26 May 2016 at 12:58
Jacqui Smith and I debate the EU Referendum on Sky News.
hattip to @liarpoliticians
26 May 2016 at 12:58
Jacqui Smith and I debate the EU Referendum on Sky News.
hattip to @liarpoliticians
20 May 2016 at 21:29
This week, in case you hadn’t heard (!), I won Radio of the Presenter of the Year at the 2016 Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards. This is the entry compiled by my producers Jagruti Dave and Matt Harris. John Suchet, Frank Skinner, Christian O’Connell and Boogie & Dingo were my fellow nominees.
A lot of effort goes into compiling these award entries. The difficulty is deciding what to put in and what to leave out. As you will see, this entry features callers, interviews and presenting big setpiece events like Election Night.
We also entered two other categories, but weren’t shortlisted in either. I can’t remember their exact titles, but I think one was for One Off Special Event, or words to that effect. We entered the Labour Leadership Hustings Debate which I hosted in July.
We also entered our Britain Decides programme on election night, which I co-hosted with Shelagh Fogarty. I thought this was out strongest entry, but clearly the judges begged to differ!
20 May 2016 at 13:19
So there I am, at the Roundhouse in Camden, shortlisted for Radio Presenter of the Year, thinking that I haven’t got a hope in hell of winning. I was up against Frank Skinner, Christian O’Connell, John Suchet and the unlikely sounding duo of Boogie & Dingo. Nope me, neither.
I won this award in 2013 – so I thought there was no way lightning could strike twice. But it did. You could have knocked me down with a feather. It’s easy to become blasé about awards, but winning one judged by your peers is something I am incredibly proud of. I’m not a trained broadcaster, interviewer or journalist, and I am sure that this sometimes shows, but I absolutely love what I do, and I hope that it shows. Four to seven pm on weekdays on LBC, since you ask. All over the country on digital radio, and FM in London!
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I write this article a few hours ahead of a sitdown interview with David Cameron. As a professional broadcaster (OK, semi-professional, if you prefer), such an opportunity is obviously something to look forward to. It doesn’t get much bigger than this for someone like me.
But I’m only too well aware that unless I conduct an aggressive, shouty interview I’ll be accused of giving my “Tory mate” a soft ride. It doesn’t really matter what I ask, or what the response is: some people only accept that you have conducted a proper interview with a politician if you accuse them of murdering their firstborn. OK, I exaggerate, but I am sure you can see my point. I have a more relaxed, chatty style. I reckon you get more out of people if you conduct a conversation with them, rather than an interrogation.
The trouble is that that approach works much better if you have a reasonable amount of time with the interviewee. I wanted 20 minutes. They’ve offered 10-12. I’ll probably be able to wangle 15. I’ll just ignore the person who keeps doing a wind-up sign. It’s amazing for how long you can pretend that you haven’t seen something. I’m a past master at that one. Anyway, by the time you read this, the interview will have been long gone. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that it was brilliant!!!
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There’s increasing speculation about a post referendum reshuffle. For the purposes of this piece let’s assume a Remain win. How on earth does David Cameron bring the party together? All the talk at the moment is about how angry the he is with Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt for their supposed flagrant disloyalty. John Whittingdale is said to have irritated Downing Street, too, along with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson.
But however irritated the Prime Minister may be, June 24th has to be seen as Year Zero. Any feuds which currently exist must be extinguished if the party is to come together. Chris Grayling is apparently back in Cameron’s good books for not going off the leash too much, and is tipped by commentators to retain his cabinet post.
I’m sure Michael Gove will be retained, hopefully in his current position, where he’s doing a brilliant job getting to grips with the criminal justice system. Boris, I guess, must be brought in to the full Cabinet, although there is still five weeks to go for him to talk himself out of a job. I’d have though DCLG was the most likely destination for him, but nothing would surprise me. OK, I take that back. Foreign Secretary would surprise me.
The Prime Minister doesn’t like sacking people and I don’t believe that there will be a huge clearout. I think Justine Greening is at risk, along with Theresa Villiers (who I think has done a very good job in Northern Ireland) and Whittingdale.
The latter two are on the right, and many on that side of the party would be very irritated to lose them from the cabinet unless they were replaced by people of similar views. I’m wondering if Liam Fox might be brought back in from the cold…stranger things have happened.
