Owen Jones and the Bankers under the Bed

Portsmouth Cathedral has kicked off its series of Lent lectures, “A Faith-based manifesto?”. The series aims to encourage people to think and reflect on how the way we vote might be informed by our faith, beliefs and values.” In the light of the recent controversial intervention by the House of Bishops this is an interesting topic, regardless of one’s own views on faith and religion.

Owen Jones appeared at the Cathedral last night and spoke to a good crowd, over a hundred people I’d guess. I was particularly interested to hear him, as I generally tune out when he appears on TV and radio. I’ve seen him get in a tangle often enough when he comes up against seasoned inquisitors that I find him hard to take seriously. Equally, when someone allows themselves to be described by Russell Brand as “our generation’s Orwell” on the front of their book, you have to wonder how massive their own ego has become, or whether they have actually read any Orwell. Or, for that matter, any Russell Brand. Jones is the least-deserving of the entire tribe of left-of-centre commentators of any such comparison; easily the best of them operating these days is Nick Cohen.

As Jones kept reminding us, his talk was about “hope” rather than faith. I started jotting down a few notes to base a blog on. Jones has a connection to Portsmouth in that his grandfather was in the Dockyard, and it is from him that Jones says he derives a lot of his political outlook. We had the usual reminder that Wilson said the Labour Party owed as much to Methodism as to Marx, although Jones himself doesn’t have a religious faith himself. That was the last positive reference to the Labour Party all night, which surprised me. And then we got stuck into the talk.

Greece came first. We heard all about the collapse of their economy, which shrunk by a quarter between 2008 and 2014, and the social problems that accompanied the slump. There is no doubt the country is in a mess. But Jones identifies the roots of the crisis in the austerity programme the Greeks have had to implement to get their mushrooming debts under control. He had nothing to say about the debt itself. Instead, he blamed the Germans and the EU for imposing conditions on further bailouts and lauded Syriza. He had been in Greece a month ago and saw the “hope” Syriza are bringing the Greek population.

The origins of the Greek debt remained unexplored. It has become a commonplace that Greek retirement and pension rules are an example of their profligacy; indeed it has become an exaggeration. However, as this Economist piece from 2010 shows, the roots of the crisis are deep, and they lie in the madness of the Greek state. But none of this, for Jones, is the Greeks’ fault. The governments Greece has elected, democratically, are not to blame for the debt; it is all the fault of the EU, and Germany in particular, for imposing austerity on Greece as part of the bailout conditions. This is like blaming the doctor who has to amputate your leg after a car crash you had while driving drunk.

At this point Jones returned to a vague comparison between the despair of Greece and the situation in the UK, trying to pretend that the same social breakdown is happening here. He took us on an oratorical tour of social collapse and suffering. We have all seen what is happening in Greece on TV, and the idea that we have anything like that happening here is ridiculous. The Welfare State here continues to function normally – and has even been eating up more and more government spending.

It is ridiculous to bandy “austerity” about as a sign of peoples oppressed and victimised when it means a collapse of the state in Greece, but is actually a sign of increased state intervention in the UK. Of course our society is not rid of poverty, and as long as there is any, there is too much of it, but the claims Jones makes are sometimes (and not for the first time) statistically illiterate. For instance, he claimed that there has been a surge in low birth-weight infants born owing to the recession and austerity. The data on this is a bit laggy – the latest figures I could find through the ONS only cover 2012. However, they show nothing like a crisis.

The real message of Owen Jones, which he gave us at length, is conspiracy theory. Everything bad now is the fault of the bankers. Bankers and Tories. Bankers and Tories and the Germans and the EU. It is a mix of moral certainty, stab-in-the-back theory, and wild nonsense about foreign powers and shadowy elites that is reminiscent of 1930s Europe or 1950s America. There are bankers under the bed. Anybody being touted as “our generation’s Orwell” would surely be aware of the folly of such an argument. Orwell satirised Jones’ simplistic, sloganistic politics better than anyone: “four legs good, two legs bad”.

Jones is no Orwell; he is rather more like Orwell’s antagonist Kingsley Martin, the fellow-travelling, credulous, inconsistent, shrieky editor of the New Statesman who espoused every wacky cause presented to him. Take Jones’ attitude to the Germans – one minute they are the wreckers of Greece, but the next he tells us we should be copying their economic and social models. He can’t have it both ways, but he will try his best to. I asked him on Twitter about this contradiction and his response was to call me a “liar” and a “sad dishonest Tory”. I never got an answer.

The surprise of the night was Jones finding himself unable to tell us to vote Labour at the election. Indeed, he went out of his way to insult Labour’s Portsmouth North candidate John Ferrett on Twitter afterwards. The best Jones could bring himself to say was that Labour are “better than the Tories”. Jones’ hope is clear: he wants to see a Syriza- or Podemos-style popular outburst here. If that’s the only hope he’s got – and goodness knows he is thin on solutions despite being full of doom and gloom – then we’d better hope that the economic recovery keeps moving forwards and away from the kind of disasters his heroes in Greece are inflicting on their people.








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Scoops, scrutiny and security

The proposed Tornante Company takeover of Pompey has not got off to a particularly smooth start. Neil Allen has got a tremendous scoop for The News with his interview with Michael Eisner, but inevitably it raises more questions than it answers.

