Thursday, 31 December 2009

Underground Medecin

Another story that hasn't really got the attention it deserves is the news that David Cameron recently had a private meeting with Nurses for Reform, who, despite their cuddly sounding name don't actually appear to be nurses* or 'for reform' unless by reforming the NHS you mean completely dismantling it. But then "libertarians and public affairs consultants/healthcare companies for wholesale privatisation of the NHS" doesn't have quite the same voter-appeal, does it?

As Cameron says, he has meetings with many groups, but if he's meeting a group like this then there are only a couple of likely explanations. Either someone (one of the shadow Health team?) has already met them, liked what they heard and lobbied to get them a meeting with the party leader. Or they've been sought out by Cameron's team because what they're saying adds a bit of "healthcare expert" credibility to what the Tories want to say, in a particularly voter-friendly way, being nurses and all that. Or there are personal connections in play, i.e. a friend of a friend. Whatever the explanation is, we ought to be taking this as a very serious sign of where Cameron's sympathies lie.

*Their media spokesperson is an ex-nurse. This is her Twitter feed. I will leave you with a quote: "the only way forward is for less Government regulation and more market forces and self-regulation"... [for hospitals].

Actually no, I won't leave you with that. I will insist you read her blog for the Adam Smith Institute, with recommendations for the 'micropolitics of the hospital privatisation, starting with the suggestion that "in the post-bureaucratic age" the Secretary of State for Health should no longer have any say in when or where hospitals are built, opened or closed. (NB the Secretary of State is not a bureaucrat. He's a democratically-elected politician. Who has been elected, inter alia, to protect and preserve our National Health Service). The stuff on locally-negotiated pay (for which read a race to the bottom on pay, terms and conditions, and training) is dynamite too. Cameron should publicly move to dissociate himself from this agenda now.

Detective Instinct

Hope this doesn't get overlooked in post-NYE comedown...

So-called expert on extremism, Glenn Jenvey, has been arrested on suspicion of inciting religious hatred against Jews, based on allegations he posted content on the website under an assumed Muslim name. He says this was with the intention of seeing whether Islamic extremists were attracted to the post, but it was own posts that were splashed across the Sun as proof that British Jews, including Sir Alan Sugar, Amy Winehouse and David Miliband, had become terror targets. Credit where it's due to Tim Ireland, aka Bloggerheads, for his work on exposing the fallacy of the Sun story. More info here.

I'm not sure he's facing the right charge... If his defence is that his intention wasn't to incite hatred against Jews but to expose Islamic extremism, it seems to me that could well succeed because he wouldn't have been trying to incite the hatred himself, but simply to get others to expose their own hatred. Whereas if he was charged with inciting hatred against Muslims, by making people think extremists were compiling a hitlist of prominent British Jews, I think he'd be on shakier ground. (Usual legal caveats apply, of course). Will be interesting to see how the case develops...

A Different Class

Having skim-read Vogue, Marie Claire and Elle in the hairdressers yesterday I ended up reading a Tatler article on 'the Manners Maze' on essential issues such as "Is it rude to defriend someone on Facebook?" and "Should one discuss politics, sex or religion at dinner?" In answer to the latter, Quentin Letts said: "Only the dullest MPs avoid these essential subjects. Religion is quite the best. Anything to taunt dreadul clip-on atheists." I have no idea what a 'clip on' atheist is, unless it's some sort of reference to a clip-on bow tie being an inferior version of the real thing... but no, still have no idea what he's on about.

Anyway, the highlight of this feature comes with the question: "Is it rude to vote Labour?" Answers range from "It's a bit infra dig, like commenting on Grandma's moustache" and "Not only rude but also ridiculous" to "Not so much rude as ostentatiously contrary. Demonstrates a bolshy form of inverted snobbery". In other words, voting Labour is for common people. Or for people who want to live like Common People. (I was at law college with people like that... You might think that getting a university education takes you up in the world, but at law college there were 21 year olds who belonged to gentleman's clubs and treated me, I always felt, like a serving wench who'd gotten ideas above her station.)

Labour has come under some fire over the past few weeks for supposedly reigniting the class war: Gordon Brown's "playing fields of Eton" jibe at Cameron at PMQs; the Zac Goldsmith furore and criticism of Tory inheritance tax plans which would benefit only the privileged few; the resurrection of the fox-hunting debate with www.backtheban. (Resurrected only in response to a Tory pledge to revisit the issue, I hasten to add). The truth is, it never went away. But it's not Us who've been propogating it. It's Them.

What Labour is being accused of at the moment is the class equivalent of "playing the race card", Not in the sense of Tories 'playing the race card' at the last election with their "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" posters in areas of high immigration (and now Michael Howard, Tory leader at the time, accuses all political parties of not doing enough to confront the BNP... but I digress, as ever.) Not in that sense, but in the sense that people from BME communities are often accused of playing the race card when they raise questions of injustice and poor treatment. And just as those allegations often come from out-and-out racists, so faux outrage over 'class war' is often the preserve of out-and-out snobs.

Jacob Rees-Mogg once said that "John Prescott's accent most certainly stereotypes him as an oaf" and talked of the state education system producing "potted plants". And yet, if we were to describe him as a Tory toff, which he patently obviously is, we'd no doubt be accused of class warfare. (And before you start, Crewe and Nantwich... yes, silly campaign, he's not even that posh. Stinking rich, maybe, but not a toff).

Incidentally, not only has Cameron tried to get the sister, Annunziata, to change her name to Nancy Mogg for the election campaign, I have it on good authority that the Moggs are amongst those who've been told by CCHQ not to do regional media, because they 'create the wrong impression', by being too posh. Or maybe it's just because calling voters potted plants doesn't go down too well in the South West. Or anywhere really. The farmer/ Tory PPC Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones is also on the list, which is quite ironic really as it seems he's just pretending to be posh.

It seems to me that it's the Tories who are obsessed by the Toff Factor, and their mockrage at "class war" by Labour is motivated primarily by fear of the label sticking. Which if the response I've been getting on the doorsteps of Bristol East is anything to go by, it is. I suspect the focus-groups are telling CCHQ exactly the same thing.

But the reason it is sticking is not because Labour have been having at bit of fun talking about Bullingdon boys or the playing fields of Eton or the Tory front-bench resembling Millionaire's Row. It's because the Conservative Party leadership has clearly demonstrated by the policies it is putting forward that its priority in Government would be to protect the interests of the privileged elite in whose circles they so comfortably move. Cameron's Christmas card list, as Gordon put it. And until they demonstrate that their priorities lie elsewhere - and drop the offensive denigration of working-class communities as 'Broken Britain' while they're at it - we're perfectly entitled to point that out.

Monday, 28 December 2009

We are family (5)

Yesterday I visited my grandfather and my grandmother. Separately, they're from different sides of the family.

My grandfather has a family tree on his wall which my mother updates regularly (last update, 15th December). At the last count he had 25 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren, which is why he needs a reminder. On 1st January every year he sits down and writes out all the birthday cards, with the dates written in pencil under where the stamp will go, and arranges them in date order, month by month, so he doesn't forget.

My grandmother, on the other hand, has three grandchildren, and that's it. (And she's from the Irish-Catholic side of the family!)

The reason my grandfather has so many descendants is partly because he has stepchildren, and some of his children/ grandchildren have stepchildren too. Technically he's not my "real" grandfather, he married my grandmother nearly 40 years ago, after she was widowed, but he's definitely "family". Whereas my grandmother is my "real" grandmother but I didn't meet her until 10 or 15 years ago, and don't really know her that well.