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You know a government is running out of ideas when a bill on driverless cars is one of the more noteworthy legislative proposals in the Queen’s Speech. Most of the legislation will inspire nothing more than a yawn from most people.
Apart, that is, from Michael Gove’s Prisons & Courts Bill. The Justice Secretary’s approach to prison reform is hugely refreshing. He absolute understands the need for rehabilitation to take on far greater importance than it does now. I hope he remains Justice Secretary for a very long time so he can oversee proper reforms.
It is ridiculous that at a time when recorded crime is at a 30 year low, we have a prison population that is at an all-time high. We need to think creatively about what to do about this, and learn from the experiences of other countries. Some of Gove’s ideas will be very hard for the right of the party to swallow, but in the end we have to answer a vital question: why can’t we punish people who commit crimes but aren’t a danger to society in ways other than sending them to prison?
Let’s put people in prison who pose a danger to the rest of us, and let’s make their sentences longer. But we ought to be able to find different ways of punishing less serious offenders. Short prison sentences only work if they can perform a ‘short, sharp shock’ type of deterrent.
We don’t do Gulags in this country, so it’s unlikely that a three month sojourn in a Category C prison will achieve much at all. The cost to the taxpayer of sending someone to prison for a short time far outweighs any benefit to society. I’m sure plenty of you will accuse me of being a wet lettuce liberal on prison reform, and you’d be right.
13 May 2016 at 13:11
What a pity Vote Leave are getting their knickers in a twist with ITV over the fact that ITV have asked Nigel Farage to be on the same programme as David Cameron, rather than one of the big beasts of Vote Leave. It’s symptomatic of the splintering of the OUT side of the argument. They accuse ITV of failing to “consult” them. With respect, broadcasters can invite whoever they like, and as long as there is balance it’s fine. It’s not as if Nigel Farage isn’t a good media performer or doesn’t know the arguments. In fact, I’d say he’s a far better performer in debates than either Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would necessarily be.
I took the day off work so I could go to see my beloved West Ham at Upton Park for the last time. It was an extremely emotional night, which I’ve written about at length on my West Ham blog HERE. Driving home I switched on talkSport [ssssh, don’t tell my LBC boss] to listen to a football phone-in and bask in the glory of a tremendous performance in which West Ham beat Man United 3-2. Instead, all the talk was about the hooliganism before the match in which bottles were thrown at the Manchester United bus. I don’t blame talkSport for that at all, but the whole incident took the edge of what was otherwise a perfect night. I hope the full force of the law is used against those responsible. In the end, we can all blame terrible policing, Wayne Rooney for provoking fans with wanker signs or a multitude of other things. But the truth is, this was down to the actions of malicious idiots. I hope they’re identified and that the book is thrown at them. These scenes were beamed around the world and it was a dreadful reminder of how things used to be. In 25 years of having a West Ham season ticket I have never witnessed any act of hooliganism at the ground. I didn’t witness this one as I was already in the ground when it happened, but even so, it has besmirched the good name of the club I support.
Last week’s local elections seem a long time ago now. I have much enjoyed the way Corbynistas have tried to spin the results as rather good for Labour. Their latest bit of spin, which both Ken Baker and Alastair Campbell would have been proud of is to point out that Labour won 47% of the seats contested, compared to 41% by Tony Blair in his first year as Labour leader, and 46% by David Cameron in his first year. Good try, but omits to take account of the fact that the overwhelming majority of these seats were fought in urban areas. Most rural councils didn’t have elections this year. So not quite as good as they liked to portray. Sure, they didn’t lose 150 seats, as Rallings & Thrasher, not CCHQ, had predicted, but they still lost seats, lost being the key word here. No opposition serious about winning a general election should be losing seats in mid-term council elections. And for the government to lose only 46 seats is a minor miracle.
But the party which has most to smile about in these local elections was the Liberal Democrats, who gained 50 or so seats. I have always said that I think the LibDems have a major opportunity in the next three years and this was the start of what could be a serious revival for them. They could again become the repository of the dustbin vote. They need to rebuild their activist base and local government elections are where that starts.
UKIP will be disappointed to only gain 20 seats, but they now have more than 500 councillors, which is a real achievement.
