It's time for clarity on human rights. There is too much political testosterone causing subpoena envy

18 Jul 2014 at 06:27

The Conservative Party is going to get itself in a terrible mess over the Human Rights Act. As David Cameron will soon discover, changing the lawyer is not going to solve the problem. Now is the time for clarity without looking through the prism of party advantage.

Firstly, a non political saunter through the law. In 1959 Britain and 46 other European States signed up the the European Convention of Human Rights. Article 46 says that governments, must abide by final decisions of the Court. The UK Parliament freely bound itself to this.

In 1998 the UK Parliament passed the Human Rights Act. It chose its words in section 2 (1)(a) very carefully, that our courts must take into account any judgement, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the EHCR.
They are not bound to follow, nor can they ignore.
And here’s the problem, our courts are not obliged to obey decisions but our Parliament is.

Now back to basics. The EHCR was set up to prevent the appalling abuses of Nazi Germany infecting the continent of Europe again. It provides basic human rights which would be no different to if we drew up our own British Human Rights Bill. This is not surprising as it was the Brits who drafted it after the Nuremberg trials, in particular David Maxwell Fife who became a rather illiberal Conservative Home Secretary. History sometimes has a sense of irony.
The trouble is that the EHCR was never intended to be the final court of Appeal for its member states. It was designed to prevent governments oppressing its peoples. It seems to have departed from these sensible principles and has become a megaphone for political interference in countries where there is no democratic deficit. The classic case is votes for prisoners, something which should be a matter for sovereign Parliaments alone.

So how do we sort out the seemingly contradictory laws which says on the one hand Parliament is bound by ECHR decisions whilst our courts are not? Whatever advice any Attorney General gives is not going to be believed. If Jeremy Wright makes an unlikely volte face he will be accused of being a right wing stooge. If he follows the line of Dominic Grieve the right will accuse him of being a Europhile.

It is worth reminding ourselves what advice Grieve has been giving. It is simply the law. Irritating as the EHCR can be, if we pulled out it would make it very difficult for us to remain in the EU, because of the European Court in Luxembourg. This court ensures that member states of the EU obeys the Treaty of Rome and all subsidiary treaties. It may find itself trying to enforce EHCR decisions on non convention members. If we disobey that lot we would be obliged to leave the EU.

This analysis is purely legal and it is the advice that will be given by the the commission set up to investigate this. I am trying to avoid the fetid politics and all talk about Britain’s obligation to obey the rule of law. Those are arguments for another post.

If ever there is a case for taking the politics out of a dilemma it is this one. Politicians in the run up to general elections have a habit of doing silly things for party advantage. There is a legal way round this. A few months ago the then Lord Chief Justice Igor Judge, alluded to these problems and suggested that the Supreme Court should wrestle with the two seemingly conflicting positions. He is right. Judges don’t run for election. They are trusted. They are above party politics. A ruling from them on a point of such vital constitutional importance will lead the way forward for political decisions. Good heavens we might even have a Cabinet decision which has been properly thought through!

Personally, I am all in favour of our Supreme Court being the ultimate court of Appeal. They are experienced in politely telling the EHCR when they are wrong. Let them decide. Let them give guidance to Parliament which at least will be independent. At the moment there is too much political testosterone and subpoena envy. And too much talk of rushing out ill flaky promises in party manifestos.

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The PM's que guapo moment.

16 Jul 2014 at 08:06

This was a very strange and totally unpredictable reshuffle. It is neither a disaster nor a triumph. Just a little odd.

I was pondering yesterday whether the appointment of Hammond to the Foreign Office was an act of insanity, vandalism or just an elaborate and inexplicable joke. The chuckle bunny had a terrible relationship with his officials and the top brass at MOD were as ecstatic at their loss as the FO mandarins were horrified at their gain. And the appointment of my old chum Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary is to be applauded. He is very good news and should have been promoted years ago.

