front-pages-12

The tedium of bankers’ bonuses dominated the front pages today: according to Politics Home, 75% of political stories were dominated by the theme in some way or another. The fact George Osborne and Alistair Darling managed to sound remarkably similar on the Andrew Marr Show – both pointing out banks like RBS would no longer exist without taxpayer support – just goes to show how little scope there is for real discussion on the question of bonuses, especially after Obama’s $500k salary cap for financiers.

I thought Osborne came across better than usual in a slightly chastened form, less the snarling aristocrat and more the balanced politican, although I wouldn’t go to the rhapsodising lengths of rightwing bloggers like Daily Referendum. Having just said there seems to be cross party agreement on taking actions against disproportionate City bonuses, Nick Clegg managed to take it a step further:

The government’s response has been pathetic. We do not need an inquiry to answer the question of whether bankers should receive bonuses – the right answer is no.

Anyone on the boards of the banks, the executives, should not take bonuses. In future they should not get cash bonuses at all.

The Telegraph and Independent both splashed on bonuses; the Sunday Times linked Glen Moreno, the private sector whizz tasked with overseeing the government’s £37bn banking stakes, to a Liechtenstein bank infamous for exploiting tax loopholes.

liechtenstein-slide-01

The Mail on Sunday raised some questions about Jacqui Smith’s parliamentary expenses, claiming she raked in £116,000 annually for a second home despite “effectively lodging with her sister”. Whoever said politics wasn’t glamorous?

Interestingly two rightwing pundits, Peter Oborne and Matthew D’Ancona, reckon sleaze could be the banana

skin on which either party slips at the next election. D’Ancona reckons there are increasing parallels between Brown and John Major. Although it’s been said many a time before, he argues Clarkson’s “One eyed Scottish idiot” jibe marks a new low in personal insults directed at the PM.

Finally, it’s worth comparing d’Ancona’s piece with Andrew Rawnsley. The Spectator man argues that David Miliband was fundamentally right to withhold publication of certain details of Binyam Mohamed’s trial; Rawnsley thinks it’s an extension of Blair’s “great moral failure”.

Advertisements

front-pages-11

I was speaking to an old Labour communications maestro this week, who said something to the effect that the Tory party under David Cameron still hasn’t managed to modernise itself properly. I generally disagree – I’m fairly sure Dave and George Facebook and Twitter each other at ever opportunity – but William Hague certainly let the side down a bit on today’s Andrew Marr Show.

He had a distinctly uncomfortable moment. Scheduled to meet the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao after appearing on the show, Hague was asked whether it was tough raising the question of human rights in Tibet with Chinese leaders as well as working with them on economic and nuclear issues. He said consistency was the key, adding:

Eastern leaders, if I can lump them all together in one bracket, appreciate consistency.

As opposed to Etonian leaders, who prefer vacillation and indecision? I hope Wen hasn’t been reading any Edward Said recently. A slight look of panic crossed Hague’s face as he seemed to realise he’d made some of the world’s most powerful leaders sound like kids with behavioural problems, and he looked glad when Marr moved the chat on. Incidentally, anti-Tibet protestors clashed violently with police ahead of Wen Jiabao’s visist at the Chinese Embassy in London, but they appeared to be miffed about human rights rather than Hague’s moment of Orientalist madness.

riots

Civil strife seems to be the theme of the week. The most incisive comment reaction to the wildcat strikes that have erupted around the country over contracts for foreign workers at Total’s Lindsey refinery came from Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. In autumn 2000, truckers and farmers enraged at soaring oil prices blockaded refineries around the UK. At first, Blair’s government treated the situation as a bit of a joke – but it ended up bringing the country to the verge of disaster. Underestimating the strikers this time around could come at a high price. Left-wing Labour MP Frank Field was worried enough to write in today’s Mail:

Labour risks a wipeout at the next General Election unless it gets a real grip of its immigration policy. Failure to do so allows fingers to be wrongly pointed at foreign workers who have added much to our country. Anger should be solely directed at the Government.