I don't know quite where I'm going with this, other than to say, families are sometimes messy... I have five half-sisters but they're just "my sisters" to me. The two nephews I was with last night have a stepbrother and two half-brothers, but if you asked they'd each say they're one of "five brothers". Perhaps we've lost out from not having grown up in 'nuclear' families, but I think we've gained an awful lot too.

I Come and Stand at your Door

I really should just ignore people who send me snide tweets about MPs being on holiday...

I've just spent an hour looking at emails, on a range of issues from funding for the local PCT's End of Life Strategy (not ringfenced, therefore a constituent is querying whether it will be spent as it should be) to trying to stop a bunch of asylum seekers arbitrarily being removed from Bristol to Cardiff. Also slowly ploughing my way through all the emails in the 'New Media' folder, of which there are many. And last night we - me and my adorable and easily-bribed nephews, Man and Jem - were stuffing envelopes till nearly midnight, sending out my parliamentary report to constituents. (The snow scuppered our chances of hand-delivering them all in the run-up to Christmas and they have to go out before the New Year because the parliamentary authorities have decreed so).

I also worked from the Bristol office till Christmas Eve, although Parliament broke up the week before, and I'll be back in the Westminster office on 4th January, to catch up on things before Parliament returns on the 5th. Oh, and I'll be working seven days a week from then until the General Election, and I know that because we've already got all the dates in the diary for campaigning.

I spent a few hours before Christmas turning the Bristol East Labour Party office, which is in the same building as my constituency office, above the St George Labour club, into a "war room" for the election. The life size cut-out of Michael Howard, which I was somehow lumbered with at the end of the 2005 campaign - surprisingly no-one else wanted it - has pride of place, holding a Vote Labour sign. Compared to 2005 when I was selected with only a couple of months to go, we're very well-organised this time... Only time will tell if that makes a difference.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

David Taylor MP

Just heard shocking news about the death of David Taylor MP. Quite upset about it. I'd only really got to know him over the past year or so, but had a lot of time for him. He won Backbencher of the Year in 2007, and was one of the most active MPs in the Commons Chamber, one of those MPs who could be described as a true parliamentarian. Basically, I liked him and respected him, and it's very sad news. Condolences to his family.

About a girl

Has only slowly dawned on me that it's Sunday, which is why the Mother has disappeared from the house; she must be at church. Wish she'd shown me how to switch on the telly before she went. Seriously, I've pressed every button on the remote, and yes, it is switched on at the mains.

While we're on the subject of techy problems, can anyone explain why Blogger doesn't allow cut and paste anymore? It's very, very annoying. Is it a protecting copyright thing? I can't even cut and paste from Word docs.

I'm feeling rather proud in a maternal way today. A year or two ago a Bristol uni student emailed me, begging to me allowed to come and volunteer in my constituency office, telling me how passionate she was about the Labour Party and how much she wanted to help achieve a Labour victory in the next election. (To be honest, she needn't have bothered, a simple "I'm Labour and willing to stuff envelopes and answer the phones for nothing more than my bus fare" would have sufficed).

I didn't get to see much of Ellie when she was interning for me, because constituency Fridays are an absolute whirl, with me running in and out of the office between appointments. But anyway, we're now firm friends, and today she's in two Sunday newspapers. The Observer has a feature on the Hot List 2010 (must pick up a paper copy as judging from her tweets there's an embarrassing photo which will be going up on the noticeboard in our Bristol East war room) and she's also writing a column for the Sunday People today; this is the main article but there are other titbits too. She's also going to be in Company magazine in January, and speaking at the Fabians Conference on January 16th under my watchful eye; I'm chairing the session. Anyway, well done Ellie... and carry on squashing those Tory trolls.

We are family (4)

Have decided rather than spend hours trying to construct a thesis on this, I'm just going to blog things as they occur to me. So, for starters today: look at the numbers of children damaged through parental alcohol abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction, poverty (emotional as well as material), or parents who are simply too caught up in the unhappy dynamics of their own relationship to pay much attention to the kids? (This is particularly true when people get married too young, and have kids too young. They're still working things out). Where are the Tory policies to deal with these issues? With Labour, there's Sure Start and the Family Intervention Project for starters.

Something I've noticed about some families where the parents have separated, is how much more attention the kids get from their parents when they're with them, either because that's "having the kids time" or because the adult who remains in the family home has to talk to the kids because they don't have another adult to talk to. I'm not saying that's a 'plus point' about separation, it's just another way of making the point that it's not the structures that count, it's how parents treat their kids. And also about what other influences the kids have in their lives.

We are family (3)

Have now just read this piece in the Times saying Labour is doing a u-turn on marriage and the family, though reading the piece I'm not sure that's quite what we're saying (we;ve reiterated our opposition to tax breaks for married couples, for a start).

I don't have any problem at all with an emphasis on strong and stable relationships, that's just common sense, it's obviously a good thing for kids. But it shouldn't be fixated on the institution of marriage as the only 'good' relationship, nor even on the parents staying together. It's about the relationship the parents have not just with each other, but with their children. A father, for example, can have a strong, stable relationship with a child without living with that child, and we need to find ways to promote the continuation of such relationships rather than assuming that if parents separate at an early stage in a child's life, the chances are the father's role will be minimal. The recognition that it's time to talk about 'mother, father and baby', as it says in the Times piece, rather than 'mother and baby' is long overdue. We should stop talking about 'teenage mothers' too and talk about teen parents. It takes two!

We are family (2)

Have just seen this piece about the Tories' warning that marriage is in danger of becoming a middle-class institution... Not sure I agree. If anything it's the middle class, well educated people I know who are not married (though many are in long-term relationships) and the working-class people who marry young, or who aspire to marry. That's a generalisation, but then so is what David Willets says. He says that "instead of being something you just do in your twenties" marriage has "become like scaling Mount Everest, a sort of great moral endeavour". I simply don't recognise that at all. I think people are possibly more reluctant to settle down these days, or find it harder to meet someone to settle down with, but there are also people who treat marriage far more lightly than they did in the past. The phenomenon of 'starter marriages' for example, is now well-established, when people meet at uni, get married and are divorced and single again by the time they're thirty.

I also met someone the other day who is definitely from the posher end of the class spectrum, whose mother is in her mid-40s and has just embarked on her fourth marriage. I'm not sure what David Willets would have to say about that!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

We are family

At this festive family time, and with the Tories predictably reverting to norm on so many issues as the election approaches, including resurrecting tax breaks "in symbolic recognition of the institution of marriage" (see here for an analysis from Left Foot Forward) I've been reflecting on the family structures of some of the mothers I've been spending time with over the Christmas break. (Mothers, not fathers, because I think this is - sadly and predictably - still very much still a debate about the role of women in society).

A) late 30s, been with partner since university days, three children, not married, no intention of doing so

B) married for 25 years to boy-next-door, two boys

C) 40, two kids from long-term relationship (10 years +), one child from current relationship (5 years +), no desire to get married

D) three children by three fathers, (including one short marriage), not currently in a relationship

E) lived with partner for 10+ years before getting married, now have 8 year old

F) married in her twenties, separated from husband for several years in thirties, now reunited and have a 2 year old

G) two children in late teens/ early twenties, never married, father of children has always played active role in their upbringing but doesn't live with them

H) married in twenties, three children, divorced late 30s, now single parent

That's just a sample. And the point I'm making is this... You, reading this, cannot tell from the bare facts above who is a good mother, whose kids are happy and healthy, who is in a loving and supportive relationship, who has reluctantly stayed together for the sake of the kids... Can you? You don't know who's working, who's well-off, who's living on the bread line.