We had the initial announcement of the Tornante bid on March 20th, with the agreement between the company and the club that there would be a 70-day window of exclusivity. Only just over 20 of those 70 days have passed, so it is still early in the proceedings, but already Mr Eisner has stepped outside that process to make his appeal through the press. I am not at all sure he was wise to do so.

Firstly, there is his decision not to have any fan involvement on the board of the club after the takeover. This is stunningly tone-deaf, and it should be a red flag for the Supporters’ Trust. Indeed, that Eisner has gone to the press with the idea suggests that he hasn’t spoken to the Trust in any detail yet. If this interview is an attempt to “bounce” the Trust, it is misjudged.

Fan representation on football club boards has long been regarded as being a necessary step in improving accountability in the game. The Government has been far too slow to legislate to improve governance, either by reforming the game’s dreadful authorities or by requiring improvements to how individual clubs are run. But there are clear indications that the Government is open to legislation in the fairly near future, and I would expect fan representation on club boards to be the headline measure.

I am surprised how little some Pompey fans value fan representation. At the moment we have fan control of the club. It is disappointing to see a rush to give that up without seeing what the alternatives are for generating investment and retaining ownership. We do need investment, but I think the people who are saying we have no choice but to accept this bid are being hasty.

To give away representation on the board as well isn’t so much a disappointment as a dereliction of duty.

We have seen before at Pompey what happens when there is weak accountability. Even when all the facts were in the public domain and it was clear that rules are being broken, that the authorities were totally inactive on our behalf. Accountability and openness are vital, and just about our only safeguard in the event that the fans no longer own or have a stake in the club.

The response from the Trust to Eisner’s interview is sensible and cautious, emphasising the need for proper negotiations so that the shareholders can understand the proposals, and the risks and benefits.

I welcome a commitment not to be as bad as Assem Allam at Hull or Vincent Tan at Cardiff.  But the concession on not changing the kit colours or name is hardly anything to shout about. It’s like a guy turning up at the altar for his wedding and vowing not to beat his new wife or sleep with her sister.

We will need to see a lot more of the detail from Tornante before we can judge properly, but the opening gambit makes this look like a bog-standard football takeover, indeed it has the flavour of a hostile takeover attempt with a couple of weak sweeteners.

No doubt Eisner will quickly backtrack on the fan representation issue, because the “heritage board” sounds like the sort of mock fan representation gimmick we have seen before at PFC. But the scrutiny of the Tornante proposal must not end there, and it must be gone through thoroughly before anyone has to vote on it. Scrutiny of Tornante is not hostility to investment or a decision to restrict Pompey to lower league competition.

Let’s get the season finished and then sit down calmly and look at the pros and cons. The whole timing of this bid still seems odd to me – it could easily have waited until the end of the season, or at least proceeded confidentially during the season to a point where there was a final proposal to put to shareholders. This is too big a decision to rush and nobody should be criticised for taking their reasonable time over it.

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The Left

I’ve referred often to Richard Crossman’s diaries in this blog and on Twitter. As a writer, and in terms of being a practical politician, he easily eclipses other diarists of his age up to and including Tony Benn. Benn’s vast legacy is composed of hot air and admiration for a belief in Parliamentary supremacy he only discovered late in his meandering career.

One of my teachers at secondary school was Bernard Black, a figure of deserved renown in political education and in the Electoral Reform Society. I owe him many things, mostly his toleration of my youthful misbehaviour, but above all his recommendation to read Crossman’s diaries. “BB” used to say that if you could memorise relevant examples from them of how politics happened, you would always have something to write about in an A-level Politics paper.

Well, I took him at his word and ploughed into “The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister”, and after absorbing the horrors of the Wilson government (many of whose mistakes have been repeated at least twice since) I got hold of a copy of Crossman’s “Backbench Diaries”. This fat volume is perhaps the most instructive of the four for the student of Labour history, because it deals with times when Labour was out of power and was consumed by a bitter civil war.

That it survived that civil war ought to give Labour hope for the future, because the strife it faces now is clearly as bitter as the Bevanite controversy. However it lacks anyone of the stature of Bevan, Gaitskell or Wilson to provide leadership. I said in my blog on Labour’s leadership election last year that Angela Eagle was the outstanding candidate in either ballot. She is still the best despatch box performer available, and given the necessities of electoral politics it is there that Labour need to rebuild from. But, dear me, she is the best of a poor field.

The reason for this blog is a 1-in-365 coincidence. I have had for years, since I was 16 or so, a phrase of Crossman’s stuck in my head, and it occurred to me today that I should look it up to check that I had remembered it correctly. I am glad I did, because in fact it was today in 1959 that he wrote it.

Crossman was one of the first of what we might call the “modern left”, an agitator against the consensual foreign policy of the Attlee government. Foreign policy disputes have always been Labour’s soft spot. He got onto Labour’s NEC in the Bevanite landslide of 1952, and was one of the Left’s outstanding writers and thinkers for decades. He was not someone who dismissed leftist attitudes lightly, and indeed was always concerned to think about how they might be transmitted into policy. But on July 3rd 1959, he said this during a row he had with Anthony Howard and Wayland Young (more famous in his inherited capacity as Baron Kennett):

“The definition of the Left is a group of people who will never be happy unless they can convince themselves that they are about to be betrayed by their leaders”

I always say that there is nothing new in British politics, and this brief sentence is one reason why. These days it is as true of the headbanging far right as it is of the Corbynista left. But it is still true, all the same.