Make no mistake. The men and women on the picket lines are not just fighting for their jobs, they are also asserting their national identity.

protest

Field misses the point that Brown’s original pledge of “British jobs for British workers”, made at last year’s party conference, was an artless grab for the jingo vote and an unrealistic promise. Commentators across the spectrum, from Carol Thatcher on today’s Andrew Marr Show to Andrew Grice in the Independent, pointed out that Brown has given quite a few hostages to fortune over the years, most of whom have been bloodily executed over the past 12 months.

Finally, to the House of Lords scandal, which has already earned itself the tedious tag of “Ermingate”. In today’s Sunday Times Jack Straw promised an overhaul, although given the Commons vetoed a partially elected chamber last year it’s going to be slow progress. Amidst the mudslinging – apparently Conrad Black and Jeffrey Archer will be booted out alongside the Sunday Times Four under emergency rules – one person has come out of it all looking rather good.

PD*26474423

Baroness Royall is, according to The Sunday Times:

The foxy Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, who swept in to read the riot act. Flame-haired, cool-eyed, with sexy long black boots, the Labour leader of the disgraced upper house looks more likely to crack a whip than pass the port.

front-pages-10

Not since Corfugate in October has a Sunday paper’s front page detonated so spectacularly. Baroness Royall, leader of the House of Lords, was forced to abandon her morning tea and crumpets today to remind Andrew Marr that Labour Lords Truscott, Taylor, Moonie and Snape are all denying any wrongdoing despite allegations they offered to table amendments to legislation in exchange for cash retainers from undercover Sunday Times reporters.

Amidst the uncomfortable Sunday evenings the four peers in question must be having, Ulster Unionist Lord Rogan has to be revelling in squeaky clean feel-good factor. When approached by the Insight team he apparently gave the short shrift:

If your direct proposal is as stark as for me… to help put down an amendment, that’s a non-runner. A, it’s not right and B, my personal integrity wouldn’t let me do it.

Maybe he was just the only Lord smart enough to realise that one of the Insight reporters was the same guy who caught out Tory MPs Graham Riddick and David Treddinick by offering them £1,000 apiece to table questions in the Commons in the early ’90s, in the original cash-for-questions scandal.

ken-clarke

Meanwhile, things are certainly going to get scrappy in the Commons midfield battle. Plump tough-talker Ken Clarke weighed into the debate with his first sally as Shadow Business Secretary by calling for an independent inquiry into the Lords’ conduct:

The Commissioner on Standards has got to carry out an investigation pretty rapidly. If the allegations are true then this one is very serious. Some people would call that corruption so I hope they clear themselves.

Cameron’s reshuffle this week must have placed considerable strain on the woodwork of the Tory front bench, pretty much doubling the body mass as it did of the entire cabinet. Clarke’s move to the business brief has been the most talked-about, for obvious reasons, but Eric Pickles – another bluff heavyweight with a waistline to match – was promoted to party chairman, not something to be taken lightly. He’s seen as a no-nonsense talker with the same tactical intelligence as Clarke who could cause Labour trouble in its heartlands. Thirdly, the slender Dominic Grieve’s surprise demotion from Home Secretary just six months after replacing David Davis has heralded the rise of Chris Grayling, another porker with a sharp tongue.

Not to be outdone, former Labour deputy PM John Prescott is in the process of launching a website so he can “talk to people individually”:

I have a Facebook, there is a new audience that we need to connect to. I’m 70 years of age saying I’m trying to communicate with those of 18.

It’s not just giving out statements of Ministers, which I’ve done enough of, now it’s about talking to people individually.

Note the use of article before “Facebook”. Down with the kids.

Over at The Observer, Andrew Rawnsley reckons the reshuffle is a sign of nervousness on Cameron’s part; he points out, fairly enough, that Blair didn’t feel the need to bring back Denis Healey before the 1997 election. More tellingly, Martin Ivens at The Sunday Times – whose commentators incidentally gave Labour no quarter this week – thinks Osborne’s graceful acceptance of someone who clearly knows more than him about almost everything “speaks well for his political maturity”.

cash

In The Independent, John Rentoul thinks Brown’s attempt to block disclosure of MPs’ expenses will turn out to be a costly mistake:

The Prime Minister did not seem to realise that the expenses issue is part of dealing with the economic crisis. He will gain no credit for trying to protect people from the effects of the recession if

 he is also trying to protect MPs with their snouts in the trough.

