mandelson10a

The silly season is upon us and the story that Peter Mandelson is hovering over a safe seat in the Commons with an eye on the premiership had a certain air of inevitability about it. William Rees-Mogg tipped some coal on the fire yesterday, suggesting Mandy’s aides briefed the Sunday Telegraph on the story, although it was really only a matter of time before someone somewhere dreamed it up.

For all his charms Mandelson would never win an election. He wouldn’t even tangibly limit the electoral damage David Cameron will inflict on Labour in 2010. He is unloved by voters and travels light on policy; his real skills lie in organising the party’s communications and strategy. He’s a Gerrard rather than a Rooney.

However in the aftermath of the next election I could see Mandy as an excellent caretaker leader. Harriet Harman may have been heading in the right direction in the gist of her comments over men and women this week, but the way she expressed them reminded us of just what a divisive figure she is.

Jack Straw and Alan Johnson would be, I imagine, less enthusiastic about grasping the poisoned chalice after a heavy defeat at the polls. Mandelson would have the strength of character and the political nous to stabilise the party while it began patching up its wounds. If I was the betting type I’d put money on Mandy running the party for a couple of years after 2010.

BrownTwitter

If you’re tired of the multitude of polls being commissioned by newspapers in advance of the Norwich North by-election, consider this simpler measure of popularity.

The Twitter campaign to save Brown’s premiership (keepbrownasmp) has a meagre 122 followers compared to more than 2,000 followers for a demonic incarnation of the PM who claims to be guilty of war crimes and a second Great Depression.

This is despite Prime_Minister’s rather unlikely bouts of honesty that include

I am the One Eyed Monster not fit for my job!

and

I want to dig a hole and hide from the public. I am ashamed of my failure in public office.

Separately the BBC also recently advertised a job for a political researcher with expertise in the “policies and personalities” of the Conservative party. Clearer tea leaves than any Mori forecast, I’d say.

Sunday Times

I wrote a fun piece for the Sunday Times this weekend looking at how filesharing sites like btjunkie and RapidShare are already filling up with pirate copies of ebooks. With the Sony Reader and Amazon’s (US-only) Kindle 2.0 flying off the shelves, publishers are facing an inevitable battle with bootleggers.

You can read the full article here.

McBride_Brown_Email_cartoon

A sea-change article in today’s Guardian. Polly Toynbee, the lefty voice at the heart of the paper, calls on Labour to topple Gordon Brown and install Alan Johnson. Toynbee has been a steadfast Brown apologist and was rooting for the jowled one right up until April. But her piece today surely spells doom:

Gordon Brown has been tested and found in want of almost every attribute a leader needs. Squalid dealings by his poisonous inner circle were exposed to the light of day; yet at the same time he lacks a leader’s necessary political cunning. Many hoped that the end of the rivalry with Blair would see Brown cast off his myrmidons. He didn’t. In the  tussle between his better and his worse selves, too often the lesser man won.

Oh dear.

Cartoon courtesy of www.mattbuck.com

streatham-online

It seems Labour candidate Chuka Ummuna is facing battle with an enthusiastic, if decidedly unsophisticated internet adversary for the seat of Streatham. Streatham Online, a site mysteriously keen on rival Tory candidate Rahoul Bhansali (above), saw fit to post no fewer than five identical comments to my blog in response to an interview with Chuka in February.

The comments were – thoughtfully – a cut-and-paste of material from Streatham Online and contained the immortal line:

What Streatham ultimately needs right now is an ‘Action Man’ who can urgently restore it to it’s Former (Socio-Economic) Glory. [Rahoul Bhansali]

Matters of punctuation aside, the idea that Streatham was once a sprawling Byzantine kingdom of learning and commerce can only be described as highly questionable. Branding your candidate an action man, even in inverted commas, also raises serious issues. While you can’t fault Bhansali’s spin machine for raw energy, Alastair Campbell shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder just yet.

 

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I was listening to Ed Balls on the Today programme on Wednesday and was immediately struck by his unconvincing attempts to distance himself from Damian McBride, and to portray Smeargate as “an issue for all parties”. He didn’t sound as if he believed it himself.

That anodyne interview seems to have been the basis for the Sunday Times’ explosive front page story today. A whistleblower took exception to Balls’ obfuscation and spoke out on what plenty of people have already tacitly suggested – that Balls is at the centre of the Brownite culture of thuggery that sustained McBride.

It was a brave article at the end of a week that has seen Guido Fawkes – and even Alice Miles in the Times – bemoan the subservience of the Westminster lobby to political interests. Judging by the hysterical tone of Balls’ press officer, who described the allegations as “completeley fabricated and malevolent nonsense without any foundation in fact”, the story was a nasty little bolt out of the blue.

westminster

The malaise clearly goes deeper than the immediate scandal. The Telegraph carried a damning front page headline, “Now Brown pays the price”, with poll figures showing a haemorrhaging of Labour support over the last week. Peter Oborne wrote an interesting piece in the Observer calling for an end to the all-powerful celebrity Prime Minister. Earlier in the week Simon Heffer wrote an excoriating piece calling for Jacqui Smith’s head.

As Paddy Ashdown candidly remarked on this morning’s Andrew Marr show, no betting man would plump for Labour at the next election. Smeargate is the culmination of years of dirty briefing, and now it’s open season on the Government.

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The Mail on Sunday took the unusual step of sharing its front page story with other Sunday papers today, ensuring Geoff Hoon’s ‘three homes’ scandal was splashed around generously. Hoon was outed for living rent-free in Admiralty House for three and a half years – apparently due to security reasons as he was defence minister at the time – while claiming expenses on his home in Derby and renting out his London townhouse.

The general impression of MPs rolling around in public money like pigs in litter isn’t helped by the shabby excuses they put out when Paul Dacre and friends inevitably track them down. Hoon told the Mail:

I only claimed whatever the rules allowed for. The [Commons] fees office was aware what was happening. Indeed, I was told to move to Admiralty House on security advice. I was told unless I went into secure premises I would have to have round-the-clock police protection at my home in London and that would cost the taxpayer a great deal more.

As more revelations showed Jacqui Smith claimed £304 for a barbecue – they must have been pretty amazing burgers – the home secretary took the the blue airwaves of the Telegraph to defend herself. “I thought that was the wrong thing to do [to claim for her husband’s porn films] and that’s why what we immediately did was apologise and pay the money back,” Smith told the newspaper, using that cunning New Labour formulation that looks like an admission of error but is actually just an excuse.

barbecue2

Amid all the expense hounding, one story in the Telegraph made me laugh. Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, is loathe to claw back expenses from the taxpayer and is apparently keen to get his annual claim even lower. “I’ve got a board [with my name and contact details on it] at Kettering Town football club and that’s £15,” he told the paper. “I could stop that.” I think we can all allow him that little bit of hedonism.