4 May 2016 at 18:54
Make up your own minds, but I think it’s a democratic outrage.
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.
22 Apr 2016 at 17:09
I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames this afternoon about Boris Johnson’s article in The Sun this morning. I certainly got more than I bargained for. He ripped Boris a new one, time and time again. “Not fit to be leader,” was one of the kinder comments.
Have a listen.
And here’s a short video of part of that conversation…
15 Apr 2016 at 13:28
I am a Sky News addict. The channel has some excellent presenters but recently the double headed morning show has become compulsive viewing. Colin Brazier and Jayne Secker have an onscreen chemistry which is quite unique. They are very flirtatious and clearly enjoy working together. Their adlibs are delicious and each of them frequently looks to be on the verge of corpsing. Both are very happily married, but the viewers are often left thinking that they’re watching an episode of ‘Moonlighting’ and asking, ‘will they, won’t they?’ A bit like me and Jacqui Smith!
The least surprising news of the week came with the announcement that the Electoral Commission chose Vote Leave to be the official ‘Leave’ campaign for the EU Referendum. Their reasoning, I thought, was as hole-ridden as a lump of Emmental. However, if Grassroots Out go ahead with their threat to launch a Judicial Review history may not forgive them. The task of ‘Outers’ is to come together, unite, and fight the campaign of their lives. The time for internecine warfare is now over. This is a once in a generation opportunity and it cannot be sacrificed on the ego of Arron Banks. Nigel Farage has been making efforts behind the scenes to bring everyone together. Now is the time for everyone to respond and take part in a group hug. Vote Leave should embrace Farage as he reaches parts of the electorate that none of their main leaders do or can.
The sight of the ludicrous Evan Harris touring the studios talking about John Whittingdale has been a sight to behold. Hacked Off have shown their true colours. They appear to be against any intrusion in a politician’s private life unless of course that politician is a Tory minister. What utter shits. Their complaint seems to be that he might be influenced by newspapers who allegedly did him a favour by not publishing a story about him having a relationship with someone described as a ‘Dominatrix’. Their position is ridiculous. This six month relationship happened a year before his appointment as Culture Secretary. He was a single man. They have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that any of his decisions have been influenced by the position he found himself in in 2013. If they, let them bring it forward. I don’t know how Evan Harris can look himself in the mirror. The question is, when he does, does he see a reflection? Or if he does I imagine he sees the face of a political chancer, despised by every single Liberal Democrat I know, and who seems to have become one of those very sad ex-MPs who spends half their time hanging around the corridors of parliament in a vain effort to remain remotely important or relevant.
Wednesday started off so well. I was shortlisted for Radio Presenter of the Year. I won the award in 2013, so never expected to be nominated again. But after that the day got decidedly worse. I had taken the day off work because West Ham were playing Manchester United in a 7pm kick off. I decided I’d show willing and embark on a trip to the Tunbridge Wells dump. I started loading piles of old newspapers into the car, but dropped some. I bent down and my phone dropped out of my shirt pocket onto the ground. The screen shattered and the whole phone was unusable. I spent 90 minutes in 9 separate phonecalls to Vodafone to try to get it sorted. The upshot was that I could upgrade at a cost of £350 and get a replacement phone the next day, or I could claim on the insurance (which I hadn’t realised I’d even got) but it would take a week for a replacement to arrive. As I am sure you can imagine, going a week without a phone would be my idea of purgatory. Even for an hour, it felt as if my right arm had been cut off (no jokes please). Anyway, after being told 5 times that Vodafone couldn’t talk to me because my name wasn’t on their computer as an authorised person to talk to, I finally got it sorted, but it would still be a week before I’d get a replacement. By this time, I was already late leaving for Upton Park. All this game me a tremendous feeling of foreboding. I even thought about staying home and watching it on TV. Well, you know the rest. So I forewent my LBC show fee, broke my phone and West Ham were ousted from the FA Cup. Not a good omen for winning the radio award again, when the awards ceremony comes around in May…
While writing this column I am listening to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Europe. It’s apparently going to be his only major speech on Europe during the Referendum campaign. I’m not surprised, given that he’s actually as Eurosceptic as me. His current stance on Europe is entirely guided by party management issues. I suspect that in the privacy of the voting booth he may well indeed still vote to leave the EU. If you listened to his speech it was almost entirely a speech about workers’ rights, big business and tax avoiders. The elephant in the room for Corbyn and Labour is something called the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership. This is a fundamentally undemocratic racket designed for global corporations to usurp parliamentary democracy. You can’t be in favour of our continuing membership of the EU without addressing TTIP and its impact on our sovereignty. It’s the dog that hasn’t barked in the referendum campaign so far. But bark it surely must.