A fair point. To round off the round-up, The Mail on Sunday splashed on a story about Treasury civil servants having a Burns Night knees-up, complete with pictures of rosy cheeked bureaucrats emerging from their revels with kilts on, while The Express urged banks to “Lend! Lend! Lend!”. Although if the likes of Fred the Shred still lucky enough to have jobs aren’t listening to cross-party consensus and transatlantic precedent, they’re pretty unlikely to stop in their tracks and listen to the Express.

rootsgrowdeep

 Someone once remarked that if John Smith was Labour’s old oak when he died in 1994, Tony Blair was its cucumber.

A lower middle class Scotsman by birth he was an Islingtonian by ambition, and a Tory in all but name.

His political apprenticeship was brief, his rise to power swift, and his roots in the Labour movement at best shallow.

Blair turned his amorphous appeal into an election-winning machine.

It’s become fashionable for commentators to talk about the resurgent tribalism of Labour politics lately. Alastair Campbell is a war-painted believer who will stick with the party through hell and high water, G2 tells us today. The Times’ Rachel Sylvester compares Labour to a dysfunctional family muddling its way through an awkward reunion.

Maybe tribalism is an epithet better suited to Labour than Conservatism, with the party’s heritage sunk in memories of miners’ marches and the grit of industrial Manchester. But the question of roots is just as telling.

david-cameron-interviewed-0011

On Sunday Dave invited Andrew Marr, and millions of prying eyes across the nation, into his living room. Inevitably within a few days the Guardian had zoomed in on his bookshelf and produced a reading list for aspiring Tory leaders. Among a spattering of modern political tomes and novels – Campbell’s diaries made the cut, as did David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s August 1914 was the only pre-1990 book on Cameron’s shelves.

A mind uncluttered by the fripperies of culture clearly has its advantages – look at Tony Blair’s ascent to office – but a few roots and a bit of historical context aren’t to be sniffed at either – look at Tony Blair’s subdued exit 10 years on.

Dave was special adviser to Norman Lamont during Black Wednesday, an experience he doesn’t like to bring up too often. His rise through the Tory ranks since then has been smooth and accomplished. It’s unfortunate for him he’s not fighting the 1997 election, when that and the gift of the gab was all anyone really needed to win.

I saw him shoot a televised Q&A at the offices of the Manchester Evening News last week. His performance was decent, but it struck me he’s been in opposition for almost four years now – longer than Blair had to wait. The problem is that even good PR is time limited. There’s only so long a campaign can run without any really substance behind it. ‘Change’ is a great abstract noun, but the days when the public would indiscriminately plump for that are gone, as John McCain’s vapid incantations in the US proved.

Cameron could do with bringing some roots into the shadow cabinet. The question on everyone’s lips has clearly been whether he will bring in Kenneth Clarke and shift out George Osborne, although Cameron insists Osborne is essential to the next election campaign and a lot of Tory pundits worry Clarke would reopen the European question that’s scarred the party so deeply in the past.

Cameron faces some tough decisions in the next few months. In the meantime, he could do with a trip to Waterstones.

One night a short time after New Labour swept to victory in 1997, the Chancellor hosted a party for a handful of close friends. As he put on his coat to leave, one guest remarked, “Great party, Gordon”.skull_tombstone1

Rumour has it that Brown turned to him with a grim smile. “The Labour Party,” he rumbled. “That was a great party, wasn’t it?”

The central tenet of Tony Blair’s project was the need to siphon off the colouring of Old Labour ideology. He was left with a translucent and electable party that promised not to raise taxes for the middle classes while pledging to pump money into the NHS and leave the financial markets to their own devices. Meanwhile, Blair went about wooing the powerful and wealthy like a hyperactive peacock. It was the first Labour government that could honestly say it was intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

The Pre-Budget Report has been a game changing event. In what The Times briskly branded a “Robin Hood-style budget”, Alistair Darling has dug his fingernails into the upper middle classes and drawn blood. A new 45 per cent tax band for earnings above £150,000 and national insurance increases across the board go against every rule in the Labour electoral book since 1994.

