The Snow In The Summer or So-So

09/06/2004 - 09/12/2004

Mon 06 Sep 2004

Opinion poll watch (redux)

We did say as recently as - oh - yesterday, that we didn't trust these polls as far as we could throw them. The latest YouGuv poll (commissioned by the Republican-friendly Economist tabloid) has a 45-45 tie. Even Anne Robinson can work out that this gives a 50% chance of either party being in the lead.

If we average the most recent polls that didn't slant themselves by pushing voters, we get an average Rep-lead of 0.4%. In statistical terms, it's still a tie. Curiously, neither side enjoyed any sort of bounce from their conventions.

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posted 06 Sep 2004, 19.11 +0100

Spending more time with my family

Andrew Smith (Oxford East, Labour) has resigned as the cabinet minister for work and pensions. This comes as quite a surprise, not least because we didn't even know that he was the cabinet minister for work and pensions until just this evening. Apparently, he'd held the post since 2002.

Mr Smith is set to spend more time with his family, and less time supporting Gordon Brown in the cabinet. He joins a list of high-profile cabinet resignations to spend more time with their families...

The most recent was Alan Milburn, who stepped down as Health Secretary in one of the gazillion cabinet reshuffles in spring last year. The member for Darlington is widely tipped to return to the cabinet this week, probably in a role that will put him in charge of Labour's manifesto. Heaven help us all.

Norman Fowlup left the Thatcher cabinet in January 1990, returning as Conservative party chairman in November of that year. By then, of course, Mrs Thatcher had been resigned and replaced by that nice Mister -- er -- erm, whoever he was.

That anonymous PM suffered more than his fair share of resignations, perhaps the most famous being Douglas Hurd announcing he was going during the 1995 leadership scuffle. Anyone remember the 1995 leadership scuffle? Does anyone remember it for anything other than winning Hunt The Old Woman?

Blair's cabinet has also lost people, but mainly for complete incompetence (Estelle Morris, Peter Mandelson (twice)) or policy disagreements (Robin Cook, Clare Short.)

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posted 06 Sep 2004, 19.30 +0100


Tue 07 Sep 2004

While we wait for the cabinet reshuffle...

No reshuffle to-day, merely Mister Tony Blair promising jam "by the end of the week." Whatever you say, darling.

In the interim, the latest Gallup poll in the PDRUP shows that the Republican candidates have gained merely 2% amongst registered voters over the past week. That's the smallest post-convention increase ever for the party's presidential hopefuls, and smaller than anyone claiming to be the incumbent president has ever experienced. The lead: R+1, statistical significane: nil.

Not that you'd know this from the sponsoring media organisation's coverage. It's relentlessly pro-Republican, calling that organisation's impartiality into serious question. The fine details concealed include 41% more likely to vote Rep, 38% less likely. The corresponding figures for the Dems were 44-30.

Domestically, a Populus / Times poll puts Lab 32 C 30 LD 26 Oth 12 (including UIP 2). That represents a 2.5% Con-to-Lib swing, and a 2% Con-to-other swing from the current by-election data, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility. Putting those figures into the Byzantine Ultrimo Topologically Latent Election Redictor we get Labour 6 seats adrift of an overall majority, and 20 Lib Dem gains. Amongst the 85 Labour losses are Morris, Fitzsimmons, and Woolas; amongst 8 Conservative losses to the Lib Dems are Oliver Letwin, David Heathcoat-Amery (by less than 1%), and Dr Fox.

(Oh, and if any of you can think of a better acronym that leads to BUTLER, please let me know!)

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posted 07 Sep 2004, 20.47 +0100


Wed 08 Sep 2004

Let the challenge -- begin!

Peter Mandelson formally submitted his resignation as an MP to-day, setting in train a by-election for September 30, three weeks to-morrow.

