31 August 2012

Friday favourite 74

This week it is Old Reekie's finest stonemason, blues artist and jobbing actor - Tam White.  One of his claims to fame is to be the first person to sing live on Top of the Pops.  He also attended Darroch secondary - better known in my day as James Gillespies Annexe.  Here he is performing live in his home town in the year before his untimely death in 2010.

30 August 2012

Clegg supporters' circle the wagons

Matthew Oakeshott's sensible advice in the Grauniad that the Lib Dems should look at 'strategy and management' in trying to turn round their dire poll ratings has been seized on as a call for a new leader.  Cable loyalist Oakeshott may well have intended it to be so, but it shouldn't be the case.

Sadly, the reaction from Clegg's spin doctors and advisors - wheeling out Paddy Ashdown, Simon Hughes and Tim Farron in his support - made Oakeshott's case for him.

It goes without saying that a change of strategy is needed.  The constant relaunches of Clegg and policy flip flops, forced 'differentiation' with the Tories and kite flying have all the hallmarks of the dying days of the Brown administration.

It's this PR led search for publicity that has so called 'cut-through' - getting into people's non-short term memories - that is the problem - not the solution.  'Alarm clock Britain' may well have delighted the youthful PR types who make up the bulk of Clegg's advisers as it had 'cut through' - but it only did so because it was ugly, ludicrous and confirmed everything a now sceptical audience thought about Clegg's political naievity.

Successful political campaigns aren't built on a day's or a week's or even a month's media coverage - they are built over time on consistent values and messaging.  Clegg's problem is that in trying to turn his image around he is constantly shifting further and further away from the things that made him attractive to people in the spring of 2010.

So Oakeshott is right - those who advise Clegg have failed to understand the basic necessities of political campaign management.  They have no strategy for government and seemingly no idea how to turn things around.

As they say in the wonderful world of Scottish football - Clegg's 'coat is on a shoogly peg'.  But in my view he clearly has the talent and ability to turn it around.  The question however is does he have the political nouce to understand that spin and PR are part of the problem and the political kahunas to do something about it?

Romney's Programme for Economic Recovery - "is like 'Fifty Shades of Grey' without the sex"


The Economist sticks the boot into Republican hopeful Mitt Romney on the eve of his convention speech.

29 August 2012

Media vultures start to circle Clegg

It is clear Nick Clegg is in trouble.  His poll ratings are dire and show no sign of improvement.  Even the mainly loyal readership of Lib Dem Voice are split down the middle on whether he should continue as leader.  And his advisers seem to be floundering about looking for anything that might turn things around.  Or at least that can only be the reason for Clegg's sudden conversion to taxing the rich, having voted to do the opposite in this year's budget.

Now the Guardian's Martin Kettle has waded into the debate with a thoughtful piece which makes the case for change at the top of the party.

27 August 2012

Reshuffle speculation

Given all the speculation about a cabinet reshuffle I thought it's time to re-enter the debate.  Here's a reminder of my suggestions from January last year...

Cabinet reshuffle.

26 August 2012

Donald Gorrie

Donald Gorrie was a giant of Edinburgh politics.  He was first elected to the corporation in the early 70's - and had been on the scene ever since - in various roles.  This Beeb piece while boringly accurate doesn't do him justice.

There are a huge number of things to say about Donald Gorrie - and lots of them will come out over the next few days and weeks.

But let's be clear Donald was absolutely clear the Scottish Lib Dems made a strategic mistake in refusing to deal with Alex Salmond in 2007 (and before).  And events since then have proved him right...

The definition of a hero...

24 August 2012

Friday favourite 73

Stumbled across this on YouTube a few days ago - David Frost with John Betjeman (among others) from 1968 with the Stones opening the show.  Sadly parts 2 and 3 don't appear to be available.  But enjoy anyway.

23 August 2012

ComRes poll exposes Clegg's strategy

In all the discussion over the future (or lack thererof) of Nick Clegg in this week's Lib Dem Voice poll, one bit of opinion research has been somewhat glossed over.