Once again the kaleidoscope has been shaken, and more than ever before the pieces are in flux. Where they will land is anyone’s guess.

The Times’ leader today ran under the simple obituary headline: “New Labour 1994-2008.” George Osborne was keen to do some scythe swinging of his own, announcing: “Stability has gone out of the window, prudence is dead.”

This may be the death of New Labour, but it’s also a study in inevitability. Party politics have returned, breaking through the tarmac of the Blair era like the roots of an oak. In his private diary, Hugo Young once noted that Blair had “deeply alienated people more traditional than he is”, adding: “He has overlooked the degree to which one day he would need the party.” That day has come, although it’s Brown who faces the music.

The battle lines are drawn in a way not seen since 1992, and the tribal drums are banging.

front-pages-5

Since the London bombings of July 7, 2005, Britain has become a more troubled, less confident and harmonious country.britishjihad

So begins the introduction to this autumn’s Granta Magazine. In a comprehensive article entitled ‘The Rise of The British Jihad’, BBC journalist Richard Watson says Western democracies have been “disastrously slow” to realise where the battle lines are drawn in the fight against internal networks of extremists:

M15’s warning about the dangers posed by extremist ideology has come too late… [But] few within the security services [now] doubt there will be another murderous attack in Britain before too long.

Transatlantic rumblings are beginning to suggest Barack Obama could face an early test from Islamic terrorists in his vulnerable ‘transition period’ into the White House. Following an article in The Telegraph a couple of weeks ago, yesterday’s Times warned of a “huge threat” to the president elect in his first days:

Security officials say that there is genuine concern that al-Qaeda will attempt a ‘spectacular”’in the transition period… Many Muslim [extremists] are intrigued by Mr Obama’s arrival in the White House.

In the Los Angeles Times, Sebastian Rotella says Obama will face a third war against stateless terrorist cells which should engage his administration’s attention as much as Iraq and Afghanistan.

An early strike would certainly test the new president’s mettle in the harshest way. So far, 31 of Obama’s 47 appointments have been drawn from the ranks of Clintonites. While Bill Clinton’s administration was a formidable election winning machine, it’s rarely remembered for its foreign policy achievements.

spectatorawardsAnother man facing down a threat from within this week is George Osborne.

After presenting Peter Mandelson with Best Newcomer at the Spectator Awards earlier in the week – what a delicious moment that was – Osborne took to the Andrew Marr Show this morning for what turned out to be a very defensive interview about his job prospects and his sterling doom-mongering in The Times.

Blinking rampantly and looking a bit like a puppy who’s been on the receiving end of a hearty slapping, Osborne repeatedly dodged Marr’s question as to whether he thought his role as Shadow Chancellor was tenable.

You get the feeling his answer was tilted towards the older guard in the Tory ranks who apparently harbour some pretty venomous feelings for him:

David Cameron and I work the whole time on economic policy, not for the next few weeks but in the run up to a general election. We are working as a team but it is not the David and George show, that’s a misunderstanding of the way we work. We have a very strong team in the shadow cabinet.

The lady doth protest too much, I think. There’s a good news article covering the interview on Politics Home.

At the most cynical end of the commentariat, News of the World man Fraser Nelson gives Osborne eight days to reedem himself:

I hear he was even thinking of writing a book recently. I wonder what the title was: “How to lose a 20-point poll lead in four weeks?”

I now know at least THREE Shadow Cabinet members who are openly talking about a new Shadow Chancellor.

Andrew Rawnsley thinks for Cameron to dismiss Osborne would be “madness”. “He [Osborne] is trying to see 18 months ahead,” Rawnsley argues. “That makes the Shadow Chancellor smarter than those Tories who want to toss him overboard.”

 In The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens is as mystified as the rest of us by Gordon Brown’s Jekyll and Hyde transmutations on the economy and Baby P.