So why are the Conservatives so obsessed with structures, rather than outcomes?

Here's another Left Foot Forward piece on how Osborne's pledge to support married couples through the tax system ignores social trends, with the proportion of children being brought up in a single parent household having steadily increased... (As ever I say this bearing in my mind the words of a 15 year old I know, who rebuked me for describing him as coming from a single parent family, as he's always spent half the week living with his Dad. He's probably had far more active hands-on parenting from his father than many kids who have grown up in a two-parent household. Or kids who are sent off to boarding school at the age of seven, come to that.)

I seem to have lost the ability to paste chunks of text into Blogger, but have a look at the reasons given in the first LFF piece from the Conservatives' Social Justice Policy Group as to why their suggestion of a £20 a week Transferable Personal Allowance would in a modest way support stable relationships - for which, read marriage.

Reading between the lines, it's obvious that the Social Justice bods are simply dreaming of a traditional marriage where the man goes out to work, and the woman stays at home, looks after the kids, does a bit of voluntary work, pops in to see her elderly relatives, has the dinner on the table when the man gets home. No doubt she also bakes cakes, wears a pinny and waltzes round the kitchen singing songs about the virtues of floor cleaning fluids. Ignore the red herring thrown to the liberals, 'mother or father'... that is not what they're on about.

Of course we all want children to grow up in happy, stable families. But you can do this through boosting family incomes (the minimum wage, tax credits); supporting parents who work (extended schools, free nursery places, child care vouchers); early intervention programmes (Sure Start, the Family Intervention Project). If I was to list the priorities for families with young children in my constituency it would be those things, not worrying about whether they're married or not.

I would say more, but off out to a family Boxing day party soon, with maybe thirty, thirty-five of us there. The one thing I can count on is that all the mothers will gratefully dump their kids on Auntie Kerry for the evening and I'll be the one organising Pass the Hat!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Arms control poseur

Another embarrassing story for Cameron in the Guardian. How can a company with a pre-tax profit of £21,000 in 2005 make a donation of £50,000 to the Tory Party that year, and then make another donation of the same size last year despite only declaring £20,000 in pre-tax profits? Under UK electoral law the Tories will have to demonstrate that this company is genuinely doing business in the UK, and not simply a device set up by its Dubai-based parent company, which had a turnover of £600m to allow it to make donations to the Tories. Oh, and minor point I'm sure: it's owned by a former arms dealer mate of Jonathan Aitken too.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Nice little insight into the wonderful world of Conservative Future in Prospect magazine. What's the point in being rich, if you can't think what to do with it... Indeed.

Be my head*

I've just completed an online survey circulated to MPs by an organisation called Transplant 2013, about organ donation, and then by pure coincidence was forwarded this link on Twitter by someone who remembered my support for opt-out organ donation. Really good to see Wales take a lead. Wonder if there's a chance of getting it in the manifesto? If you're interested in becoming an organ donor (obviously not in the immediate future, but after a long, healthy and happy life!) you can sign up here:

*You can be my head
Oh, I really need one
'cause it's used all its better days
You can be my head
'cause I've ruined this one
Blasting holes where it used to be

And if it's not a big thing,
You could swap or lend me
You should stop and ask me
Be my head, and I'll be yours...

Behind the Counter

I was complaining in an earlier post about the Sunday Times lumping an article about life in Bristol under 'women' presumably because lifestyle issues are seen as a woman's thing. This story, however, is lumped under men - presumably because being a playboy and having loads of dosh as a result of selling boys' toys (well, carphones were, even if mobile phones aren't these days) is a bloke's issue.

And yes, this is just a gratituous excuse to draw attention to another embarrassing story for the Tories.

Who's who?

Also on Twitter, Conservative Central Office lose track of who's who amongst their barmy backbenchers...

Labour splits revealed on Twitter

A row has been brewing on Twitter since last night, and now threatens to go global. It was sparked by 'angry' tweets exchanged between a 'senior' Cabinet Minister and a senior 'not in the Cabinet, but attends Cabinet meetings' Minister, in which the word 'ghastly' was used in what can only be described as a provocative manner. Now numerous Labour activists, from PPCs to councillors to grassroots activists have joined the fray. As a Government whip I am observing from a distance, ready to step in should my services be required. It doesn't look as if this one will go away.

It began with a trip last night by Ed Balls MP to see Paul McCartney perform at the 02. Ed enjoyed himself. Enter Jim Knight MP to destroy the Christmas cheer: "Hope he didn't perform Wonderful Christmastime: ghastly!" This has now degenerated into a furious row over the merits of otherwise of the Frog Chorus, with one Labour PPC pointing out that the lyrics are quite profoundly moving: "Win or lose, sink or swim, one thing is certain we'll never give in, side by side, hand in hand, we'll all stand together" (I've recited those lyrics from memory...they may be wrong but I have a scary feeling that somewhere in my brain I have a small section reserved for the Frog Chorus lyrics. Adjacent to 'I've Never Been to Me' by Charlene).

For a moment just now, I thought I'd have to step in, when one Labour activist tweeted another, who has been in the forefront of pointing out to Ed the error of his ways "I don't think you should bother responding to the twerp. He's a brainless little oaf." But as ever on Twitter, wires were crossed and the reference was to a little Tory/ libertarian monster who, judging from his avatar, will be starring soon in a remake of the Omen. (I'm quite fond of him, in a perverse way. He actually talks about, and cares about, policy).

Seriously though, regardless of whether people manage to convince Ed that he is wrong to like the Frog Chorus (they won't and he is, and as his whip I will be having words when Parliament returns), isn't it great that Labour activists and some people who aren't even activists are using Twitter to talk to Cabinet ministers, and that they feel they can respond to Ed saying 'I like the Frog Chorus' with the simple message 'Oh dear'? Trivial as this particular conversation may be, it says a lot about the Labour Party. We're like one big family.

PS This will inevitably attract the usual nefarious comments from trolls, on how talking about singing frogs on Twitter is emblematic of ZaNuLab's blah blah blah... Can I suggest you read this from Tom Harris? He's talking about YOU.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Update on Like a Prayer

The parents involved have now given their side of the story. They say the sessions with the teacher 'became increasingly traumatic', that she 'used every opportunity to discuss religion', that it was made clear to her that they were a 'non-religious family' and 'did not want to discuss these issues in this way' and that her actions 'caused our family much distress at what is a difficult time'. This is a family whose 14 year old daughter, who was being taught maths by Mrs Jones, has leukaemia and is too ill to attend school. They were entirely within their rights to request that Mrs Jones no longer taught their daughter, and I think the onus is on Mrs Jones now to show some compassion and respect for their views on this matter.

A Tale of Two Cities

Just got round to reading this week's Sunday Times piece about Bristol. It's not an entirely unrecognisable picture of the city, but it's pretty obvious that the reporter didn't set foot in Bristol East. (Also, why is it in the Women's section of the paper? This is one of my pet hates, labelling things as "women's" just because they're lifestyle pieces.)

I did a regional political show last week, and had trouble persuading the Tory MP on the panel that virtually no-one in my constituency would benefit from his party's inheritance tax plans, i.e. that there were very few houses worth more than £325,000 and certainly none approaching the £2million mark, which is the Tories' upper limit, below which a household will not be subject to IHT. He insisted I'd find there were 'quite a few who would' (which still begs the question, why is this a flagship policy for the Tories, their top priority for tax cuts, when on any reckoning it's only a few who would benefit?)