The emphatic nature of Sadiq Khan’s victory is a warning to the Conservative Party in many ways. Turnout in this election was at an all time high and you have to ask yourself why this was, especially when it was expected to be at an all time low. The high turnout led to a 57-43 victory for Said Khan. I do think the nature of the Goldsmith campaign enabled Sadiq Khan’s ground operation to build a siege mentality and it was easier to persuade their supporters to go out and vote. I heard an anecdote from a Labour MP who knocked on the door of a woman of Somali heritage. Not only did she then go and vote, she knocked on the doors of a dozen of her neighbours to do persuade them to do so too.
Knowing Zac Goldsmith as I do, and knowing one or two of his campaign managers as I do, they will be hurting a lot. The narrative is that Sadiq Khan won because of the negative nature of the Goldsmith campaign. That may have been a factor, but it doesn’t explain and 14 point difference. It went far deeper than that. I’m not sure this election was ever winnable for Zac Golsmith. If you actually look at the figures, Boris Johnson outperformed the Conservative vote in 2008 and 2012 by quite a few per centage points. Zac’s per centage was the same as the Tory GLA performance. Similarly in Ken Livingstone’s two victories he also way outperformed the Labour vote. I also think I am right in saying that Zac got more votes than Boris in 2012. It’s little consolation to anyone on the Zac team. But in the end organisation counts, and Sadiq Khan had a brilliant ground operation. It’s how he won the Labour selection and it’s how he won such an emphatic victory. There are lessons to be learned there for London Conservatives.
Ruth Davidson, eh? What a star. A question. Is it possible to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party and not be a Member of Parliament? I seem to remember another Scot did just that, back in 1963… Just a thought.
8 May 2016 at 10:47
I’m told that only a couple of months ago, ITV executives were pulling their hair out over Peston on Sunday. No one seemed to have the faintest idea what the programme should be, let along its contents. The only certain thing was that Peston on Sunday was its name and the star would be Robert Peston. The offer of a live Sunday morning programme was the one thing which made Peston realise that ITV were willing to bet the bank on luring him from the BBC. Who in their right mind would turn that down?
For ITV to re-enter the Sunday morning current affairs arena is a big thing, and a very welcome development. Those of us who grew up with Brian Walden and Jonathan Dimbleby remember their very different approach to interviewing senior politicians – very different to anything available on the BBC. The key to their success was the time they devoted to interviewing one politician, and only one politician. In today’s political interviewing world, ten minutes is considered a long interview. I love doing 20 or 30 minute interviews, but I rarely get to do them nowadays because a drivetime radio show inevitably has to be quite fast paced and newsy. There’s a lot of pressure to get a “news line” out of a politician, even if you’re talking to them for only five minutes, but often you need to warm them up, lull them into a conversational mode before you deliver your killer question. So I was glad to see Robert Peston devoting a long time (around 15 minutes) to his headline interview with George Osborne.
The set is bright and breezy – maybe a bit too Good Morning Britain, but then again the show is probably based in the same studio. I like the different vantage points and it isn’t too awkward when Peston walks between them. The set did have the faint whiff of a cookery programme studio which led one wag on Twitter to suggest the show should be renamed ‘Pesto on Sunday’.
I also like the fact that he has two guests who are with him throughout the hour. They’re not there to review the papers, but to comment on what happens on the programme. The combination of Alastair Campbell and Esther McVey worked well too. It’ll be interesting to see whether they continue to use people who have been active in politics, rather than just the punditerati who have no experience of getting their political hands dirty.
Allegra Stratton was there to provide a bit of social media input, although whether in a show like this we really need to know what Kenny in Dumfries thinks is arguable. But she was very good at setting things in context and was a natural in front of ‘screeny’.
The only thing that didn’t work was the ‘book club’ slot. As someone who welcomes more airtime for books (for obvious reasons!) I thought it had far too little time devoted to it, and it was a rather strange book to start off with. Peston himself looked as if he couldn’t move on quickly enough.
The Louis Theroux interview worked well, even if Robert Peston failed to follow up any questions which didn’t really elicit a full answer. I felt we could have learned far more about his relationship with Jimmy Savile, for example. But it felt totally at home within the format of this show, compared to Marr, where the artsy interviews sometimes jar with the more political content. Theroux is also not the kind of typical lefty-liberal luvvie which seem to infest the Andrew Marr Show. It will be interesting to see which guests fill this slot in the weeks ahead. Less Emma Thompson, more Bear Grylls, maybe.
