Friday 24 April 2009

Brown: Godfather of soul

Courtesy of PeterSerafinowicz.com

Why can't they get it right?

Several Labour MPs have said to Lobbydog that they think Brown’s expenses proposals – particularly the daily allowance – are cr*p.

What could have been an attempt to sort the issue out is now in chaos. In part that’s because the proposals themselves are flawed.

But it’s also because the announcement was a political move. The will to push proposals appeared out of nowhere at what might have been a fortuitous moment in the news cycle.

As it is, the move seems to be backfiring after it was jointly dumped by the other two parties and is now being rejected by Labour members.

It will now lengthen the list of half-baked attempts to pay lip service to public anger over expenses.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Clarke calls Cooper's bluff

While we're on the subject of the Rushcliffe MP here is his little spat with Yvette Cooper which was on Channel 4 news.

Clarke sits back

Something I noticed yesterday that I forgot about until now.

Ken Clarke is usually the laid back sort anyway, but during the budget statement the Notts MP was noticeably excluded from proceedings.

The Tory front bench was a hive of activity – David Cameron, George Osborne, Philip Hammond and Oliver Letwin all discussed lines of attack during Darling’s speech and passed documents to each other.

Clarke, the shadow business secretary, didn’t say a single word to anyone.

He just sat back and stretched out his hush puppies with a relaxed smile on his face.

Considering he supposedly spends a lot of time discussing the economy with the leadership and was sitting right there, it almost seemed odd that he chose to keep his mouth shut the whole way through.

If it was an attempt to make sure the focus never shifted from Cameron and Osborne it seems to have worked.

McNulty can't talk

Employment Minister Tony McNulty has kept a low profile since the investigation into his parliamentary expenses began.

So it almost felt rude not to go along to a jobs stats briefing yesterday to try and squeeze in a question about the issue.

As we all know, he claimed £60,000 of taxpayers’ cash to pay the mortgage on a house his mum and dad were living in.

I asked him what he thought of the PM’s new system under which – as an outer London MP – he wouldn’t have been able to make his claims.

He said he’d been calling for such a change for a long time and endorsed it.

Eh? So he was calling for rule changes, presumably because he thought something was wrong with them, while at the same time making the most of those rules to claim tons of money?

After I pressed the point he replied that the investigation prevented him discussing specifics – to be expected I guess.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg rejected the PM’s expenses changes yesterday anyway – so we may be back to waiting for the Kelly review.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Labour MPs speak their mind

Most Labour MPs I spoke to praised the measures the Chancellor took, while qualifying comments with phrases like "under the circumstances".

A few went a little further. Here are two of them...

Mark Todd is a business minded Derbyshire Labour member who is standing down at the next election. Speaking about spending cuts and debt he said:

"The spending cuts announced were helpful, but to be honest there will need to be other measures in the future – today maybe was not the day to announce them.

"We face the best part of a decade getting on top of things even on a quite optimistic assumption of the Government’s ability to continue paying off its debts.

"It’s going to be a tough decade of tighter spending and tax increases – that’s a tough future for this Government and for the next.

"The person who holds the chancellorship will not be very popular for quite sometime."

Mark Fisher, Labour member for Stoke Central, said he thought measures in the budget were good. But added:

"It was a sobering occasion. I was surprised by how optimistic the chancellor was about recovery.

"I hope he’s right. But when the economy is going to shrink by 3.5% this year to say it’s going to jump back up and start growing by three per cent after that is hopeful.

"There is, of course, determination, a will and energy to pull through, but saying we will turn around within 18 months is on the optomistic side."

THE BUDGET: Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...

There was a matter-of-fact conversation concerning small rodents humming on the benches behind me as the Chancellor droned through his statement.

“There must be a bunny,” said a voice. “He hasn’t had a single cheer from his own side, he needs to give'em something – give'em a bunny. Hold on, here comes the bunny… on no, not yet.”

Another voice replied: “I don’t know. He hasn’t really got anything left. I’m not sure he’s got one – there might not be a bunny.”

There was no bunny.

The voices were discussing the approaching final sentence of the Chancellor’s statement which traditionally reveals an eye-catching policy – a cut in income tax, help for the poor – something sexy to leave the troops cheering. Known as - "a rabbit out of the hat".

Straining to wade through his words it was hard to tell whether it was Darling’s presentation or the substance, a bit of both no doubt, but his measures didn’t cut the mustard.

They were more weasel than bunny – at very best they were stoat. As the speech closed there was boosted child tax credit, redundancy pay and more help for carers – but nothing that had the “bloody hell” factor.

Bill Cash (Stone), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, it’s a real place) and Patrick Cormack (South Staffs, below) fought heroic battles to stay awake, as their heads fell back or sagged.