I can think of a handful of big houses, for example out Stapleton way, which might be above the £500,000 mark. But with the average house price in Bristol as a whole only at £163,000 and even detached houses at an average of £305,000, and that obviously includes all those huge houses in Clifton pushing the average up, I can't see that the Tories' tax plans are going to do anything at all for the people I represent. If anyone can come up with more specific stats for east Bristol, I'd be keen to see them.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The First time I've ever blogged about buses

Also in today's BEP, me talking about buses. Some might say, oh she's going on about buses again. But you'd be wrong. According to Councillor Jon Rogers (see comments on the BEP site) I have shown no interest in the subject at all till now. I'm only bringing it up because there's an election.

Memo to Jon: Type 'bus' into the search engine on my website. Or on this blog. Or ask any of the local radio stations. Or check membership of the Local Transport Bill Committee. And then tell me what you're talking about....

Like a prayer

Top topic of conversation on local radio today - apart from the weather - and front page of the Bristol Evening Post is the story of the teacher who is being investigated after she offered to pray for a sick pupil, following a formal complaint from the child's mother. The teacher is from Weston-super-Mare and is a close friend of the nurse from Weston who found herself in a similar situation early this year after offering to pray for a patient.

The best contribution on Radio Bristol was from the mother of a very sick child who'd been taught at home. A similar situation occurred, with a teacher trying to pray with the child, and both mother and child found it very distressing, not least because it alerted the little girl to the fact that she was, in truth, dying. It was very brave of the mother to call in.

Leaving aside the specifics though, this raises again the issue of how much respect you should show for other people's beliefs when you don't share them. And I don't mean respect for the teacher's Christianity, which is mostly what people have been talking about.

In my job I spend a fair amount of time meeting with faith groups, talking to people of faith, and doing some things - such as covering my head in a mosque or temple, or bowing my head during prayers in a church - as a sign of respect for that faith. If I'm honest I feel a little bit like I'm compromising my own beliefs in doing so, but I don't want to offend people, so I will go along with it. And actually, as the years have gone by and I've mellowed from the militant atheism of my youth, I can appreciate that many of the people I most respect and admire are motivated by their religious faith. And I got bored after about chapter two of The God Delusion.

I would, however, like people to respect my atheism too. Obviously not if I'm at a memorial service in a church, or if I'm visiting a mosque, but in more general settings. In hospital for example, I would not want a nurse praying over me, or the hospital chaplain coming to visit. My father has been in and out of hospital in Ireland this year; he went ballistic when he came round after an operation to find a Catholic priest sitting by his bed. Scared the life out of him!

And likewide, if I had a sick child I would be horrified if a teacher came into my home and instead of teaching the child maths, as they were supposed to, started talking about religion and offering to say prayers. I would actually find it offensive.

I'm not sure Christians realise this, that someone of 'no faith' can be offended by overt displays of faith in the wrong setting. Indeed, many people seem to believe that with people of 'no faith' there is nothing there to show respect to, so the sensitivities of the person 'with faith' should take precedence. (Which is one of the reasons I don't like the term, along with the implication that perhaps you simply haven't discovered your faith yet; I much prefer 'atheist'. It's what I am).

Would it be acceptable for an atheist to start 'preaching' to a young child from a Christian household about the non-existence of God? No, I don't think so, and I wouldn't dream of doing this. But I would, once the child was of a certain age and only if the subject was brought up by them, tell the child that some people, including me, do not believe in God. I'm not sure if this would be disrespectful of the parents' beliefs; I think it probably depends how you do it.

Father Christmas, however, would be a different matter. If a kid believes in Father Christmas let no-one cast any doubt on the matter, unless of course the kid is over the age of 10 and is really going to be ripped apart in the playground if his mates find out.

For a completely different take on this, have a look at Tom Harris' blog. And I do like Tom, and I don't care at all if he prays for me, though his efforts to date to protect me from evil-doers have been conspiciously unsuccessful! But I don't agree with him on his last point, about evangelising... isn't there an equivalent right not to be evangelised to? Anyway, I'll be spending time over Christmas with a former CoE church warden (my mum), a Baptist deacon (my uncle), my staunchly Catholic grandmother, my Rastafarian sister... and my Jedi nephew. We'll all get along just fine!

Snowed under

Got up at 6am with the intention of visiting postal workers at the sorting office in Easton, but after inspecting the roads and taking into account the fact my car is about the size and weight of a shoe box, and has a flat back tyre (slow puncture, couldn't find a garage with a functioning air machine last night), I decided that it was sensible not to venture out until the sun came up. I'm going to try walking to Old Market in a bit, to get the bus up to the office, which is at least on a main road. And I can pop into the BEP offices on the way, to drop off the presents I'm donating to their Christmas Toy Appeal; tried to do this yesterday, but no-one was in!

We have quite a few parliamentary reports still to deliver by year end, so might end up with a mammoth envelope stuffing session, sending them all by post instead of risking life and limb on the steps of St George. Apart from that it will be emails, emails, emails all the way - determined to clear them by year end!

Friday, 18 December 2009

The money will roll right in*

Speaking of celebs and politics, I see that Mrs Sting, aka Trudie Styler, is listed as a donor to Zac Goldsmith's campaign in Richmond Park. She gave him £3500.

Why would anyone do that? Zac Goldsmith is absolutely rolling in it. He's spent £260,000 of his own dosh on his campaign so far. He's got millions more under his mattress (or wherever it is he puts it to avoid those dastardly tax men). Bunging him a few grand is like emptying a teacup into the ocean.

It's already known that Zac is a mate of Mrs Sting (which I call her not in the way obnoxious Tories insist on calling Jacqui Smith Mrs Tinsley or Yvette Cooper Mrs Balls, but just because it's silly). She once took an 80 mile helicopter ride to spend the weekend with him to discuss earnestly how to save the planet, as revealed here. Wonder how often Zac flies off to visit his millions?

*Mudhoney: "I'll just sit and grin. The money will roll right in"

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Straight to hell*

Isn't this a brilliant photo for Copenhagen week?

I discovered it on Dave Gorman's blog having been led there by something he said on Twitter. That's Dave Gorman the comedian, turns out he's also a photographer (and according to his biog he likes balancing rocks but I don't think he was responsible for the ones in this picture. In fact I know that, before you start trying to tell me why he wasn't). I hope he is OK with people reproducing his pics. Or that he doesn't find out about it.

His blog is also pretty good in places, quite endearing and self-deprecating in the way he is on telly and the radio. I skipped most of the cycling stuff, which is a bit boys and their toys, but then came across this post about how two little girls tried to give him a religious leaflet on the tube, and then concluded he was going to hell because he wouldn't accept it. I do like the fact he replies to the comments in some depth and tries to argue rationally with people who are not going to agree with him at all.

Seems to be a bit of a trend at the moment for comedians crossing into social commentary and being pretty good at it. Chris Addison has a decent column in the Evening Standard and David Mitchell's column in the Observer is a weekly delight. At which point I reiterate my argument that if these people are nice and decent and funny and intelligent and definitely not Tories - and I'm listening to Richard Wilson interviewing Arabella Weir on Radio 4 at the moment and they're talking about their support for Labour.... Well, that says something about the Tories, doesn't it?

*Song titles are back.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Kerry's guide to PMQs!

An unlucky draw for the Red team in PMQs today, although it at least means Harriet will know which Tories she's going to be getting, and lots of good opportunities for the valiant Labour troops to bob up and down.