From an OfCom compliance point of view, this show had three guests who were REMAINERS and not a single LEAVE voice. Next week Jeremy Corbyn is the main guest, also a REMAIN supporter (sort of). If I were media monitoring for Vote Leave I might have something to say about this apparent lack of balance. Or is it one rule for radio and another for TV?
Robert Peston started off the programme by admitting he was nervous. He shouldn’t have been. He emerged from the programme having shown a human side and much more fluid and fluent than his critics may have expected. His autocue reading was flawless and there weren’t as many of his word-elongations or pauses that we’re so used to in his reporting. As someone who interview people on a daily basis, I certainly recognised a few moments when he clearly couldn’t think of what to ask next, but each time he recovered almost immediately. He bonded with each of his interviewees and his conversational style put them at their ease very quickly. This conversational style got some good lines from Osborne, who gave the most relaxed interview I’ve ever seen him deliver. I don’t think politicians will ever get an Andrew Neil style interrogation, but there are not many interviewers who are capable of that style of interviewer. The worst thing Peston could do is change his naturally relaxed and conversational manner. One minor point, though. I wasn’t sure it really worked to split the interview with the Chancellor before and after a commercial break. If it doesn’t interrupt an interview’s natural flow, maybe that can work, but the last thing you want in a big set-piece interview is to worry about having to go to a commercial break. In radio, I have flexibility on that. I’m not sure that network TV has the same degree of latitude.
Is there room for a fourth political show on a Sunday morning? I absolutely think there is. Marr, Murnaghan and the Sunday Politics are all very different in their different ways. And so is Peston on Sunday. You do have to wonder if there are enough big names to share around on a Sunday morning, though. I do fear that after an initial burst of big names, Peston might struggle to get a stellar name every single week. Murnaghan, given in mind its very small audience, has always punched above its weight in attracting big names and they will certainly need to up their game if they aren’t to lose viewers to Peston.
So, all in all a really good start for Robert Peston. I’ll certainly be watching. The big question is, though. Will I watch it live, or Sky Plus it in preference to Murnaghan? In the end, it will depend on who has the biggest and most newsworthy guests. Put it this way, I’m not sure I’d want to be Murnaghan guest-getter. Pressure, pressure, pressure. Just think of that email from John Ryley on a Monday morning asking why you only managed Lucy Powell, when Peston had Donald Trump…
6 May 2016 at 13:43
If I were Dominic Cummings (and there’s a thought) I’d be deploying the acronym TTIP as a major part of the LEAVE campaign. The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership is a very boring sounding free trade agreement between the US and the EU. From what I know about it, it scares the shit out of me. I have always suspected it was a bad thing, but now we have the proof. If it were just a free trade agreement everyone would support it, but it goes far beyond the realms of free trade. Until this week we only suspected what its contents were. Its drafting was so secret that the European Commission banned any knowledge of the negotiations. Anyone who revealed the contents were threatened with criminal proceedings. This week a draft of the agreement was leaked to Greenpeace and it makes for pretty horrifying reading. One of the main aims of TTIP is the introduction of Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which allow companies to sue governments if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits. In effect it means unelected transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments. For example, if the British government introduce an environmental tax on fracking which affects the profit of a US mining company, they can sue for loss of profits. Totally outrageous. It also forces public sector organisations like the NHS to effectively open up all their services to privatisation. Now that may be a good idea, but it is our government that should decide to do this, not TTIP. US manufactured GM food products will be forced on EU countries who currently ban them. I could go on. It’s an issue which even many Europhiles are uncomfortable with. In essence it’s an affront to democracy. There is some debate about wether national governments have a veto over its final draft. Some say it is subject to Qualified Majority Voting. In my opinion it’s so important there should be a referendum on it in each of the 28 countries.
On Wednesday I interviewed TTIP enthusiast Mike Gapes MP and War on Want’s John Hillary. You might be interested in listening to the discussion.