In the scheme of things, this is a surprisingly dangerous date to choose. The Liberal Democrats appear to be the main challengers in the seat, and they hold their annual party conference between the 19th and 23rd of September. Unlike party conferences in some other parts of the world, these conferences decide policy and are sometimes the venue for displays of grass-roots disaffection with the national leadership. The Lib Dems will dominate the national news bulletins in the week before polling.

The Labour party conference takes place the following week, from the 27th to the 30th of September. Leader Tony Blair will deliver his address on the Tuesday before polling, and reports on the night of the election will feature the closing address by John Prescott. The Conservative party conference takes place a week later, from October 4-7.

On the face of it, the timing couldn't be more favourable to Labour, coming at the end of a week when they've been able to control the news media. That's precisely why it's so dangerous - if the Lib Dems can win in a week when the tables are so heavily stacked against them, they will have to be treated as a serious contender across the Labour heartlands.

Elsewhere, respected commentary site Political Betting has become the first serious commentator to suggest that Labour won't necessarily win an overall majority. Our pet election predictor (the Device for Approximating Vote Interpolation by Divisions ... or DAVID) is still predicting Labour short of an overall majority, but we reckon the government will pull back some of its losses before polling day next May whenever it falls over the next 20 months. Political Betting shares the view that Labour will probably win an OM, but the party is not good value at 1.30 - implying that there's a greater than 30% chance of Labour falling short. We're not quite that pessimistic, but we're in that region.

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posted 08 Sep 2004, 20.49 +0100

It's cheap and it's tacky

Out to hoodwink 275 million people. Dick Chainsaw uses nasty psychological tricks in an attempt to convince a sceptical audience that white is black, up is down, and wrong is right. From the London Review of News:

NLP is all about implanting ideas through suggestion, through patterns of speech – anchoring emotions and forcing thoughts. Bush and Cheney are not trying to reason with the electorate, they are programming them using fear, using keywords, repetition, reinforcement, and threats. Their message is explicitly this: stick with us or bad stuff will happen; stick with us or die: “if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be a devastating from the standpoint of the United States."

[This is] the ‘bad boy’ of all patterns which (in the words of an NLP seduction site) works by “playing on the fears and deep insecurities of women.” It involves talking about tragedy and death, and anchoring feelings of loss and abandonment in the slamming of a door:

...then get back into the door and say, "you know, God, still you know, about life's tragedies… I mean, I just keep on thinking how…" At this point you can already see that this is starting to make her feel uncomfortable. You want to create that sense in her that you can walk out and she'll feel terrible for the rest of here life. You want to anchor that response.

Having anchored that sense of loss and pain to the door, you can trigger it whenever needed. Whatever negative behavior may come up that you want to stop, the first time you just get up and slam the door.

The Republicans. The party that uses the same techniques that batters women. Aren't they lovely people. (Er, no.)

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posted 08 Sep 2004, 21.15 +0100

Yer wait ages for a reshuffle...

...then two turn up at once. First out of the blocks, in time for the Six O'clock Newses, were the Tories. After coming to power last year, Michael Howaerd couldn't fit an entire cabinet in his coffin, so slimmed down the party's top table to just over a dozen people. He's evidently spent the summer installing a larger dark room in his castle in darkest K*nt, and can now appoint a full cabinet. The big winner is John Redwood, who makes his third return to cabinet-level office since resigning to challenge John Major in 1995.

The Vulcan has taken over the bizarre portfolio of Shadow Minister for Deregulation, which rather indicates that the Tories will be challenging Labour hard on the "red tape burden" businesses claim they suffer. Other winners include Nicholas "Fatty" Soames, whose Defence portfolio becomes part of the cabinet again; and David Cameron, who gains a similar promotion at Policy.

Some hours later, Tony Blair unveiled his cabinet reshuffle. We'd expected one immediately before the summer recess, but a change was forced on the PM by the resignation of Wotsisname Smith on Monday. As we predicted then, Alan Milburn has spent quite enough time with his family, and has returned to the Duchy of Lancaster. The post has no significant duties in government, and has been used by prime ministers to provide a nakedly political voice at the cabinet table. Previous holders of the office include "Stormin'" Norman Tebbit and Chris Patten, while John "Oh fuck not health" Reid used the post to amplify Ali Campbell's unjustified attacks on the BBC last year. We understand that John Humphrys is relishing the challenge of another Minister for The Today Programme.

