The Conservative opportunity

“Never waste a good crisis” is what the Obama crowd always say. Watching David Cameron saying that anyone interested in public service should consider applying to become a Tory parliamentary candidate made me think that the expenses row may be a Godsend for him. After all, what he needs to do to complete the modernisation of the party is to get rid of all those reactionary toffs with their moated piles and Mayfair flats — and until now they have proved rather difficult to eject. But now…?

Politics, Obama and the Chicago school

In the UK we are contemplating the possibility that we might eventually be ruled by the Bullingdon (aka Bollinger) Club. But a conversation at lunch in college today made me realise that Obama’s administration is likely to be critically affected by a more cerebral outfit, namely the Chicago law school, where Obama once taught constitutional law. One of his buddies is Cass Sunstein, for example, a legal scholar who has written in recent years about the Internet as an echo chamber, the deficiencies of deliberative democracy and — most recently — about how discreet ‘nudges’ can effect social change. Then there’s Jack Goldsmith, who was from the outset of the Net a sceptic about the extent to which the technology was genuinely transformative (in the sense of being able to slip the surly bounds of territorial jurisdictions) — views which later found expression in the book he co-authored with Timothy Wu: Who Controls the Internet? And of course there’s Richard Posner, a senior judge who is also a polymath, an academic and one of America’s most prolific public intellectuals (and indeed the author of a study of public intellectuals). Posner also co-maintains a highly cerebral blog with another Chicago academic, the Nobel laureate Gary Becker.

Rather puts Dave Cameron, George Osborne and the rest of the Bullingdons into perspective, doesn’t it?

Dave the Hedge-Hog

Well, well. Guess who’s funding the Cameroonians.

The Tories were accused last night of being bankrolled by a City ‘wolf pack’ after it emerged that the party was receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds from hedge fund managers who have been making vast sums of money from plunging bank shares.

After the Financial Services Authority had, in effect, barred the controversial practice of short-selling bank stocks and the Treasury was forced to draw up a rescue package for Bradford and Bingley, it emerged that a small group of City financiers who have made fortunes from falling stock markets are paying at least £50,000 a year to the party.

Their donations entitle them to membership of an elite supporters club called the Leaders Group, which bestows invitations to functions attended by David Cameron, something that has prompted allegations that the Tory leader is supporting ‘cash for access’. Last night, in an attempt to quell a mounting row over the party’s finances ahead of this week’s conference, the party put details of the Leaders Group on its website…

I’ve just looked through the site and I can’t find any mention of these generous short-sellers.

Nudge, nudge…

Where do the Cameroonians get their ideas from? One source, apparently, is Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. This focuses on the foibles and idiosyncrasies of human behaviour and on how, with a little discreet encouragement, we can usually be ushered in the right direction. Writing in the Guardian, James Harkin is not impressed.

Nudge has been put on a list of 38 books which Tory MPs have been given by Dave as their summer reading. I’ve just looked at the list. It’s got some weird things on it — The Rise of Boris Johnson, for example. The only item I’ve read is Ferdinant Mount’s memoir, Cold Cream. Other books are Tom Wheeler’s book on Abraham Lincoln’s use of the telegraph in the Civil War and Philip Bobbitt’s Terror and Consent. And why the Cameroonians should need David Runciman’s Political Hypocrisy is beyond me, given that they are such past masters of the art.

Er, wink, wink.

Dave gets his bike back


Conservative leader David Cameron has been reunited with his stolen bike after it was found dumped.

The bicycle disappeared outside a Tesco store in Notting Hill, west London, near Mr Cameron’s home, on Wednesday.

The Sunday Mirror said it had used the contacts of “local community elder” Ernest Theophile, 60, to find the bike. It was found in a nearby side street, minus its front wheel, but with Mr Cameron’s helmet and lock still on it. He said it was great to have it back. The Tory leader told the newspaper: “Thank you very much indeed. I’m very surprised to have it back, it’s incredible. I never thought I’d see it again.

“It’s priceless to me. I’ve done over a thousand miles on it and three sponsored bike rides of 250 miles each, so it’s like an old friend. It’s fantastic.”

He added: “I’m surprised they didn’t take the helmet – you’d think they would get something for that on eBay.”

And, in case you’re wondering, eBay finally got around to removing the spoof auction of the bike.

Dave’s bike

Here’s an interesting stunt: David Cameron’s mountain bike was stolen recently and has now ‘turned up’ on eBay. Current bid (at 09:55 on July 25) is £1,020. Blurb reads:

Well this bike is not *exactly* new but it is *nearly* new because it has only been used for a couple of photo-opportunities.