All anyone seems to want to talk to me about nowadays is who I think will be the next Tory leader. Whenever anyone asks the question I inwardly sigh. It’s an impossible question to answer in any meaningful way, mainly because there isn’t actually a vacancy. If there is one on June 24th then it’s clear that Boris Johnson will be in the driving seat. The niggling doubt in his mind, though, is that he might not be able to convince enough of his fellow MPs to vote for him to reach the final two. Like Theresa May he has very few devoted followers and acolytes. Off the top of my head James Cleverly, Ben Wallace and Nadine Dorries are the only three MPs who I have heard being Boris enthusiasts. I am sure there are others, but would they number more than a dozen? But if he gets into the final two, I suspect party members would give him a bigger majority than David Cameron achieved (66-33) against David Davis. The task for people like me is to identify who the outsider candidates might be. Sajid Javid was a good bet up until the moment he inexplicably declared himself to be a supporter of REMAIN. Greater love hath a Cabinet Minister than he lay down his career for beliefs he doth not possess. It’s a funny old world. Nicky Morgan has made clear she wants to stand, but the policy of forced academisation has done her no good among a range of Tory backbenchers. Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Amber Rudd and Penny Mordaunt are four leading female contenders. Indeed, it’s possible there may be more female candidates than male. Anna Soubry has impressed me of late, with some very deft handling of the steel crisis, but would Tory MPs vote for the woman who is possibly the most vocal advocate of Europhilia? My money remains on Michael Gove, who last week topped the ConHome next leader poll. Michael protests he isn’t qualified for the job and wouldn’t want it. Funnily enough I have never heard Mrs Gove back him up on that one. Someone should place a recording device under their respective pillows. I suspect the results would be very revealing. [Get your minds out of the gutter please].
So Donald Trump has more or less secured the Republican nomination. Shows how much I know. Can the Republican Party unite around him? Judging from the comments of many Republican commentator and strategists it is doubtful. Most of my republican supporting friends will be holding their noses and voting for Hillary. However, that might not be enough to stop Donald Trump. If he can appeal to people who haven’t voted for years and really burnish his anti-establishment credentials, he could still do it. I wonder whether we in this country have fallen for the same trick that we fell for when many people (not including me, I should say) thought that no way could the Americans vote for that stupid George Bush. We constantly misunderestimated George W Bush and I suspect that we (me included) are now repeating the trick with The Donald.
4 May 2016 at 18:54
Make up your own minds, but I think it’s a democratic outrage.
2 May 2016 at 09:01
Thursday matters. Clearly it matters to the thousands of candidates up and down the country. Win, and their lives change. Lose and they go back to their normal lives. But it’s not through the prism of local candidates that we will judge these elections, it’s through the prism of national politics that we will judge the results. In reality, though, there will be few immediate consequences given that normal service will not be resumed until June 24th, the day after the EU referendum.
There are local elections in England with 2260 seats up for grabs in 128 local councils. In addition to the London mayoral and Greater London Assembly elections there are elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly. There are also mayoral elections in Liverpool. Bristol and Salford. Of the 128 local councils 58 are Labour controlled, 42 have a Conservative majority, three are led by the Liberal Democrats, and 25 are under no overall control.
In any normal year, we would all expect Labour to gain several hundred local council seats. It’s mid term and an opposition party worth its salt would be looking to gain seats, especially when a prime minister has been in office for six years. Officially, Labour is playing down expectations and points to the fact that the last time these seats were fought they gained hundreds of seats and it was a high watermark for them. Despite that, various Labour MPs have said that they ought to gain seats on Thursday. Instead, all the talk is how many they will lose.Labour hasn’t lost seats when in opposition since 1985, so if that does indeed turn out to be the eventual result, it will have been a very bad day in the English local elections. It will give encouragement to those who want to initiate a leadership challenge. A lot may depend on turnout. My suspicion is that it will be even lower than usual in the council elections outside London, with many Labour voters simply staying at home.
So what of the other parties? I expect UKIP to make further gains and build its local government base beyond 500 councillors. At the moment it has 490 councillors in Great Britain. A good night for UKIP would mean winning at least another 150 councillors. It will be interesting to see how many of these gains are from Labour, especially in the north.
The Liberal Democrats are defending 330 council seats, a quarter of their total number of 1181 councillors. They have been doing well in local government by-elections and seem confident of not only holding most of their seats but making gains. They will regard any advance on 330 as a breakthrough and the start of their comeback.