But I still don’t understand Hammond’s purpose other than window dressing to appease the Euro carpet biters. He is hardly a Cameroon. If the PM was on fire the funster would be on record as being the first to grab a fire extinguisher, but he, as his duty, would be checking the safety protocols in such detail as to be unable to put out the blaze. He recoiled in horror at same sex marriage, but not enough to appear personally disloyal and he is keen to get out of Europe, but not so keen to appear to be personally disloyal. When his is invited to Kitchen Supper (now that will be a barrel load of laughs) the PM should sup with a very long spoon.

Perhaps he is Cameron’s life raft when it comes to the referendum. If Euro reforms receive the Hammond seal of approval then Cameron might be able to stop his party falling apart. But it does mean that foreign policy will be driven from Number 10. Hague will go down as one of the great Foreign Secretaries, seamlessly able, totally loyal to Cameron, so much so that he was allowed to get on with the job in his own way. Hammond will not have that freedom.

In fifteenth century Spain women courtiers would keep a monkey on their shoulder to distract people from their ugliness. Even now the expression for female beauty is Que Guapo or how monkey like. At the moment when Cameron rocks the cosy European consensus boat they find it all rather tiresome. After a few months of dry as dust meetings with Hammond whose smile resembles the brass plate on a coffin, mean that Cameron will be welcomed with open arms. Positively feted. This is the PM’s Que Guapo moment with Hammond as the monkey.

So his appointment is both life raft and distraction. Even better, Brussels will know that Cameron is deadly serious about the consequences if the EU is not reformed. This is all so delightfully Machiavellian that it could only have originated from George Osborne. Which is rather reassuring.

Gove is rather fascinating too. Uber loyalist and utterly brilliant. The one Cabinet minister who through sheer force of personality has forced through popular and ground breaking reforms in education. But now is time for a little bit of TLC for teachers who have a hot line to parents. The policy will remain, but it will be presented in a more motherly way. Gove may now be the minister for the Today programme but Nicky Morgan is the minister for Mumsnet.

However, I am worried about the dismissal of Dominic Grieve and Oliver Heald the Attorney and Solicitor General. Men of integrity, honour and moderation who were not afraid to uses their offices for the public good rather than party advantage. The danger of sacking them is that they will now openly speak out about the way that abomination Grayling is destroying our legal system.

And the new Attorney Jeremy Wright? A good man and a former practising criminal barrister from Birmingham. He will not be a soft touch. If I was Grayling I would not be cracking open the bubbly. I’d be looking over my shoulder.

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Number 10 needs to get a grip on the Dickens dossier disappearance before this turns into a political scandal

5 Jul 2014 at 13:35

I have been wracking my brains to recall what we knew and what we suspected about Parliamentarians being involved in paedophilia during my time in the Commons as an MP and a journalist between 1983 and 2002. The terrible realisation is that the answer is precious little. Despite Fleet Street and Parliament being a rumour mill there was a lot chat, very little detail and no tangible proof. We all knew who was gay, who was bisexual and who was shagging whom, gay or straight with innumerable perverse permutations to spice it all up. Our tribunes are not much different from anybody else except that they have more opportunities to get up to naughties.

Of course we knew about the mortuary exploits of Jimmy Savile and his penchant for amputees. But we had no proof. We knew about Cyril Smith, various peers, senior people within Number 10, but again, no proof. And despite all my years of propping up bars and sifting the most bizarre gossip about the sexual practices of various Home Office ministers, usually served up by vindictive Police Federation whispers, most of the stuff was fairly flaky. My favourite piece of nonsense was about a senior labour Cabinet Minister who was unable to reach orgasm unless he stabbed young bunnies in a shoe box by the bed. And many of us watched, as was our duty, grainy footage of some unidentifiable old boy, grunting over what was said to be an underage boy. We were told it was a well known grandee. It could have been anyone. And the well known rumour that a very senior Labour figure was having sex with underaged boys in car parks, cautioned by the police and the paperwork destroyed, was pure malicious fantasy. The only evidence that seemed to stack was about Cyril Smith; but not enough to safely print.

