Saturday, October 13, 2007

Marriage is suddenly OK, Conservatives setting agenda again

For years politicians fought shy of marriage. Inept presentation by the Conservatives coupled with their own indiscretions made marriage-neutral policy the norm. In fact, the welfare systems developed by Gordon Brown are more than that, they have financial discouragements to marriage. This is not so much a bad thing as barking mad. Morals aside, repeated quantitative analysis of the outcomes for children show that those raised in a stable relationship outperform those from any other situation in every regard. In terms of academic achievement, absence of drug use, lack of criminal activity, economic success and even good mental health there isn't so much as a gap, but a gulf. And guess what? Marriages are more stable, make that much more stable, that any cohabitation arrangements. Now, that is the trend, but it isn't true in every case. There are examples of heroic single parents whose children have been wildly successful, in the same way as there are examples of 93-year olds who have smoked two packs a day and never got lung cancer. But, you don't base public policy only on the extremes, either for supporting marriage or smoking prevention.

The sea-change started with Iain Duncan-Smith who instead of sulking when he lost the leadership of the Conservative Party organised some serious research into social policy. He came to the conclusion that marriage should be supported. Without giving out any credit, the government's recent U-turn on inheritance tax only applies to Married couples or those in civil partnerships. Now Andrew Burnham, Labour's Chief Secretary to the treasury and also adopted the Conservative line. It is inconceivable that he would freelance on this issue, so he must be preparing the ground for something, and not before time. Now we have Gordon Brown's vision laid bare, it's whatever David Cameron thinks.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Gordon Brown probably should watch this, unless he has abruptly developed a sense of humour, and some general emotional balance. Otherwise, I won't be held responsible for the consequences.

Funding established for Basildon Sporting Village Project

There was an item at Basildon Council's cabinet last night to set up the funding structure for our Sporting Village Project. For those not familiar; this is to build a world-class sports complex including a 50m competition pool, gymnastics hall, with supporting athletics track, climbing walls, weights, physiotherapy, pitches of various kinds and so on. The idea is that it can service all needs from elite sports through to leisure and therapeutic, and for the entire District. Because of the quality of the facility it can act as a support to the 2012 Olympics. It is also desperately needed because Basildon's existing sporting infrastructure is deteriorating beyond economic repair. Now, a project like this is pretty expensive, even to run, never mind the actual build costs. Fortunately, the Communities and Local Government department have stumped up the £1m we need to get things going, and the meeting last night was to factor it into the Council's budget. Whatever the rest of the government might get up to, I have found the CLG regeneration arm to be very supportive of our ambitions for Basildon District. It was a pity that the Labour members on the Cabinet did not feel able to vote for the project establishment, but they are still hung up on the delivery model, which will see a private company design, build, operate and maintain the facility. Of course this will be to the Council's standards, especially on price, but there seems to be a Socialist thing going on here. I thought we finished this with argument sometime in the early 80s, but apparently not.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cameron slaughters Brown at PMQs

A lot has been said about the mugging that passed for parliamentary procedure which occurred yesterday. It had been widely predicted that Brown would get a kicking from Cameron, and he did. Simon Hoggart sums it up pretty well in the Guardian, and if this is the view of the centre-left press then a Labour Prime Minister must know how badly things went. Do PMQs matter though? William Hague was pretty good against Tony Blair, but it never translated into electoral support. So, can the Brownites laugh it off as the doings of the Westminster bubble, disconnected from the real world? Well, there are some key differences between the Hague/Blair dynamic and what the situation today. Most importantly, Tony Blair always operated inside a coherent political strategy that he did not allow to be deflected by short-term events. He also had a very good team around him, who understood how to operate in the face of the modern media. The other thing was that while Hague often spoke very well, Blair was pretty good too and he was always willing to laugh at himself in a way that kept the whole affair pretty good-humoured. For Brown, in contrast, strategy seems to consist of lurching from one short-term wheeze to another and his media operation seems to think that you can tell bare-faced, obvious lies and no-one will know or care. His personal performance is also pretty bad, and he loses his temper far too easily. It was also astonishing how little support he seemed to get from his own troops in the House. In fact it seemed that they were genuinely appalled at his poor performance.

Does it matter? I think that it does, not because we have a good speaker up against a weaker opponent, but because it illustrates that we have a good leader up against a weaker opponent. And people are noticing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Darling steals Conservative Ideas on Inheritance Tax

What a great political stunt, lifting your political opponents ideas and passing them of as your own. Look at how Brown grinned as Conservative Inheritance Tax proposals were repackaged and parroted by Darling; that will show Cameron and his crowd, won't it? In fact I suspect that the more politically savvy members of the Labour Party are holding their heads in despair at this latest stunt. The trick to political leadership, especially for a Prime Minister, is to be seen to rise above the party political battle, to reach out to the broad sweep of your people, and to do what is right for the country. Tony Blair understood this, so did Margaret Thatcher, and Bill Clinton was a great exponent in the US. The reason why this is a good idea is two-fold, firstly because it is actually what a national leader should do, and secondly because it encourages electoral support from people across the political spectrum, not just your own base. The statesman was the narrative that Brown promoted for his first 100 days, and that he has junked in the last two weeks. Yesterday, he went for the partisan, again, which is good for a headline, but toxic to any attempt to build the kind of broad centre-left coalition that Tony Blair managed to maintain. Worse, by lifting Conservative ideas on tax-cuts he actually legitimised both Conservative ideas and tax-cuts, and both will be harder to dismiss in the future. David Cameron has certainly figured this out, and in today's PMQ's he went for Brown in a way that would have just looked petty before.

Darling looks like Brown's puppet and Brown looks like the leader of the Labour Party, which is a world away from looking like a Prime Minister. As for David Cameron, he looks like a winner and it is a measure of the sea-change that even Simon Heffer was writing nice things about the Conservatives in today's Telegraph. Brown may live to regret not calling that November election.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Brown in a hole over cancelled election, keeps digging

Gordon Brown had a strategy on taking over as Prime Minister. He would announce the end of spin, say that parliament would now be the first to hear about matters of import, and he would rise above petty party politics, bringing Tories and LibDems into his big statesmanlike tent. It was a total contrast to Tony Blair and it was pretty popular. The British people liked it and so did some Conservatives, particularly Quentin Davies. It was working almost too well, because success tempted him into a run at an early election, with all the attendant partisan politics, which was particularly marked by a return to Labour spin. A successful narrative, of Brown the strong, honest leader was ditched for Brown the man who crushes all opposition. It didn't go down nearly so well with the country, especially as David Cameron and the Conservatives did what people usually do when you back them into a corner; they came out fighting. So far, so bad, with the election called off and a weekend of absolutely awful media. Now Labour is trying to claim that the slipping opinion polls had nothing to do with the decision not to have an election. This after the critical meeting of Brown and his team, whose main feature was a presentation by a pollster, was widely reported in the Sunday papers. Lying is bad. Lying when everyone knows you are lying is moronic. It destroys credibility and reputation and it risks turning a short-term fiasco into permanent damage. No-one is buying it, certainly not the media as anyone who saw Adam Boulton from Sky New's demolition of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith when she tried to stick to this story would attest. Still, that is the line that Brown has been peddling today.

David Cameron has accused Brown of not being 'straight with the public'. Everyone else just thinks Brown is lying.