So if Labour loses seats it seems inevitable that the Conservatives will be making gains, which in the sixth year of a Tory government would be quite an astonishing achievement. Tory source are playing down expectations, but it would be a major surprise if they weren’t celebrating gains rather than mourning losses on Friday morning. Watch for the number of councils which change hands. It is not unreasonable to predict that at least 8 of Labour’s 58 councils will see the party lose control.
Good night – more than 100 gains
Average night – 50 losses
Bad night – more than 100 losses
Good night – 200 gains
Average night – 100 gains
Bad night – Net losses
Good night – Net gains
Average night – Status quo
Bad night – Net losses
Good night – More than 100 gains
Average night – 50 gains
Bad night – Status quo
The London mayoral election may be a lot closer than the opinion polls suggest. Sadiq Khan has run a good campaign and has a a good ground operation. Getting out the Labour vote may be the key for him. Last time there was a 38% turnout but there were two celebrity candidates in Boris and Ken. This time there are two candidates with similar policies and their campaigns haven’t really sparked to life. One wonders if the whole election might have passed people by, so the turnout could be as low as 30%. This would undoubtedly benefit the Conservatives. Their campaign has mirrored the general election campaign and has largely been conducted under the radar. Painting Sadiq Khan as the extremists’ friend may have gone way over the top, but could it have been crucial in encouraging weak Labour voters to stay at home? The recent anti-semitism troubles won’t have helped Labour in London, even though Sadiq Khan came out early to remove Ken Livingstone from the party. However, Zac Goldsmith can only win on second preferences, and it is difficult to see how his second preferences can outperform Saiq’s. In 2012 Boris’s second preferences were far lower than predicted and he only just squeaked home.
The Greater London Assembly elections are very difficult to predict. Currently the lineup is as follows: Labour 12, Conservative 9, Green 2, LibDem 2. It’s likely UKIp will re-enter the Assembly with one or two seats. The LibDems will be pleased to hold onto their two seats but will be targeting a third. Will the antisemitism scandal hit Labour? Could depressed turnout hit Labour?
I expect a narrow Sadiq Khan victory, much narrower than everyone expects. But I do not rule out a Goldsmith surprise. That may appear to be having my cake and eating it, but I don’t think this result is as clearcut as some believe.
In the GLA I predict Labour will get 11-13 seats, the Conservatives 9-11, LibDem 2-3, UKIP 1-2, Green 2-3.
In Scotland it is quite clear that the SNP will retain power. They have 69 seats, Labour 37, Conservative 15, LibDems 5, Greens 2 and there is 1 Independent.
UKIP is looking to make a breakthrough and gain representation at Holyrood for the first time. The big story will be if the Conservatives can beat Labour into second place in terms of either vote share or seats. The SNP is polling consistently above 50% for the constituency seats, although slightly lower for regional ones, and it is here where the Conservatives will be looking to make progress. Last time Labour scored 31.7% in the constituency section and 26.3% in the regional contests. The Conservatives scored 13.9 and 12.4. Most people think the Tories will be up to 18-20%, so it all depends on how much Labour’s vote declines and how many seats from them the SNP take in both contests. If the Conservatives do indeed manage to become the main opposition party, it will demonstrate that Kezia Dugdale’s plan has so far come to nothing.
In the Welsh Assembly elections Labour seems to be doing better in Wales than in any part of the United Kingdom. They hold 30 seats in the Assembly at the moment, compared to the Conservatives on 14, Plaid Cymru on 11 and the LibDems on 5.
Labour is down 12 points in the polls in Wales since the last Assembly election and their poll ratings are on a downward spiral. It appears that they will have to form a coalition to continue in power, but Plaid seem to be the only party they could possibly coalesce with. Polls also show that Plaid may well get more seats that the Conservatives. However, the Tories seem to always outperform the polls in Wales, but they may suffer from losing votes to UKIP, who are likely to win seats in the regional part of the election across all five Welsh constituencies.
There is also a parliamentary by-election in Ogmore on Thursday.
In the Northern Ireland Assembly the DUP has 38 seats, Sinn Fein 29, the UUP 13, SDLP 14, Alliance 8, UKIP 1, Greens 1, Others 4.
Judging by the polls not a lot is going to change in Belfast on Thursday. The UUP appears to be likely to gain at the expense of the DUP with the SDLP possibly going up marginally at the expense of Sinn Fein. Otherwise it is very much as you were. Having said that, I admit to no expertise at all on Northern Ireland politics!