I did the Andrew Marr paper review last Sunday with Polly Toynbee. I know she is a real hate figure for many readers of this site, and believe me, many of her views repel me too. However, on a personal level she is rather lovely and we always have a very civilised debate, partly because I can’t bring myself to go in for the kill. On Sunday, though, she brought up the subject of housing and how difficult it is for young people to get on the housing ladder. Quick as a flash I responded by saying that seeing as Polly and I were both second home owners we were part of the problem. She moved on quickly to the next story.
This week Yvette Cooper hit the headlines for accusing Zac Goldsmith of running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan. That’s a pretty serious accusation. In her article for The Times Red Box site she said: “What started as a subtle dog-whistle is becoming a full blown racist scream”. As evidence, she says: “They’ve sent leaflets to British Hindus with the outrageous claim that Sadiq wants to take their family jewellery.” Were that the case, she might have a point. Except it isn’t. The leaflet Yvette complains about actually contained this sentence: “Labour will impose a wealth tax on family jewellery”. That is something quite different. She also said it was very wrong for Zac to continually attack Sadiq over his alleged links to extremists. In an interview with me later in the day Yvette appeared to exonerate Zac Goldsmith himself for any racist motives, but instead blamed his campaign team, effectively labelling them as racist. It was, she said, all the fault of the ‘wicked’ Lynton Crosby. Well so far as I know Lynton isn’t involved in the campaign, but what I do know is that many people who are involved in running his campaign are friends of mine. And what I also know is that there isn’t a racist bone in any of their bodies. To accuse someone of racism or racist motives is a big thing, especially when the evidence is somewhat light to say the least. I think Yvette owes several people an apology.
12 Apr 2016 at 11:14
Shall I tell you a secret? Sometimes I feel like I’ve fallen out of love with the book industry.
I mean, across the board it’s generally full of pleasant enough people who mean well but, it seems to me, are often damagingly risk-averse, hidebound by outmoded business practices (returns anyone?) and – whisper it – a general lack of ambition.
I travel a lot, so I spend a lot of time in bookshops, doing the kind of thing Managing Directors of publishing companies should do – like emailing my sales team and demanding to know why book x is not included in promotion y, and so on.
When I look at the new releases section, I’m afraid it leaves me cold. Old ideas continuously repackaged, once-winning formulas repeated to death, backlists mined until they’ve worn thin and a general nostalgia for a ‘better’ age; a pre-Amazon time of four-hour lunches, industry-sponsored jollies to foreign climes and ‘poet’s’ day (Piss Off Early Today) every Thursday and Friday. It’s all just so ‘meh’ – it bores me silly.
I read the trade press and all I seem to see are nicely-turned-out young men and women disguising a lack of imagination behind a barrage of buzzwords, setting out a vision of future publishing in the kind of language they think people working in proper industries might use. I’m afraid it makes me want to grab them, shake them and say, ‘It’s not just about the future, it’s about now. And above all, it’s about the books!’
And that’s what dispels my gloom. The books. When I look at our forward list, lovingly laid out in the Biteback catalogue you are now no doubt downloading HERE , the clouds break and I fall in love all over again. Alastair Campbell’s astonishing new diaries, David Laws’s insider account of the coalition government, political giant Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s extraordinary, epoch-spanning memoirs, and many, many more; these are the bulwarks I set against my disenchantment. These are what I got into publishing for in the first place.
Another thing I can never understand is the time it takes our competitors to publish a book. At Biteback, a part of our success lies in our ability to pick up a book and get it to the consumer in the shortest time possible. The clue is in the category name: surely it’s called current affairs for a reason? Now obviously this brings its own challenges but we are fortunate in that our partners in an increasingly reactive book trade know that we will deliver the support, in the form of publicity, to make our books highly visible.
Finally, there are no books without the people. The authors, of course, but also the team who produce the books. At Biteback, we are a finely-honed (well, sometimes) outfit of publishing guerrilla fighters. Every now and then, one of the big boys will come and poach a team member, and in every case that individual will go on to improve their new company. Really, I’m surprised my competitors never drop me a line and thank me!