Is there a new Minister for Work and Pensions? Indeed there is. Step forward Alan Johnson, who was the non-cabinet minister for higher education. Remember the name, remember the position, we will be asking questions later. It's one thing for contestants on Fifteen To One not to know the name of the Home Secretary in an era when we had a new one every week; it's a whole other thing for contestants on The Vault not to know the Minister for Complete Anonymity.

In the chamber, we understand that Labour will be starting the legislative process to re-introduce its hunting bill in the near future. If necessary, the party will invoke the Parliament Act of 1911 (more) to force the bill through. It's this column's considered view that any invocation of the Parliament Act is profoundly undemocratic, and we note that the vast majority of bills pushed through in this way have turned out to be distinctly rotten pieces of legislation.

The disestablishment of the Church of Wales in 1914 cemented the principality's inferior status to England, where the Church is still established.
An act giving home rule to Ireland went through in 1914, though wasn't implemented for another eight years and after the Lords had indicated their assent to the principle.
The Parliament Act itself was amended in 1949 by a constitutional sleight-of-hand, suggesting that the Lords' veto of an extension to a term of the Commons (as provided for in the Act) counts for nothing.
The War Crimes act of 1991 attempted to bring led to an expenditure of around £100 million, one charge, and the grand non-total of no convictions.
The introduction of a closed list system of proportional representation in European elections in 1999 was opposed by the Lords, who preferred a more democratic open list system, or a transferable vote, or anything but this pile of dung. During the passage of this bill, the Labour government was prepared to use the Parliament Act to force through the complete abolition of hereditary peers in the upper chamber, but managed to secure a settlement by which a limited number of hereditary peers retained speaking and voting rights "while a permanent settlement was reached." No such settlement has been reached, and the democratic deficit remains.
The most recent use of the Parliament Act was to push through the Sexual Offences bill in 2000, legalising homosexual relationships between men of 16. This is the only occasion when the nay-sayers in the Lords were at clear variance with received popular opinion.

A ban on hunting is an article of faith amongst urban Labour supporters, and the promotion of this measure at the expense of other tricky matters - say, completing reform of the Lords - shows the party's priorities. It's a profoundly undemocratic act, removing the right to do something that many people find objectionable, and there's a certain irony in its progression by undemocratic means. The contrast with the last invocation of the Parliament Act is clear.

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posted 08 Sep 2004, 21.59 +0100


Thu 09 Sep 2004

Further thoughts on the reshuffles

"Reshuffles are always surrounded by speculation and judged against the soap opera of Westminster Village life."

So say the Office of the Prime Minister, clearly waiting for a transfer from BBC Parliament to BBC Three. Anyway, the junior ministers have changed as follows:

* Ruth Kelly WAS Financial Secretary at the Treasury NOW Minister for the Cabinet Office. That'll put her under Alan Milburn, and is probably a move up, albeit still at the junior ministerial level.
* Stephen Timms WAS Energy Minister, NOW Financial Secretary. Another small promotion.
* Mike O'Brien WAS Minister of State for Trade, NOW Minister of State in the DTI for E-Commerce, Energy and Competitiveness. That's a sideways move at best
* Douglas Alexander COMES IN as Minister of State for Trade in both DTI and Foreign Office.

* Kim Howells WAS Minister of State at the Department of Transport, NOW Further Education and Universities at the DFES. Transport, quite frankly, is a dump, and that's a move up.
* Tony McNulty WAS a PPS, NOW Minister of State at Department for Transport (DfT). That's up a level.
* Charlotte Atkins WAS a whip, NOW Parliamentary Under-Secretary at DfT. That'll be a proper government job.
* Tom Watson COMES IN as Assistant Government Whip (unpaid). And that's a disaster - Mr Watson was removed from the Hartlepool campaign after just a few days because he was going in so hard that he was alienating the workers on the ground.

