No noise is better than white noise (have a happy Christmas)

I’m going to stop blogging for a short while, although no guarantees. This is not only to recharge my batteries after a busy few months starting out in journalism, but also to ensure that I’m approaching politics in the right way. I’m going to read up on some of the ideas shaping current affairs, I’ve been a little remiss on pursuing this over the last few months. If you have any suggestions (books, op-eds or magazine pieces), please pop them in the comments section.

I’ll leave you for now with something I scribbled down last month, trying to explain why I write a blog:

In explaining why I write this, there is no mutually exclusive reason or purpose. There is no absolute ideology behind this blog, no great idea that I want to persuade each and every person of its merit. I have quite a simple aim: to discuss politics and to make others want to also.

I am aware that there are hundreds of blogs and that some have perhaps ten times the amount of readers that I have. It has never been my aim to beat them in the number of readers nor in the variety of my postings. I write what comes to mind, when I have the time. Sometimes, I have the time to think more about a topic, and sometimes I have more time in which to write. This is reflected in the frequency and quality of my postings.

It’s easy for a blog to become white noise or an irritating drone on the outskirts of the internet. I would rather not blog than fill space. Sometimes, however, I do, but mostly I promise not to.

Nonetheless, it’s been a good year for the blog. People read it and I’m quite proud of it. I always want my postings to have a point – as all writing should. That may be an argument, an idea, or an interesting snippet of information that may otherwise be missed.

So when you cast around the site, click on the links. I try to make them link to the most informative update or an illuminating article I have found.  Do write in the comments because I read them and sometimes like to respond. And click on the blog roll, because this blog doesn’t quite fit into the neatly categorized blogosphere and you may have found yourself here by mistake. Never fear, there’s a variety of sites on the right of the page that may make you feel more comfortable again.

Have a merry Christmas,


Ps. My new year’s resolution is to write five good quality posts a week, see you in January.


Has David Cameron shifted the centre-ground?

Labour and the Conservatives are both competing for roughly the same policies. Both want to be the party of society – which they both view as something separate to the state. Both want to free up institutions from centralised government and allow local management and competition to push public services to achieve higher standards.

In education, for example, this means that both are in favour of allowing more local power in governing schools. Labour hark back to their co-operative roots, whereas the Tories link it to their ideas of individualism and small government. Both parties are roughly trying to do the same thing.

Today in his Pre-Budget Report, the Chancellor will cut public spending on many areas but ringfence health and education – just as the Tories want to. The FT has an interesting piece of analysis on the PBR stating that “the relationship between the individual and the state will need to be radically redefined as the next government cuts billions of pounds from local authority spending”.

This is exactly what David Cameron called for in his speech to the Tory party conference a few months ago. But Labour would also suggest that it fits in with their New Labour ideology. It doesn’t, however, fit in with Gordon Brown’s management of the purse-strings as Chancellor – take his reported tempering of Blair’s plans on foundation hospitals for example.

The question is, has David Cameron shifted the “centre- ground” for which both parties are competiting to be a part, or has he aped Blair’s own ideas of mixing the market with the state? Is he the heir to Blair or something more? That all depends, I suspect, on which party you support.

What’s Crewe and Nantwich gotta do with it? (Class attacks still won’t work)

It’s official, class is an issue! Who cares about whether we should slash the deficit or continue to pump money into the economy like the choke on a 1970s Ford Capri pumps fuel into a spluttering engine on a cold day. Who cares? The days will probably get hotter where we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like there’s no tomorrow, so perhaps not only the choke in that metaphor but the weather too will become outdated – just like class politics was supposed to bear no relation to the spangly, third-way politics that Blair brought in.

Apparently two papers are going to give the Tories their polling majority back so perhaps, even as I write this, class-based attacks will disappear just as Crewe and Nantwich seemed to stop them last time around.