But there was absolutely no gossip that I can remember about a paedophile ring in the heart of government. This doesn’t mean that there wasn’t one. It’s just that child sex offenders are the most manipulative and deceitful of criminals. They are chameleons, genetic freaks blending into a world of normality, so that they can pounce un-noticed. They are nearly always people you would not suspect. Pillars of the community, God fearing churchgoers, professional men; those of power and influence. Their very respectability gives them an impunity. Stewart Hall? You must be joking. Rolf Harris? Are you out of your mind?

So those with the deepest, darkest and sickest secrets are masters of the art of deception. It is the only way they can survive. Unless they are foolish enough to leave a paper trail they are almost impossible to track down. And they are skilled in the art of camouflage.

I am genuinely mystified at what happened to Geoffrey Dickens’ dossier in 1983 when he handed to Home Secretary Leon Brittan. I knew Dickens very well. He was a fearless campaigner for the protection of children. But the loveable old boy was never seen as a serious figure by the establishment. Was his dossier a rehash of flaky unprovable gossip or was it something more substantial? My instincts is that it was the latter as some information was sent to the DPP for consideration. Although that appears to have been lost too. But there must be a paper trail. And what of the law officers? If there was a degree of sensitivity due to allegations about public figures I would be amazed if they were not asked for advice. Another paper trail.

And who was the Attorney General? Sir Michael Havers. A man so utterly straight and independent minded that he threatened to send the police into Number 10 unless Thatcher cooperated over the leaking of papers in the Westland scandal. And who was his Solicitor General? Sir Patrick Mayhew. Another fearless independent minded man. If these men had suspected a cover up which could interfere in the course of justice they would have resigned and brought down the government. And their are some interesting coincidences. Mayhew was Minister of State at the Home office until June 1983 and Leon Brittan was the Trade Secretary at the centre of the Westland affair.

I popped onto the terrace on Wednesday and spoke to some senior journalists whose judgement I take seriously. They are beginning to think that there is a corker of a story here. All the more reason for David Cameron to order a swift judge led inquiry to pull the loose ends together. We need to know the following.
What action and by whom was taken over this dossier.
What was the protocol for the storing of documents.
How could it have gone missing.
What letters were written to Dickens.
What do the minutes of meetings about the dossier contain.
What was sent to the DPP and what action was taken.
What do the departmental minutes contain.
What action was taken over burglaries at Geoffrey Dickens’ London and constituency homes.
Do the police reports still exist.

Number 10 has got to get a grip on this quickly. The appointment of a civil servant to look into this has all the fingerprints of Jeremy Haywood. This is either going to be a massive political story with groundbreaking consequences or it will be a pathetic tale of complacency and cock up. Whatever it turns out to be this is a time for speed and transparency. Something went horribly wrong in 1983. The public must be told which it was, no matter how embarrassing to the then administration.

Norman Tebbit, keeper of the flame of St Margaret, appreciates the need for a full and frank and speedy investigation. I hope that David Cameron realises how big this will become.

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Juncker is a lame duck president before he has even swum onto the pond

28 Jun 2014 at 09:36

A few days ago John Major, with characteristic good sense, gave us a clue what would happen when Juncker ascends into Euro heaven. A sense of guilt would prevail that Britain had been hard done by and that amends need to be made. This prediction was borne out by Merkel’s comments this morning that Britain’s concerns need to be addressed. Other European leaders will follow. But the swivel eyed wing on the Tory party are a little confused. They are delighted that the cosy, corrupt hypocrisy of European politics has been beamed into everyone’s living room at prime time. But ironically a serious renegotiation is now almost a certainty. And if the opinion polls are right this means that an exit from the EU is highly unlikely. They will argue for an early exit.