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A Blog About Nothing Much Happening

The local elections were held on Thursday May 5th, 2016. So little happened in Portsmouth that it has taken me nearly a month to summon up the enthusiasm to record the event for posterity. Compare the composition of the City Council before and after:

May 2015 May 2016
Conservative 18 19
Lib Dem 15 15
Labour 4 3
UKIP 4 4
Ind 1 1

Depending how you want to split hairs, either Labour lost a ward in Cosham (which is what the table above reflects) because Aiden Gray stood down, or the Lib Dems did because he re-defected back to them shortly before the election. It was a right fiasco and a disappointing way for Aidan to go, as he had been an excellent Councillor. Either way, Jim Fleming won it for the Conservatives. Labour won a ward in Charles Dickens from the Lib Dems, and we had the bizarre and unseemly spectacle of them demanding recounts just so they all had time to run out of the Guildhall before Stephen Morgan was declared the Labour victor.

A Councillor in Pompey is up for re-election every four years, so this particular cycle threw people who were elected in 2012 back into the mixer. In comparing 2016 and 2012, we are also looking at the last two instances without major national elections confusing things in Pompey. You can’t have forgotten the glorious general election of 2015, or the surprising Euro elections of 2014 when the Lib Dems finished behind the Greens; and in 2013, you all got the year off being leafletted, canvassed, or generally bothered, because there were no elections. This is the total number of votes cast by party in Portsmouth:

Party 2016 2012
Conservative 12016 11892
Lib Dem 12795 13956
Labour 10439 10495
UKIP 6547 0
Green 1817 782
TUSC 30 1083
Ind 0 487
Total 43644 38695

The total number of votes cast is up quite considerably. But when I read blogs and social media posts bemoaning low turnout, I think people are getting carried away. Local election turnouts aren’t great, and Portsmouth’s isn’t the worst. Everyone would like more in the way of participatory democracy, but that means more than just moaning on Facebook with the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists, or signing 38 Degrees.

From a Tory perspective, these figures are very respectable. Since taking control of the Council in 2014, the Conservative group have had to take some very tough decisions. The public seem to understand the importance of getting those right. The Lib Dems have made no progress. Labour I’ll come back to. The arrival of UKIP – who couldn’t put up a single candidate in 2012 – looks more dramatic than it is. Their vote share locally since 2014 is:

UKIP % Vote
2014 24.7
2015 16.7
2016 15.0

The outcome of the referendum may give them a boost again, but the trajectory since 2014 in Pompey suggests they are not ever going to be a major force here. I have never thought they would be.

For all the fuss about the direction of Labour under Corbyn, at face value the Labour vote has held up. But there is likely to be a “conveyor belt” effect. Labour votes are being lost on one end because people are fed up of the barmy antics of the leadership, but they are being replaced on the other end because some new voters or those entering from the hard left minor parties think Corbs is cool and radical. The youthful enthusiasts will fall off other end when they get tired of the casual anti-semitism tolerated by the party machinery, the amateurishness of its front bench spokespeople, and the frustration that the Labour Party generally is incapable of serious work on policy in any area of government. That will leave Labour being run by the SWP/TUSC/Class War mob. A grim future indeed.

There has been a sort of “conveyor belt” effect in the Conservative Party as well. We definitely went through a phase where we lost some votes to UKIP – I’ve had people tell me it on the doorstep in recent years. But under David Cameron we have also taken votes back on the other side, from Labour and the Lib Dems. Old-fashioned liberal Toryism is wildly successful. The party’s vote is holding up even though we are firmly into a period when conventional wisdom tells us we should be more unpopular, and there is a certain amount of disruptive Europe-related strife going on in our party.

The celebrated Professor Cowley is a bit stronger on the “civil war” stuff than I would be, but let’s see what happens after the referendum.

We know there is a leadership election coming before 2020 and nobody who wants to win it is going to talk in the language of civil war. I am firmly of the view that people who have turned the Prime Minister’s “agreement to differ” on the EU into an “opportunity to abuse” should not be rewarded, on the whole. But at some point, we are going to have to move on from this. We all remember the Maastricht fiasco, don’t we, and what happened when we became incapable of thinking about anything else?

While there may not be the coruscating rhetoric of the Thatcher years, the famous long-term economic plan is working, and the government is starting to undermine the attitude that the taxpayer is a client of the state rather than its master. Not even the Thatcher government managed any progress in that area – the state did not shrink under her. David Cameron is doing OK.

This particular piece is done; somehow I have squeezed over 900 words out of a no-change election where nothing much happened. If you have stuck with it this far, I applaud your sense of adventure. The next piece, inevitably, will be about the EU, and that will probably be longer. Go and get some cranberry sauce, because there will be a bit of Turkey as well.

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Not The Northern Quarter

I have been moaning for a long time about Portsmouth’s doomed “Northern Quarter” project, partly because I have worked in retail and store development for a long time. I have 20 years experience mostly concerned with growing businesses, driving profitability, and thinking about how the retail environment changes. I have spent more than half that time watching comparable cities to ours get gleaming new city-centre redevelopments.

The immediate cause for this latest bit of blog is the sudden outrageous claim to retail expertise of Portsmouth’s ever-fantasist Lib Dem council group, who want to know why PCC isn’t building a giant Waitrose in the city. This is a bit rich from a group who pledged to bring a billion Pounds of investment to the City, and ended up with small change and landed taxpayers legal bills because they were a hopeless adminstration. Meanwhile, Ikea went to Southampton instead and West Quay got built.

