July 2008 Archives
It is unclear whether Gordon Brown pays any attention to the expensive media experts hired by Labour in an attempt to make him appear half normal.
If he has been listening, then he should seek new help judging by the bizarre newspaper pictures over the weekend of the Prime Minster and his family on holiday in Norfolk.
You'll know the shots I am referring to. A handful of chavs leer into the camera while Gordon and his wife, Sarah, take their baby son out in his buggy along the sea front at Southwold. Mrs Brown looks, well, as if she would rather be anywhere in the world than this rather staid outpost of East Anglia, while Mr Brown tugs nervously at a shirt cuff inside his jacket in the manner of the Prince of Wales.
Labour has lost its third safest seat with a devastating defeat in Glasgow East.
The result means all eyes will be on Gordon Brown when he makes a keynote speech in the Midlands today, Friday, at Labour's National Policy Forum, at Warwick University.
His party had a majority of 13,507 in Glasgow East in 2005, but lost the seat by 365 votes this morning.
Despite the tight margin, the result will be a bigger psychological blow to Labour than losing the Crewe by-election, where the party was defending a majority of 7,078.
To make it worse, the Labour candidate, Margaret Curran, is widely agreed to have run a good campaign, so the blame can't fall on her.
The SNP is claiming that the vote represents growing support for Scottish independence. That's probably wishful thinking, although it clearly suggests people have some confidence in the SNP.
The real question is whether the vote reflects general disillusionment with Labour, or with Gordon Brown in particular.
Latest gossip in Westminster is that the SNP is ahead in the Glasgow East by-election.
Of course, I have no idea if it will prove to be true when the result is announced about nine hours from now.
But it will be a disaster for Gordon Brown if his party has managed to lose a seat where it had a 13,500 majority - to the SNP, which is actually in power in the Scottish administration and shouldn't be receiving the type of boost opposition parties normally enjoy in by-elections.
Last night I predicted that Mr Brown would remain Labour leader until the next General Election no matter what.
My opposite number on the Liverpool Daily Post has a different view, and reckons Mr Brown will be out by the end of this year if he loses tonight.
City Council leader Mike Whitby is very keen on promoting a plan to "grow" the population of Birmingham by 100,000 by 2026.
Quite why this is thought to be a good idea, no one really knows.
Perhaps it is all part of Whitby's macho-political approach. The notion that Birmingham has to be the boldest, the bravest, the best and, the biggest.
We will never of course be as big as London, but by getting the population up to 1.1 million we will safely hang on to the second city title while beating into a cocked hat tiny Manchester.
School's out at Westminster, as Parliament has broken up for the summer break and won't be back until October.
This should make life easier for the press pack, who will have less to write about. In fact, it makes things harder, as you still need to come up with stories - there's just fewer of them around.
Hence, we have the silly season, which affects political journalism as much as any other field.
My guess is that we will see plenty of speculation about Mr Brown's future, whether he will face a leadership challenge etc. It's already begun, although it may take a while to get into top gear if Labour wins the Glasgow East by-election.
I'll stick my neck out and say talk of a leadership challenge is piffle. Brown won't go without putting up the mother of all fights; nobody wants to wield the knife, and whoever wins would probably be forced to call a General Election almost immediately.
One certain way to send Birmingham City Council incandescent with rage is to question the value of the New Street Gateway project.
When the Commons Transport Select Committee had the temerity to point out that the ÃÂ£600 million city centre scheme is little more than a very expensive sticking plaster designed to plug a gaping wound and that Birmingham will require a new, larger station sometime in the next 20 to 30 years, the reaction was ballistic.
While the MPs didn't mention the dread words Grand Central Station, their suggestion that the Government ought to start looking now for an "alternative solution" to New Street can mean only one thing - dusting off controversial plans to build a major main line station at Eastside.
...to China, rather than Alderaan. Really I have. Ok maybe that's not strictly true, especially if you read my column in tomorrow's Post.
Perhaps after my manic meltdown in an overcrowded metro in Shanghai, which drew confused and possibly scared stares from fellow passengers, it is time to make amends.
Well, after a suitable battle plan has been drawn up, for that is what is needed to survive the city's underground system.
Having commuted regularly in London, I thougth I knew the rules of walking on the left, not making eye contact and - this is the important bit - letting passengers disembark before getting on the tube.
This basic courtesy is not observed. At all. Complete lack of manners or order.
Short of screaming I muttered, in a not particularly subtle tone or very quietly for that matter, "Manners cost nothing", "Excuse me?" and "This is not safe, get off my foot!"