DOWNLOAD THE BITEBACK SPRING/SUMMER CATALOGUE HERE
10 Apr 2016 at 13:08
ICYMI, here’s the paper review with me and Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr Show this morning. We covered tax affairs, Brexit, second homes the muslim survey in the Sunday Times.
8 Apr 2016 at 13:34
On Wednesday afternoon I saw a newsalert flash up on my screen. “Government to spend £9.3 million on sending leaflet to 27 million homes”, it read. No, I thought, that can’t be right. After all David Cameron specifically ruled out the government doing such a thing back in February, after his ‘triumphant’ return from Brussels with his so-called ‘deal’. So before reading out this seemingly astonishing bit of news, I thought I had double check to see if the Press Association had got it wrong. But they hadn’t. It’s hard to describe how angry this has made me. If you believe in any sense of fairness I just cannot see how you defend it. The increasingly hapless Liz Truss was sent out to do just that and the best she could come up with was that people want the facts, so the government is damn well going to give them to them. Except if you actually read the text of the leaflet it is full of opinions, threats and suppositions, with the odd fact thrown in for good measure.
The Government argues that it should be able to set out its position, as if anyone would argue with that. But to spend taxpayers’ money to effectively rig the referendum is an utter disgrace. If it was just a leaflet, it might so be so bad. After all, there is a precedent for this from 1975 and the 2014 Scottish Referendum (as if that’s some kind of defence), but what has slipped under the radar is the fact that £3 million of the £9.3 million is going to be spent on other propaganda on the internet. News outlets report that this money will be spent on a website. It’s almost impossible to spend that kind of money on a website, so what I imagine will be happening is that the money will be spent on Facebook and other social media advertising.
This is a binary referendum. You can either vote LEAVE or REMAIN. Each campaign ought to have the same spending limit. But because of this government leaflet, the REMAIN campaign will have spent £16.3 million, while the LEAVE campaign will be able to spend a maximum of £7 million. On which plant is that fair? I don’t think it matters which side of the argument you are on. This stinks. Conveniently the news was released on the day that the Prime Minister was in a lot of trouble over Panama. The ghost of Jo Moore lives on.
I do find it amusing that the Guardian is working itself up into such a lather about the Panama Papers. After all, it isn’t averse to the odd bit of offshore tax planning itself, is it? The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And hypocrisy is about the worst you can accuse the PM of in all of this. Having publicly slated Jimmy Carr for his offshore tax avoiding activities a couple of years ago, David Cameron is now getting it on the chin for his own family’s alleged activities. But so far Jeremy Corbyn’s attacks have fallen slightly flat. He’s made all sorts of insinuations about not paying tax but he has absolutely no evidence on which to base his allegations. He says there needs to be an independent investigation into whether the Prime Minister paid tax on his £300,000 inheritance. Does he really think that any sitting prime minister would be stupid enough to try to fiddle his tax. Ah, say his detractors, we need to know if the PM has benefitted from this offshore money at any time in his life. Are they seriously saying that an eleven year old David Cameron should have asked his father how his school fees were being paid for, and then insisting that offshore money should not be used? That’s the level of this debate. David Cameron has understandably become rather exasperated and demanded that his critics ‘put up or shut up’. Even the normally sensible Labour MP Wes Streeting has got in on the act. Oh well, at least the Labour Party is united on something – being envious of anyone with money.
I got a new pair of glasses this week. This is only noteworthy in so far as they’re rather different to my normal narrow lens, Norman Tebbit style eyewear. I’ve always wanted bigger lensed glasses but I’ve never found a pair that in any way suited my slightly odd shaped face. Anyway, last week I found a pair which much to my surprise everyone seems to like. I’m still in the feeling self-conscious faze though. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.
I’m reading a gripping account of the downfall of former Australian PM Tony Abbott at the moment. It’s called “The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government”. Peta Credlin was Abbott’s chief of staff, and if this book is to be believed, a nut job of Svengli, who had total control over the Prime Minister. Some of the anecdotes about her screaming matches are truly jawdropping. Abbott’s main aim in life seemed to be to please her and prevent her from losing her temper. And when she did lose her temper he’d run after her to console her and always taker her side even when he knew she was blatantly wrong. If he had taken the advice of all the people who implored him to ditch her, maybe he would still be in post.
So Michael Gove is topping the ConHome “Who’s the next Tory leader” poll. Good. I hope he takes encouragement from it and stands when the time comes.
