact provide an invaluable service to the tax payer and Neil Hamilton was dutifully representing the views of a voter when he was paid to ask Parliamentary questions.

Trixy makes a decent point about Labour life peers here.

The idea of having a house of unelected experts appeals, but there needs to be new way of appointing them

48 hours

Lobbydog is eagerly awaiting the theatre of a tough two days in the Commons for the Transport Secretary.

Notts MP Geoff Hoon will hold Transport Questions today – the first since John McDonnell’s underwhelming mace protest.

Then tomorrow he will have to appear in the opposition led debate over Heathrow.

The Government had tried its hardest to avoid discussion of its runway plan on the Commons floor – now they have been dragged kicking and screaming Lobbydog wants to see critics let loose.

Monday 26 January 2009

Greenpeace cock-up

"Kicking their own supporters," is how Alan Simpson has described Greenpeace's strategy to email barrage MPs.

For some reason they thought it would be a good idea to target MPs who've already shown sympathy for their cause (see below).

Simpson said he got 6,500 e-mails - which blocked his computer up, leading to complaints from constituents.

Being a proud environmentalist he must be really hacked off to lash out at Greenpeace.

UPDATE: Nottingham East MP John Heppell (pictured here with a senior Labour Party figure) also had his in-box barraged.

He said: "I thought it was a deliberate attempt to crash our systems. I didnt realise it was just stupidity."

Greenpeace muddle

Greenpeace have rather stupidly shot themselves in the foot over Heathrow.

The group have encouraged people to ‘e-mail barrage’ MPs who’ve shown an iota of support in the struggle against plans to build a third runway.

There’s a vote on Wednesday, so Greenpeace’s aim will be to solidify support and work MPs they think might sway either way.

But so many have sent e-mails that they’ve crashed MPs’ inboxes – remember these are the politicians who might have supported their cause in a vote.

Broxtowe’s Nick Palmer has received some 5,000 e-mails and reckons there was one coming every ten seconds at the peak.

He told Lobbydog: “It means my own constituents that I’m here to represent can’t contact me about Heathrow or any other subject.

“I did have sympathy for the cause but when I called to discuss the problem they refused to stop doing it. It’s making me less likely to support them.”

New cars are on me too

Nationals are reporting there'll soon be a bail out for the car industry.

Part of the deal will include loans for car-buyers.

Lobbydog wondered why it seemed to go unnoticed when David Cameron first publicaly suggested the idea.

I don't know whether the Tories actually thought of it first or not.

But the vital questions are: How much will it be? Does it mean we'll start bailing out all other industries? And if it is only going to prolong the inevitable is it worth it?

We'll get the details in an announcement from Mandy on Wednesday.

Blow open the lobby

A Lords Committee has come up with a sure-fire way to get people really p*ssed off with the Government.

They want to televise the daily lobby briefings, where favoured hacks supposedly get slipped exclusive stories and off-the-record tips.

Perhaps that was the case 15 years ago, but sitting through the meetings now is like trying to walk through a brick wall.

Downing Street spokesman Michael Ellam sits at the front speaking – in a voice you can hardly hear – but not answering any questions.

A hack has to use his initiative to get stories these days.

I say let them televise it – if there's one thing that gets on people's wick it’s hearing people dodge questions.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Peers wet my parade

A point was scored in the battle for openness over expenses last week, but they couldn’t let us have one tiny triumph.

Just as the little victory parade moved up the road, Peers have straddled the street and opened their bladders, soaking us all.

Reading the story on Lord Taylor’s alleged tea-room antics this morning I slowly gripped The Times tighter and tighter.

At the point the article claimed Taylor said, “I work within the rules, but the rules are meant to be bent sometimes,” my middle finger went through the paper.

The ramifications of this are huge, maybe it’s because I’ve just read it and I’m vexed, but it should be at least as big as “cash for questions.”

Even if somehow Lord Taylor explains this away, there will have to be a major shake-up of how things work.

If he broke the rules he must be punished and a new system of rules brought in.

If he didn’t break the rules, then the rules are lax and need tightening.

Politically speaking, Mandelson buster Ken Clarke will have noted Taylor’s friendship with the Dark Prince.


...announced Ken Clarke on Andrew Marr's show today.

He said it was due to deepening recession, but I suspect it may be that, as Nick Clegg put it, “he has been bound and gagged by David Cameron and George Osborne.”

Those Tory boys. Up to their old tricks again.

What the Notts MP had to say about the recession – that 2009 will be terrible and Brown had tried everything, failed and wasted a tanker load of cash along the way – was interesting.

But more fascinating from a political viewpoint was his very presence on Marr.

Here was a shadow business secretary in his first week doing the shadow chancellor’s job.

He questioned economic policy, put forward alternatives and even framed overall Tory strategy on allowing Labour banking proposals through the Commons – could you have imagined Alan Duncan doing that?

Clarke repeatedly referred to “David, George and I” – the title to a future documentary on him perhaps – leaving no doubt the member for Rushcliffe sees himself at the centre of the Tory team.

Speaking about sleaze he neatly swiped at Mandelson and on the Tories coming to power used the word “when” not “if” – something Cameron hasn’t been so brazen to do.

With Clarke in there the Tories definitely feel more like a Government. I just wonder what tricks the Dark Prince has up his sleeves.