But if the swivel eyed are confused it is nothing compared to the disarray in Europe. They are genuinely horrified that a leader hasn’t fallen into line after a bit of shouting and screaming for the cameras and the punters. Europe has never quite understood the way Cameron does politics. Of course he can pork barrel as good as anyone but he can be very stubborn over a point of principle. And the principle here is pretty simple. Juncker is a total disaster. A drunk, a bully and a true believer in a United States of Europe. Mention reform to him and he will probably think you are about to treat him to a slap up lunch at a Pall Mall club. As much use as a cat flap in a submarine. And privately that’s what the majority of leaders think. The trouble is it’s what they think in private and not in public. This is just the sort of double dealing shittery that their electorates despise. For the first time since Margaret Thatcher’s brick filled hand bag thumped on the Brussels negotiating table that the British bulldog has not just barked but bitten. But Cameron is not the divisive figure that Thatcher was. He has considerable charm and knows how to play the game. But he has come out of this stronger. And it takes courage to be humiliated. His stand would not have crossed the mind of Blair, Brown or any Miliband. It would have been unthinkable.

But what of Juncker? He is a dead duck president before he has even swum onto the pond. He knows what the other leaders really think of him. He will be in office not in power. Merkel will be in the driving seat. And he may not last the course. The press will be digging for tales of drunken outbursts. They will not be disappointed.

And what of Farage? His relevance is beginning to dwindle. One former Tory MP confided in me the other evening, ‘I voted UKIP in the Euros because I hate Cameron and everything he stands for. But this is a simple means and end argument. To vote UKIP at the general election means we will get a Labour government; no way’.

I may be hopelessly wrong, but those commentators with the exception of dear old Simon Heffer who put the boot in this morning, might be reviewing their opinion that Cameron is a man of style rather than substance.

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Macmillan and Napoleon III were quite good news. Such strange Cummings and goings

16 Jun 2014 at 10:34

“My biggest mistake”, said Norman Tebbit about Margaret Thatcher, his voice aching with irony, “was leaving her to the care of her friends”. Cabinet ministers take note. The moment your SPAD goes on a frolic of their own in madcap briefings to ‘assist’ their charges by denouncing their perceived enemies it is time for them to move on. Fiona Cunningham, May’s in house sieve, paid the price for loose cannonry.

But what of Dominic Cummings? As Churchill might have said, “some bull, some china shop”. He is chewing up newsprint for making a personal attack on David Cameron. “He has a picture of Harold Macmillan on his wall. That says it all”. God, the sheer wickedness of it. Or maybe dear old Dom was taken out of context. Perhaps he really said Harold Shipman. I suspect that the lederhosen wing of the Tory party might have secretly approved of the good doctor’s plans to slim down the Health Service and cut waste.

But as insults go this one rather backfires. Under Macmillan, we had low unemployment and a booming economy. And record house building. He also believed that social welfare was like a game of snakes and ladders. When someone slides down the snake the state should be there to give them a ladder of opportunity. I think that I should have his picture on my wall too.

The cruellest jibe was meant to be the remark attributed to Bismarck about Napoleon III, “a sphinx without a riddle”. Actually apart from a little bit of repression to begin with the old boy was rather enlightened. He modernised the French banking system, encouraged savings, gave workers the right to strike and was a supporter of popular sovereignty. And now for the delicious irony, he introduced a national curriculum involving the teaching of Geography, history, the arts, modern languages and sport. Rather radical for those days.I think that I will get a little picture of him for my wall too.

But what is so remarkable about the story is that Cummings is no longer Gove’s representative on earth or anywhere else. He fell off the perch a while ago. It has long been reported that his spell in Whitehall was ‘divisive’ which is code for a ‘bloody nightmare’. Yet although he may well be a devotee of team Gove he is not doing his former boss any favours. And he has form for it. He was alleged to be responsible for briefing against the LibDem plan (which admittedly is well meaning but a little bonkers) for free school meals. Cleggy hit the roof and was considering (not for very long) having the boy arrested for breach of the Official Secrets Act. Ever so slightly over the top. And then Cummings went all swivel eyed about Cameron asking Gove to write a joint article with David Laws singing the praises of state funded Spam fritters for the many and not the few. But if you really want to know where the real antagonism to Cameron comes from look no further than Andy Coulson’s refusal to countenance Cummings’s appointment as a SPAD. Gove slipped him in under the radar after Coulson’s departure.