I’ve got a frozen shoulder at the moment. Bloody painful. I went to see an Osteopath on Monday. Christ alone knows what people outside the room thought we were doing, as I kept uttering rather loud ooos, ahs and light screams. Best not to speculate.
So London will miss out on Winston McKenzie standing for the English Democrats for the mayoralty. He submitted nomination papers which had multiple identical signatures on, and he was two minutes late. This is a man who has been a member of the Conservatives, LibDems, Greens, UKIP and Veritas. The English Democrats had a narrow escape. The man is a perpetual embarrassment with no self-knowledge. It can surely now only be a matter of time before he leaves the English Democrats and joins Labour. They would be welcome to him.
6 Apr 2016 at 11:07
Twenty seven years ago today Norman Fowler announced the Repeal of the National Dock Labour Scheme in the House of Commons. I had been working for the National Association of Port Employers and, with Nicholas Finney, had been masterminding the lobbying campaign to get rid of this iniquitous piece of employment legislation. If I die tomorrow, it remains the greatest achievement of my life, for it led to previously moribund ports having the ability to thrive. This one piece of legislation enabled port employers and ancilliary industries to create tens of thousands of jobs which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. Here’s the story of how it happened.
In September 1987 I was on holiday in Michigan when I decided to buy a copy of The Times. I had just finished a two year stint as a researcher in the House of Commons and needed to find a new job. Quick. I saw an advert for the position as Public Affairs Manager for the British Ports Association & National Association of Port Employers. In those days, lobbying was in its infancy and to be honest I wasn’t sure what the job would really entail. Anyway, I spent an hour in the University of Michigan library in Ann Arbor (which remains one of my favourite towns in the world) touching up my CV and constructing a letter of application. A month later, I had beaten 200 other applicants for the job and started work in a rather dingy office in New Oxford Street. While preparing for interviews, virtually everyone I spoke to said, “ah, you’ll be trying to persuade the government to get rid of the Dock Labour Scheme”. Dock Labour Scheme? What the hell was that? It certainly didn’t sound very exciting. I started researching it and was horrified by what I found. It was a piece of employment legislation which gave registered dock workers privileges other workers could only dream of. They had a guaranteed job for life, it was impossible to sack them, when they retired their jobs automatically passed to their sons and they were paid at rates other workers (and indeed dock workers in non scheme ports) could only dream of. Spanish practices were rife and if a port closed down, dockers were transferred to the nearest port even if it was run by a different company and there was no need for them.
How on earth could this scheme exist after 8 years of a Thatcher government, I asked myself. I wasn’t the only one. But Margaret Thatcher was frightened of the dockers. Nigel Lawson writes in his memoirs…
Margaret displayed cold feet to a quite remarkable degree. She suggested [at a meeting in 1985], first, that it would be more sensible to do nothing and let the Scheme wither on the vine. She then expressed acute anxiety about the effect of a dock strike on the balance of payments and Sterling. I replied that if anyone should be worried about that, it would be me, and I was not… But Margaret was adamant. She concluded that there was no prospect in abolishing the Dock Labour Scheme this side of an election – then still some two years off. A disappointed Nick Ridley [Transport Secretary] accepted her verdict and that was that.
So my task was to launch a campaign to persuade Margaret Thatcher to do the necessary and get rid of this piece of iniquitous employment legislation. It soon became clear that one of the reasons the port employers had recruited me was because I had previously worked for a Tory MP who had been a PPS at the Department of Transport. They thought I knew my way around that department. I didn’t like to tell them I had never set foot in it, let alone met a single civil servant from the DoT!
Together with my boss, Nick Finney, I launched a hearts and minds campaign aimed at politicians and the media. Barely a week seemed to go by without someone writing an Op Ed calling for the Scheme to go, or for a tabloid news report to appear about Spanish practices in the industry. Tory MP Jacques Arnold put down an EDM, which rapidly attracted more than 400 signatures – more than any other that session. He and his colleague Nick Bennett kept up the parliamentary pressure, with debates, questions and meetings. It was then that I got a call from an MP I had never heard of, David Davis. “I think you need to change strategy,” he said bluntly. We met and I was impressed by what he had to say. He proceeded to write a pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies titled CLEAR THE DECKS and took a grip of the campaign in Parliament, gently (or not so gently) elbowing aside Arnold and Bennett. David Davis’s advice and actions turned out to be of crucial importance, and it was then that I marked him out as “one to watch”. We also met with Michael Meacher and John Prescott (Labour’s employment and transport spokesmen) who made clear that they couldn’t publicly support us, but they knew the Scheme was an anachronism and although they would go through the motions of having to make sceptical remarks about our stand, they wouldn’t lift a finger to support the unions.