This was supposed to be the rallying battle cry for Labour MPs that would set the tone from now until the election and beyond.

It could have been the speech that made voters think the Government, if nothing else, was battling with all its power in some direction.

It needed to be sharp, clear and with purpose, but it felt flat. Many plans were dependent on a quick economic bounce-back. The borrowing figures were scary.

I’ll be speaking to many Labour MPs in the next few hours, most of whom will say they thought it was a great budget.

Voters who managed to watch all the way through to the end will be able to make up their own minds.

Paddy power

Paddy Ashdown will tell Total Politics in this month's issue...

“Is Gordon Brown a normal human being? No he’s not. Everybody can see that. He is a very abnormal human being.”

Harsh? Check out Brown's expenses announcement below if you haven't seen it yet.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Police accountability

Denis O’Connor looked weary of the politicians on the Home Affairs Select Committee when I left him there – and that was only 20 minutes in.

The new Chief Inspector of Constabulary will be running an investigation into allegations of police misconduct during G20 protests.

O’Connor told MPs the incident in which a police officer had whacked a woman was “unacceptable”.

On coppers covering their identification numerals…

“For people not to be wearing their numbers is utterly unacceptable and that’s it. It’s very clear.”

He added: “Individuals are accountable. The route to accountability is that you know who this person is that’s standing in front of you.”

New expenses proposals

Who's next in the Home Office?

So another Home Secretary chokes on the poisoned chalice.

I couldn’t go into the Chamber for her speech yesterday as I was busy writing a story, but hacks have said Jacqui Smith looked defeated and as if she just didn’t want the job anymore.

The scandals now eating her political career like a flesh eating virus – the Damian Green affair, her sister’s house, her husband’s porn, G20 protests, student visas – mean it can’t be long to the end.

It’s more a question of timing for Brown. He has to wait for the Damian Green affair to pass in order to avoid any perception that the Tories have taken her scalp.

But the longer he waits the more her departure may affect the summer elections. People, including his own MPs, may also question his judgement on the matter.

Smith follows a long line of ministers who’ve been crushed by the Home Office, think David Blunkett and Charles Clarke.

Those that managed to do the job and come out the other side include Jack Straw and Ken Clarke – two insatiable survivors.

But the daunting history will not put off others who fancy themselves a promotion to one of the biggest jobs in Government.

Hazel Blears springs to mind. The Communities Secretary is feisty enough to take on Chris Grayling.

Brown might also think her “I’m an honest girl from a working family” manner might be what the position needs.

Monday 20 April 2009

Polls promise uneasy summer for Labour

The new Guardian/ICM poll gives the Tories a ten point lead over Labour as the party best placed to run the economy.

The figures show, however, that Labour's support has not dipped from 30% while the Tories have lost two points.

I guess it stands testament to the problems the Government has experienced when one can consider being ten points behind a plus of sorts.

It'll be interesting to see if Alistair Darling can do anything to change things on Wednesday.

Tamils are kicking off...

Their numbers dwindled at the end of last week, but tons of Tamils turned out this morning.

They have just broken through police lines, and poured out on to the roads around Parliament Square.

It's bound to cause some sort of disruption to the first day of Parliament after recess.

All eyes on the police batons.

Clarke looks at the budget

The Rushcliffe MP speaks to Sky from his Notts home on this week's budget.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Balls' ache

Lobbydog thought no-one had woken up with a worse headache than his today – opening that last bottle of white was a mistake.

But after reading the papers it seems our Children’s Secretary might have a bigger ache, albeit with a different cause, and will need more than an aspirin to solve his problem.

The Sunday Times writes that Ed “Damian McBride’s behaviour is inexcusable” Balls used the former special adviser himself to smear cabinet colleagues in his pursuit of the Labour leadership.

Balls has branded the allegations, made by a whistleblower, as “completely fabricated and malevolent nonsense”.

The word “malevolent” leaves a litigious whiff in the air. So for The Sunday Times to go ahead and print anyway means they are very sure of their source.

If true, while the story grates, it doesn’t surprise. But one part of the whistleblower’s tale did read rather oddly.

The source claimed Brown was “strangely na├»ve” and didn’t know what Balls was doing.

If that is the case it would point to a highly unruly situation at Number 10.

If it isn’t, then it almost feels like a cack-handed attempt to protect Brown from association with the story.

Either way the whole thing will serve to knock Labour further in the polls – according to The Sunday Telegraph the party dropped five points on the back of the smeargate scandal.

NB: Until now Lobbydog had referred to “smeargate” as “emailgate”, but will now bow to pressure in the interest of people knowing what I’m talking about.

As the Appalling Strangeness points out, it should be called “The McBride Scandal” anyway, because always sticking “gate” on the end of everything is just silly.