I would imagine that Gove is utterly mortified that Cummings has become a low level Lord Oakshott. He really is going to give the boy a public smacking. Such strange Cummings and goings.

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Gove has taught an old dogma new tricks

8 Jun 2014 at 18:34

Well, I wasn’t all that far out in my predictions of what would happen in the May versus Gove skirmish. My only surprise was that Fiona Cunningham got the chop. Of course she deserved it, but I thought that a deal might have been done. But with a Gove apology May would have been mad to fight to the death for one of her ultra loyal tiger cubs.

The interesting thing about Cameron is that once he decides on an execution the head is removed swiftly and cleanly. By and large this pulls the rug from the press provided he gets it right. Sadly, in the Andrew Mitchell case due to less than thorough advice, a questionable sacking was made. I suspect that this is bitterly regretted.

So now is the dilemma for Labour. They want to make a fuss in the Commons on Monday preferably with an Urgent Question. But from and to whom? Let’s look at the politics. Wounding Gove may wing Cameron. He is a believer, loyal and a friend. But he has put his hands up and made rather an inspirational speech about opportunity in education for the disadvantaged. Hunt is bright, ambitious and when it comes to shove coming to push will probably elbow out the over egged Umunna when it comes Miliband’s funeral. Hunt’s strategy will be to accuse Gove of speaking to the wicked Murdoch press, being soft on terrorism in schools and being warned of the Trojan Horse problems in 2010. There are risks in this for Hunt. If Gove was warned in 2010 the problems were obviously grown on the last Labour government’s watch. And as an incoming Tory Secretary of State without the ammunition he would have been accused of anti Muslim political scaremongering. Of playing the race card. If Hunt was wise he’d wait for the Ofsted report to come out later in the week. Miliband will be rather worried that at his all time low a charismatic and clever member of the Shadow Cabinet would be taking the limelight.

And then there is Yvette Cooper another (for reasons totally beyond my comprehension) leadership contender. In the Labour food chain her needs come first. She can only cause May a little surface damage. " Did you leak these reports?"
“Of course not”.
“Were you aware that your spin doctor did?”
“No”.
“But under the code you are responsible for her actions?”
“Yes. That is why she has resigned.”
“Don’t you read the Home Office website?”
“I wish I had the time.”
“Aha, maybe you should.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake”.

So there is not really a lot of mileage in it for Labour. So whom will he choose? A bit on a no brainer. Have a crack at May on Monday, Cameron on Wednesday and then Gove when the Oftsed report comes out. And hubby Balls is a ghastly little man would would not piss on Miliband if he was on fire. Probably because he set the fire in the first place.

And Cameron hasn’t been wounded by this at all. He has quickly broken up a fight on the playground. And there have been no fatal injuries. Gove looks a bit of a twat because he spoke at a ‘private’ meeting with Murdoch executives. But there for the grace of God go most ministers. And after George’s Corfu experience it would be unwise for Cameron to put the boot in purely for that. But from a government perspective this could all be a winner. Flotillas of task forces, Czars and champions will be launched to show that we are committed to drain the swamps of extremism from our schools. There would have been a sharp intake of breath and utter revulsion at the Times revelations that children as young as six are told to regard British girls as ‘white prostitutes’.

Now back to May. This has bruised the bumper sticker of her leadership hopes. But the wheels have not fallen off. The Cameron haters will be sipping their steins of bitterness and will silently whoop for joy that one of his close friends has been embarrassed. But then they have a dilemma. Gove has a popular narrative that crosses party lines. On education he almost has a dogma. Real educational opportunities for everybody. Blimey, isn’t that what St. Margaret aspired to if only she hadn’t closed so many grammar schools? Clever little Gove has taught an old dogma new tricks.