We were clearly knocking at an open door throughout the Conservative Party. But the door at Number Ten remained firmly shut. We quickly realised that a campaign purely based on the iniquities of the Dock Labour Scheme wasn’t going to persuade she who needed to be persuaded. So we decided to commission a report from some economic consultants, WEFA. Their report was given the remit of outlining the economic benefits of repeal. They concluded that up to 48,000 new jobs would be created. Their reasoning was easy to understand, for in the 63 DLS ports (which included London, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Clyde, Forth, Tees, Hull and Immingham – but not Dover and Felixstowe) the port authorities were prevented by law from allowing any non port related activity within their boundaries. If the Scheme didn’t exist they could utilise their land however they wished.
Secondly, we needed to show that a national dock strike would not be as calamitous as the Prime Minister feared. Traditionally, the port employers and shipping lines had been regarded as soft touches by the unions. We knew the shipowners wouldn’t change, and we knew that the chairman of P&O has Mrs T’s ear. So we had to demonstrate that the port employers would be completely robust and not buckle under union pressure. So we produced a guide for the employers on how to deal with a strike in the event of repeal.
We decided to hold a one day conference for the employers on the subject and scheduled it for April 6 1989. A few days before the conference one of the civil servants phoned and told us to prepare for an announcement that the Scheme was about to be repealed. “When’s the announcement,” we asked tentatively. “I haven’t told you this, but it will be on 6 April,” he said. Oh. My. God. The day of our “Preparing for a Strike” conference. We knew no one would believe this to be complete coincidence, but that is exactly what it was. We debated whether to call it off, but decided the downsides of that were worse than people thinking we were in collusion with the government.
Mobile phones had only just been invented, and I remember spending half that day with a massive Vodafone handset glued to my ear. The employers themselves hadn’t got a clue what was about to hit them. Finally, at 3.30, Norman Fowler, the Employment Secretary stood up in the Commons and made the announcement. “Thunderbirds are go,” said my informant. We then made the announcement to the employers who received the news in stunned silence. They thought it was a joke, or prelude to some sort of role play exercise. But it wasn’t. It was for real.
Immediately, many dockers walked out in a series of wildcat strikes. The T&G union under Ron Todd was caught totally on the hop. They never really thought this day would come.
A couple of days later, disaster struck. Our entire strategy document had been leaked to The Independent. We never found out who had done it but Nick Finney and I initially thought that the game was up. Quite the reverse turned out to be true. The contents of the document scared the unions half to death. They couldn’t believe the level of pre-planning which had been happening. We had identified which ports were likely to strike and which would remain open for business. We had identified small wharves all over the country which could take shipments if the major ports were shut. We had even laid plans to fly in foreign dock workers if necessary. The leak actually proved to be a masterstroke, as it transformed the port employers’ reputation both in the eyes of the unions and the government.
The unions announced plans for a national ballot of dockers, which we knew would vote in favour of strike action. But we had prepared for that and had carefully laid out plans to take them to court. When we did, the union won. We appealed to the High Court and I remember attending the hearing on a Saturday afternoon. We thought we had little hope of the verdict going in our direction – but it did. I remember looking over to the BBC’s Industrial Correspondent, John Fryer, and we both shook our heads in a state of bemusement. It was a grievous blow to the T&G who were having a very difficult time keeping their more militant members in check. There was violence on the picket lines and violence by striking dockers towards those who returned to work. Employers were threatened with violence and worse. I regularly received threatening phone calls and mail.
While all this was going on the Dock Labour Scheme (Abolition) Bill slowly made its way through Parliament and eventually received Royal Assent on 6 July. By that time, strike action was dying out and very sporadic. Court action, the return to work by many dockers, and the ability of importers and exporters to find other ports to get their goods in and out meant that the unions knew that the game was up.
I remember being at my parents house one Saturday afternoon in July 1989 and being told that dockers at Southampton and Tilbury had just voted to go back to work. Indeed, that gave rise to one of the best headlines I have ever read in the SUNDAY SPORT the next day.
