It’s over: get used to it

Terrific column by Martin Kettle.

Yesterday’s Guardian poll shot an arrow through the heart of the Labour party. It says that Labour is on course to lose the next election. It says that Gordon Brown hasn’t got what it takes to turn things around. It implies that no one else in the Labour party has, either. It crystallises everything anxious Labour activists have been saying to themselves on the eve of the party conference in Manchester – and then it adds some. It is hard to think of a more pivotal political opinion poll in recent times…

It’s a very perceptive piece — and I’m not saying that just because Kettle agrees with me. Here’s how it concludes:

Perceived likability unlocks electability. One of the reasons Blair dominated British politics for so long was that, where personality was concerned, he had it. It is equally clear that one of Cameron’s great strengths is that he has it too. The message of the poll is that the voters have sized Brown up and don’t like what they see. It may be miserably demeaning that modern politics has come to this. But if Brown hasn’t got it, how does he acquire it? And if he can’t acquire it, who else has Labour got?

Answer: nobody.

The boredom factor

Way back last December I did some musing about why Gordon Brown would be a liability as Labour leader. I wrote:

Boredom is the elephant in the room of British politics. The electorate is, in the main, entirely uninterested in politics. It complains about the government, of course, but in the main it is hard to stir up electors on ideological or policy grounds. They put up with the Tories, for example, for 18 years, and eventually threw them out not because the party was intellectually and morally bankrupt (as we pointy-headed intellectuals fondly imagine), but basically because people had become tired of seeing all those old faces trotting out the same old story.

Now spool forward four years to 2009. In the Labour corner will be dull, monotonic, dark-suited, Homburg-hatted Brown rabbitting on about the timing of the economic cycle, the importance of means-tested benefits and how he was right about pensions all along. Yawn, zzzzz…. For the Tories, there will be a young, smooth-talking snake-oil salesman named Cameron. Could this be the nightmare scenario that Blair foresees, and is determined to avoid?

Now comes this report of a survey commissioned by the Guardian in advance of next week’s Labour party Conference.

The scale of the challenge facing Gordon Brown as Labour’s likely next leader is revealed today by a Guardian/ICM poll showing that voters believe David Cameron would make a more effective prime minister and that Britain will be better off if Labour loses the next election.

As activists prepare to head to Manchester for the party’s annual conference, beginning on Sunday, the poll suggests voters may be tired of Labour: 70% said they agreed with the phrase it was “time for change”, if there were a general election tomorrow, and only 23% agreed with the phrase “continuity is important, stick with Labour”.

Email candour

I’ve been reading the leaked emails from Des Swayne, Dave Cameron’s parliamentary gopher, courtesy of the Sunday Times. The one I particularly like includes the following passage:

1. Transfer of HoL [House of Lords] reform to Jack Straw means that Teresa [May, the shadow Leader of the Commons] will speak for us: this is a sensitive issue and Teresa is neither liked nor trusted across the party. A tight rein will be necessary.

2. Nicholas Soames wants to talk to you about how to ‘stroke’ the peers. I have asked Louise for a slot.

What can this mean? Nicholas Soames is a preposterous voluptuary (and close friend of the Prince of Wales) who never fails to amuse. One of his estranged ex-girlfriends was once quoted (I think in Private Eye) as saying that making love to Soames was “like having a very large wardrobe fall on you — with the key sticking out”. He always reminds me of another celebrated voluptuary, Lord Castlerosse, who was similarly statuesque. The prospect of Dave and Soames massaging members of the House of Lords does not bear thinking about.

