Whilst waiting for tonight’s state banquet at Buckingham Palace to begin, Boris and Nick Clegg found themselves with a couple of minutes to kill. One wonders what they discussed?
Clegg: “Did you really once call my party ‘a void within a vacuum surrounded by a vast inanition’?”
“You would have thought that a man who had been in City Hall for eight years would relish the chance to talk about his achievements. But so far he has run a mile from it. His campaign strategy has been to link ‘Boris to Tory cuts’, and then, presumably, hope Londoners are fooled by this and forget his 153% increase in council tax, his 60% increase in congestion charge, his £3 million Londoner newspaper. Look at his campaign website and you have to dig very deep to find out about anything he did. But perhaps tellingly, when you do, it is fairly thin for almost a decade in power.”
(Harry Phibbs, on Ken Livingstone.)
Much has been made of the fact that whilst Boris is a natural unifier, Ken Livingstone is an inherently divisive candidate. But whereas to be disliked by opponents and members of other parties is almost to be expected, the fascinating thing about Ken is the extent to which many people within his own party dislike him too. I’ve written before, as an example, about how angry many Labour supporters were when he backed Lutfur Rahman over the Labour candidate in the Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election last autumn. Anyway, it seems that the antagonism and disapproval amongst Labour members has reared its head again today. An insult against him at the Progress conference was apparently roundly applauded:
For those readers with (sensibly) little knowledge of nauseatingly cult-ish gatherings of Labour comrades, the Progress Annual Conference’s by-line is ‘Winning back Britian: New ideas for New Labour’. It brings together (according to its website) “Labour members and trade unionists from across the country with senior politicians, union leaders, councillors and political commentators”. That this particular group of people should show such open hostility towards their London mayoral candidate is highly telling, and hugely embarrassing to Ken and his team.
[UPDATE - 22/5: Being the stickler for accuracy that I am, I'm happy to provide a quick update on the above. Shelly Asquith - a good egg, despite her unfortunate politics - assures me that Labour supporters did not boo Ken Livingstone yesterday, contrary to the original title of this post. It transpires that they actually just applauded an attack on him by David Aaronovitch.]
“There’s no money, the country is bankrupt, so the arts is going to be bottom of the list on everyone’s agenda. Except that the Tories have an amazing arts minister in Ed Vaizey who is particularly protective and defensive of the arts.
“Also the arts cuts, they are less than they were eight years ago with the Labour government. In the present climate, it’s amazing that there’s any money for the arts at all.
“And remember, Tory people are massive collectors of the arts. For a lot of my friends, who think I’m crazy voting for the Tories – I want to know who buys their work? Who are the biggest philanthropists? I promise you, it’s not Labour voters.”
(Tracey Emin‘s perhaps surprising admission that she votes Conservative.)
An intriguing tweet from Greg Hands, Tory MP for Chelsea and Fulham:
I wonder what Balls was promising Ken? Committing to playing a central role in his campaign, perhaps? One can only hope…
“I met Ed Miliband recently. Oh dear, oh dear. He has the weakest handshake in western Europe. I went straight to William Hill and asked them to take a bet that he will not be Labour leader by the next election.”
(The Apprentice’s Nick Hewer.)
Despite a frankly joyful and triumphant relaunch, Ken Livingstone’s new website still fails to impress. Apart from the introduction of a new countdown clock (361 days to go, if you’re interested) and fewer noticeable spelling mistakes, I can’t see any real improvement on the previous one. Unless I’m missing something, there is no reference whatsoever to his record in office – admittedly, I can’t blame him for not wanting anyone to remember the reasons he was kicked out of City Hall, but it seems a weird omission nonetheless. [UPDATE: Spies tell me his 'achievements' are on the site, but clearly hidden away. Unfortunately I can't have another look for myself because the site seems to have now crashed.]
Probably the most ‘informative’ part of the site is the ’10 things you may not know about Ken’ page. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they’ve not included the fact that he’s recently worked for Iranian state television, or that he’s friends with Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Hugo Chavez, or that he thinks Barack Obama is a ‘mobster’ for ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden. They do, however, let it be known that ‘Ken likes swimming’.