Earlier this week ComRes published the results of a poll which asked:

'Do you agree or disagree that being in coalition with the Conservatives has shown the Liberal Democrats to be a credible party of government?'

This is in essence the strategy oft annunciated by Clegg and devised by his former adviser Richard Reeves.  Their argument is that years of opposition has meant that the voting public simply see the party as a repository of protest votes and a period in government is a the key to breaking the glass ceiling of around 25% support that the party has struggled to overcome.  The strategy is somewhat silent on what the party should do in its time in government - simply being in government is supposed to do the trick.

Well the voting public have sent Messers Clegg and Reeves a rather big rasberry.  ComRes found that just 18% of the voting public agreed that the Lib Dems are a credible party of government with 61% disagreeing.  Among those who voted Lib Dem in 2010, 33% agreed and 49% disagreed.

Being in government was never going to be enough - it's what the party does there that is vital.  The party needs a coherent message about what it is doing in government and why people should vote for more of it in 2015.  If it can't do that it will deservedly lose next time round. 

But the problem is when your so called strategist confuses means (being in government) with ends (what you do) it is impossible to answer the question.  Let's hope whoever replaces the hapless Mr Reeves does actually understand political strategy - but given the party's predisposition to employing policy wonks I fear it will simply carry on being in government until an ungrateful electorate throws it out in 2015.

18 August 2012

Friday favourite 72

Well with the imprisonment by the new Communist regime in Moscow of three members of a pretty poor punk combo, there is only one possible choice.  What is most abhorrent about the case is the Russian state's use of psychiatry to justify their actions - just like the old Socialists.  The act of protest is not a sign of mental illness and was comprehensively debunked in the 60s and 70s.  I'm not sure even the Chinese use it as an excuse in their repression these days...

17 August 2012

Telegraph reveals Gove's playing field sales cover up

The breaking news this evening is that the Department for Education has failed to reveal the full extent of the school playing fields sold off under the coalition.  Well that's what the Telegraph reports anyway.

In a rebuttal widely re-posted on the web including by the esteemed Mark Pack DfE figures were quoted showing that just 21 playing fields had been approved for sale by Michael Gove.  Now it appears that 30 have been approved of which four involved Gove going against the advice of the gloriously named QUANGO the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel.

It seems to me that fundamentally nothing really has changed between theses two sets of figures - other than the credibility of another mega Whitehall department is further reduced.

To me the bigger point is why on earth is a Whitehall department taking these sort of decisions?  Why do we need a QUANGO to advise ministers on this issue?  And why are taxpayers footing the bill for this central bureaucracy?

Surely whether a school sells off its playing field is a decision for the school, the community most effected and the local council who have to deal with the planning implications? 

The best thing Michael Gove could do is to return this sort of decision to local communities, sack his advisers and abolish the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel.  But I suspect he'll be dragged out to make some half hearted apology and take on even more power to 'make sure it doesn't happen again'.

16 August 2012

Is this the long promised Scots Tory breakaway?

Ever since Ruth Davidson defeated Murdo Fraser for the leadership of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party rumours have circulated that elements (possibly including Fraser) were thinking of setting up a party free of London control.

Cameron's candidate, Davidson, defeated Fraser for the leadership last November in a campaign that saw Fraser and his supporters call for the abolition of the existing party and the creation of a new Scottish centre right party.

So the emergence of a party called the 'Scottish Progressives' with a rather slick website is an interesting development.

The Progressives in Scotland have a long history (at least in municipal politics) and had dozens of councillors in Scotland's main cities as late as the 1970s.  This latest incarnation claims to be a continuation of that tradition - but its policy positions appear more 1980s student union.

It will be interesting to see whether the Scottish Progressives attract any of the Fraserites or if they are just another right wing faction - albeit with a nice website...

15 August 2012

We shouldn't mourn Virgin trains

For some sort of unknown reason there appears to be a lot of sympathy for Richard Branson and his Virgin group for losing out on the West Coast rail franchise.  But I for one don't share it.