There's a SWAP between two Peers - Baroness Ashton goes from Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA), Lord Filkin from DCA to DfES.

Phew. The main gainers come in the second group of more junior positions. Kim Howells came into parliament in 1989, and has been knocking around the junior ministries ever since Labour came in. Tony McNulty is from the class of 97, he's one of the more Blairite members. Charlotte Atkins - also from 97 - is slightly more Brownite, while Tom Watson was from the 01 intake. In the first group - all of whom can be considered cabinet possibles after a putative Labour win - Douglas Alexander (01) is a close personal friend of Gordon Brown; Mike O'Brien (92) held the immigration portfolio through the previous parliament; Stephen Timms (97) has been knocking on the cabinet door for ages; Ruth Kelly (97) worked as PPS to Nick Brown, so must be on the (Gordon) Brownite side of the party. I've no information on either peer.

The net result is that a Brownite has left the cabinet, replaced by a non-aligned member, and a Blairite has come in. The higher grades lean Brown, but the net result is minimal; the second group leans Blair, and have clear promotions. If we're running this as a Blair -v- Brown struggle for Labour, the result is fairly clear - Tony has subtly stamped his authority on the party.

We didn't have to wait long to hear the new Minister for The Today Programme on the Today programme, and it was unusual to hear somoene actually treating Humphrys with respect, and doing his best not to interrupt.

Over on the Conservative benches, the devil's in the details. John Redwood might be back, but two of the moderates whose stars rose under Hague and Hawkes have returned to the backbenches. John Bercow was in the international development hold, and had been making good headway against the ineffective Hillary Benn. Bercow had been after more money for international development, and wanted to at least match Gordon Brown's pledges in the area. Also out is the moderate Damian Gween, who has been at education, then transport, in recent years.

Just as the Labour moves are subtle, so the Conservative moves are blatant. It's a clear shift to the right, towards those who Michael Howaerd likes. He's trying to put clear blue water between his party and Labour, when the vote-winning strategy is to triangulate to the left of Labour; on criminal policy, that's a trivial matter, yet beyond the vampire and his henchman David Davis.

Some commentators have suggested that Bercow and Gween might defect to the Lib Dems, taking some moderates with them. We reckon this is not possible before the election, and unlikely afterwards. We're not ruling it out just yet, as it's quite possible that the Lib Dems could yet near the 90 seats that would make them a serious opposition party at the election after next.

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posted 09 Sep 2004, 21.17 +0100


Fri 10 Sep 2004

Another vampire slain

Joining Damian Gween and John Bercow on the Conservative party's Refusniks' Bench is Julie Kirkbride. She was the shadow culture secretary, but has turned down the job as sub-cabinet foreign affairs spokey. "It's an insult," to-day's Indytab said. To lose two would be a misfortune; to lose three looks like a bit of a disaster. Where's Chas Cheese when we need him?

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posted 10 Sep 2004, 22.03 +0100


Sat 11 Sep 2004

This week's by-election watch

Most of the interest this week came in two-cornered Lib Dem - Conservative races, and the average result was a like-for-like movement towards the Lib Dems of about 1%. The one straight Con-Lab fight swung towards the Tories by 4.2%, this is about par for the course in the seven such by-elections we've seen since June. One three-cornered fight resulted in swings towards the Lib Dems from both other parties, the other a drift away from Labour.

It's results on the ground that count, though; that "drift away from Labour" came in Tower Hamlets: Millwall, and resulted in the Tories capturing their first seat on the Isle of Dogs since the invention of the wheel (or something). Their cause was helped by the intervention of RESPECT, and an independent polling 8%, and we learned not to read too much into one by-election's results in this area eleven years ago.