Sinn Fein 27-30
All eyes will be on Labour this Thursday, to the exclusion of virtually everything else. Sadiq Khan holds the key to whether Labour will have anything they can remotely cheer about, If Sadiq Wins, expect Labour to deploy Operation Kenneth Baker. Back in 1990 the Conservatives got a terrible drubbing in the local elections. But they managed to retain control of their flagship councils in Westminster and Wandsworth. And that’s what the media covered. Ken Baker’s grin was wider than ever. UKIP are likely to claim some sort of victory and for the first time have elected members to every regional assembly or Parliament in the UK. The Conservatives will be content to be a non-story, but if they make local election gains and supplant Labour as the main opposition in Scotland they will consider it to have been a very good night indeed. The LibDems will be content with small gains in the local elections and to hold their ground elsewhere. The Greens will be looking to build on their total of 145 councillors, although I doubt whether they will reach 200. They are looking to treble their representation in the Scottish Parliament and could win as many as 8 seats.
All in all this may well be a more than average interesting 24 hours given how uninteresting local elections can sometimes be.
29 Apr 2016 at 14:13
Well that went well then. President Obama’s visit seems to have turned people marginally against the REMAIN campaign, with the latest batch of polls showing a narrow LEAVE lead. I can’t say I am surprised. Virtually every ‘normal’ person I have spoken to, and by ‘normal’ I mean someone outside the Westminster village and media bubble, has taken great exception to his dire warnings to Britain of the consequences of leaving the EU. One said something along these lines: “Have I got this wrong? He says we have a ‘special relationship’, yet then goes on to tell us what we should do and warns that if we don’t do as he says we’ll be at the back of the queue. That’s a pretty one-sided special relationship’. I couldn’t have put it better myself. This was one of those occasions when LEAVE politicians should have controlled themselves and just laughed it off, rather than speak more in anger than sorrow. Boris went completely OTT in his reaction and rather played into the hands of those who don’t believe he is up to the role of national leader. Sometimes it is least said, soonest mended.
Naz Shah was one of the first of the new intake of Labour MPs I interviewed. She struck me as rather refreshing, with an interesting back story. Having beaten George Galloway she stood out from the crowd. She’s been on my show several times and each time I’ve thought that she would go far. She seemed liked someone with some original ideas and who wouldn’t always follow the party line. So when I saw the remarks she had made on Israel, before she was elected, I was rather shocked. There has been a lot of debate about whether her remarks were anti Israeli or anti-Semitic. There’s nothing wrong with making anti-Israeli comments. I’m none too keen on Netanyahu’s government myself, but some people don’t seem to know where to draw the line. This seems to a phenomenon which particularly affects the left. Sure, we all know there have been anti-semites in the Conservative Party but it’s hard to think of many recent examples of the genre. Jeremy Corbyn’s problem is that a few people in his party have taken their lead from him and his Shadow Chancellor. Their perceived anti-Israeli views have given licence to those who wish to go further and think there will be no consequences. Corbyn didn’t want to punish Naz Shah, he was pushed into it. His spokesman was even briefing that even though she wrote those things, she didn’t, er, believe them. Work that one out if you will. This was a great opportunity for Corbyn to immediately deliever on John McDonnell’s promise to take decisive action against anyone in the Labour Party guilty of anti-semitism. He funked it. There may only be a couple of hundred thousand Jewish voters in this country, but many of them live in marginal constituencies. Traditionally they have voted Labour in large numbers. It’s difficult to see why anyone who is Jewish would vote Labour under the current Labour leadership.
After two weeks Vodafone finally sent me a replacement iPhone, after mine broke. It would have been just over a week, but their shop in Tunbridge Wells didn’t see fit to tell me it was ready for collection, as they had promised they would. Still, I have it back now and it’s as if my right arm has been stitched back on. To be so addicted to a gadget is truly pathetic, but there you go.
There is a growing consensus among political pundits that Sadiq Khan is home and dry and will be the next mayor of London. They are the very same people who assumed a Tory majority was impossible at the general election. Back in May the Conservatives surprised everyone because no one was really aware of the ‘under the radar’ ground campaign Lynton Crosby had been running. I wonder if history is about to repeat itself. I’m certainly not predicting it, but I’m not so sure this is as clearcut as everyone is saying. Sometimes it’s not wise to follow the pundit herd. Just saying…
This is my last column before the local elections and the regional ones in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. My gut feeling is that Labour are going to do badly in Wales, Scotland and also in the English council elections. If they really do lose seats, as most people predict, it will say an awful lot about the lack of progress under Jeremy Corbyn. It’s difficult to predict who will be thegainers in English councils. Could the LibDems start a mini revival? Could the Tories even gain seats?
