2010 was an incredible year in politics – one that will literally go into the history books and be remembered for decades. We saw the General Election, the formation of the coalition agreement, Gordon Brown’s bigot-gate gaffe, the TV debates, the Hoon-Hewitt attempted coup against Brown, Ed Miliband pipping his brother to the Labour leadership, Tony Blair appearing at the Chilcott inquiry, the Lib Dems voting for a tuition fee rise, the student protests in the capital, the Comprehensive Spending Review and, in America, the mid-terms.
Elsewhere, we saw the Icelandic volcano, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, that woman putting a cat in a wheelie bin, the Chilean miners’ rescue, the first World Cup in Africa, the Wikileaks saga, the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the ‘big freezes’ in January and December…and Gazza turning up in the middle of the night to help Raoul Moat.
With the hope that 2011 is as interesting and eventful, I wish you all a very happy and prosperous new year. As does he…
It’s that time of year when we all suddenly think we’re in possession of Mystic Meg qualities, and forge predictions for the next 12 months. My forecast for 2010 was decidedly average – I was right about the General Election outcome, but was wrong about pretty much everything else. I said Gordon Brown would step down as an MP after the election, I said Nick Clegg would be replaced as Lib Dem leader, I said that England would win the World Cup and I said Harriet Harman would be the next permanent Labour leader (I can only assume I’d been on the Christmas Shiraz before that one). Anyway, let’s see how I do this year. I give you 11 political/economic predictions for 2011:
1) Labour will win the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, with an increased majority (around 2,000).
2) In May’s local elections, the Tories and Lib Dems will each lose around 600 seats net. Labour to benefit.
3) Labour will fall just short of a majority in the Scottish Parliament elections in May.
4) The ‘No’ campaign will win the AV referendum in May, 65%-35%.
5) The possibility of Ed Miliband being the subject of an attempted coup will be openly discussed.
6) Dominic Grieve will replace Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary.
7) Vince Cable will leave the cabinet, replaced as Business Secretary by David Laws.
8) Unemployment will decrease in at least one quarter as the private sector grows.
9) The FTSE will climb above 6,500.
10) Strikes in London will help Ken Livingstone take the lead over Boris in the polls.
11) Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty will all confirm they’re running for president.
and 11 sporting predictions:
1) England will win the final Ashes test, taking the series 3-1.
2) Paul Collingwood will quit Test cricket.
3) England will win the Cricket World Cup.
4) Roy Hodgson will be sacked as Liverpool manager, replaced by Frank Rijkaard.
5) Fernando Torres will leave Liverpool.
6) Manchester City will win the Premier League.
7) Andy Murray will win a Grand Slam – probably the US Open.
8) Rory McIlroy will win a major – probably the Open.
9) Ronnie O’Sullivan will announce his retirement.
10) New Zealand will win the Rugby World Cup.
11) David Haye will beat both the Klitschko brothers before retiring.
December 29, 2010 Politics Comments Off
Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, proudly revealed today that he has submitted “over 3000″ Freedom of Information requests since the coalition came to power. He describes FoI requests as a ‘great tool’ for anyone who believes in greater transparency in government. I would agree; their introduction was one of Labour’s great achievements – despite what Blair said – and I’m pleased that this coalition government are increasing governmental transparency standards even further. But the system needs to be used sensibly and with thought. I was instantly struck by the number of requests that Watson’s submitted. It seems that he has turned said useful tool into an unsustainably laborious and inefficient pet-project. An addiction, even. It wasn’t long before Ian Birrell, former deputy editor of the Independent, popped up on Twitter with the below:
If you take those figures slightly further, assuming he were to continue at his current rate, that equates to over £1.3 million a year. If every MP was to mis-use the system as much as he has, you could multiply that £1.3 million figure by 650. You’d be looking at an annual Freedom of Information bill – just for MP’s requests – of nearly £850 million of taxpayers’ money per annum, or over £4 billion in one parliament. Of course, I’m exaggerating, because most MPs use the system sensibly, but Watson’s fad has become an abhorrent waste of money.
December 29, 2010 Sport Comments Off
Many congratulations to the England cricket team who, last night, retained the Ashes down under after another crushing defeat of Australia. It’s the first time England have retained the Ashes since the 1986/87 series. They now lead the series 2-1, with one match to go. It’s a truly marvellous achievement.
I just hope England don’t take their foot off the gas in the final test, in Sydney. The series could yet finish 2-2, which would be an abomination of an outcome, considering the extent to which England have completely dominated Australia with the exception of a couple of days of the Perth test. All the great sides in history have refused to let up when a series was secured – look at Australia’s 5-0 win last time. England should do the same. They went to Australia with two objectives – to retain the Ashes and win the series. Their job is only half-done. Oh, and a declaration of interest – I have money on England to win the series 3-1…
I was pleased to see the government announce, last week, that funding would be withdrawn from the Booktrust charity’s reading schemes (such as Bookstart) that provide free books to children in England. I’m now irritated to hear that Michael Gove has performed yet another U-turn and decided that the funding will continue.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a keen reader, and a big supporter of child literacy. Reading should be encouraged at every stage of life, if we’re not to turn into a bunch of illiterate delinquents. But the schemes strike me as perfect examples of the kind of wasteful governmental expenditure that we’re trying to get rid of. As with their clothes, children ‘grow out’ of books at an incredible speed. A book that a child receives from the state in January – paid for by tax-payers, poor as well as rich – will sit redundant by the December.
