Saturday, October 06, 2007

Brown folds in election poker game

Cameron raised and Brown sat sweating with a pair of tens agonised and then threw in his hand. No election in 2007, and maybe none in 2008. After weeks of will-he, wont-he , Brown has decided not to call an early poll, and as a result looks like an indecisive fool. When we get the backstory on this it may turn out that it was all a clever wheeze on the part of someone in the Labour team just to put the Tories under a bit of pressure. You can almost imagine the pitch, 'we're up in the polls so we pretend we're thinking about going to the country and watch Cameron squirm', cue sniggers from all those attending. The trouble is that in politics, and in life, it is possible to be a bit too clever and end up outsmarting yourself. Plans that depend on your adversary doing something really do depend on their co-operation and human beings being difficult to predict are laden with the danger that they may do something else entirely. The Conservatives came out fighting instead of weaselling about there being no need for an election. They didn't divide, they united, taking a big bite out of Labour's poll lead and putting together a compelling and coherent case to put to the British people. Brown's attempt at spin just showed that he's not really that good at it, with his dodgy story about troop withdrawals unravelling almost before he had finished announcing it. Suddenly an election looked dicey, and talk of an election looked increasingly damaging. Brown has clearly decided to cut his losses and in so doing looks much weaker than if he had never listened to the bright spark who thought this idea up in the first place. In contrast, Cameron looks stronger than ever.

To put it in Essex language, Brown bottled it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Brown opens Basildon Hospital, again

Gordon Brown has been to Basildon again, after all the local MP, Angela Smith, is his Parliamentary Private Secretary. This time he was opening the new cardiothoracic centre at Basildon Hospital in a blaze of publicity. The trouble is that the place is already open, and has been since July. Brown needed a photo opportunity in Basildon and this is what the Labour Party cooked up. Is it actually possible for these people to do anything honestly? I suppose that we should be grateful that he was actually there and his photo wasn't added in afterwards like another Labour minister at another recent hospital opening, if it was a real hospital opening? How can you tell anymore?

In other news it appears that BNP leader Nick Griffin will be a candidate for Thurrock in any forthcoming election. This is about as welcome as syphilis. The BNP are a pretty unpleasant bunch and having their boss down our way is only going to mean more of their activities round here. Of course, they have a perfect right to stand for election, but I also have a perfect right to detest them.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Election or not?

One theory is that World War One started because the German army could not halt their mobilisation process once it had started. So it may be with Brown and the Labour Party. There are very good reasons why a November election would be a huge gamble for Brown, but by letting the speculation go on for so long and by starting to make tentative preparations what may have been a wheeze to destabilise the Conservative Party has taken on a life of its own. Put simply, if Brown backs off now then he will look weak and scared, both of which are fatal to a leader's standing. The calculation may have been that the Conservatives would fracture during their conference and that Brown's stunt at Basra would divert attention from anything that they might be saying. Instead, the conference was a triumph, capped by the best performance by a British political leader for a very long time. Meanwhile, Brown's expedition to Iraq attracted nothing but scorn for the way he tried to use our army as political puppets. The latest YouGov poll has the Labour lead down to four points from eleven a week ago and suddenly Brown is in danger of having outsmarted himself. So, does he try to stop the trains carrying the infantry to the front, or does he resign himself to 'rolling the iron dice'? The last person who had that choice got it very wrong indeed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Brown spinning like Blair, Cameron offers hope

Gordon Brown announces that 1000 troops are to come home from Iraq while on the ground in Basra. It was a political stunt right in the middle of Conservative Party conference, and it included 500 soldiers whose return had already been announced, hundreds of whom were already back in the UK. So, straight man Brown is spinning, which he promised not to do, and making announcements on the TV instead of to Parliament, which he also promised not to do. Different PM, same spin.

Meanwhile, David Cameron was speaking, offering hope for families, the military, those in fear of crime and those struggling to get on to the housing ladder or whose pensions had disappeared when their employers failed. He offered hope that something can actually be done, not just spun, about the issues that people actually care about and Brown's cynical use of our soldier's courage stands in stark contrast. Brown is another cynical machine politician from a cynical machine party that has lost touch with everything they used to stand for. The sooner they are gone the better.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Conservatives tackle poor Cancer survival rates

Cancer is very bad news, trust me on this, and the fact that about a quarter of us will get it in some form of another during our lives should be enough for everyone to take it seriously. That begs the question why Britain is near the bottom of the European league when it comes to cancer survival rates. Put simply, you are more likely to die, or die sooner of cancer in Britain than in any other European country. Given our large and successful pharmaceutical industry and the fact that we spend more on cancer research than just about any other European country it is hard to see why this is. One clue is the process by which drugs are licensed, or in some cases not licensed for cancer treatment. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, or cost effectiveness depending on your view, has a history of taking its time over allow a particular treatment and sometimes of just ruling out the use of a drug despite its wide acceptance elsewhere. This made the England just about the only place in the developed world where you couldn’t get Velcade for Myeloma, and that includes Scotland where a separate process licensed the treatment without any fuss. That particular situation resolved itself when the drug company did a financial deal with NICE, which gives you a clue on the diving consideration in their processes. Anyway, the Conservative Party at least is going to do something about this if it becomes the government, changing NICE’s processes so that drugs are considered more quickly, so that we don’t get a situation where a treatment that is routine on the continent is still on clinical trial in England. That is certainly good news, both for patients and for the research doctors who show so much commitment in trying to do the best by their patients. Meanwhile, Labour thinks the NHS is due another pointless reorganisation. Keeps the management consultants happy I suppose.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Conservative Tax Cuts

Good stuff from Conservative Party conference, tax cuts to raise the level of inheritance tax to a starting point of £1m and to abolish Stamp Duty for first-time buyers on properties costing up to £250,000. Inheritance Tax is simply not fair, and nearly everyone knows it. While it was only paid by the very wealthy it was just about defensible, but now that just about every house-owner in the South, and quite a few elsewhere, would get hit, then it really cannot stand. Some people in criticising this point to the relatively small number of people it affects every year, ignoring the inexorable upward trend that will eventually catch the majority of people in many communities. Then there is carping about ‘unearned income’. Unearned? I earned my money and paid tax on it and who is the government to say I can’t give it to my children? How can you have strong families if the government conspires to confiscate family wealth?

The move on Stamp Duty is inspired; property owning is at the heart of Conservatism, because that is how you give people a stake in their society and community. Getting people onto the property ladder should be a government priority, not piling on taxes and the ridiculous Home Information Packs. The good news is that they are going too.

The really clever thing is how this is to be funded in the form of a flat £25000 levy on earners with a non-domicile status. There could have been a policy to try and increase the regulation or taxation on offshore money, but that would only have made work for tax lawyers and specialist accountants. This is simple and transparent, and if non-domiciled workers find themselves worse off then the answer is clear; change to pay tax in Britain. So, we have a tax neutral proposal that still helps to push wealth into the hands of ordinary people. That’s pretty good.

What was that about an election?