 Against the flow of news and opinion, The Independent’s Alan Watkins still reckons Good Ship Cameron is cruising to an easy electoral victory:

Mr Brown has been revived temporarily by a shot of bad news in the arm. The Tories are still favourites.

That should set Dave’s mind at rest.

 Finally, there’s a book coming out this week that promises tantalising material a-plenty for anyone hugo_younginterested in politics.

The Hugo Young Papers: 30 years of British politics off the record is a compilation of the legendary journalist’s off-the-record chats with some of the biggest players in the establishment, up until his death in 2003.

Alan Rusbridger wrote an affectionate portrait of the man in yesterday’s Guardian along with some snippets of what to expect. Apparently, Young’s conversations with Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson circa 1994 are all going to be aired for the first time.

 

 

 

Dear oh dear. It’s difficult to say who’s come out worse this week, but according to Politics Home George Osborne has the dubious distinction of beating Peter Mandelson in the sheer column inches dedicated to his Corfu misdemeanours.

 

The Independent on Sunday, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and The Mail all sharpened their knives for Mandelson (The Mail’s Stephen Glover set the tone earlier in the week when he accused the BBC of going after Osborne while “Mandy is getting away with murder”).

 

But my pick of the day has to be the refreshing absence of an oligarch in the News of The World’s lurid front-page exposé on George Osborne:

 

 

The article dredges up various ‘revelations’ about the behaviour of the now-infamous Bullingdon Club, playing into the themes of elitism and privilege which have really been the backdrop of the past week’s stories involving Nat Rothschild’s set in Corfu.

As the interview winds to a close, vice girl Natalie Rowe strikes a melancholic note:

As Natalie this week surveyed the debris of Osborne’s relationship with his accuser Rothschild and pondered the reasons behind the row, she admitted: “I can’t believe George would want to annoy Nat. He knows so much about him… But Osborne’s sloppy, isn’t he?”

That condenses the general view this week into a few quick sentences.

The News of the World also has an exclusive piece claiming “Mandy” may be investigated by the European Commission over his links with a French private equity guru, Ernest-Antoine Seilliere. NotW reporter Jamie Lyons suggests Mandelson shared sensitive trade-talk information with Seilliere and pushed through certain policies under his influence. You start to wonder how many pies Mandelson got his fingers into in his time in Europe. A lot of journalists are going to be chasing those crumbs.

Elsewhere, The Observer has been doing some digging around Tory party funding and has uncovered a £1m loan made to the party in 2005 by Lady Victoria de Rothschild through a ‘non-trading’ company. Legislation barring loans from non-traders was passed a year later. Labour MP Denis MacShane accused David Cameron of “showing contempt for British democracy’s rules on party funding”. Again, you get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more stories in this vein in the coming weeks.

Andrew Rawnsley thinks both sides have been pretty foolish to fall into the lure of the super-rich. “There is a chasm between the haves and the have-nots,” he says. “It is into that chasm, despite all the repeated warnings of the dangers, that our politicians wilfully keep hurling themselves.”

In The Sunday Times, Martin Ivens makes the suggestion Brown wouldn’t mind losing Mandelson in exchange for toppling Osborne in a rook-for-queen swap. Interestingly, this is a variant on Chris Cutmore’s comment that Brown may have brought back his old enemy as a disposable absorbant for bad press and Opposition aggression.  Ivens adds: “The shadow chancellor has a precocious talent – as long as he has learnt something from his youthful mistakes, he can recover.”

The Telegraph wants to put pressure on Mandelson on several fronts – to publish full details of his meetings with Deripaska, to say whether they discussed aluminium tariffs, and to justify his misleading statement earlier in the week about how many times the pair had met. More excitingly, a source told the paper Mandelson’s long hand was most definitely behind Nat Rothschild’s letter to The Times. The Telegraph’s attitude to Osborne’s scandal is summed up when it mentions as an aside: “Media scrutiny of Lord Mandelson was diverted to George Osborne last week.”

Finally, on Friday the political gossip site Guido Fawkes posted an alluring bit of news simply saying “Deripaska/Mandelson tapes rumour”. The comment left by one reader sums it up: “Please God let it be true.”