The Brooning of Labour

If, like me, you were repelled by the unctuous vapouring of Gordon Brown’s Conference Speech, then you’ll enjoy Ross McKibbin’s acerbic commentary in the current LRB. Sample:

How problematic Brown’s policies were and are has been demonstrated by the Northern Rock affair. In the short term, of course, its difficulties were not the doing of the government. Northern Rock was the victim of a crisis in the international banking system caused by unwise mortgage lending in the United States. In the longer term, however, Brown, New Labour and much of the country’s political and financial elite have acquiesced, with more or less enthusiasm, in a financial regime which began in this country with the abolition of credit restrictions by the Thatcher government. Although there were arguments in favour of abolition it was always very risky – just as the present colossal levels of personal indebtedness (essential to Labour’s electoral success) are very risky. That it came to a run on a bank – something that has not happened in Britain for 150 years, not even in the international financial crisis of 1931 when the stability of the British banking system was the wonder of the world – shows how instinctively (and understandably) nervous people are of this regime. Furthermore, Brown’s system of regulation worked badly. It was he who divided regulatory responsibility between the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England – which was asking for trouble – and it was he who extended the autonomy of the Bank, with predictable results.

The truth is that — as McKibbin points out — much of what is most detestable about New Labour — its authoritarianism, contempt for civil liberties, adulation of ‘wealth creation’, micromanagerial obsessiveness over ‘targets’, PFI, etc. — are actually more Brown’s creations than Blair’s. The only difference is that Brown is now varnishing them with a new layer of patriotic tosh about “Britishness”, “British values”, etc. If the Tories weren’t so pathetic there might be some hope of unhorsing the pompous ass.

Tories plan supertax on SUVs

Now here’s an unexpected political development

Motorists who buy environmentally unfriendly “gas guzzling” cars would be hit by a new batch of green “supertaxes” that would add thousands of pounds to the final bill under plans announced by David Cameron’s advisers.

In a triple assault on high-emission vehicles, they have proposed a new “showroom tax” that would add 10 per cent to the cost of the biggest polluters, a new variable rate of VAT with the lowest charge for the greenest cars, and a new top band of vehicle excise duty that would add up to £200 to the annual cost of licensing “super polluters”.

The proposed taxes would act as an incentive for motorists to drive smaller, more environmentally friendly cars

As a result, a car costing £30,000 that was ranked in the most environmentally damaging category would have £3,000 added in tax to the ordinary cost as well as paying full VAT of 17.5 per cent and additional road tax…

Hmm…. Will this idea make it into the next Tory election manifesto?

Sale of indulgences, Release 2.0

Engagingly snotty piece about Dave ‘Vote Green to get Blue’ Cameron.

Apparently Cameron offsets his carbon emissions by donating to a carbon-offsetting company that encourages people in the developing world to ditch modern methods of farming in favour of using their more eco-friendly manpower to plough the land.

The details of this carbon-offsetting scheme are disturbing. Cameron offsets his flights by donating to Climate Care. The latest wheeze of this carbon-offsetting company is to provide ‘treadle pumps’ to poor rural families in India so that they can get water on to their land without having to use polluting diesel power. Made from bamboo, plastic and steel, the treadle pumps work like ‘step machines in a gym’, according to some reports, where poor family members step on the pedals for hours in order to draw up groundwater which is used to irrigate farmland. These pumps were abolished in British prisons a century ago. It seems that what was considered an unacceptable form of punishment for British criminals in the past is looked upon as a positive eco-alternative to machinery for Indian peasants today.

What might once have been referred to as ‘back-breaking labour’ is now spun as ‘human energy’. According to Climate Care, the use of labour-intensive treadle pumps, rather than labour-saving diesel-powered pumps, saves 0.65 tonnes of carbon a year per farming family. And well-off Westerners – including Cameron, and Prince Charles, Land Rover and the Cooperative Bank, who are also clients of Climate Care – can purchase this saved carbon in order to continue living the high life without becoming consumed by eco-guilt. They effectively salve their moral consciences by paying poor people to live the harsh simple life on their behalf.

Gordon and the prancing fops

Good God! Janet Daley thinks Gordon Brown is rather good.

In a time of national threat we don’t want cuddly; we want serious and stern. Charm might be nice when politics is becalmed and day-to-day living is secure, but gravitas is a whole lot better when there are unknown numbers of people in your midst ready to commit random mass murder. When a nation is in danger, it judges its leader (or potential leader) by his character, rather than his personality. So if the contest between Mr Brown’s governing style and David Cameron’s opposition is really to be, as my colleague Boris Johnson wrote on this page last week, between humourless Labour Roundheads and jolly Tory Cavaliers, then God pity the Conservatives. The last thing that the electorate will welcome now is the opportunity to be governed by prancing fops.

Is this the start of a Tory collapse?

Nice piece by Michael Portillo.

I had concluded, when I left politics, that the Tories were ungovernable and had a death wish. But Cameron is clever and charismatic; I believed he could succeed where I had failed, especially since even the Conservatives might learn something after three landslide defeats.

Now I am not so sure. Cameron has wobbled. Unless he regains control of his party at once, the project will be lost. It would be much better for him to press on even at the risk of being deposed than to settle into the leadership agony of Hague and Howard.

I have always doubted that the Conservatives could win the next election. Now the question in my mind is different: can the Tories ever win again?


I enjoyed Toff At The Top — Peter Hitchens’s Dispatches documentary about Dave ‘Vote Blue to Get Green’ Cameron. I don’t much care for Hitchens, but this time I suspect he was on the money. His basic argument was that Cameron is a shameless opportunist who doesn’t believe in anything, and certainly doesn’t believe in the Conservative values that Hitchens worships.