There is a very nice, large, inviting site in Pompey at what is still referred to by ancient historians as “Northern Quarter”. This, you will recall, was going to be Comrade Hancock’s crowning achievement in his city, after which no doubt he expected to head off to a dacha with a peerage. But like the Berlin Wall, it all collapsed and there is still a Tricorn-shaped hole at the heart of our city. The development of plenty of acres besides has been stalled while weeds push up through the concrete and asphalt.

This is not the place for a full inquest on that. But a word of advice to the City Council: drop the “Northern Quarter” label. It is a by-word in the retail and development trade for Lib Dem incompetence, and an embarrassment to the city if you want to market it as a forward-looking place. We already know that the original million-square-feet-plus development that bore the name is dead, so why perpetuate it? What we need on that site looks more like Exeter’s excellent medium-sized Princesshay development than a gigantic Westfield. It would be nice to have something that big, but the development partner you are saddled with has got no track record in anything on that scale. That was why it was madness of the Lib Dems to get into bed with them all those years ago.

The real purpose of this blog is to suggest some alternatives to “Northern Quarter”, which anyway already exists in Manchester.

“Dickens’ Place” – ultra-safe, just move the statue up from Guildhall Square, where I still think it looks odd.

“Brunel Grove” – you put some trees in an atrium somewhere to validate the “grove” bit.

“Callaghan Gardens” – I was never a big fan of “Sunny Jim”, but he’s a big name.

“Hitchens’ Cross” – I hope the old atheist would laugh at that. It’s about time he was celebrated in Pompey.

The possibilities are almost endless. Or you could tell Delancey (the developer who has inherited the poisoned Centros Miller chalice) to come up with something startlingly neo-Brutalist and call it “The Tricorn”……

There is a serious point to this: the Lib Dems talk about a “lack of investment” in the city by this Council administration. But it was they who gave away the opportunity to control much of the space in our city centre. We are left with a huge gap where something could be which brings footfall to Pompey, creates jobs, drives hundreds millions of Pounds a year into the local economy, builds homes, and crucially in a time of tight civic finances, millions again in business rates into the City Council’s funds. Portsmouth is some way below the level of commercial floor-space you would expect for a city of its population. That has a big effect on the local economy and on the Council’s tax base.

Fixing the problem at the heart of the city is not an easy challenge, nor given the problems Cllr Jones and her team inherited is it one I expect to be solved quickly. But the first step in rehabilitating the plans for the city centre is a fairly easy one to take – ditch the discredited Northern Quarter branding, and come up with something else.




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Burnham and Mandelson: a deadly double act?

Seeing my blog retweeted by Labour supporters, and linked from Labour blogs and websites is a novel experience, and I suspect not a practice that will outlast their election fiasco by very long. The funniest comment was “good analysis, interesting that it has to come from a Tory”. I think both wings of the Labour Party are far too busy to be dispassionate about their condition at the moment. For a party who obsess about their history and traditions far more than the Conservatives do, it is strange that they seem unable ever to make practical use of a vast corpus of historical study and experience.

The weirdest thing is the Mandelson/Burnham “step aside for a unity candidate” manoeuvre. Peter Mandelson is the grandson of Herbert Morrison, a titan of the Labour movement in the 30s and 40s. Morrison constantly chafed at Attlee’s leadership, but by the time Attlee came to step down in 1955, he was considered past it by most of the Party rather than a natural successor.

The outcome was a three-way contest between Hugh Gaitskell, Aneurin Bevan, and Herbert Morrison. There was not much love lost between these last two; however they were united by a loathing of Gaitskell. It dawned fairly early in the contest on Herbert’s supporters that he would not beat Gaitskell and Bevan, but that if the Bevanite anti-Gaitskell vote swung behind him, he might beat Gaitskell. The calculation was that however much the Bevanites disliked Morrison, they disliked Gaitskell even more, and it had a certain rationality to it.

The outcome of this brilliant tactical manoeuvre by Herbert Morrison was that he finished last in the race, and was humiliated by only garnering 40 votes. Bevan refused to take part in a grubby deal, Morrison eventually had to disown it too, and Gaitskell stepped round it like a gent trying not to walk into a puddle of puke in his shiny brogues.

Somehow, it occurred to Peter Mandelson that a variant of this approach would benefit Andy Burnham, in turning him into a “Stop Corbyn” candidate. This is consistent with Mandy’s almost total lack of political judgement, demonstrated time and again over the last thirty years, and I am amazed that Burnham did not immediately spot this for the bullet in the foot that it is.

Burnham is already the only “Stop Corbyn” candidate, and I expect him to scrape home in the end anyway. I think he is a far less scary proposition in the long term for the Conservative Pary than Corbyn, so I am relaxed about it. It is a reason Conservatives are happy to attack Corbyn – we realise that Burnham is nothing to be scared of. Mid Staffs and all that. But such a transparently desperate move as trying to bully Cooper and Kendall out of the race is not going to do him any good, before or after the election. Goodness knows what Labour’s conference is going to be like.

