Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Dilemma Over

Seems I now don't need to worry about who to vote for in the
Labour leadership election after all. John McDonnell has
tonight conceded defeat in the nominations process - he was
16 nominations short of the required 44, while Gordon Brown
has eceived the backing of 308 Labour MPs, a figure which
makes it impossible for anyone to stand against him and
means he will now become Labour leader and enter Number 10
unopposed. That was a bit of an anti-climax, wasn't it?

Monday, 14 May 2007

Contest for Labour

The latest on the Labour leadership contest is in - there will be a contest. John McDonnell claims he now has the necessary 44 Labour MPs supporting his nomnation, Michael Meacher having 'graciously' stepped aside to allow McDonnell to go ahead. I've not yet reached a firm decision as to who'll get my vote, but I happen to agree that it's in the spirit of a democratic socialist party to have an election rather than a coronation (that's the Tory's territory). May the best man win!

PS: I wonder if, should the unlikely happen and McDonnell is elected, he and Meacher will have a Blair-Brown style relationship, and whether we might see history repeat itself in 10 years' time? What momentous political times we live in =)

Taking the rough with the smooth

Last week I commented on what I saw as neglect on the part of Madeleine McCann's parents. It's not something that's gone down well, but it's reassuring to know I'm not the only cold-hearted monster who's dared to speak out on the issue.

While the mainstream media stay quiet and focus instead on the ongoing investigation into Madeleine's disappearance, the BBC's editors blog carries a few comments from disgruntled readers who, like me, can't understand the reluctance in the press to report what is on most people's minds. It's all very well arguing that to do would be an intrusion into the lives of the McCann family, or that it would be detrimental to the progress of the police's work, but that hasn't stopped the media - BBC included - from creating a media circus around the situation.

The same BBC blog reports that they've resisted the temptation to which other news organisations have succumbed, in broadcasting 'news' which turns out to be nothing more than rumours. To do that is without a doubt irresponsible journalism and wholly unhelpful in finding Madeleine. But both here and in Portugal there exists a free press. The McCanns rightly appreciate that they need media publicity as the search for Madeleine goes on, but they have to accept too that they're going to come in for some flak, and will need to learn to take the rough with the smooth.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Blair and Brown to 'share' power

As if the past ten years haven't seemed like enough of a
co-premiership, Labour's choice of dates for the leadership
timetable (released this evening) reveal that for a three
day period between 24 and 27 June, Tony Blair will still be
Prime Minister, but Gordon Brown (or one of his rivals, if
the unlikely happens) will be Labour leader. Should make for
interesting stuff...

Brown v Cameron: Round 1

Okay, I admit it. Unable to sleep, I caught the start of Sunday AM on BBC1 this morning. This is an unusual occurrence for me - political TV programmes aren't usually my thing, though a bit of Jeremy Paxman's grilling around election time is never a bad thing - but it gave me the chance to see Gordon Brown in action.
So what is there to report? Not a lot really, except that he sounded dangerously Thatcher-like as he talked about what was effectively stakeholder democracy - that view that says possession of property guarantees a desire to work for society's good.
He certainly didn't impress on me anything that might have me change my view; that he's as worthy as any politician and likely to continue the Blair legacy, but still lacks the charisma that his soon-to-be-predecessor has by the bucketload. But that doesn't seem to have affected public opinion much so far - Brown's imminent takeover has pushed Labour's up hold on the polls by 3%, meaning the party is now only trailing Cameron's Tories by four points. Will Brown prove popular enough to regain the lead? We can only wait and see.

Eurovision Shame

So, the UK's Eurovision entry has come joint second-last, narrowly only avoiding a re-run of Gemini's 'nil points'. I didn't see any of the contest bar a strange woman carrying a suitcase as part of her performance, but I'm told that by about half ten we still hadn't earned a single vote. In any case, we only managed two votes, from Malta and Ireland.