Hong Kong by comparison, and whether this is a result of being a former British colony I don't know, was a dream.
Orderly queues by respective carriages, no pushing in or bumping into people. A civilised society that observes common courtesy.
But since I returned from my Orient adventure, my friends have pointed out that my outbursts of "Britishness" had a) not gone unnoticed and b) scared them, not just the locals.
However as my lower limbs were savaged by kamikaze mossies I doubt if immigration officials would let me back in, mistaking me for a common leper!!
Despite embracing the traditions, using chopsticks and a few cursory words of Mandarin - just enough to stop us from getting ripped off by taxi drivers - I couldn't silence my inner Englishwoman abroad.
Perhaps stress management or yoga classes would be advisable before I go East again.
I spent most of the morning trying to find out exactly what the Home Office had said to journalists over the weekend about knife crime, as I hadn't been in the office myself. I'm not talking about Jacqui Smith's unfortunate remarks on the telly, when she clearly confirmed plans to send offenders into hospitals to meet the victims of knife crime - I mean the briefing note (Whitehall talk for a press release) sent to lobby hacks.
The answer I received from two separate Home Office press officers was that nothing had gone out. Well, that wasn't true.
Eventually I got hold of a copy by asking a colleague from another newspaper to do me a favour and e-mail theirs to me, before sending it (in a new e-mail) back to the Home Office.
There's a convention in the magic circle of political journalists known as the lobby that these briefing notes are used for information rather than being directly attributed to anyone (although this one also contained some direct quotes from Jacqui Smith).
As I didn't actually get this from the Home Office I don't consider myself bound by the rules this time, so I've included a few paragraphs in my stories for tomorrow's (Tuesday's) papers, just so people can see what journalists were actually told.
As you may know, the Government's knife crime strategy is to be published tomorrow but it has been eclipsed slightly by an apparent U-turn over the hospital policy.
On a different topic . . . I also write a regular "diary" column for the Birmingham Mail, the Post's sister paper. This contains funny (in theory) little stories about life at Westminster.
But there's one I don't think a traditional community paper like the Mail would accept, so I'll tell it here instead.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant (Con) attempted to convince Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly that any future high speed rail line - likely to run from London to Birmingham, if it happens - must also stop in his constituency.
Emphasising the misery that would be caused if it simply passed through Lichfield, he asked: "Does the right honourable lady understand that it is not much fun standing on a platform and a high-speed train sucks you off because of the turbulence . . ."
Sadly, he was interrupted at his point by fellow MPs who creased up with laughter. Even Ms Kelly had difficulty keeping a straight face.
Michael tells me: "I've been teased mercilessly ever since. One MP told me tickets for trains from Lichfield are now changing hands for ÃÂ£50."
There's a good chance that by the time you read this, the results of the Haltemprice and Howden by-election will be known.
I'm writing in advance of the result, but I'm going to stick my neck out and predict that the winner will be the Conservative candidate, David Davis.
Mr Davis quit his job as Shadow Home Secretary, and resigned as an MP, in protest over 42 days' detention of terror suspects and the general reduction of our civil liberties.
He wanted to lead a national debate on these issues. I don't think we've had much of a debate.
There was a lot of discussion at first about whether Mr Davis had lost his marbles, until the Westminster village realised that most of the public seemed to quite admire him.
But then it all went quiet. I think the truth is that the debate about 42 days had been done pretty comprehensively in the weeks leading up to the Commons vote last month. There wasn't much appetite for rehashing the arguments all over again.
One thing Mr Davis did achieve was to wind up his leader, David Cameron. If you don't believe me, take a look at Mr Cameron's video on his YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/webcameronuk. It's the one called "David Cameron campaigns with David Davis".
Hey, fatties! You all eat too much, and your wasteful carbon-emitting ways are probably destroying the planet.
That's the message coming back from the leaders of the free world as they jet over to the far side of the world to discuss global problems in the brief gaps between gut-busting meals.
I met the Fonz the other day. He's a childhood hero and the only person I've ever asked for an autograph. Never thought I'd actually get to meet him.
Before going I asked a few friends if they had any questions for him.
Now then. I went to a conference the other day held by Birmingham City Council which was all about "Creating a Brighter Future for Children and Young People in Birmingham".
I always get a bit confused by these things - there was a glossy booklet to go with it (why do they have to waste public money on top quality paper?) spelling out the "Birmingham strategy" that had a lot of diagrams in it. There was talk about "priority outcomes", "multi-disciplinary leadership", "evidence-based initiatives" and "population-wide prevention".