If Burnham only wins on the basis of second preferences, he is in a horrible position to start with. That he has such poor judgment to allow himself to be mollycoddled by Mandy is something that will not be lost on everyone else.  Maybe such a lack of common sense is the result of Andy Burnham never having had a job outside of lobbying and Parliament. He has spent his entire career inside the bubble, so he does not realise it encloses him in all directions. When he says “I am a normal person”, he believes it. He is like a lobster, remaining entirely oblivious to his real condition as the temperature rises and he is boiled alive. Except that most of us would feel some sympathy for the lobster.

Mandelson and Burnham are a strange alliance. Not long after the general election, Mandelson attacked all three “right” candidates saying:

“when they also talk about the need for party unity this sounds like continuity and an unwillingness to make hard policy choices. This is a luxury that is not open to them — not if they want to win.”

Later on in the contest though we find Mandelson and Burnham both plotting for “unity”, albeit in a rather strange way, and the question has to be asked: what is Andy promising Mandy in return for his help?



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The Blairites’ Last Stand

The amazing thing about the Labour leadership contest is that anyone is amazed it has become a complete fiasco. The controversy we see now is not the exception in Labour politics – the exception was the Blair leadership. The row has all the features and attitudes which should be familiar to the commentariat from sixty years of Labour history; all the more so because there is an overwhelming bias towards Labour in these denizens of social media. And yet they seem completely flabbergasted by it.

As a Tory myself, it is not entirely pleasant to observe some actual argument about policy happening in the Labour Party. For most of the last 30 years, Labour has edged closer to Conservative thinking. While the Blair premiership had its downsides – disastrous wars fought against a backdrop of slashed defence capability, PFI, the “Cool Britannia” Hello-magazining of political personalities – it was very much a “Labour right” government. If Blair had had the guts to sack Brown, the only reason the electorate would have had to turf Labour out in 2010 would have been boredom.

Now we have Jeremy Corbyn pushing his apparently retro Labour thinking. Even his posters echo The Who’s 60s symbology – although the tagline is “Maximum RMT” rather than “Maximum R&B”. But Corbyn is not so much “Labour retro” as “Labour revivalist”.

Nobody should have been surprised at the Corbyn explosion, because whenever you meet Labour activists on the streets, they talk his language. The clash in Labour between left and right always ends up being expressed in the same way, too – what we now call the  Westminster bubble of party HQ, the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and their pals in the London media circus versus the activist base and the union grassroots.

Real leftism in Labour is like a stream which disappears into a culvert occasionally, but is always there beneath metropolitan Labour attitudes. There has been a lot of talk about Tony Benn, an old and equally lefty comrade of Corbyn’s. However the stream which re-emerges now did not originate with Benn, but with Bevan. What we see being replayed now is not the struggle of the early 1980s, but of the early 1950s, and then as now, it is the right doing the splitting, not the left.

The most ridiculous feature of the contest so far has been complaint from the right that Corbyn voters are just entryists trying to rig the election in his favour. The panicked response to this, to try to force two of the rightist candidates to step down to create a “Stop Corbyn candidate” is actually an attempt to fix the election in itself. The irony is lost on them. There has been virtually no analysis of his policies by his Labour opponents (as opposed to their analysis of his dodgy friends). Indeed, when it comes to Quantitative Easing, even a Tory can tell you Corbyn is right. QE was a waste of time and our money. The attack on Corbyn has focussed on the vague threat that any deviation from Blairism wrecks Labour’s chances of winning an election.

The argument among the “other three” centres on how to build on Blair’s legacy, while the rest of the world wonders if such a thing even exists. None of them have Blair’s perceptiveness, or his sense of timing. Andy Burnham will forever be associated with the Mid Staffs hospital disaster. Yvette Cooper’s main campaign message seems to be that she’s got kids whereas Liz Kendall hasn’t. I quite like Liz Kendall and think it’s a shame she has got caught up with two such politically-louche characters, but she has got no real policy message.

And if you think those three are uninspiring, wait until you see the Deputy Leadership card. Tom “buy my book” Watson, Stella “I love indie music” Creasy, Caroline “window dressing” Flint and Angela Eagle. If Eagle doesn’t win this, you know Labour has lost its head, but I think she will probably come last. In despatch box terms, she is the best performer of anyone in either race.

Ultimately both sides of the argument are bonkers. There are many on the left who have adopted Clement Attlee as their patron saint, in almost complete defiance of history. Attlee actually presided over a climb-down from almost all the rhetoric of 1945 during the remainder of his leadership. He was the father of the British atomic bomb. He groomed Gaitskell, who introduced charges into the NHS; he forced out Bevan, who founded it, and sat by when the union bosses (in those days, almost all on the right) tried to kick Nye and his followers out of the party. When you see Owen Jones parading in a “What would Clem do?” teeshirt, the answer is almost certainly “Expel you”. Attlee presided over the start of a civil war which is still being fought now – Establishment Labour versus Activist Labour.

Fortunately for the Parliamentary Labour Party, the party machinery is now what Bagehot would have called a “dignified” part of its constitution, rather than an “effective” one, otherwise we might see the sort of rout of the right Attlee was presented with at the 1952 Morecambe conference (that British Pathé news clip is fantastic). If Corbyn wins the leadership, real power will still rest with the PLP, who may well try to unseat him as soon as they decently can after he wins. In Tom Watson (who, to be fair to him and his Labour detractors, is no Blairite), modern Labour has a bully straight out of the mould of the 1950s trade union leadership. He will orchestrate a campaign against Corbyn just as he did before when he felt his own interests were best promoted by a new leader.