Dave’s new friend

From today’s Guardian

One of Conservative leader David Cameron’s new breed of business backers is a millionaire landlord who has been accused of using ruthless tactics against tenants. Trevor Pears, 42, whose family owns 15,000 properties, is alleged to be driving out small shops in favour of supermarkets and forcing out tenants through legal loopholes.Mr Cameron is trying to boost his party by adopting green themes and criticising big business. He has accused supermarkets of using their financial muscle to drive small shops out of business. Mr Pears is among the property tycoons and hedge fund traders who put up almost £500,000 for his leadership campaign. The tycoon has been heavily criticised by small shopkeepers in north London, where his firm owns rows of premises in Fortess Road, Kentish Town…

Such a nice friend, too. For example:

The Pears empire is estimated to be worth more than £1bn. In one year the family paid themselves a £42m dividend. But there have been repeated complaints about their methods. In 2000, they used what a court called a “repugnant” device to try to force out housing benefit tenants along the Brighton seafront. The company used the terms of obscure agreements to raise rents to an impossible £25,000 a year. It then sought evictions for arrears. The appeal court said this was “very serious”, and could have bankrupted tenants.

A Pears company bought housing blocks the same year from Greenwich Hospital, originally an elderly seafarers’ charity. Nick Raynsford, Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, says the firm exploited its position once the property passed out of control of the crown. Rents were raised from £50 a week to £190 and many were forced out. Mr Raynsford said: “The Pears Group acted in a reprehensible way in their dealings with the elderly residents.”

A case of “Vote Dave, get Rachman” perhaps?

After Blair

Max Hastings, gushing about Dave ‘Vote Blue get Green’ Cameron in the Guardian.

Whatever happens in the months ahead, the circumstances of Blair’s departure will be at best undignified, at worst humiliating. Whatever Gordon Brown does on inheriting the mantle, he will find himself in the position of an aged Broadway star summoned to London to revive the fortunes of a flagging musical – deprived even of its custard-pie turn with the announcement that John Prescott is “resting”, as he surely soon will be.

The highlights of Brown’s early premiership will be supervision of a more or less ignominious retreat from Iraq, further increases in taxation, pressures on public spending and – if Brown is foolish – a lurch back to “old Labour values”. Leave morality out of this. As Blair always understood and the left never does, there are not enough poor people in Britain to elect a government. The majority of “haves” will always care more about what happens to them than about compassion for the less fortunate…


According to BBC News Online, Tory leader Dave Cameron has returned from his fact-finding mission to the Arctic determined to tackle the problem of CO2 emissions from cars.

The Conservative leader said he wants emissions cut from 170 grammes per kilometre now to 100g for new cars by 2022 and all cars by 2030.

He has swapped his Vauxhall Omega for a Lexus with a hybrid engine (emissions 184g per KM). Critics say he could have got a cleaner Toyota Prius (104g).

He hit back claiming a Prius could only fit four people in it and in his job he often needed more space than that but he said by getting rid of his government-provided car, the Omega, he had got rid of a “real gas guzzler”.

I’m indebted to Bill Thompson for pointing out (in an email this morning) the narrowness of my escape from ridicule. I might have had the ultimate embarrassment of driving the same car as Dave “Vote Blue to Get Green” Cameron! But I expect I will now have to put up with jibes along the lines of “Oh, I see you’re a Tory voter” when people see me getting out of our Prius. Sigh.

Update: They’re all at it! The LibDem leader, ‘Sir’ Mingus Campbell, is getting rid of his Jaguar.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell says he has given up his beloved Jaguar car to highlight his commitment to the environment.

Sir Menzies says he is “tear-stained” to admit that the 20-year-old vehicle is up for sale and being housed in a barn on a farm in East Lothian.

Bet he doesn’t opt for a Prius.

Dave’s domain name

Hmmm… The domain is taken. The WHOIS database says “The registrant is a non-trading individual who has opted to have their address omitted from the WHOIS service.”

Boomtown Rat leaves sinking ship?

‘Sir’ Bob Geldof has accepted a role as poverty consultant to the new Compassionate Conservative (TM) Tory Party. Naturally he denies that he is deserting New Labour. After all, he was never a member so how could he defect? But it’s one more straw in the wind. Geldof & Co can spot a change in the wind a hundred miles away. Now all I’m waiting for is for Richard Branson to discover the attractions of the Cameroonies. Remember the way he showed up at the Labour victory celebrations in May 1997 after a decade of paying sycophantic attention to the Tories?