Gordon is in Copenhagen, which will no doubt come as a relief to Cameron after the hammering he's had over the last few PMQs. As it customary in such circumstances, Harriet will go head-to-head with William Hague and Vince Cable. I'd predict some end of term jollity, and probably Hague to go on Afghanistan/ economy and Cable to go on the economy, with a bit of a sideswipe at his soon-to-be near neighbour, Zac Goldsmith. Quite a few of the Tories listed are army types, and Heathcoat-Amory will no doubt bring the EU into whatever it is he asks, but most of the Tories listed will be planted questions, which is actually a good way of spotting what they think are vote winners for them. I can't think of anything at the moment!

*1 Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 16 December.

Random Labour backbencher

Hague (6 Qs)

Random Labour backbencher

Cable (2 Qs)

Random Labour backbencher

*2 Mr David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells):

Random Labour backbencher

*3 Simon Hughes (North Southwark & Bermondsey):

Random Labour backbencher

*4 Mr Mark Francois (Rayleigh):

Random Labour backbencher

*5 Mr Gerald Howarth (Aldershot):

Random Labour backbencher

*6 Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York):

Random Labour backbencher

*7 Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire):

Random Labour backbencher

*8 Mr Roger Williams (Brecon & Radnorshire):

*9 Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe):

*10 Mr Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West):

*11 Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley):

*12 Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock):

*13 Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire): When he next plans to visit Central Ayrshire.

*14 Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire):

*15 Mr Anthony Wright (Great Yarmouth):

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Zac gets his wallet out

This is interesting... Zac Goldsmith, tho' somewhat reluctant to dip his hand into his pocket to pay UK taxes, is more than willing to get his wallet out when it comes to funding his own election campaign.

I met up the other night with someone who has kids at school in the Richmond constituency. Zac Goldsmith paid for all the pupils in years 5 and 6 of her daughter's state primary school to attend a play on the Holocaust at a London theatre.

This is the Tory 'trickle down' approach to taxation in a nutshell; perish the thought that rich people should have to pay their fair share of taxes to fund our state education. Let them rely on the largesse of wealthy benefactors trying to buy their way into Parliament.

Monday, 14 December 2009

No-one knows who knows - but someone does

Meanwhile confusion reigns in the Cameron camp as to who exactly it is who knows all about Mr Ashcroft's tax arrangements. Allegedly someone does, and that means no-one else needs to. David Cameron says "nothing to do with me guv". Philip Hammond, Chief Sec to the Treasury said on this morning's Today programme, that Hague - Conservative leader when Ashcroft was given his peerage on condition he started paying UK tax - is the man who knows whether or not Ashcroft has regularised his tax position and is now a UK taxpayer. Hague has apparently now denied it. So who does know? And what do they know?

Hague will, incidentally, be going head-to-head with Harriet Harman on Wednesday at PMQs because Gordon will be in Copenhagen. Shame he's there to ask rather than answer the questions.

Gordon's off to Copenhagen

Interesting meeting with Gordon earlier today about Copenhagen, which I can't really blog about, but lots of issues discussed with me and some other MPs.

As he announced today during his statement in the Commons on the EU Council and Afghanistan, he's going out to Copenhagen tomorrow (Tuesday) rather than Thursday as originally planned. The political hacks responsible for the linked Times article are obviously suffering from over-exposure to Cameron and the Tory spin machine, e.g. saying Gordon is "keen to be seen"and "keen to give the impression". No, he's genuinely absolutely passionate about the need to get a deal on the table, and it was obvious from today's meeting that he's dying to get stuck into negotiations. It's what he does best, as he's already demonstrated on overseas aid and global financial stability, and may well go on to do over the Tobin tax, an idea whose time may well have come.

Meanwhile I'm searching in vain for evidence of Cameron saying anything meaningful about what he would like to see us achieve in Copenhagen. Do you not think that the Cameron of a few years ago would have been on the first train out there, posing for the cameras as he set off in his Boden catalogue smart-casual clothes? So why has gone all quiet on us?

Well have a look at the comments on here, on Conservative Home. The fact is, whether or not Cameron's own commitment to the green agenda is genuine - and I'm prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on that, despite the fact he once described wind turbines as 'bird blenders' - he has comprehensively failed to take his party with him. A Cameron-led Government with a small to modest size majority would be completely incapable of moving the climate change agenda forward; there would be mutiny in the Tory ranks. He'd basically have to rely on Labour and Lib Dem votes but given how weak this would make him look, and the schisms it would cause within his party, the most likely option is that he will do nothing at all.

Foxes, virgins, Ed Miliband - something for everyone

Been meaning to do a round up for a while of various campaign sites you might be interested in looking at, especially now we're most certainly in election mode. (It's a bit like the first few seconds on a rollercoaster, as you go up and up and up the steep incline, and you know that there is absolutely no way you can avoid going over the top and down. Not that this should be taken as a sign I'm dreading the election. I love rollercoasters, but there are defnitely those moments when you think, why the hell am I doing this? Elections are the same.)

First up, - where you can keep up to date with the negotiations at Copenhagen, and Ed Miliband's attempts to get a deal that is ambitious, effective and fair. Ed has also used this site to mobilise campigners on, for example, an open letter to David Cameron, calling on him to clarify his party's renewable energy policy after Ken Clarke announced there would be no onshore windfarms built under a Tory Government. Ed made a call for co-signatories on Twitter and got 1000 names within an hour, with many more following. Perhaps he should do a similar exercise now that Zac Goldsmith, Cameron's green guru, has declared that there won't be any new nuclear power stations either? And while he's at it, perhaps Cameron could also respond to suggestions (scroll down) that he's getting just a little bit too close to oil and gas companies who are giving the Tories donations? Is that why he's so quiet on green issues, this week, of all weeks?

Second up, check out Some people have accused Labour of getting its priorities wrong in bringing up the fox-hunting issue again. Well it's not us, it's them: the Tories. They've pledged to bring in a free vote on fox-hunting if they're elected, and for Cameron, formerly a keen hunter whose father and grandfather and generations before them were Masters of the Hounds, it's personal. You can use the site to write to your local MP and candidates asking them to make their views clear. (My Tory opponent has said she supports there being a vote on the issue, but she will weigh up all the issues and take the views of her constituents into account before deciding how to vote, which presumably means that (a) she's not definitely anti-hunting and (b) she has no idea that the vast majority of people in Bristol East are).

Thirdly, there's, urging people to show their continued support for the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on tackling international poverty, which is to be enshrined in legislation if Labour wins the next election. (There's a draft Bill being brought forward in this session). Also on Facebook and on Twitter, @LabourCID and a blog (that's Labour Campaign for International Development).

Finally, and this isn't a Labour site, although it was started by me and a Labour activist, there's a Facebook site for first-time voters, called Virgin Voters. The idea is to bring together young people who weren't old enough to vote in 2005 and the MPs and candidates who are after their votes. It's genuinely intended to be cross-party and it's good to see young people already on there talking to each other. It was only launched last week, and not in a big fanfare way, but we're hoping it will take off in the New Year as we start posting stuff on there and people start getting their heads around the fact that there's a General Election coming... (And yes, I have now - just now - discovered there's another Virgin Voters site, which seems to have a lot of members but nothing much has happened on it since the summer - we may have to merge forces!)

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Game on for Gavin!

On a much happier note, I've been on the phone tonight with Gavin Shuker who has very deservedly won the Luton South selection and will be carrying the Labour torch against the Tories, Esther Rantzen et al next May or whenever it is. (And can everyone please stop talking about a possible March 25th election because March 26th is my birthday and I'm worried no-one will notice). Top marks to Gavin for already updating his website with the news, and with his pledges as candidate, though not unexpected as he's made exemplary use of new media during the selection campaign.