Whoever wins the contest will still face an uphill struggle. It is one of the Blairites’ making. Their project to make the Labour Party into something it never really has been has failed spectacularly; they have failed to convert enough of their own activists. Even if the Blairites win now, they will merely make their eventual defeat all the more final. It will come either in 2020 when one of the weak candidates before us now loses, or because the party implodes before then, and we have another split in the party. This is the Blarites’ last stand, and they don’t have anywhere obvious to go if they are unsuccessful. Corbyn will actually be the biggest long-term challenge of any of the candidates if he enthuses younger voters and awakens Labour from Blairism.

We in the Tory Party cannot afford to assume that because every previous left surge has failed that every left surge will fail in the same way. Corbyn will lose in 2020 if he wins – but so would Burnham, Cooper, or Kendall. What happens in 2025 if Labour has had ten years to come up with a genuine leftist alternative? Watching Labour rip themselves to pieces is great fun – but what about the EU referendum? The Union? English devolution, which is so far a total mess? Defence and foreign policy? We have already allowed ourselves as much laughter at Labour as we can afford.









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Lib Dem Election Gimmick Special: “Pompey tickets for the kids?”

I’m all in favour of getting more kids into Fratton Park. Anyone who’s spent long enough watching Pompey will realise how the hikes in ticket prices, moves to all-seater stadia, and increasing competition from football on TV have pushed the average age of the crowd up and up. We need to get more kids at games with their mums and dads.

Normally I’d applaud initiatives in this field. But it is a bit strange when the “self-appointed saviour of Pompey FC”, Cllr Vernon-Jackson, starts turning up outside the Central Mosque waving tickets to Fratton Park in front of people leaving after Friday prayers. I’m told by sources at PFC that they were complimentary tickets which found their way to a Lib Dem activist, and that PFC are privately embarrassed at the attempt to use the club in their election campaign. He denied having paid for them himself when I saw him with the tickets in his hand.

Nobody is suggesting anyone at the club is complicit. But the rest of us who are supporters, regardless of whether we are “politically engaged”, feel embarrassed for the club that it is being linked with the Lib Dems in this way. Their election campaign has consisted mostly of personal attacks on their opponents, with the usual whiff of Portsmouth Lib Dem misogyny. The other element of the Lib Dem campaign has been to claim to have saved things they had little interest in, like PFC, or the Dockyard (“shut the ship hall and put a biomass power station in there”), or St James’ Hospital (which they actually jeopardized by their inaction in February 2014 when they were still running the council).

The issue here isn’t one of “treating”, because of course young kids don’t vote. The Lib Dems pulled another stunt during last year’s elections when the Lib Dems claimed to have been endorsed by the-then Chairman of the Pompey Supporters’ Trust. However, there are enough problems at Fratton Park without being ensnared in Cllr Vernon-Jackson’s hyperbolic claims, which are an insult to the people who really did fight for the club in its dark days. Cllr Vernon-Jackson can’t even tell the difference between a Pompey shirt and a Chelsea one.

The people who saved Pompey were the ones who risked their homes and jobs getting the Chainrai story out there, the people of the PST and SOS Pompey and other groups. Some of these people are engaged in party politics, but they don’t exaggerate their involvement; a PST board member is a Labour Parliamentary election candidate. Another leader of the fight is a UKIP council candidate in Portsmouth. The great Mike Hall was a Lib Dem councillor in a time when they had a less toxic reputation than they have now, and he was reckoned to be a bloody good councillor even by his opponents.

I am not someone who is comfortable dragging Pompey into party politics – as I’ve said above, our fanbase includes people of all parties and none, and we generally get on with the job of supporting the club and fighting to improve it. The City Council approved the loan to the PST on a non-partisan and unanimous basis. It was the PST who approached the Council for a loan on commercial terms; it was not an act of generosity by any one councillor.

I am outraged that people who have little affinity for our club beyond whatever political use they can make of it are carrying on in the way they are. There are real challenges facing the club and the Supporters’ Trust, and I will be watching with interest to see what involvement these Lib Dems who now boast of their role in “saving the club” have in moving both bodies forward over the coming years.

PST at the moment has a membership of about 3,000. If it can engage the other 12,000 who are turning up to every home game, then the potential is limitless.  Because the people who are saving Pompey now are those 15,000 who have been there every game since the PST takeover.  The battle for survival is never going to be over as long as football operates as it does currently.

I have never hidden my disappointment at the failure of the last government to do more for football supporters, specifically in letting Damian Collins’ very modest Private Members’ Bill lapse. My commitment in Tory politics to keep that battle going is as clear as my commitment to Pompey as a supporter.

Whoever wins whatever election tomorrow, we have to keep up that pressure for the freedoms of football supporters, who are put-upon at every turn by officialdom. We have to fight for the welfare of our clubs, who are still constantly let down by the governing bodies and the plethora of “dodgy owners” who still pervade the game.

During the battle to oust Chainrai, we saw a cynical disregard for the intelligence of fans. We now see the same from the Lib Dems. Having detoxified the football club, I’d like the voters to go further now and help detoxify politics in this city and end the enormously damaging Hancock/Vernon-Jackson franchise for once and for all.

Use your vote wisely!


Posted in Football, Politics, Portsmouth City Council | Comments Off on Lib Dem Election Gimmick Special: “Pompey tickets for the kids?”