Virgin trains were one of the first rail franchises and were responsible for changing the travelling experience for the worse for the majority of rail passengers.  Out went buffet cars, dining cars and tables in standard class.  In came the shop, airline style food and aircraft seating.  Dining cars became just another first class carriage because it allowed them to cram the maximum number of fare paying passengers into a fixed formation train.

And as a result all the other rail franchises eventually followed the Virgin model - ending last May when East Coast finally succumbed.  And the UK's railways are much the worse for it as a result.

12 August 2012

Remembering Sid Waddell

The sad news that commentator Sid Waddell has died is a double blow - for the world of darts and for fans of the English language. 

Waddell was a fine commentator - probably the last in the BBC tradition of professional enthusiasts whose commentaries oozed with knowledge, research and analysis.  The late great Bill McLaren was another.

Sadly we won't see the likes of Waddell or McLaren again as the BBC seem now to prefer ex players whose only contribution to commentary is to open their mouths to show their ignorance and prejudices - Mark Lawrenson being a prime example.

Anyway here's Waddell helping out with adult literacy and numeracy in his native Newcastle.

10 August 2012

Friday favourite 71

With the House of Lords looking certain to remain unelected this week's Friday favourite could only feature one artist - the only Lord who has sought a public mandate and according to Wikipedia has gained 15,657 votes in his political career.

It is, of course the late lamented Lord Sutch.  Sutch has been arguably more successful than the Liberal Democrats in changing the UK - his campaigns (once considered 'loony') have included votes for 18 year olds and all day pub opening.  I've met him twice before his tragic suicide and all I can say is if only Nick Clegg had his mojo...

Lib Dems should rethink Lords reform...

Now that any prospect of democratising the House of Lords has disappeared for the foreseeable future - thanks to a combination of out of touch Tory backswoodsmen and Lib Dem peers like the increasingly confused David Steel and the smugly authoritarian Alex Carlile, the Liberal Democrats should have a complete rethink on their approach to the Lords.

It is clear that there will always be - despite manifesto commitments to the contrary - a blocking minority in the Commons to any reform that gives the Lords the legitimacy of a public mandate.  And there is always going to be opposition from the less than noble Lords who see it as a comfortable rest home for the terminally self interested former politicians who make up the vast majority of its membership.

Given these constraints there seems to be only one way of getting rid of the democratic excrescence that means that laws are made by people - however worthy - who are unelected.  That is to call for the abolition of the Lords.

The Lib Dems should now propose a unicameral Parliament instead of trying to reform an unreformable Lords.  It kills stone dead the two arguments that caused this attempt at reform to be dropped - the primacy of the Commons and opposition to the proposed electoral system. 

No Lords means no elections and the Commons remains prime.  It also ends the sinecures for people like Steel and Carlile - allowing them to dissappear into the obscurity they deserve.

Beeb highlights Help for Heroes failings

Newsnight tonight carried a report highlighting criticisms from disabled veterans about their treatment (or lack thereof) from the military and the seeming waste of money by charity Help for Heroes on glamourous infrastructure projects.

It also made the point that Help for Heroes remit is dealing with serving military personel - not those who have been disabled out of the forces who have been left at the mercy of the NHS.  So there is clearly a gap into which military veterans fall into - which ought to be resolved as soon as possible.

But one has to wonder if the MoD are the right people to do it?  Recent news reports give the impression they seem somewhat lacksadaisical when dealing with the remains of fallen soldiers and this article from Defence Report suggests they are keen to cover up the extent of injuries at Camp Bastion.

6 August 2012

The party should listen to Judy Steel (not her husband)...

The excellent Andrew Page's Scottish Liberal blog reports more indescretion by Judy Steel - following from the revelation she had a pink jaguar tattooed on her shoulder for her 70th birthday.  This time she declares she will be voting 'Yes' in the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 - unlike her husband.