Gavin and I both went to Luton Sixth Form College, although I was a few years older than him. (OK, he wasn't even born when I started there... perhaps I should cancel those birthday celebrations after all.) Anyway, Gavin, well done - and game on!

It's so funny, how we don't talk anymore

Rather cross with myself tonight.... and cross that I'm having to resort to blogging about it too.

I'm naturally quite argumentative, not in that I like to provoke confrontation but in that all too often I can't resist rising to the bait. (OK, and sometimes kicking things off too). This is sometimes a good thing, in that it means I engage more and debate more with all sorts of people whereas other MPs might well say 'well, they're obviously a Tory' or 'what do you expect from a Lib Dem' and ignore them. Or especially 'but there's no votes in it'. But it's sometimes a bad thing in that it's easy - particularly on Twitter - to get drawn into online spats.

Such a situation arose tonight when the blogger (sorry, "the UK's most influential political blogger") Iain Dale 'overheard' a conversation between me and someone else, when I was a little disparaging about his magazine, Total Politics. I get sent a free copy as an MP, but don't get round to reading it often. It seems to me a bit lightweight, a bit gossipy, and I don't like the fact that it gives Iain Dale and his sidekick, Shane Greer, a platform on which to appear on various news outlets as supposedly impartial political observers. I accept the magazine is politically balanced, more or less, but that doesn't mean that they are.

Anyway, Iain Dale got upset, as he often does, and bandied around words like 'petty' and 'pathetic', at which point I blocked him. For non-Twitter people that means he can't see my tweets and can't send tweets to me. In other words, in the words of his idol, Cliff Richard, "we don't talk anymore". (And no, that's not a feeble attempt to smear; he loves Cliff, which is his prerogative, if a little weird.)

Some might think this rather an overreaction. Cue all the usual stuff about 'MPs are supposed to be thick-skinned' and 'you're obviously not willing to engage' or 'you only want to talk to people who agree with you', which is patent nonsense, if you look at the number of people I do follow on Twitter and the amount of to-ing and fro-ing I do in conversation with them.

So why did I block him? Partly it's just because he caught me at the wrong time. But also because it seems clear to me that the Tory strategy on Twitter is to try to provoke me into spats, so that I end up spending all night arguing with them rather than engaging with 'real' people. This has the dual purpose of drawing attention to themselves (and most of them are rampant self-publicists), and of making me look like I'm someone who spends all her spare time in undignified online squabbling. It looks especially bad if people come to the argument late, and wonder what on earth is going on.

I therefore have two choices - try to ignore them, which means they're still there as an irritant, or block them so that I can use Twitter for enjoyment and engagement, which is how it should be used. In the case of Iain Dale (and Shane Greer and Tory Bear before him) I've decided to block because, frankly, I'm fed up with them. That's allowed, isn't it?

Also, today, I blocked a young Tory activist who has been going on and on and on at me for months, and I've been very tolerant and patient with her but my patience is now exhausted. (And yes, Einy, you're welcome to comment on here if you want to). Apart from that I've blocked a few libertarians, the BNP and a few people who were being plain nasty. And people offering me Britney Spears videos, which really aren't my sort of thing.

I simply don't agree with those who say that as an elected politician I'm under a 'duty' to engage with absolutely everyone, no matter how unpleasant they are.

Let's get a few things straight: I'm not under any obligation to use Twitter in the first place, or to blog, or to use Facebook, or whatever. I'm not under any obligation to engage with anyone who isn't a constituent. (And even that has its limits: The guy who threatens physical violence against me and my staff? The guy who phones up every Monday for a racist rant?) I do it - the social media stuff - out of choice, and I don't therefore think anyone is in a position to dictate to me how I do it. Criticise by all means, but when Louise Bagshawe (a Tory PPC and chick-lit author) tells me that she 'expects' me to engage with 'the UK's most influential political blogger', well sorry Louise, you have no right to tell me what you 'expect' from me, anymore than I have the right to tell you I 'expect' a sequel to "Sparkles" by year end.

Even the fact I have a Party position, as so-called Twitter Tsar (which isn't what it's called at all but never mind), doesn't bring with it an obligation to put up with insults if I don't feel like it. Judge me if you want for not being able to handle the heat of the kitchen, but it's still my prerogative if I choose to spend what is after all my spare time with people whose company and conversation I enjoy.

Second thing: I accept it was a clumsy move to talk in terms of Iain Dale as not being 'my political equivalent', and that people who don't see the wider picture of Labour/ Tory use of new media would perhaps think I was being rather up myself (to use an even less elegant phrase). Anyone who is in the slightest bit au fait with my activities on Twitter will know that I'm certainly not precious about who I talk to. I talk to Bristol people and Labour activists and teenage Tories, and Esther Rantzen, and people who ask me very silly questions at the behest of a Geordie comedian. The point I was trying to make, in response to Louise Bagshawe saying she 'expects' me to talk to Iain Dale because he's 'the most important' blogger, was that I'm fed up with the Tories sending unelected and unaccountable troops out of the trenches whilst the real politicians hide in their bunkers. How often do you see Dale, Greer, Tory Bear, Guido, Tim Montgomerie, Fraser Nelson, etc, etc as pundits on TV programmes? Where are all the Tory MPs? And it's exactly the same in the blogosphere and on Twitter. This isn't accidental, this isn't because Tory MPs just happen to be busier or less sociable or less able to handle an iPhone. It's because - and I've had this from several reliable sources now - Tory HQ doesn't want their MPs talking online. Everything is being incredibly tightly controlled, so that no-one strays off message, which is why you only see the mavericks like Douglas Carswell and Nadine Dorries and the glorious Ian Liddell-Grainger sticking their necks out.

So the point I was trying to make, albeit clumsily, is that it's easy for the likes of Dale, who is unelected and unaccountable and answerable to no-one (except Andy Coulson (?)) to try to stir things up on Twitter, and provoke a spat. They very rarely do it over politics; they do it over silly little things, usually when their egos have been bruised. People expect a certain standard from me, but not from them, because, frankly, who cares really what the likes of Tory Bear does or says? What they gain from it, at my expense, is publicity, and I'm simply not willing to give it to them. And that includes going on Channel 4 news to discuss head to head with Iain Dale this latest spat. (I thought it was a joke when I first saw the tweet from C4 asking me if I was up for it. The Prime Minister has been in Afghanistan, world leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, and they want to devote part of their airtime to me and Iain Dale talking about why I find him annoying?!)

So - to summarise... I tweet because I want to, when I want to and with whom I want to. And I won't miss Iain Dale, even if he misses me...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I'm Barbara, fly me

Excellent bit of investigative blogging by Stockwood Pete on why the Lib Dem leader of Bristol City Council, Barbara Janke, has decided to fly to Copenhagen for the climate change summit and quite how this squares with Simon Hughes getting all sanctimonious about others doing so.

Obviously Barbara is a very busy woman and while it is valid and sensible and not-at-all anything to do with political point-scoring for Simon Hughes to demand that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and the Secretary of State for International Development, and, indeed the Prime Minister of Great Britain to take the scenic route, and go by train, it would of course be entirely unreasonable to expect her to do the same.

The suggestion that she might perhaps be slightly superfluous to requirements at Copenhagen given that Barack Obama and Gordon Brown and more than 100 other world leaders 'on the case' is of course simply sour grapes on my part. I hope that once she's saved the planet she has time to do some Christmas shopping before she catches her plane home.

Twitter... again!