How Cameron must chuckle himself to sleep.

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Secret trials are an aberration of British justice. Trust the judges and not the executive

6 Jun 2014 at 11:29

One of the cornerstones of British justice is that it is transparent. In other words secret trials are an abhorrence. As there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the press about a terrorist trial which may be heard in secret it might be helpful to set out the law which is very, very clear.

According to Blackstone’s criminal practice 2014.
“The exercise of the power in common with any other derogation from the principles of open justice should be strictly confined to cases where the public’s presence would frustrate or render impractical the administration of justice.”

In Re TIMES newspapers (2009) it was held that the power should only be used in ‘exceptional circumstances……a last resort’.
And in YAM (2008) Lord Chief Justice Phillips went further,
“Interests of justice can never justify excluding the press and the public if the consequences would be that that trial was unfair”.

In R v Malik (2007) it was held that there is as ‘fundamental presumption of open justice’.

The process for applications are set out in the Criminal Procedure rules. The application will be in private and usually relates to national security, or where a person has assisted in an investigation, ie, a supergrass.

So to make an application the Prosecution has to jump through enormous hoops with a legal presumption against them.

Such trials are a rarity and rightly so. Only the most senior and experienced High Court judges can rule on this.

But there is a danger. The security services are hardly experienced in fair play, nor should they be. Their job is to protect us. But so is an independent judiciary who are not in the pockets of the government of the day. And they have a very good track record. Remember the super gun trial where innocent men were to be hung out to dry? The judiciary intervened. Remember the royal butler Paul Burrell accused of theft where the prosecution did not want to disclose the role of the Queen? The judiciary intervened.

I trust our judges to do the right thing more than any arm of the executive. If this trial is to be held in secret it must not be the beginning of a trend. Pleading national security must be backed by hard evidence

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The Darling SPADS of May

5 Jun 2014 at 17:41

Whoever leaked a private letter from Theresa May to Michael Gove really should be hung out to dry. But I doubt whether they will. I find it hard to believe that someone as politically sure footed and ambitious as May would have signed off such a politically damaging stunt. And in the middle of the most crucial by election the Tories have faced in years.

Whitehall is littered with letters memos and emails with turf wars between departments. What makes the May letter worryingly unique is that it is from Secretary of State to Secretary of State. It would be interesting to see what has passed between officials over the last few months. Even more worrying is that it is alleged that a spin doctor close to May has been briefing the press about other failings in the DFE, particularly concerning the safety of children.
This is a rare skirmish compared to the open warfare in the Blair administration, but it does give an interesting insight into the tensions amongst cabinet colleagues. It does suggest that relations between DFE and the Home Office are not just strained but broken. To be fair, although Gove and May are hardly likely to be off to see the football together after a couple of pints at the Dog and Duck, when two departments are at loggerheads it is the job of officials to clear lines and smooth things over. Jeremy Haywood is going to have to crack the whip. The added complication is that said spin doctor is said to be in a relationship with an official tipped to be the next perm sec at the Home Office. This may cause the poor fellow, who appears to be a complete professional, a few problems.

And what of David Cameron? May is not exactly a card carrying Cameroon but is a superb Home Secretary. Gove, who is a close personal and loyal friend of the PM is an excellent although quirky Secretary of State. And his hands are not sparkling white in this matter. Cameron will have to have the wisdom of Solomon to sort this one out.

But let’s put it into into perspective. This is a Westminster bubble story. The general public don’t give a damn. It is a minor irritation which is at worst embarrassing. Miliband as a Brown crony is not in the strongest position to throw mud. Tomorrow it will be wiped off the front pages by whatever happens at Newark. It will probably get a bit of a rumble in the Sundays, but advisors must take a vow of silence;no briefings, no leaks on pain of dismissal. But the press will be doing an awful lot of digging. This is a story that must not be given legs. Anyhow the reshuffle will bury it for the time being.