It is of course her husband - David Steel - who has disloyally and foolishly lead the opposition to Nick Clegg's Lords reform proposals from the red benches and provided succour to the 91 Tory backswoodsmen in the Commons whose intransigence appears to have scuppered the whole reform agenda.  And it doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to work out what the still radical Judy might think about that.

The fact that influential Scottish liberals - like Judy Steel and Andrew Page are prepared publicly break ranks over the constitutional conservatism of the Scottish Lib Dems is a good sign.  Shortly after the annihilation of the party in last year's Scottish general election I wrote:
"...Michael Moore again allows the party to be seen to be on the wrong side of the debate and trying to illiberally block the expression of the will of the Scottish people.

The way back for the party in Scotland can only be by steering a distinct liberal path that recognises the liberal elements in the nationalists (and the easy willingness of both parties voters to interchange their votes at Holyrood/Westminster levels). Aligning the party with the forces of constitutional conservatism was the wrong decision in 2007 and is even more so now." 
At the moment the party has nothing distinctive to say on the big constitutional issue and is seen as an ajunct of the Tories on the economic ones - a recipe for disaster in 2015.  So a more organised campaign by Scottish liberal home rulers for a yes vote - as Andrew is trying to create - will only be a good thing for the party north of the border. 

4 August 2012

How the Mail reports Mo Farrar's gold...

...thanks to twitter I came across a sneak preview of tomorrow's Mail's report of a great night of athletics at the Olympics...

3 August 2012

Friday favourite 70

The news that the century old Liberal goal of democratising the House of Lords is to be dropped due to Tory intransigence, will put more pressure on an already strained relationship between the governing parties.  But it would be foolish to end the coalition over this issue - however important it is to constitutional reformers.

Hopefully the Liberal Democrats will use the leverage that this Tory breaking of the coalition agreement gives them to promote some popular and more meaningful liberal reforms.  But given their track record in government I fear they wont.

Which reminded me of one of the finest lines in Blackadder, where Melchett's driver - Bob Parkhurst (who is a woman in disguise) says she/he 'wanted to see how a war was fought - so badly'.  The Liberal Democrats have wanted to see what it's like to be in government - so badly - and as Blackadder responds they 'have come to the right place'.  Anyway here's Blackadder Goes Forth - Major Star...

Lib Dem membership slumps

Mark Pack reports the Liberal Democrats membership has slumped to less than 50,000.  Twenty years ago it was 100,000 - I remember the press release of Paddy Ashdown announcing in the run up to the 1992 general election the landmark recruit conveniently in the key seat of Bath.  Which entirely coincidently was won a few weeks later by Don Foster - defeating then Tory Chairman Chris Patten.

There is no gloss that can be put on this - and Mark's valient attempt to deflect attention onto the Tories is a misplaced attempt at loyalty that cannot be allowed to lead to complacency. 

These figures add to the growing body of evidence that the party is dying on its feet.  Over the last two years its councillor base has been hollowed out, it has all but dissapeared in Scotland and the northern cities, it has started spending more than it receives in income and its poll ratings still face south. 

Yet the party at Westminster appears to be unconcerned by this collapse.  I wrote on 7 May the party faces a fight for its very existence.  Sadly it is now clear it is a fight it faces with hugely depleted troops. 

One has to wonder at what point do the powers that be at Westminster wake up?

2 August 2012

London 2012 - when did medal become a verb?

Kingston proved an excellent backdrop to the Olympic road cycling and the crowds have thronged to see the top professionals and especially the UK riders.

Sadly my photography skills are such I managed to miss the UK contingent at both the road race and time trials as these snaps show...

...but my enjoyment of the TV coverage of the games has been somewhat spoilt by the British team (or 'Team GB' as I suppose we must call them) constantly referring to 'medalled' or 'medal' in the form of a verb - as in 'we expect them to medal at this race'.  It's not as if adding a mere four letters eg 'get a' is asking them to expend any extra energy.  Medal is not a verb and it's far better for sportspeople to do their talking on the track rather than give traction to an ugly an incorrect use of the English language.