It is BIG and BLUE and despite looking quite well-balenced [sic] it leans oddly to the right.

It would suit a real commuter right down to the ground.

I want to sell it because It ‘does not feel right’

I picked it up outside of Tesco. It comes complete with a lock (locked). Hardly a scratch on it to be honest.

Buyer should collect, directions to my South London lock-up can be found here.

Looks like a smart publicity stunt by an online gamer (who also claims to run The Omerta Shop). Wonder what eBay have to say about it. And I suppose now Gordon Brown will have to arrange for his bible to be stolen. Where will it all end?

Cameroonian foreign policy: Xenophobia Lite

Nice Observer piece by Nick Cohen.

When a governing party’s time is up, no one cares about the failings of the opposition. Ministers in John Major’s Tory administration used to bemoan the easy ride the media gave New Labour. Now it is Labour ministers’ turn to stare with disbelieving eyes at the free pass we give the Conservatives.

Scandals which would once have led the news – the Tory energy spokesman’s links to Vitol, an oil company which cut deals with Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic; the Conservative peers who still talk about ‘niggers in the woodpile’ – are passed over with an embarrassed cough. I know from the experience of writing critical pieces about the Blairites in 1997 that when the national mood swings, few readers want to hear about the faults of the government in waiting.

Like Tony Blair, David Cameron has ‘decontaminated’ his brand and turned the once burning hatred of the Conservative party into desultory emotion – more of a habit rather than a passion. The first aim of the British centre-left is no longer to stop the Tories at any cost.

But in one area Cameron has been more than happy to keep his brand toxic. When he enters Downing Street, Britain will be alone in the world, with few friends and fewer allies. It is only a touch hyperbolic to say that in two years’ time we won’t have a foreign policy…

He’s right. Cameron has a good bedside manner, but that’s about it. We have a government that is in free fall. And an electorate that’s bored. And a major recession on the way.

Armando Iannucci has Cameron nailed, btw. Here’s an excerpt from an imagined conversation between Dave and his good friend Barack:

Continuing our series of exchanges between two pre-eminent figures on the international scene, we are delighted to host a discussion between Barack Obama and David Cameron.

David Cameron: Mr Presumed President, it’s delightful to meet you at last.

Barack Obama: I know it is. As I travel this great world of ours, from the high plains of Montana to the deepest fjords of Denmark, from the small villages struggling to buy a first dishwasher in southern Spain to the magnificent rolling autobahns of Germany, I’m met with a humbling sense of how delighted people are to meet me and to share in my simple story of a simple, humble man who can bring change to my country and to the world and to the rest of history forever.

Cameron: Yes and I can identify with that humbling humility, too. You see, I also share your burden of having the hopes and dreams of a nation stuck on his shoulders. I, too, travel the great land I call my country and as I cross the vast central plains of Shropshire and Wiltshire, from the deep, rolling streets of Twickenham to the vistas of uncontrolled housing schemes in Sunderland, I also hear the call of a sick nation praying for medicinal change.

Obama: That’s great.

Cameron: I know. It feels good. But the fundamental question we both have to address is: what should we actually do once we get into office?

Obama: Exactly. You know, I come from a background that is magnificent testimony to this great nation of mine. A child of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, we can all be proud of the path I’ve trodden to come through to this, the greatest moment in the history of civilisation when I eventually take the oath of office.

Cameron: Yes and similarly I too am from an exciting mongrel mix of cultures and values. Born of a mother from Kent and with a friend from Hull, I share and sniff the sense of wounded anger that blights this broken society I come from. So, as I say, what should we do about it?

Obama: Listen to the deep well of yearning within the hearts of the people. For example, what does your friend in Hull think you should do?

Cameron: Well, he was born in Hull, but he doesn’t live there any more. I think he owns some of it, though. But what I really want to know is: what would you do?

The ethics of toffism

Toffism, in case you don’t know, is discrimination against Etonians and the Bertie Wooster class generally. Edward Timson is the toff who is representing the Conservative interest in the forthcoming Nantwich and Crewe by-election, and it seems that the poor dear is being persecuted by satirists in top hats. Catherine Bennett has this to say about all that.

Timpson’s pain reminds us that it will not do, any more, for toffists to stigmatise the privileged, on the basis that an accident of insanely good fortune is preferable to one of doomed deprivation. The hapless victim of affluence, George Osborne, for instance, cannot help being named after a brand of wallpaper, any more than Boris Johnson chose to call himself ‘de Pfeffel’ or David Cameron elected to put himself through Eton – a ‘great school’, incidentally, as he ‘fessed up on Newsnight not long ago.

