Friday 22 January 2010

On marriage tax breaks...

LD was chatting with an up and coming Tory about marriage tax breaks earlier.

He was arguing, as Danny Finklestein has I think, that the current Tory policy was badly sold to the public.

The idea that you can actually socially engineer people to get, and stay, married was never the purpose, he said.

The policy, which would probably not make a whole lot of financial difference to a couple, was simply meant to be recognition that marriage is the right thing to do.

It was, he said, meant to show that the Tories “supported marriage” in a general sense – a sort of symbolic gesture.

It would of course be a hopeless waste of money if social engineering was the goal.

Unfortunately it is also a hopeless waste of money to squander much needed public funds on a symbolic gesture.

I’m all for marriage, in fact I’m just about to get married, and I believe that kids from married couples do have a better start in life.

My first reaction, though, is that freedom of choice dictates that it’s none of the Government’s business whether people opt to get married or not.

If Cameron must meddle in this sort of “encouragement”, do it through the education system and through the media. Not through tax.

Hoon wants a kick about!

You have to hand it to Geoff Hoon, he is trying his hardest to keep us guessing.

After his political career takes its last few gasps, the Notts MP is apparently trying to land a job at the Football League.

If that doesn’t work out he’ll have to go to even greater lengths to stay in the limelight.

Perhaps he could become the next human spider and start climbing tall buildings, or try and break the world record for the longest uninterrupted Morris Dance.

Even scarier is what might happen if he actually does pull it off. Matches will be delayed because shipments of balls are withheld while he takes “further advice”.

On the up side it might mean football fans across the country come up with terrace songs about him. “You’re Hoon and you know you are, you're Hoon and you know you are…”

I’m sure you lot can come up with some better suggestions.

The real losers in all of this are the people of his Ashfield constituency, for whom he doesn’t care enough to fess up about whether he plans to stand down.

Thursday 21 January 2010

Bring on the Peter and Ken show!

Last year Ken Clarke told this blog that he wanted a TV debate with Mandy but that the Business Secretary wouldn’t do it.

“I’m making it clear that I would want to appear on television with [Lord Mandelson],” said Clarke.

“I’ve made that clear to the television companies – my guess is that those companies would love to put us together for a debate.

“But he won’t go on TV.”

In the past Mandelson has shrugged off suggestions of a live debate. But today Lobbydog asked him straight whether he was up for it or not.

“There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be,” he said.

I guess he had little choice but to say yes, but interestingly he then turned round and claimed it was Clarke that had chickened out in the past – all in typical Mandy style.

“We were going to do it originally for Channel Four and he said he had to go to a meeting of the shadow cabinet.

“Who on earth would rather go to a meeting of the shadow cabinet than appear on a Channel Four debate with me.

“What’s the shadow cabinet got that I haven’t got, it’s dull and boring.”

Clarke has just totally denied that he ever refused or pulled out of any debate and adds that he too is ready and willing.

So Clarke wants it, Mandy wants it, TV producers want it and we want it – what’s the hold up?

Reform wriggle

Harriet Harman is trying to wriggle out of a major reform of Parliament – again.

Last summer Commons reformers recommended ways to make Parliament more able to challenge Government.

They said MPs should set the schedule for what is discussed in the Commons – a power currently held by the Government giving ministers obvious political advantages.

This blog reported in the summer how Harman tried to get around this suggestion in order to retain power for the Government, but after reformers protested she temporarily backed down.

Today Harman made a second attempt to block the reform by only offering MPs the chance to schedule “non government business” – the less significant stuff that takes place and only about 15% of the total.

In fairness, MPs will be offered the chance to elect who sits on and chairs select committees, which is important because they pick through laws proposed by ministers.

But if Parliament is to be seen as a bona fide check on the power of Government it must have the power to schedule what it debates.

What enraged me most was Harman’s suggestion that people who criticised the Government’s wriggling on this were troublemakers seeking to block reform.