I do have the slightest claim to fame, though - I once interviewed Scooch, as founding editor of my primary school magazine. Oh, the horror of it.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Maddy's parents aren't without blame

The situation in the Algarve with missing three year old Madeleine McCann remains horrific. It's now been eight days since she disappeared, and no-one can truly begin to understand the pain her parents must be going through. But to leave them completely blameless for her disappearance would be incredibly naïve.
Who, after all, leaves a child of that age alone in a hotel room, sleeping or otherwise? Perhaps it might be easier to accept if we were talking about relatively uneducated people here, but we're not. Mr and Mrs McCann, both medical professionals, are presumably well-educated. They should have the common sense to appreciate that as parents they have a responsibility to care for their children, and that that means either paying a babysitter (they were available at the hotel and, let's face it, the McCann's aren't short of a few bob) or foregoing their meal if that's the only other option.
Of course I have sympathy for the family - no decent person wouldn't. And maybe what I'm about to say is slightly harsh. But I'm firmly of the view that if this had happened in the UK, the parents would be guilty of neglect and ought to be prosecuted accordingly.
Perhaps we're wrong to talk about this while the search for Madeleine is ongoing. Perhaps the media's attention should focus on helping the police investigation rather than making criticisms. Perhaps that's the case. But this needs to be said.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

The end of an era..and the start of another

Today seems, with Tony Blair having announced his 27 June departure from Downing Street, an apt day to begin my new blog. His announcement is of course one which has been long coming, but it's still enough to sadden Blairites like myself. Everyone knows he doesn't want to go yet, and the biggest mistake he made was to announce his intention not to seek a fourth term of office - that's where all the problems of the past couple of years stem from.

Still, we have reason to celebrate and to be proud. I remember very little about the day of the first of three successive Labour election victories - for me, renditions of 'Things Can Only Get Better' are just a combination of tiny snippets of my memory as a nine year old and ideas I guess I've put together since, based on what I've watched and read of late. But the past ten years have without doubt been a huge success for this Labour government and, by default, the Labour movement as a whole. We now have Bank of England independence, to avoid a repeat of Black Wednesday's sky-rocketing interest rates suited to the political climate. We at last have peace in Northern Ireland, for which few people can take credit but Tony Blair himself. We have a national minimum wage, ensuring that everyone is paid a decent salary (16 and 17 year olds might only have a guaranteed £3.30 hourly wage now, but let's not forget that before 1997 that itself didn't exist).

We have greater equality in all walks of life; between the genders and irrespective of race, origin, sexuality...the list goes on. And however much people cry about ever-easier exams and excessive levels of testing, we undeniably have a better school system than we've seen before. Of course there is still loads more to do - Tony Blair admitted himself today that expectations were set too high in Labour's first election campaign under his watch - but nobody ever said that ten years of Labour would resolve the wreckage inflicted by 18 years of ineffective Tory rule and economic mismanagement.

Tony Blair has, of course, made mistakes; that much there's little doubt about. The Iraq war has undoubtedly been the biggest and clearly the most controversial of those errors of judgement, and it's been one of the few major issues over which I've had reason to disagree with the government during the past decade. The fact that Tony Blair had experienced such a long honeymoon period until the eve of and follow-up to Iraq makes the whole escapade, for me as a Blair supporter, even worse. It's impossible to know how his premiership might have panned out differently if it hadn't been for the whole WMD shenanigans, but different it almost certainly would have been.

The difficulty now seems to lie in knowing where the Labour Party goes next. Gordon Brown of course looks set to be our next leader and Prime Minister, and whether that happens by coronation or an election battle against a more extreme left winger seems a pretty moot point. I've no doubt that Gordon Brown makes a sound cabinet-level politician policy wise, and I have next to no qualms with his work so far at the Treasury, but few doubt that he lacks the charisma that Tony Blair himself personifies. As a party we face an ever greater challenge from the Tories and, when David Cameron has himself caught on quite well to the battle for public appeal, it's something that definitely needs due care and attention.

What's important to remember is that David Cameron's Tories are just that - they are Tories. They are not compassionate, liberal, modern or social conservatives; as Just-call-me-Dave said himself, he is 'conservative to the core of my being'. This is not just Labour spin; this is the truth. Cameron may have made an attempt to re-style the Tory party as a friendly, approachable bunch who care about Britain's welfare more than they do about filling their own pockets. Arguably he may even have done a pretty good job. But those looking just that little bit further can see that the raw, angry Thatcherism beneath has not disappeared. Cameron is still a man of no policy, and that's precisely where the problem lies for him at the moment; he's trying to be Monsieur Tout-le-Monde and that just won't hold once he starts detailing policy. In fact it makes you wonder if Tony Blair's comments today (about how easy it is to please everyone while you're in opposition, compared with having to make actual decisions one way or another once you're in office) weren't directed as a jibe at David Cameron.

The next seven weeks will certainly be interesting - as well as being our final chance to devour some true Blairism (and John Prescott's going, too, in a double blow!), it's his final chance to secure his legacy. And if we're being truthful with ourselves, he's got plenty to boast about.