TV Debates and the Hypocrisy of Alastair Campbell

I watched the “ITV leaders’ debate” last night, but on BBC News, because their feed of it was running a couple of seconds ahead of ITV itself. In the Twitter age, two seconds is a long time in politics. But I’m not going to argue that anyone in particular “won” – that would be futile, there was no prize on offer last night.

But we can say that Nicola Sturgeon did well, and her “emergence” gives the Westminster press someone new to talk about. You’d never guess she has been a Scottish minister for years, with a long record of failure and miscalculation. She “won” last night, if you follow the media consensus, which means either that voters are now more likely to vote Labour because they think she would make an impressive coalition partner for Miliband, or less likely to vote Labour because the rest of the UK would be over the barrel if she is a coalition partner with Miliband.

The likelihood is that the second of these propositions is closer to the truth, but if people start saying that then the election campaign is over, and the media will be redundant. Labour need not only to hang on to their base in Scotland to oust Cameron, but also to make gains in the rest of the UK. Neither of these things looks likely.

The polls have kept coming since the debate. Why a programme which was watched by less than a third of the TV-watching population should be expected to be so specially influential escapes me. The audience was smaller than for the 2010 series, the format chaotic (although Julie Etchingham did a good job, and did very little talking).

As a Tory, of course I’m pleased. Cameron got exactly what he wanted out of the show, competent, low-key, Prime Ministerial. He also produced the killer line of the show, to Ed Miliband on the NHS – “What about Mid Staffs?”. It made good TV, but it isn’t going to win an election on its own. Ed M’s startled gulp when Cameron mentioned Labour’s record on the NHS in Wales suggests he is worried about losing it, though.

I didn’t think there would be TV debates in the end, and the jumble of formats we’ve ended up with is a shambles for which we have to blame the broadcasters. The programmes we’re getting add nothing to the campaign, and do nothing to deepen engagement with the wider population Cameron was quite right to say that they “suck the life” out of the campaign.

Labour – and in particular Alastair Campbell on Twitter – have been constantly moaning about Cameron’s refusal to indulge in TV theatrics. It’s instructive to look back to the 1997 campaign. Tony Blair refused to get involved in debates, and Alastair Campbell helpfully recorded why in his diaries:

November 27th 1996:

“On the one hand, TB was good on TV and we should win easily enough. On the other, if we stayed ahead then bizarrely, it would be the Prime Minister, not TB, who had the underdog advantage. But my main concern was that with our media as it was, there would be an enormous focus on the process and packaging, and there was a danger it would add to the reasons why people were turning off politics and political presentation.”

Our media have scarecely been anything but “process and packaging” for some time.

March 16th 1997

“Though publicly we were in favour of a TV debate, privately the mood ranged from neutral to negative. The truth was John Major was now the underdog, the one with something to gain from being seen on a level playing field. Ridiculous but true.”

The only way Miliband was going to get anything out of last night was if Cameron had a crash, which he certainly didn’t. But it was a gamble Ed M had to hope would come off.

March 27th 97

“Then a buzz went round the gallery that the Tories had a massive story about us. The phones were going non-stop to see if we knew what it was. It turned out to be a briefing by Michael Dobbs saying that we were going to pull the plug on the TV debate. As expected, whenever there was bad news for them, they pulled out a TV debate story.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Labour have banged on so much about TV debates in 2015, with the 1997 roles reversed. Labour has had so little that is positive to say they’ve needed a diversionary tactic. Cameron’s position on TV debates has been consistent – it has always been Labour trying to make politics out of them, and the broadcasters who seem to think they are in charge of the election process. They aren’t, and God forbid they come to exercise any more power over politics.

I have no idea why Miliband has agreed to the format of the next debate, on April 16th, where he is going to get a thorough kicking from five of the other opposition parties (and again, inexplicably, the Northern Ireland parties are excluded). The broadcasters will love it. I don’t see how he can emerge from that format looking like the “best of the rest”, nor what good it does him to be seen as such. He is lowering himself as Labour leader to the level of parties a fraction of the size of his own – it’s amazing. This election is about who is in Downing Street, Cameron or Miliband. Nothing else should matter to him.

Miliband isn’t going to save any Scottish seats by going up against Sturgeon on TV – he is committing electoral suicide. Sturgeon is the authentic voice of Old Labour – “let the state do everything, and don’t worry about how it will be paid for just now”. The same is true of Leanne Wood, who seems to think that growth in the UK outside Wales is funded by government spending being denied to the people of Wales. Total garbage, and expensive garbage for most of us in the UK if either of them is in a coalition after May 7th.

I am annoyed at times at the tone of some Conservative language – talk about “locking in recovery”, for instance. We don’t want to lock ourselves in, we want to burst out into “broad sunlit uplands” of growth and prosperity. Has the failure to break through decisively in 2010 after such a sunny, modernising campaign damaged the thinking of some near the top of the party?

Everyone knows Miliband is weak and vacillatory. That message is well understood – now we need to remind voters what the positives of Tory policy are – growth, opportunity, better ways of delivering public services, better government. There are positive reasons to vote Conservative and return David Cameron to Downing Street, as well as good reasons not to want Ed Miliband in No. 10. They need to be heard more in the next few weeks in the Tory media message.

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Mike Hancock and Gerald Vernon-Jackson – will the real Lib Dem candidate please stand up?