But why? Class attacks do seem to gain some traction, especially in a recession. They scare the Tories. A PHI poll has found that many in Westminster agree that they’ll work. And, most importantly for the political observer if not the partisan hack, Crewe and Nantwich (which is commonly cited as an example of how they don’t work) should not be taken as an indicator of a general election.

Labour had limped from short sighted mistake to mistake just before Crewe – there was terrible coverage resulting from an election that was never quite called, and this was followed up by the fall-out of ditching the 10p tax rate.

Labour went on to choose a candidate almost solely because of her surname: “Dunwoody”. She had previously been in the Welsh Assembly until she was booted out in favour of a Tory. The reason class attacks didn’t work in Crewe is because Tamsin Dunwoody had been parachuted into a seat on a hereditary principle, turned out to have a title, and then ran a hypocritical campaign based on class. Crewe and Nantwich may have been filled with Labour’s core voters, but it shouldn’t be taken of an indicator of how the core react to class, merely how they react to Tamsin Dunwoody and being taken for granted.

But this isn’t to say class attacks will work this time either. As I pointed out the other day, Labour have hardly been class warriors over the past 12 years. Their sudden Damascene conversion will appear hollow under the spotlight of an election campaign. Perhaps they might be better off leaving the issue alone, or at least not making it the centerpiece of their campaign.

PS. In the Times, Matthew Parris advises the Tories to ignore personal attacks and focus on the issues, which yesterday I noted that they currently aren’t doing. The Telegraph’s Charles Moore has another idea, but his summary of the issue is what’s worth paying attention to.

Tory doublethink on class

Class is not an issue, so say the Conservatives. Britain doesn’t care about class anymore, OK?

This is why the Tories are trying to highlight that Labour are using class as an issue and are saying it will be a big issue at the upcoming election. [Not only was Eric Pickles discussing it with John Prescott on Today, but the Daily Politics will have Justine Greening drawing attention to something that is totally not an issue.] They don’t think class is important, but they want us to know that Labour think class is important and that they’re wrong to.

Why not just ignore attacks on Tory privilege? Because the Tories obviously think that class is an issue, but if they attack Labour for highlighting it they’ll neutralise the issue. So class isn’t an issue, the issue is Labour making an issue out of class, which is totally not what you’d expect from the Labour party. OK?

Why Zac Goldsmith didn’t say anything

I’ve been quiet on Zac Goldsmith up to now, the story speaks for itself: rich Cameron buddy not paying taxes, issue sort of dealt with, embarrassment all round.

The question we should ask isn’t why he didn’t pay taxes, that’s obvious – he’s a wealthy man and wants to stay that way. But why didn’t he tell the anyone?

This constituted a huge error of judgement: was it duplicity or foolishness? Either way, it looked terrible for David Cameron not to know that Mr Goldsmith was the type of person Dave said should be penalised in order to bring in his inheritance tax policy.

Mr Goldsmith has to stay because, even bearing this in mind, he brings more good than harm. His environmentalist credentials bolster the green veneer that covers a “sceptical” grassroots base. Nevertheless, he won’t be receiving glowing profiles by Prospect magazine again anytime soon.

You can only assume that Mr Goldsmith thought it was the norm not to pay UK taxes if you don’t have to and didn’t say anything because, in his eyes, the Tories are the party that defends people in his position.

It’s a hideous embarrasment for the Tories because it fuels the idea that they are totally out of touch with the concerns faced by ordinary Britons, especially given that Britain is still in recession.

It’ll be interesting to watch what happens in Richmond, the seat he’s contesting at the general election against Susan Kramer. It’s a marginal Lib Dem/ Tory swing seat but current polls have her down as winning by 1% of the vote, which in practice means it’s far too close to call.

Kramer was hurt by Vince Cable’s “mansion tax” policy and it’s safe to assume her constituents would find the idea of having an influential MP like Goldsmith appealing. Now, however, the contest for Richmond will be closer than ever and consequently a dirty scrap will no doubt ensue.