Cranking up DAVID, we see the graphic on the right of the page. Recognising that this graphic will change, and most of you readers come in through RSS, we may as well spell it out. Labour's now down to win 297 seats (last week: 296), the Tories 259 (259), the Lib Dems 61 (61), and the SNP 6 (7); a Labour minority government, 26 seats short of an overall majority. Allowing tactical voting: if 5% of the change in vote is tactical, that puts Labour 35 short of an OM; 10% puts them 39 adrift; 12.5% has Labour 43 short of an OM and the Tories 47 down; a 15% anti-Labour tactical vote makes the Tories the largest party, 42 short of a majority.

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posted 11 Sep 2004, 11.24 +0100

Where's Alan Milburn when you need him?

The only hour of the Today programme we ever make a point of hearing is the second hour on Saturday mornings. Last week featured someone calling himself Bishop Canterbury spilling his political points without any serious rebuttal from the presenters. This week, the polemic was delivered by people talking about how the world's changed in the three years since a notorious crime against humanity.

According to our speaker, the bin Laden aim was to force the PDRUP into an entrenched war on Arabic soil, and to get that country's troops out of Saudi Arabia, so that his Wahaabi sect can plot more easily against the ruling Saud family. What's happened since? The troops came out of Saudi Arabia, and moved to Iraq, where they seem to be staying.

This whole situation couldn't have played better into the hands of those who would use terror as a weapon. They've correctly understood the mindset of those who pull the strings by occupying the PDRUP. The evidence is clear: if Osama bin Laden had a vote, he would vote Bush. This brings a few slogans for the defending president's party...

Only Bush can endanger his country this much.

If you vote for Bush, the terrorists have won again.

If you vote for Bush, you're more likely to be attacked.

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posted 11 Sep 2004, 11.34 +0100


Sun 12 Sep 2004

You read it here first

Much as we love the Sindie, the paper is often infuriatingly far behind the curve on the big stories. Take to-day's front page lead for an example. Labour faces catastrophe at election, warn MPs. Here's the skinny from the story:

Tony Blair is heading towards an electoral catastrophe that could wipe out his huge Commons majority because of disillusionment and apathy among Labour supporters, according to warnings issued by senior party figures.

Labour MPs from around the country, including some who were returned with large majorities in 2001, have privately warned that they are now under pressure because their own voters are threatening either to stay away on polling day or vote for fringe candidates.

The party chairman, Ian McCartney, issued a warning yesterday to Labour supporters that there will be no "comfort zone" in next year's general election. In an article for the magazine Parliamentary Monitor he wrote: "Any sign of complacency in this campaign plays straight into Tory hands."

The Independent on Sunday can also reveal that Charles Kennedy has decided to "recalibrate" the Liberal Democrats' election strategy, to take advantage of the erosion of Labour's support in big cities like Liverpool and Newcastle upon Tyne.

The warnings will put immense pressure on Alan Milburn after his controversial appointment last week, when he supplanted Gordon Brown as Labour's chief election strategist. Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax, said: "If we don't win a majority of more than 80 seats then Alan Milburn will have failed. Gordon Brown delivered two magnificent majorities of more than twice that size."

The IoS has also obtained a private email sent by Labour MP Nick Palmer, who has bluntly admitted that he is likely to be kicked out by the voters at the next election, and replaced by a Tory, although his Broxtowe constituency, adjoining Nottingham, is 69th in the list of Labour seats that the Tories have the best hope of capturing. If a seat such as Broxtowe, which Dr Palmer held in 2001 with a 5,873 majority, were lost, Mr Blair's Commons majority would disappear overnight.

Dr Palmer's email, marked "private for members and friends", warned: "The results [based on local canvas returns] do show a solid and in some cases quite militant and aggressive Tory vote and a hesitant former Labour vote."

Yesterday, Dr Palmer stood by his email, sent a week ago to his closest supporters. "In our patch the Tories are barely visible, but their voters turn out, while a lot of Labour voters are not sure that they want to vote."