Advocates of the schemes argue that poor children would be disadvantaged by their parents’ inability to buy them books. Rubbish. My parents were never rich and they certainly couldn’t afford to buy books at the rate that their bookworm son got through them! But they took me to the public library – for free – every week, where I borrowed – for free – as many books as I could carry. The habit of reading and the wonder of literature has stuck with me to this day. Every child in this country could benefit in the same way, without the state trying to play the role of the parent.
Of course, the other thing that irritates me about the schemes are their universality. In hardened times, I find the concept of universal benefits to be quite appalling. That millionaire’s children have books paid for by – amongst others – the poorest taxpayers in the country, is truly an abominable state of affairs.
Amongst my Christmas presents yesterday were a few old books about Boris which weren’t yet in my collection. One of them was the brilliant ‘The Little Book of Boris’, compiled by Iain Dale. It’s just a small book, packed with some of Boris’ best quotes. I’d read most of them before, but some were new to me. I enjoyed, for example, his description of Polly Toynbee as:
“the defender and friend of everyone whose non-job has ever been advertised in the Guardian appointments page, every gay and lesbian outreach worker, every clipboard-toter and pen-pusher and form-filler whose function has been generated by mindless regulation. Polly is the high priestess of our paranoid, mollycoddled, risk-averse, airbagged, booster-seated culture of political correctness and ‘elf ‘n’ safety fascism.”
The one I enjoyed the most – and one that I’m surprised not to have come across before – was the extract from his application in 2007 to be the Tories’ London mayoral candidate. One of the sections asked applicants to “give 3 examples of challenges you have faced and the outcome”. Boris’ scrawled reply was as follows:
1. Trying to help raise 4 children in inner London. Outcome: Too early to call, but looking promising.
2. Taking on Blair and Campbell in the battle of Black Rod’s Memorandum on the Queen Mother’s lying-in-state. Outcome: Total victory.
3. Negotiating Hyde Park Corner by bicycle. Outcome: Survival.
The apparent disregard he had for the serious questions – in an application submitted at the last minute, on the day of the closing deadline – makes it all the more amazing that he was not only selected as the Tories’ candidate and elected as mayor just 10 months later, but has gone on to take the job so seriously.
“I can’t see any way how England can win this Test from what I’ve seen so far.”
(The great Geoffrey Boycott, 15 minutes after the start of the Melbourne Boxing Day Test. England closed the day on 157/0, having bowled Australia out for 98…)
It was with some fanfare that Val Shawcross was named Ken Livingstone’s running mate a few weeks ago. Ken said that she would bring a “new perspective and a fresh approach”, benefitting from her experience as chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee. On first impressions, it seemed a clever appointment. She’s a pretty plain – dull, even – political administrator, whose job would be to focus on detail and act as an antidote to Boris’ perceived more expansive, big-picture style. As an example, on her website, she focuses on the recent tube strikes that have “ruined” many Londoners’ commutes. She calls on Boris to “get a grip” (a statement deserving of such ridicule that I’ll discuss it in a separate post) and seems keen that the strikes should stop as soon as possible.
The impression she gives is that she’s anti-strikes. That would certainly have to be her position were she to become deputy mayor. With that in mind, it’d be pretty appalling – and highly embarrassing – if she were to be photographed on an RMT and TSSA picket-line, not just backing the strikes, but actively encouraging them…
Yep, that’s her on the left, just last week. As millions of Londoners have been disrupted, as businesses have had to close and shops have seen their custom collapse at a critical period of the year, this joke of a woman – someone who claims to fight for Londoners’ interests – has been actively encouraging the unions to strike. How can she possibly claim that she represents Londoners when she is part of your average Londoner’s biggest problem? And how can she possibly call on Boris to sort the strikes out when she is backing those very strikes?
She said a few weeks ago that “Londoners need an administration in City Hall which is on their side and will always stand up for them”. She’s absolutely right, but if she thinks that that a strike-supporting administration is what London needs, she’s utterly deluded. The truth is that this is a case of crude politicking. The strikes suit Ken, and the more frequently they occur the happier he and Val will be – regardless of the problems they cause the people of London.
December 24, 2010 Any other business Comments Off
Apologies to all my readers (both of them) for the lack of blog action recently – work commitments, Christmas parties, trips to Bath and London, and a return to the Devonshire homeland for Christmas, have all conspired to leave me with approximately no time for blogging in the last fortnight. The blog will enjoy (endure?) a mini-relaunch with a barrage of posts from Boxing Day onwards…
Just before I finish, and without wishing to sound like I’m giving some kind of sanctimonious sermon, please spare a thought over the Christmas period for those brave men and women currently fighting for our country’s future in Afghanistan. They are complete heroes, to whom we owe everything. May they stay safe.
A very Merry Christmas to you all!
“If they push me too far then I can walk out of the Government and bring the Government down and they know that.”
(Vince Cable, confirming my long-held view that he’s an utter moron.)