I can’t believe anyone in Portsmouth, least of all anyone who follows politics closely, was surprised that Mike Hancock has announced he is going to stand again to be MP for Portsmouth South. He has kept himself busy in Parliament, asking questions of Ministers and signing Early Day Motions, and has shown no sign of “winding down”. At every opportunity he has worked his way into the media to comment on any issue he can interest a journalist in – standard stuff for any Westminster candidate.

The really interesting thing in all this isn’t that he has decided to stand at all, but the reaction of his Lib Dem colleagues to his candidature. The News picked up a tweet of mine last week and referred to it in a story they wrote speculating that Hancock was about to make an announcement:

Hancock’s agent, his bag-carrier, office manager, and employee, is the Lib Dem councillor for St Jude ward, Michael Andrewes. Andrewes has never been subject to any obvious disciplinary action for campaigning on behalf of Hancock since his belated expulsion from the Lib Dems. We have several times had the farce at Portsmouth City Council meetings of Andrewes having to withdraw when Hancock has been discussed, as he is his employer. If Andrewes is Hancock’s agent and campaign manager, what sanctions will he face from the Lib Dem party? Andrewes is up for re-election in his council ward this year, and will presumably be standing as a Lib Dem. That is a remarkable arrangement.

The likelihood is no action will be taken against Cllr Andrewes. It was only with extreme reluctance that the Lib Dem council group sacked Hancock from his City Cabinet post last year – the vote tied at 10-10 and had to be retaken anyway when it emerged that the party had broken their own rules on procedure.

All this highlights the ridiculousness of Gerald Vernon-Jackson’s protests about Hancock carried in The News today. The paper always refers to Hancock as a “disgraced” MP, but there are many, including Cllr Vernon-Jackson, who share the disgrace. They covered up Hancock’s manipulations and deceits, and Vernon-Jackson in particular smeared Hancock’s accuser as “one person trying to get some money from somebody else”. He later had to write her a letter of apology when he turned on Hancock and decided she had been right all along.

There is an irony in Vernon-Jackson and other Lib Dems now suggesting that Hancock is just “doing it for the money” as well. I don’t doubt he would welcome a severance pay-off when he loses, but I suspect Hancock also has a point to prove to GVJ. Vernon-Jackson has never been universally popular within the Lib Dems since he arrived in Portsmouth from Newbury, and the deep schism in the party over Hancock’s behaviour leaves relations strained.

In more united times, Vernon-Jackson and Hancock went up to meet Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem Chief Whip in an attempt to save Hancock, and in the words of former Lib Dem Cllr Eleanor Scott came back to their council group saying “they had got the best deal possible”. This allowed Hancock to remain a member of the Lib Dems long after the nature of his conduct had become clear.

You may well say, “Of course a Tory would say that”, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Hancock’s victim has said much the same thing herself:

Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Terry Hall and Les Stevens should all hang their heads in shame. The Liberal Democrats could have done something about it ages ago.”

What we have here is not just a disgraced MP, but a disgraced party and a disgraced Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate. Mike Hancock is in a contest with the truth in which Gerald Vernon-Jackson isn’t standing by his side for once, but they both represent the same cheap and unprincipled brand of politics. The Lib Dem party organisation in Portsmouth perpetuated this disgusting and shameful mess, and on May 7th the voters finally have a chance to put an end to it.

Portsmouth South is a two-way fight between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. UKIP make a lot of noise, but they are a divided party locally, and a vote for them can only make it more likely that we will end up with a Lib Dem MP and with Ed Miliband in Downing St. Only a Conservative government can get Eurosceptics an EU referendum, anyway. The betting markets reckon UKIP wins at the election will be around 4 seats nationwide, and certainly neither Portsmouth seat will be one of them.

The Lib Dems have had the blow of being told by the regional party that they are seen as a “lost cause” and that resources are being diverted to Eastleigh, where the Lib Dems are in severe trouble thanks to the efforts of Mims Davies. The Lib Dems have got nothing positive to offer the people of Portsmouth – whether it’s the Hancock or Vernon-Jackson version. It is all just whining hypocrisy. It does them little good to promote websites entitled “Stop the Tories in Portsmouth” when there is an enormous appetite among the fed-up voters of Pompey to “Get rid of the Lib Dems”, who have been a burden on this city for too long.

The “lost decade” of Lib Dem council control while we went backwards in relation to our competitor cities in the south is something we in the Conservative Party are desperate to make up for. Donna Jones and her colleagues have had a busy first year running a minority administration. In the general election campaign we have a positive message based on Flick Drummond’s “Plan for Portsmouth”, and are getting a good reaction to it over the campaign so far.

People in Portsmouth want to see change and want to see this city moving forward. We can’t do that all the time we have the same people who have dragged our name through the mud over the years still hanging around.

Of course general elections are decided mainly on national issues, and of there are excellent reasons for voting Conservative. We have a recovery to protect, an economy to grow, and public services which can only be secured out of that growth. The other parties threaten us again with a chaos of borrowing, and with taxing the economic recovery to death. But in Portsmouth we have an additional, pressing reason to vote Conservative – to continue rescuing the council administration from the Lib Dems, and to clean up the sordid politics of the Hancock/Vernon-Jackson era.

Posted in Politics, Portsmouth City Council | Comments Off on Mike Hancock and Gerald Vernon-Jackson – will the real Lib Dem candidate please stand up?