This column has been saying since March that Labour is on course to lose most if not all of its overall majority. In fairness, we've tempered that with notes that these looked like mid-term blues, and Labour should be able to recover to a decent overall majority by polling day. Recently, though, the figures at the local council by-elections have looked progressively worse for Labour, and we've become increasingly quiet about those caveats.

The current picture for Broxtowe - assuming that no-one transfers their vote tactically - will see a 12.0% Labour majority in the seat transform into a 2.2% Conservative lead. DAVID is predicting Labour 26 seats short of an overall majority. For the Tories to win Broxtowe by a single vote, the Labour overall majority would be reduced to 5. That's almost - but not quite! - a completely vanished majority.

Using DAVID's tactical vote generator so that 5% of transfers are done tactically against Labour, the current swing leaves the Lib Dems holding the balance of power - a Con + LD pact would have a 26 seat majority, a Lab + LD one a 58 seat lead. Broxtowe's loss by a single vote under these circumstances, which appears to be Dr Palmer's implication, would still leave Labour with an OM of 15.

And so the psephological number-crunching goes on. One thing is certain - if Labour is to lose Broxtowe and other key marginals (Birmingham Edgbaston, Blackpool North, Bolton West, Bradford West, Bristol West, Bury North - and that's just the Bs!) then another B might well be out of a job.

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posted 12 Sep 2004, 11.19 +0100

Champions' Trophy results

It's the fourth outing of the ICC Champions' Trophy, in which the eleven regular one-day nations, plus a guest nation (this time, the PDRUP) compete for the second biggest prize in one-day cricket. This competition is being played in England, under the usual World Cup rules; 50 overs a side, ten overs per bowler, higher score wins, Duckworth-Lewis will be used if required, run-rate calculated in the normal manner. Because we're playing in the English autumn, each match can be spread over two calendar days; in the event of rain, each side must face at least 20 overs otherwise it's a tie. The first round of matches has been played over the last few days, only the group winners will progress to the knockout stages.

In Group A 8th seeded New Zealand beat the 12th seeded PDRUP by 210 runs. Batting first, the Kiwis made something over 330 runs before skittling out their opponents for barely 100. The Yanks will face top seeds Australia to-morrow, with the Southern hemisphere battle royal on Thursday.

In Group B Second seed South Africa found 11th seeds Bangladesh no real problem, skittling them out for 95 to-day, and taking the required runs inside 17 overs. 7th seeds West Indies are the other side, they meet Bangladesh on Wednesday, and the Boks on Saturday.

In Group C Third seeds India found 10th seeded Kenya a tough ask, winning yesterday's match by only 98 runs. Kenya play 6th seeded Pakistan on Tuesday, with India and Pakistan meeting at Edgbaston next Sunday. Yes, I've got in supplies...

In Group D Seed 4, England, made surpisingly heavy work of their match against 9th seeds Zimbabwe, making many elementary mistakes en route to a 152 run victory. Fifth seeds Sri Lanka meet Zimbabwe on Tuesday, and England next Friday.

The semis pit the winners of groups A and D on Tuesday week, and the other two on Wednesday week, before the final on Saturday the 25th.

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posted 12 Sep 2004, 16.06 +0100

Weather in week 37

And with the clock just coming round to autumn, it must be time for the last rites of summer. Monday was cloudy, but the next three days saw almost unbroken sunshine and the most gloriously clear blue skies. It all came down on Friday, when there was low cloud, a bit of drizzle, and more serious rain towards the end of the day. Saturday was drier and mostly sunny, but to-day clouded over after lunch and rain set in at nightfall. Temperatures were in the low 20s until Thursday, but dipped into the high teens from Friday, and peaked at just 16 to-day. There were 11 degree cooling days, 184 for the summer.

That may be the final score, as next week looks to have spells of heavy rain - Tuesday in particular looks to be vile. Things might look up a little towards the weekend, but one never can tell.

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posted 12 Sep 2004, 20.42 +0100


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