I've got a piece in the Independent today, written in a bit of a mad rush in a day which included a whips meeting, a DCSF ministerial team meeting, PMQs, the Pre-Budget Report, media on the PBR, votes on the Child Poverty Bill... But here it is, if you're interested.

One of the drawbacks of Twitter is the counterside of one of its strengths; that it's so fast-moving, and you're talking to so many people at once, which is great but it also means that it can be quite difficult to keep up at times and there's a very short time frame during which you can see tweets before more come in and replace them, unless you laboriously plough back through your feed.

When the Ross Noble questions started coming in on Tuesday, I was at a breakfast meeting near Victoria. I walked back down Victoria Street flicking through the tweets on my Blackberry, laughing out loud at at some of them, and formulating answers to questions like "What is it that Meatloaf would not do for love?' (give up burgers? go to the gym?) and one about shooting peasants/ pheasants which would have given me an ideal opportunity for a Cameron shoots peasants gag. But by the time I finally got in front of a computer those tweets had evaporated into the Twittersphere and hundreds more had arrived. Apparently I answered 100 of them, in which case it's slightly worrying that the best things the press could pick out were my suggestion that the wearing of a gorilla suit in the House of Commons chamber is not expressly prohibited and advice to a vegan on what 'cheese' he should buy.

I am still trying to work out whether Ross Noble's first question, 'What role will Billy Ocean play in the General Election campaign?' was inspired because he knew of my longstanding obsession with Billy O (which, I would maintain is entirely consistent with my longstanding obsession with Joy Division and all things miserable and Mancunian) or whether it was entirely random. I've twit-picced him a copy of my Billy Ocean mug, but no response.

And as for those who are asking why he targeted me, after first starting on Doritos and Nutrigrain, I have no idea. He is now on a promise that if he can get a Tory MP to respond to a future Twitter bombardment he can have tea on the terrace and tickets for PMQs. So far his tweets to Tories have fallen on stony ground; in fact I think one of his followers was told to 'go away and stop being so silly.' This is of course yet another compelling reason to vote Labour.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Kerry's guide to PMQs - Wednesday 9th December

*1 Robert Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst):
If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 9 December, followed by a supplementary.

Random Labour backbencher
David Cameron (6 questions)

Random Labour backbencher
Nick Clegg (2 questions)

*2 Mr Graham Allen (Nottingham North): What recent discussions he has had with hon. Members on an all-party approach to policy on early intervention. Followed by a supplementary. (This is unusual, MPs usually all just ask the engagements question, which only gets answered once, but this means Graham gets two answers. Early intervention is something Graham's been championing for many years.)

Random Opposition backbencher
*3 Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes)
Random Opposition backbencher
*4 Derek Twigg (Halton)
Random Opposition backbencher
*5 Keith Vaz (Leicester East)

*6 Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington)
Random Labour backbencher
*7 Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Random Labour backbencher

*8 Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham)
*9 Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury)
Random Opposition backbencher
*10 Jessica Morden (Newport East)
Random Opposition backbencher
*11 Dr Doug Naysmith (Bristol North West)
Doug was no. 1 at PMQs last week - we may not quite get to him this time.

*12 Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire)
*13 Mr Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
Random Opposition backbencher
*14 Alan Simpson (Nottingham South)
Random Opposition backbencher
*15 John Mann (Bassetlaw)

We're not buying what he's selling

While we haven't quite moved into chanting "You're not singing anymore, you're not sing-ing-ing-ing anymore!" at the Tories across the Commons Chamber, there's no doubt that things aren't looking quite so bright for them as the year draws to a close. This has come as a bit of a shock to Conservative MPs, many of whom had been smugly strutting around Westminster as if the red boxes were already in their little paws. There was a distinct air of complacency, as evidenced by the news from my colleagues in marginal seats that Ashcroft money was being diverted from there (which were seen as 'in the bag' by the Tories) to the real long shots, those that would only fall to the Tories in a 1997 landslide scenario.

But now the tide seems to be turning. The Times reports that the Tory campaign team is retrenching, trying to shore up support in the ultra-marginals. Successive opinion polls have shown a trend of the Tory lead narrowing, with the latest Populus poll (see below) leaving the Tories 20 seats short of an overall majority. Factor into that five months of the Tories being subjected to scrutiny - one of the reasons they've done so very badly over the past few weeks - and the usual narrowing of the polls in the governing party's favour during the short campaign, as people move from expressing a protest vote to choosing a preference. Conservative Central Office certainly shouldn't be uncorking the champers yet. (Except it's probably a daily occurence, whether there's something to celebrate or not. Cue cries of 'class warfare' from aggrieved public schoolboys...)

Another sign that the Tories are rattled and that their private polling is telling them things they don't really want to hear, is that Cameron is very clearly following in the footsteps of previous Tory leaders - Hague pre-2001, Howard pre-2005 - and tacking to the right. His ludicrous Elf 'n' Safety speech was just one example, presumably cobbled together in a mad rush to grab a cheap headline as it was soon revealed to be based on the Health and Safety Executive's own collection of Elf 'n' Safety myths. The reversion to Tory type on marriage and single parents is another example (which I will blog about on another occasion, soon). Immigration will no doubt be next. It's clearly designed to shore up their core vote, which they're worried about losing to UKIP. (This is one reason why the Tories are struggling to breach the 40% barrier in the polls; look at the figures for 'Others'. They can't rely on what was always a bogus promise to hold a referendum on Lisbon now, despite even managing to fool Rupert Murdoch into backing them on that basis. So they have to look for other issues. It's all dog-whistle stuff, designed to appeal to right-wing voters).

The other side of this coin is that Cameron is doing much less of the cuddly Cameroonian stuff too. This week saw the fourth anniversary of Cameron's election as Tory party leader. It also saw thousands of people marching through London ahead of Copenhagen, to call for tough action to tackle climate change. The Cameron of 2005 - the cycling to work, posing with huskies Cameron - would have been on The Wave, no doubt about it, claiming the blue clad marchers as his own, pushing his way into every photo-op going. But where were the Tories - not just Cameron, any Tories - on Saturday? Nowhere to be seen. Not even Zac.

Is this because Cameron's got to pander to the climate change deniers - of which there are many - in his own party? Or is it because he no longer has the audacity to claim to be something he patently obviously isn't? Does he realise he's been rumbled? The problem for Cameron is that he hasn't yet 'sealed the deal' in terms of convincing people that he and his party have changed. Four years of being photographed pushing a trolley round Tesco's and having his bicycle stolen and claiming to like the Smiths* hasn't been enough to overcome the residual doubts of those who remember what life was like under a Tory government. Not enough to overcome the suspicion of those who wonder whether someone who served as an economic adviser to Norman Lamont has really changed his spots. (And notice I got through that without mentioning Eton once. Again, that's another blog).

*Cameron was allegedly 'obsessed with' Phil Collins at university. I say 'allegedly' as it's a terrible thing to be accused of if it's not true.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Back the Ban

As the General Election looms into view, MPs are starting to get emails from lobbyists and campaign groups who are obviously preparing themselves for battle. This one arrived today.

"BASC is the largest fieldsports body in the UK. Shooting involves a million people, benefits conservation and provides both recreation and food. Live quarry shooting alone contributes £1.6 billion to the UK economy and £250 million on conservation each year. In the last parliament it enjoyed support from all parties.

One of our objectives is to work for all party support for shooting...... In the months leading up to the election we will be running a campaign site on candidates’ views on shooting. The site will contain a database of candidates and allow our members to email their candidates.