She said: “You have got a choice. You can either seek to work with us to make progress or you can get in a huff about the process. It's down to you to choose."

Home Office naughtiness

When Jacqui Smith got done last year for claiming for porn films on her expenses we all hoped the problem would not be more widespread.

I’m afraid I have a troubling announcement.

It seems a couple of Home Office employees have followed their leader’s example – two have been disciplined over the last few years after they looked at porn on their work computers, officials tell me.

People are always talking about how busy the department is, what with its broad range of duties and all.

But these two, at least, seemed to have had a bit of extra time on their hands.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Clegg gets the handbag out

I actually thought Clegg might cry at PMQs just now – he had a right old mare.

It wasn’t really his own fault. He was subject to what can only be described as group bullying.

His problem is his ‘angry man – I’m too serious for the silliness of PMQs when there are people dying out there’ persona that he wears every Wednesday.

Everyone knows that when a person is miffed, the way to make them look silly is to mock them and make them more miffed. And so when he started being all incensed the House roared “ooooooooooh!”

You know the noise. The action to go with it is holding your hands up as if you were gripping a handbag.

Clegg often draws this response at PMQs but today it happened repeatedly and each time the Lib Dem chief was getting a little more vexed and liable to trigger another “oooooooooh!” at any moment.

When Brown was answering his last question Clegg was so livid that he just kept on shouting “si’down,si’down,si’down!” while every time making a jerking move with his head, not dissimilar to that made by a walking pigeon.

I’ve heard Clegg actually has a bit of a temper, but on the main when I’ve spoken with him in person he comes across as passionate at most.

The angry man thing only works at PMQs every so often, try some wit next time.

The pain of being a number two

A hack colleague noted the plight of poor Employment Minister Jim Knight earlier.

For months and months during the dark days of the recession Knight has been on the telly once a month to brief us on unemployment stats.

Then things start to turn around and up pops the Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper to explain what a great job she’s been doing.

It must be tough being one underneath Cooper in the pecking order – I imagine she has a very sharp beak.

Hoondog has his day...

I began to wonder what on earth could have been up Geoff Hoon's nose that required such an effort to dislodge.

He rubbed, stroked and poked furiously all in the space of a few moments as he was being asked when the decision to go to war in Iraq was taken.

Some might say this is what is called "displacement activity" – the result of a person battling two conflicting instincts which leave them unsure of what to do or say.

Of course it may just be that Hoon had early hay fever, because when he was asked another toughie, he blinked about 20 times in the space of 20 seconds.

Click to read the Evening Post Parliamentary Correspondent's take on Hoon.

Monday 18 January 2010

Campbell and Dacre - a bad romcom

I imagine that next Alastair Campbell might point at Paul Dacre and tell him that his dad could beat-up the Daily Mail editor’s dad.

As you will no doubt have seen, Campbell took his spat with Dacre to new silly levels last week when he accused the editor of having homo-erotic fantasies about him.

Today he follows up the accusation with a post in which he claims he was only being light hearted.

He then goes on to draw attention to a new Downfall video in which Dacre is cast as Hitler – getting all agitated about his unrequited love for the Labour spin doctor.

The Downfall video is about as funny as the last fifteen hundred Downfall videos, people should find another film to rip off.

However, there is an uncomfortable feeling of the playground about Campbell’s remarks. Kids pointing at other kids and singing “you are a gay-lord, na, na ,n-na, naa.”

Isn’t that the kind of playground bullying that Campbell’s Labour party is trying to teach out of schools?

And isn’t Campbell’s response I was only joking the same response a playground bully would give – which would be frowned upon by teacher?

What has occurred to me is that the obsession in this little face-off seems to work both ways. In his blogs Campbell seems gleeful – almost as if he takes pride in his belief that Dacre likes him.

Maybe it’s going to be like one of those bad romcoms where the lead couple are always arguing, until they’re trapped in a lift together, and then when the doors finally open they’re seen kissing passionately.

Or perhaps this one just isn’t destined to have a happy ending.