Well at least Gove and May are now singing from the same hymn sheet even if they still worship in different churches. There will be lots of nonsense speculation about leadership bids, whose ahead and whose behind. But their isn’t a vacancy. Nor is there likely to be this side of the election. Some backbenchers may have to grit their teeth but Cameron is by far the best bet if they want to hold on to their seats.

So let me have a punt at what will happen. A leak inquiry which will be inconclusive. Gove will eat a slice of humble pie mainly because he is Cameron’s chum. May will be spared any sort of humiliation but will not be happy. Whoever thought they were doing her a good turn must realise that they have made a foolish mistake which rather unfairly puts the Home Secretary in an uncomfortable place. Oh, and everyone will say that lessons have been learned, which of course they haven’t. Stephen Parkinson her highly regarded Special Advisor is going to have to put his shit kicking boots on.

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The Cameroons bedecked in hunting reds have a sporting chance of chasing the Farage fox out of the Westminster hen house.

3 Jun 2014 at 13:58

I am cautiously optimistic about the Newark election. It would take a miracle for the Tories to maintain their sixteen thousand majority for all the obvious reasons in particular the sleazy cloud that hangs over the ghastly Patrick Mercer. Roger Helmer has been an MEP for the area for a long time and is a former Tory of sorts. One of his many drawbacks are that his eccentric views are particularly uncharitable to ethnic minorities and gays. Charisma is a gift that has passed him by. But at least he has worked the turf. Well, as much as any MEP can. It is worth having a close look at the most recent YOUGOV polls. They asked a simple question,

“Do you generally feel positively or negatively about UKIP
In May 2009 the answers were
Positive 28%
Negative 37%
Neither 27%
Don’t know 7%

In May of this year the answer was
Positive 22%
Negative 53%
Neither 19%
Don’t know 6%

This rather explodes the myth that the Kippers are gaining ground. The truth is that at the Euro and county elections only a third bothered to vote. Most didn’t think that it was worth the effort. To be fair to UKIP (God, how that sticks in my throat) their share of the the vote is at its highest at 17%. Interestingly there is a narrow and consistent lead for staying in The EU and a large lead for those who wish to remain if Cameron can negotiate a reformed Brussels.

Then have a look at the latest Ashcroft poll in Newark which gives the Tories a healthy lead. This could be shattered by events. There could be some daft EU ruling or some Cabinet minister could have a serious case of foot in the mouth. But to his credit Shapps has so far successfully buttoned down the operation. Ministers, unless they are on message, so far have adhered to a vow of silence. Of course, like every election, all parties will claim some sort of victory. The Faragistas will claim that they have come from nowhere and given all parties a bloody nose. Labour will squeal that their message that Miliband is not weird, honest, has finally delivered. And the Lib Dems will pray that they don’t lose their deposit. Six years ago they would have a fighting chance of winning a by election in a Tory stronghold.

It’s too early to crack over the Chateau Galtieri 1981,but it appears that the Cameroons in hunting reds may have chased the Farage fox out of the Westminster hen house. But the delicious irony is that Mercer resigned to do the maximum damage to his old foe Cameron. If there is a Tory victory he will have actually shored him up. Politics is a funny old business.

And now for the reshuffle. I have been consistently wrong in predicting the date. But I would be amazed if it is not this weekend. My old friend Nigel Nelson, the veteran political editor of the PEOPLE, has had a very good tip that Shapps will be replaced by as Chairman by Eric Pickles. A straight job swap would cast no shame on Shapps who has been a hyperactive and effective Chairman. But the reassuring, bluff appearance of Pickles on our television screens, whom nobody could accuse of being a member of the ruling classes, would be very god news. More important still he is battle hardened and close to Cameron. He has become a very big beast in the jungle. If there is a Tory win at the general there is no reason why he could not slip effortlessly into the Home Office whilst straight talking May could glide seamlessly into the Foreign Office.