Indeed he does. Here he is recently being helped into his favourite pool…
May 7, 2011 Politics Comments Off
It was only a couple of months ago, you might remember, that polls repeatedly predicted a ‘Yes’ victory in Thursday’s referendum on the Alternative Vote. Indeed, an Angus Reid poll on 16th February put ‘Yes’ a huge 15% ahead. Mutterings within the Tory party began – the ‘No’ campaign, people said, was disorganised, underfunded and lacking direction. Aware that defeat for ‘No’ could damage him personally, David Cameron threw off his initial reluctance to get involved and took charge of the Tories’ contribution to the campaign. Number 10 leapt into action, donors were persuaded to contribute, and Cameron got out onto the stump. Within weeks, the polls began to turn. The final result – a huge 68-32 victory for the ‘No’ campaign – is a triumph for the Prime Minister.
By contrast, the result is an embarrassment for Ed Miliband. He took a major role in the ‘Yes’ campaign, and the public have spectacularly rejected his advances. There are three main thoughts: his decision to make the contest party political – by loudly refusing to share a platform with Nick Clegg – spectacularly backfired, his inability to persuade his entire party to follow his lead will be a concern for the future, and Labour’s obsession with celebrities – yes, I’m looking at you, Eddie Izzard – continues to reap no rewards. The irony of it all is that Miliband was always quite lukewarm about AV – until, that is, it looked like ‘Yes’ would win and he promptly hurled himself joyously onto the bandwagon. He has been damaged by his own opportunism.
David Cameron’s far greater ability to connect with the public, to convince and persuade, could be a huge factor in any future general election in which the two men are fighting to be Prime Minister.
May 7, 2011 Politics Comments Off
The Lib Dems were always going to suffer hugely in Thursday’s elections, and their demise is neither a surprise nor particularly newsworthy. I do, actually, feel sorry for them – they took a brave, selfless decision to enter coalition with the Tories, and it is sad that their compromise in the national interest has been so roundly punished. That said, as I’ve suggested before, I think much of the apparent hatred towards the party is of their own making. To promise – pledge, even – that they would scrap university tuition fees, was a cheap bit of electioneering from a party that never expected to be given the power to implement their unaffordable policies. They shouldn’t be criticised for reneging on their pledge; they should be criticised for making the pledge in the first place.
Anyway, the bigger story, in my opinion, is the battle between the Tories and Labour. Even in my most optimistic state, I expected the Tories to lose around 500 council seats in England. I’d have been happy with losses of only 300, I’d have been concerned at losses of 700. Instead, with 270 of 279 councils having now declared, the Tories have gained 81 seats. It’s hard to explain to people, who perhaps have less of a geeky interest in such things, how incredible that is. These seats were last fought in 2007, just a month before the end of Tony Blair’s increasingly unpopular premiership, and with David Cameron still riding high in the polls just 18 months after becoming leader. Compare that to now, with the Tories having spent a year implementing a massive and often unpopular cuts programme. Tuition fees are trebling, large numbers of public sector jobs are at risk, unemployment is high, the NHS is being completely reshaped, EMA is getting cut, benefits are being slashed, even the forests have been threatened…I could go on…yet the Tories have made gains, not losses.
When you then look over to Wales, an area that has traditionally resented Tory governments (remember we didn’t win a single seat there in the 1997 general election), and see that we gained two Welsh Assembly members, you start to realise that it was a quite excellent set of results for the Tories and David Cameron.
For Labour, by contrast, it was a strange outcome. They did make big gains in England, yet not as many as people had expected – they’ve gained around 800 seats, yet most were expecting gains of around 1,200. They failed to win the expected majority in Wales, and were completely destroyed by the SNP in Scotland (to the extent that we can now expect a referendum on Scotland’s independence in the next four years). Even Kevin Maguire, editor of the Daily Mirror and Labour cheerleader, said that Ed Miliband had done “OK-ish”. One imagines that a similarly disappointing result in next year’s elections would prompt calls for him to be replaced.
So round one of the Cameron-Miliband battle saw a decisive victory for the Tory leader. Round two, of course, was the AV referendum, which I’ll cover separately in the next post.
May 5, 2011 Politics Comments Off
Today’s the day. The polls have opened. Get out and vote…