Thursday 28 January 2010

Clarke honesty is refreshing...

Tory press officers looked slightly agitated just now after Ken Clarke strayed off message in a press briefing.

He’d been asked about Tory plans for regional development agencies (RDAs) – the massive quangos that are meant to develop regional economies and business, but have also been given roles in transport and planning.

His predecessor Alan Duncan once told me they would be either scrapped or slashed down beyond recognition, with their power divvied up between councils and central Government.

And that was the prevailing view of most Tories, though exact plans have not been forthcoming. A point highlighted by Clarke, much to the press team’s distress.

He started by saying: “You plainly require a level of Government below the national level.

“I never thought you could run the health service from a building in Whitehall. I never thought you could run the education system from the dreadful office I used to have. And I’ve no intention of running support for business from an office in Victoria Street.”

He added: “You need a level of Government bringing with it local knowledge and expertise and partnership with local people below the level of Whitehall.”

He explained that the Tories would look at all the RDAs' different functions and see whether they were all necessary before making a decision.

But when challenged that the Tories had been deciding for years on RDAs but had failed to put forward anything except a vague document of intentions, he went further.

“The only document we put out is not clear, not totally clear, and we are attempting to finalise it.”

Pens started scratching.

Unseen affects

The Department of Health is launching a campaign to warn drinkers of the “unseen” affects of long term boozing today.

Having checked out the website most of the consequences are ones we all know about.

But I was surprised, and not a little perturbed, to read that long term drinking can make your, er, ‘thingy’ smaller.

Really. The NHS says it, so it must be true.

No doubt some of you would, however, be interested in seeing the evidence, if you still can.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Touch the tip of your nose!

Did anyone notice that odd chunk of the Clarke Vs Mandy fight on Channel 4 when it turned into a version of the playground game ‘Simon Says’?

Mandy was trying to frustrate Clarke, with some success, painting him out to be a Tory rebel who’d supported Labour policies, by using phrases like ­Ken agrees and Ken says.

Clarke responded with I didn’t, I didn’t in an increasingly high-pitch voice that made him sound like a schoolboy denying he’d smashed classroom windows with a slingshot.

But the real strangeness was triggered when the shadow business secretary turned the tactic and started a sentence with Peter says.

Peter says, Peter says,” interrupted Peter, making the playground game his own.

Peter says don’t start public spending cuts now because it’ll endanger the economy’s growth.

Peter says 0.1% growth is still growth.

Peter says stand on one leg and touch the tip of your nose.

There’s something disconcerting about a man referring to himself in the third person. Normally only cartoon cavemen do it – “Ug go eat now!”

As well as his attempts to disconcert Clarke, Mandy’s other weapon was his fawning manner – employed in such force that at one point Mrs Lobbydog even commented “Mandelson seems like a lamb”.

If ever there was a better example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I know it not.

The main tussle was whether, as Clarke argued, debt was the weight holding the economy down or, like Mandy claimed, public spending was the balloon holding it up.

Believe Mandy and any attempt to cut spending sends us into double dip hell.

Believe Clarke and the economy’s growth will remain as impotent as today’s 0.1% increase if our debt, and spending, is not cut.

Big Beast Clarke was his blustering best, trampling over Peter when needs be, and even trying to “out” Mandy as cunning, wily, and dishonest.

He claimed that Labour would make cuts now too if there wasn’t an election round the corner.

In return Mandy accused his opponent of talking the economy down. To which Clarke neatly replied that you could not talk down 0.1% growth.

And he’s right. If you did we’d be talking about 0% growth – no one would be silly enough to say something like that.

Trying not to speak...

It’s not surprising that Margaret Beckett didn’t have huge influence over the decision to go to war in Iraq, given that she was only Environment Secretary at the time.

None the less, one answer she gave to the Chilcot Inquiry was particularly amusing.

She was asked what she'd said in meetings leading up to the decision to go to war.

Her answer was: “I don’t remember…how much I exactly said. I’m sure there were times when I did contribute.

“I tried to not repeat something that someone else had already said.

“I tried to not take up the time of the cabinet by repeating some contributions that someone else had made or by making obvious statements that were self evident.”

Basically – she didn’t say much. There is however a slightly darker side to her comments.

Yes, she’s admitting she was not a huge contributor, but is she also saying that the contributions of others were pointless – that people sat around repeating each other and stating the obvious in an attempt to make it look like they were useful.

We’ve all seen that sort of thing happen in meetings between a group of employees and the boss. You’d just hope the people running the country were more robust with one another.

Ken and Peter tonight!

Nicked this off Dale, they're on tonight on Channel 4 News . Can't wait.

Brightening up the day...

Mervyn King told MPs just now that no amount of regulation is going to stop banking, as it is, from putting the economy at risk in the way it has.

The problem as far as he was concerned was that bankers would always take risks as long as they thought the Government was going to bail them out, which it always has.

His basic thrust was that we shouldn’t restrict the size of banks, and we shouldn’t bring in loads of regulation.

We should instead fundamentally alter the banking system so as to remove the expectation that Government’s would bail out banks, while protecting the people at the bottom, (mortgage holders/savers), if a bank goes down. The market would do the rest.

Oh, and he added that it was going to take 50 years to get stability in the system. That’s all sorted then.

Monday 25 January 2010

A little more on Hoon....

After the Evening Post broke the story of local Labour party members in Ashfield plotting to unseat Geoff Hoon, LD has learnt a little more.

Hoon, I’m told, would stand aside if he could find a suitable role for himself outside Parliament.

Only last week he was said to be a candidate to replace Lord Mawhinney as executive chairman of The Football League.

But I’m also told that if Hoon remains in his seat without finding another role, it is likely he’ll want to fight attempts to dump him.

Personally I’m still not sure there would be enough support for an attempt to get rid of him in Ashfield.

I say this only because many people are angry with him after his actions to overthrow Brown made the party look as if it were squabbling amongst itself.

An embarrassing battle now to get rid of a former cabinet minister who doesn’t want to be unseated would do exactly the same thing.

Many local supporters are just hoping that he does the decent thing and stands down quietly. Thought they’re not holding their breath.