In advance of the launch of the site I would be grateful if you could answer one question that will allow us to put an entry beside your name on the database. Please choose the option that comes closest to your views:

  • I support shooting sports conducted according to the current codes of practice.
  • I am supportive of some aspects of legal shooting sports but have reservations in one or more areas.
  • I am against shooting sports.
  • I do not yet have enough information to make an assessment."

That was an easy one to answer. I've replied (third option, if you really need it spelling out, in which case welcome to my blog as you've obviously not been here before). I've also asked BASC to substantiate their claim that 1 million people are involved in shooting. That sounds like an awful lot of people. Unless 'involved' means simply to eat grouse and pheasant and such like?

This also gives me another opportunity to plug, which I appreciate only applies to fox-hunting, but that's the battle we currently have to fight, given the overwhelming support amongst the Tories for it and Cameron's pledge to hold a vote on hunting as one of the first acts of an incoming Tory Government. (Although judging by tomorrow's Populus poll, that might not be something you have to worry about. And yes, I know the Tories have an 8 point lead, but 38%-30% is definitely game on territory for Labour, and not enough to give Cameron a majority.)

If you haven't signed up to Back the Ban yet, how about doing so to send a signal to the bloodsports brigade before the Boxing Day hunts?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Causes to fight for

Bit of a plug for the Fabian New Year Conference 2010, "Causes to Fight For" Saturday 16 January 2010, Imperial College, London.

"The Fabian Society will hold its annual New Year Conference on Saturday 16th January 2010. The event brings together top speakers from across the political spectrum to debate the most pressing issues of the coming political year.

With a General Election only months away, the Fabians' 2010 conference 'Causes To Fight For' is dedicated to discussing the politics of the General Election and how best to campaign on the causes that unite the left.

Tickets are now available online and can be purchased
here. For further details please visit us here.

Our fantastic line-up includes Ken Livingstone, John Denham MP, Sadiq Khan MP, John Curtice, Jackie Ashley, Nadine Dorries MP, Polly Toynbee, Matthew Taylor, Catherine Fieschi, Peter Kellner, Kerry McCarthy MP, Nick Anstead, James Forsyth, Ellie Gellard, Will Straw, David Babbs, Rachel Reeves, Roger Liddle, Will Hutton and many more."

Great to see Ellie in that line up. First I knew about that! You will also spot a Conservative amidst the ranks. I am told she will be on the panel for ‘Will the real David Cameron please stand up’, debating which strands of Conservative thought the ‘new’ Conservatives aspire to, with Fabians General Secretary Sunder Katwala and Polly Toynbee. Should be very interesting...

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cameron doesn't do his homework

I don't know much David Cameron's parents paid for his education* but I'm beginning to think it wasn't money well spent. He doesn't for example, seem to have acquired the basic ability to do a little bit of homework before spouting forth on an issue. (Do they have homework at boarding schools? Do they get their fags to do it? Who knows... just been slightly sidetracked by looking on the Eton website. They have dames there. I have visions of pantomine dames flouncing around the refectory, making smutty gags about the spotted dick + custard).

To return to topic... On Monday Cameron was forced to apologise to the House for getting his facts wrong at PMQs when he accused the Government over funding given to two Islamic schools. It now transpires that not only did he get his basic facts wrong about the schools in question and the Government funding, which has been well-documented elsewhere, but he also failed to check what his own party was up to on the getting cosy with Hizb-ut-Tahrir front.

And now he's at it again, with his health and safety speech. If you want a serious analysis of it you could do worse than look at Hopi Sen's blog. But just to pull out a few choice pieces...

  • Cameron attacks the absurdity of making kids wear goggles when they play conkers. This is an old chestnut (ho, ho) but in its latest incarnation it hails from a school in East Cheshire which is, you've guessed it, Conservative run. The Health and Safety Executive has said that "the dangers of a game of conkers has been exaggerated and there was no national ban".
  • A woman was refused the loan of a pair of scissors because of health and safety concerns in a library in Camden. That's Tory/ Lib Dem run Camden.
  • A lollipop man was banned from tying tinsel to his lollipop (and no, that's not a metaphor) by Tory Hampshire County Council.
  • Tory controlled Sherbourne Council in Dorset branded a pensioner who voluntarily cleared rubbish from a disused allotment next to her own a 'vigilante' and ordered her to desist immediately.
  • Tory run Dudley council has said roadside snack vans will be forced to close unless they offer healthy alternatives such as salads and yoghurts.
  • And this is the best one... A gardener in Bromsgrove who fenced off his allotment with a 3 foot high ring of barbed wire after thieves stole £300 of equipment has been ordered to take it down by the Tory council - in case intruders scratch themselves!

"I'm not going to rant on about it all being political correctness gone mad (although it is). what it demonstrates is that these councils are presided over by weak politicians who have little control over the officers. It's about time they learned what the word Conservative actually means." Iain Dale, 'Supine Tory Councillors need to control their officers', 1/11/2008.

*Most up to date figure I can find, doing a miniscule amount of homework myself, is £26,940 a year in 2007.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The blog post that never was

Well I was planning to blog about the Tories' broadside on single parents, which is something I feel very strongly about, but I'm not sure I have the mental energy to do so tonight.

I'm always keen to give a bit of a plug to new bloggers, especially young ones of the Labour variety, and don't really do it often enough. So tonight when a young woman called Bryony said she was going to blog about why the Tories were wrong about marriage, I encouraged her to do so, and told her to be sure to tweet the link. When she did, I RT'd it, without at that stage actually having read it because I was on my Blackberry and it's difficult to download some sites. That's not a disclaimer though; I've read the piece since, and I think it's very good. Here it is.

Several hours later I logged onto Twitter, to discover that a row had broken out. Nadine Dorries MP, whose blog post was criticially dismantled by Bryony in her piece, was accusing me of mounting a personal attack on her on here. She - Nadine - was not responding to requests from various people to explain what on earth she was talking about. She then accusing me of having removed the offensive blog post from here and said 'I wonder why'. I haven't. It wasn't my blog!

Anyway, I don't want to say anymore about it. It's rather spoiled my evening. I do want to blog about the marriage/ single parent issue at some point, however. It's appalling that the Tories, seeing their poll lead shrink, have pulled this one out of the bag yet again. Not much sign of the compassionate Conservatives these days...

Curry with Eric Pickles - Labour comes out fighting

Tories offer their supporters a curry with Eric Pickles; we offer a night out with Eddie Izzard. I will leave you to decide what is the more attractive option, but if pick Eric, you're either insane or very hungry. (And bear in mind, he's probably going to eat quite a lot of it himself...) Anyway, here's an email from Miliband the Younger:

"With only a few days to go until the Copenhagen summit, thousands of people are playing their part in getting a deal.

Eddie Izzard is offering you the chance to win two tickets to his Wembley gig on Saturday if you email your friends about the Ed's Pledge campaign by Wednesday. Click to ask your friends to support Ed’s Pledge now Thousands of people will also be attending the Wave march in London on Saturday. The more people who attend, the stronger our voice will be. I hope to see you there.

Sign your friends up to the campaign now – and be entered into a draw to win Eddie Izzard ticketsIn the days before the Copenhagen summit, it’s essential that every last voice stands up and says that we must get a deal. Bring your friends into the campaign to secure a real climate change deal at Copenhagen

Thank you, Ed"

Cameron gets it wrong again

Yesterday saw Cameron apologise in the Commons for getting his facts wrong at PMQs last week, with Michael Gove, who started the whole thing cringing beside him. Before he starts whistling for his dog about Labour being soft on extremism and groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Cameron really ought to do his homework. And that includes checking out what his own party is up to in Bradford, according to this blogpost.