Labour is bound to lose a bit of ground in Wales. The story there is likely to be the breakthrough of UKIP, who will win seats in the Assembly, including Neil Hamilton. In Scotland it’s possible for Ruth Davidson to break through and overtake Labour to become the main opposition. If that happens (and I have to say I’m sceptical) it would be almost as big a story as Zac Goldsmith pulling through. It’s going to be quite a 24 hours, with a lot of political consequences both for all the parties, but also for some individuals. If Zac loses, what next for him? And the same for Sadiq. But most of all, what impact will these results have on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership?
23 Apr 2016 at 09:10
If you are part of a campaign to try to say something, you don’t just have to win the argument, you have to win people’s hearts and minds. As usual, the Republican movement got it totally wrong yesterday on the Queen’s 90th birthday. Instead of wishing Her Majesty a happy birthday, they just carped and moaned from the sidelines. Yesterday was not a day for arguing about the future of the monarchy, or lack of it, it was a day for wishing a ninety year old lady a very happy day and thanking her for her service to the nation.
So will Jeremy Corbyn be meeting Barack Obama or not? On Monday we were told that “logistics” meant that a meeting might be difficult. On Tuesday it emerged that Obama didn’t actually want to meet Corbyn anyway. I suspect that Corbyn spinners had got to hear that the President might not be making time in his schedule so they got their retaliation in first. It was a pretty bad briefing, but we’re used to that.
Talking of the Labour leadership, they have also banned McDonald’s from taking a commercial stand at this year’s Labour Party conference, apparently on the basis that they use zero hour contracts and don’t recognise trade unions. The hand of John McDonnell was probably behind this decision. He has long been a vocal critic of the burger chain. The fact is that McDonald’s employs 85,000 people in this country. They do actually allow their employees to join unions, and they have moved away from zero hour contracts. Perhaps they will also ban the Cuba Solidarity campaign from having their usual stand. After all, the Cuban government bans trade unions. I wait with baited breath.
So the EU referendum debate grinds on. I’m actually interested in the subject and it’s already boring me rigid. Every day, the same scare stories, the same threats. And we’ve got nine more weeks of this, God help us. The only politician so far to articulate any kind of positive vision for the future is Michael Gove. And the trouble is, I don’t see it changing. The REMAIN side seem to have no positive vision at all of the opportunities available to Britain if we stay, which for many people says it all. The LEAVE side aren’t a whole lot better, and their problem is that all they can come out with is generalities which don’t have an awful lot of economic data behind them. It’s a bit like believing in God – you have the faith that God exists but you can’t prove it. LEAVE supporters have faith that things will be better but they have no way of proving it, and that is the main weakness of the PR in their campaign. So far REMAIN have proved very adept and scaring people that a plague of locusts will descend if we leave. LEAVE now need to up their game.
But what happens if Britain does indeed vote to REMAIN? Will the subject of joining the euro rear its ugly head again? Will we then face arguments for us to join a fully fledged United States of Europe. However much I hate the idea, if we vote to stay, the logic is much deeper integration, rather than maintaining our usual position of grudgingly moving as slowly as we can. Personally, I could never, ever support us joining the euro for all the reasons already articulated over the years. If you don’t have control over your currency, you don’t have control over your economy and by implication your country. William Gladstone put it like this 125 years ago…
“The finance of the Country is intimately associated with the liberties of the Country. It is a powerful leverage by which English liberty has been gradually acquired … It lies at the root of English liberty, and if the House of Commons can by any possibility lose the power of the grants of public money your very liberty will be worth very little in comparison … That powerful leverage has been what is commonly known as the Power of the Purse, the control off the House of Commons over public expenditure, the root of English Liberty.”
Gladstone ended with a final warning:
“If these powers of the House of Commons come to be encroached upon, it will be by tacit and insidious methods, and therefore I say that attention should be called to this.”
Quite. Some truths endure down the years. Like this one.