One interesting snippet from the film came when Hitch was retracing Cameron’s days as an undergraduate at Oxford, where he was a member of the Bullingdon Club, a rowdy upper-class dining club famous for the sound of breaking glass and immortalised as the Bollinger Club in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. The Bullingdons dress up in Regency evening wear and Hitchens had the brilliant idea of going to Ede and Ravenscroft, the expensive Savile Row tailor which maintains an establishment in Oxford (and indeed in Cambridge also) to cater for the sartorial needs of wealthy toffs like Cameron. He inspected the Bullingdon uniform and inquired about its cost. About £3,000.

Another interesting snippet. There’s an Oxford photography firm which regularly takes photographs of the Young Bullingdons in their finery. They have a particularly fine picture of young Cameron togged out for a night’s drinking and trashing. But it turns out that the firm has withdrawn the publication rights to all its Bullingdon pics of Cameron’s era — so that they are no longer published anywhere. Can’t even find them on Google Images. I wonder how much the Tories paid for that particular favour.

Hitchens also maintained that Cameron has thirteen Old Etonians in his Shadow Cabinet. Wow! Can this be true? Talk about a vast system of out-relief for the upper classes. It’s almost enough to make one look fondly on Gordon Brown. I said almost.

Update… David Mackinder found the key photograph — it was published by the Daily Telegraph with a helpful index to the main poseurs. Nice caption too: “Cameron as leader of the Slightly Silly Party”.

Dave’s Dilemma

The Conservative party is no longer riven with ideological division in the public way it once was, but the “mods” and “rockers” are still there, tooled up and ready to rumble. Indeed some suspect that the peace exists precisely because Cameron has steered clear of making tough ideological pronouncements.

Amassed to the right of him there are those who have never forgiven the party for dumping Margaret Thatcher — a group that one moderniser calls “the head-banging Europhobic tax-cutters”. They want to see a flash of the old, a firm commitment to reducing taxes and an end to the “namby-pamby” politics of equal rights and work-life balance.

On the other side are the “über-Cameroons”, metropolitan-based modernisers who want their leader to go further in burying his party’s unpopular past and set out a more principled compassionate agenda. They value social workers above tax cuts and cheered Cameron’s recent apology to Nelson Mandela on behalf of the party for having once branded him a terrorist.

In short, there is a turf war going on for the soul of the Tory party and Cameron is caught in the middle of it. Until now he has made good mood music and given neither side anything substantial to get angry about. Now he is being asked to produce the beef.


McCain shows Cameron the price of power

Insightful column by Andrew Sullivan on Dave Cameron’s new friend — and conference speaker — John McCain.

Last weekend turned into a pivotal moment in his [McCain’s] career. For the past four years he has fought the Bush administration’s attempt to authorise interrogative abuse of military detainees. As a victim of torture himself McCain’s credentials for this fight were enormous. And, to his credit, his legislative efforts have indeed put a stop to the widespread abuse that has occurred in the regular military since the winter of 2001.

But he wants to win the Republican nomination; and Karl Rove, Bush’s political guru, has decided that the only way to rescue the mid-term elections is to run on who can be tough enough on terror suspects. If McCain had refused to compromise over torture he would have essentially been destroying the Republican game plan for retaining Congress. So Bush called him out.

The deal they struck was simple: Bush wouldn’t formally renege on Geneva and wouldn’t formally authorise waterboarding, hypothermia and other horrors.

But he was given legislative leeway to decide what to do with terror suspects (including waterboarding and hypothermia) and had authority to train an elite squad of CIA “coercive interrogators” for the purpose. His civilian officials would also be given complete legal impunity for possible war crimes committed in the past.

What did McCain get in return? Some cynics in Washington say the answer is simple: the nomination. And McCain has been doing his best to recruit many Bush loyalists. Did McCain sell his soul for power? That’s what his sharpest critics would say.


The Tories will cheer him this week. He is certainly much more congenial to the party of David Cameron than Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. But McCain is also a symbol, along with Bill Clinton, of how power is never without its costs. One day Cameron may have the opportunity to share their pain.


Ye Gods! And there’s poor ol’ Gordon Brown thinking he’s hip because he’s got an iPod. Not only does Dave ‘Vote Blue to get Green’ Cameron have a wind turbine and solar panels but how he has a video Blog. It’s called Webcameron, naturally. I’ve just watched his first post — shot in his kitchen with kids shouting and scenes of general domestic chaos. The man’s a genius — at PR.

Later… The semiotics of the first video post are interesting. For example:

  • Cameron is shown in his kitchen, washing up. [Message: I’m a ‘new man’.]
  • There are kids squealing for his attention in the back ground. One of them wants Daddy to wash his hands. Daddy leans down tenderly and says he will do it in a minute when he’s finished this video thing. [Message: I’m a caring Dad who’s got the work-life balance right.]
  • He squirts some washing-up liquid onto the dishes. It’s Ecover — an environmentally-friendly brand, not some nasty chemical stuff. [Message: I’m as green as they come.]
  • We are given a glimpse beyond the kitchen where a baby sits happily in a high chair. In between Dave and the baby is what looks suspiciously like a clothes-horse with some garments airing on it. The scene is of agreeable domestic chaos. [Message: I may be Party Leader and the next Prime Minister, but really I’m just like you.]

    The more I looked at the post, the more inspired it seemed as a piece of PR.