Ken Clarke has had enough as has Sir George Young. It really is time that Michael Fallon is promoted. He is right winger but utterly loyal to Cameron. He would be the perfect Chief Whip to calm jittery Tories. Sadly, Andrew Mitchell is in the middle of a libel action. But hopefully his reward will come.

There are serious mutterings about about the hopeless Graying. He can’t be sacked outright as the right would be biting the carpet. But I am biased. He could be Leader of the House as Lansley prepares for Europe. And the women? If Anna Souberry’s common sense and impressive media performances are not used to the full it would be an act of insanity. Similarly with the splendid Esther McVey. And what about a junior job for Robert Halfon the Treasury’s chief weather vane? But like everybody else I haven’t a clue what will happen.

A few knighthoods would sweeten the sourness of dismissal and would prevent the sacked from falling into the arms of the Cameron haters.

There is a great opportunity to refresh the government. I hope that it is not squandered

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Cable has transformed from Saint to sinner. He has been Oakshott in the foot.

28 May 2014 at 13:48

I won’t have a word said about Lord Oakshott, I want the whole grisly, rat infested library. It has been an open secret that every piece of anti Clegg tittle tattle and every poisonous off the record briefing has resulted in trail of gastropodian slime leading to the good lord. The question that senior LibDems will be pondering is whether he was on a frolic of his own or whether he was doing his good friend Vince Cable’s bidding. Or maybe is was simply a case of ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome leader?’ St Vincent is a canny operator and fearsomely ambitious. His fingerprints won’t be found on any assassin’s knife. But knowing what he knew why did he not distance himself from his friend much earlier? Yesterday from a hotel room in China our minister at the minibar denounced his friend. And today the good lord was forced to resign. Once Cable love has been withdrawn darkness descends. And we still don’t know whether Paddy Ashdown’s promise to remove his head and testicles is still active. Perhaps that is why Oakshott is taking indefinite leave from the Lords. The thought of Ashdown with eyes like slit trenches laying in wait with castration shears in a Lords loo maybe a risk too far.

The serious question for the Clegg camp is will this put and end to the the uncertainty hovering over his leadership? One of the problems of the LibDem modus operandi is that they are a democracy. And in politics democracy is so precious it is wise to ration it. Each branch discusses things, votes on things and agonises about everything. As the Quakers crave silent contemplation the Libdem’s crave noise. Go to a branch meeting and there is hardly a sleeve without a heart on it. And the leadership dare not try and close down leadership discussions as it would be like poking them with a very sharp stick. Angry councillors and MEPs will want their say. They will tell the leadership that the message has to be clearer and blunter. They will want more clear yellow water with the Tories. There of course will be leaks. There will be off the record briefings. And as the political meerkats sniff the air for the main chance Clegg will survive, wounded and personally hurt and rather bewildered. Think Menzies Campbell without the funeral. The headlines in the broadsheets will be that Clegg is on probation. The red tops will be less kind, Cleggless, ‘not a Clegg to stand on’ and any other cliche they can dream up. The poor fellow will be a deadman walking or rather limping towards the dream of another coalition. The trouble is that Tory backbenchers could scupper that unless he agreed to an in/out referendum in 2017. I would not bet my pension on that.

I know politics can be predictably brutal, but I do think Clegg has been treated despicably by his party. At the end of the day he is a decent guy trying to do right for his country and his party. The two are not always the same. But if you can’t ride two horses at once you really shouldn’t be in the circus. At least Clegg has tried. But the Coalition will go on. It has to. The economic news will only get better. It is their only life raft.

And what of Cable? He has flown dangerously close to the sun and his leadership wings have been severely singed. He will forever be viewed with with deep suspicion. His halo has been severely dented. From being a saint to a sinner is an easy transition. He has been Oakshott in the foot. I wonder what the future holds for him. Perhaps he will have time to appear on Strictly Come Dancing after all.

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