But the toffs’ tormentors will not let up. Just last week, Cameron was forced to stand up and ‘fess again: ‘Yes, I am wealthy, I have a very well-paid job and so does my wife.’ But if you prick him, does he not bleed? Or as he put it, with a simplicity which put some in mind of a young Orwell: ‘I drive my own car. I fill it up at the pumps and when diesel hits 121.9p per litre, which I paid outside Chipping Norton a couple of weeks ago, it really struck me that this whole tank is costing me £10 to £15 more than previously.’

So Etonians “feel the pain” too, just like Unflash Gordon. Such unity in diversity gives one a nice warm feeling. Or is it just that the seat of one’s pants has just caught fire?

Ms Bennett takes a much more enlightened view of all this.

Instead of lampooning Cameron’s otherness, his critics might want to celebrate cultural diversity, with the re-emergence in public life of a particular Tory type which was thought, until recently, to have dwindled almost to the point of extinction. Although the recent explosion in the number of breeding pairs is certainly impressive, Westminster, looked at as a whole, is very far from being ‘swamped’, as alarmists from Toff Watch have put it, by Cameron’s patrician army. Rather like Poles in Lincolnshire, it is just that its membership tends to concentrate in certain localities: Notting Hill for instance; Chipping Norton; the shadow cabinet. As they have every right to do. No one, I think, really wishes to return to the kind of bigoted hate-speech that began to sound old fashioned three decades ago, when Mrs Thatcher, declared class a ‘communist concept’, a unifying project continued by John Major, groping towards his ‘classless society’ and latterly by Tony Blair, who objected, early in his career, to Marxism’s ‘false view of class’.

Bertie Wooster elected!

Yep. He’s London’s new Mayor. And all the while he thought he was running for the Wine-Tasting Committee of the Drones Club. Much public entertainment lies ahead.

Bad news for the Supreme Leader, though. The game’s over. And it doesn’t have all that much to do with Gordon Brown’s competence/incompetence. It’s simply that Labour’s time is up. Three reasons for this:

  • Events, dear boy, events: the long boom is over; house prices are on their way down; negative equity beckons; the feel-good factor has evaporated.
  • All governments run out of steam. I had dinner recently with a senior civil servant. I asked him what the atmosphere is like in Whitehall. He said that it felt like the beginning of the end — that the government had basically run out of ideas, that ministers were exhausted and becoming demoralised.
  • The great British electorate isn’t very interested in politics: Labour has been in power so long that it’s become boring. The man on the Clapham omnibus thinks it’s time for a change. It’s nothing to do with a belief that Cameron & Co are wonderful, or even competent. There’s no evidence yet that they could run a whelk stall. Their main merit is just that they’re not Harriet Harman/Gordon Brown/Jack Straw/Jacqui Smith/Hazel Blears…
  • CameronAir, the new luxury airline

    Well, well. Dave “Vote Blue to get Green” Cameron and his chaps travel in style: they go in ‘Lord’ Ashcroft’s Falcon jet ($30 million secondhand).

    Altogether shadow cabinet ministers and aides have flown 184,000 miles on the Ashcroft jet over the last five years with Andrew Mitchell, the shadow international development secretary, flying 65,453 miles and shadow foreign secretary William Hague flying 49,670 miles.

    Analysis conducted for the Guardian reveals that Tory globetrotting has racked up 1,289 tonnes of carbon emissions. The biggest footprint was made by Michael Ancram when he was shadow foreign secretary and shadow defence secretary, according to environmental consultants Carbon Footprint. Mr Ancram’s flights emitted 372 tonnes, including trips to Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt and Poland. The plane’s movements are being tracked by planespotters who logged it leaving Luton empty to fly to Khartoum to pick up Mr Cameron and return him to Britain. Indeed spotting the Ashcroft jet seems to have become a bit of cult on spotter blogs.

    It would be churlish to complain about all this privileged transport, given Dave’s understandable pride in his privileged background. But there is still the small matter of Parliamentary declarations.

    Mr Hague declares a trip on Lord Ashcroft’s jet to Belize, Brazil, the Falklands, Iceland and Panama as being worth £8,486, the equivalent of flying first-class. Yet to hire a Falcon with Premier Aviation would cost £55,000 for a one-way trip to New York alone.

    Labour MP Tom Watson said: “There appears to be a huge discrepancy between, say, David Cameron’s declaration of £16,000 for the cost of his trip to Darfur and the cost of hiring a similar jet from a commercial firm. I got a quote of over £100,000 to hire a jet to go to Khartoum.”

    If you’re interested in travelling Cameron-style, get the latest fares here.