Four articles worth a gander

Here’s your four articles worth a gander:

1. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has written in the WSJ about how Google can help newspapers. He sets out how he thinks we’ll read newspapers and magazines in 10 years time.

2. “Britain’s only neo-con” Douglas Murray writes in Standpoint about Nick Clegg’s “cowardice” for not sacking Baroness Jenny Tonge.

3. Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow is interviewed in the Evening Standard and admits that her life “was out of control”.

4. A “pan-European” blogger talks about building a supranational blogosphere. Or something. Worth a read anyhow.

Only The Mirror is untiring in its partisanship

It’s an interesting day in media land; only the Mirror seems sure about who it’ll back come the next election.

What about The Sun, you say? Labour blogger Luke Akehurst has picked up a very interesting story: former Sun editor has written in the paper slamming Cameron for surrounding himself with old Etonians like Zac Goldsmith.

Here’s Luke’s summary: ‘He asks why Cameron is only on 37% in the polls when Michael Howard was on 33% “when we were all billionaires”.

He concludes it is because Zac Goldsmith “represents the rich boys club which so dominates the leadership of the Tory Party … I worry that they don’t really understand the ordinary working man and woman in this country … The trouble is, I’m not sure that the Tories haven’t simply become a Jobcentre Plus for Old Etonians. Gordon Brown has made a terrible hash of things but his heart has always been in the right place. If the Tories want to run our country, they must prove to the electorate that the heart is not something simply next to the wallet.”‘

As he points out, this won’t have been written without clearance from up top. So we can conclude that The Sun has backtracked slightly on its position as ultra-cheerleader for the Conservatives.

What about the other papers? And who cares anyhow, surely the voters make up their own minds? Of course they do, but papers build up images of party leaders over time. The Prime Minister is often most damaged not by individual stories but his failure to get on top of them – think of the bad press the unproven allegations of dodgy dealings with the Libyans provided. It’s important to gauge where the papers stand on the parties because then we can get an idea of how the party leaders and their policies will be portrayed.

Only the Mirror has decided where they stand – not so much pro-Labour, and rarely pro-Brown, but definitely anti-Cameron. Today’s front page hammers Cameron for claiming sweets on his expenses, although frankly it’s unlikely this will register with anyone after months of expenses stories like this.

I wrote about the FT last night – they’ve cut into Labour’s claim to be the part of industry and show that they accepted the Thatcherite endorsement of the service industry. It’s not a vote winner but it’ll hurt morale just at a time when it’s recovering. I spoke to a Labour activist last night who confirmed to me that the party was feeling much more positive because of the latest opinion polls and that canvassers are getting a far more positive reaction (although they like Labour, not Brown). It’d be foolish for them to back the Labour party if they remain as unpopular in the city as they face a challenge from a resurgent WSJ Europe keen to win their readers over.

The others, they’re a bit all over the place. The Telegraph will back the Tories but at present they’ve been keeping their distance from Cameron – and they distinctly dislike Philip Blond. The Times are in the Murdoch empire, and whilst they get more levity to make up their mind, there’ll be pressure on the editor to ensure they go the right way. Currently, the right way is the Tories, but as Luke Akehurst points out, Cameron hasn’t fully sealed the deal with News International.

What about the Lib Dems? Well, there’s aways the on/off will the Independent back them story but I doubt they will.

The paper seemed ready to back them during their abortive party conference and wrote a very positive leader for the party. However, the Lib Dems didn’t take the initiative at their conference and relish the increased publicity, instead they looked like they were still desperately trying to grab whatever headline they could and so rushed into their now rethought “Mansion tax policy”. All Vince Cable had to do was stand up and take the applause, but the Lib Dems fervent desire for backing will probably scare off anyone who would. They’ve got real potential to win votes in this upcoming election and take a share of power too but Keen for Coverage Clegg needs to settle down and let his ideas take over.

As close as the Indy (and IoS) will get, I'll bet