HORSE FART SIGNALS END OF DOCK STRIKE
Apparently, at the Tilbury mass meeting, which was held in an open field, a horse had wandered up to the assembled dockers while they were being addressed by a union official. Just as he encouraged them all to return to work, the horse broke wind in a very loud manner. I was quoted in the SUNDAY SPORT story saying “That just about sums up the whole strike”.
That signalled the end of a three months stint where I was working 6am to midnight every day and appearing on news bulletins and radio stations almost non stop. Our hearts and minds campaign had been a great success, even if one industrial reporter dubbed me “master of the trite press release”. But the feeling of complete letdown at the end of it was terrible. The phone stopped ringing. I hadn’t got a job any longer really. Even though we had scored a tremendous success, I had the same feeling after the general election campaign finished in 2005. There was nothing to make the adrenaline flow any longer.
Over those two years I made contacts in the media and in politics who would feature a lot in my life over the next two decades. I’ve already mentioned David Davis. Kevin Maguire was a young industry reporter on the Daily Telegraph. Paul Routledge was Labour editor on the Observer and could be guaranteed to ask the one question I wouldn’t want to answer. But perhaps my clearest memory of that whole time was being rung up during the strike by another Industrial Correspondent saying his editor needed a front page story and he needed me to give it to him. He was clearly the worse for drink, so I ended up dictating a story to him, which ran word for word in next day’s paper. Those were the days.
I remember saying to someone around that time that if I never achieved anything else in my life, I would look back on the past two years and know that I had done something which would benefit the country hugely over the coming decades. And so it proved. The 63 former Scheme ports could now at last complete with non Scheme ports like Felixstowe and Dover on a level playing field. No longer would they be held to ransom by trade unions who could previously bring them to a standstill with no warning. They could now develop their landbanks and attract new businesses into port areas. In short, the abolition of the DLS has created tens of thousand of new jobs, just as we predicted. It has enabled Britain’s ports to compete with their European neighbours, and it enabled the government then to privatise many of them during the 1990s. But that’s another story.
In mid 1991 I wrote a pamphlet for AIMS OF INDUSTRY which sought to outline the progress the former Scheme ports had made since abolition, and how the government should now press ahead with the privatisation of the Trust Ports. It concluded…
The Government’s abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme was a model of well thought-out policy backed up by firmness and resolution. Described as the “best kept government secret for years” by the Sunday Times the announcement took everyone by surprise. Few of the Thatcher reforms can have had such a dramatic effect in such a short time on management morale, free enterprise and industrial relations. With productivity up, profits rising and customer service improving, former Employment Secretary Norman Fowler has every reason to be proud of his achievement.
For many of the Dock Labour Scheme ports, privatisation now beckons. The ports of Medway, Forth, Clyde, Tees and Tilbury are all set to enter the private sector, as ABP did so successfully in 1983.
It is the natural second stage in the Government’s ports policy. Some have expressed severe doubts about privatisation and been vocal in their opposition. In they end they too will come to realise that they need have no fear of life outside the shackles of their Trust status. Free enterprise works.
And here’s a short article I wrote for the Telegraph on the twentieth anniversary of the repeal, back in 2009.
Twenty years ago this week, Norman Fowler stood up in the House of Commons and announced that the Thatcher government would repeal a piece of anachronistic employment legislation called the Dock Labour Scheme (DLS).
The cheer that went up from the Tory benches at the employment secretary’s words exceeded any in living memory. True, a lengthy campaign in the media and Parliament had tried to keep the need for reform uppermost in ministers’ minds. But the Government was nervous about embarking on an industrial dispute with the dockers so soon after taking on the miners. It’s not a word much associated with her, but up until then, Margaret Thatcher had been “frit”.
The Dock Labour Scheme ensured that a large part of the shipping industry was jointly regulated by employers and trade unions, chiefly the Transport and General Workers’ Union. This had long ceased to have any practical advantages in terms of social protection: instead, it had become a restrictive, depressing practice that condemned the ports affected to a lingering death. The infamous agreement in 1972 between Lord Aldington, on behalf of the Heath government, and Jack Jones, on behalf of the unions, effectively gave registered dock workers a job for life; partly as a result, “Spanish practices” were rife.
In the ports operating under the Dock Labour Scheme, it was a criminal offence to not be registered as an employer, or to employ a non-registered docker. Even if a dock worker committed a serious criminal offence, it was impossible either to discipline or to sack him – and it was always a “him”, since the unions controlled all recruitment. If you weren’t related to a docker, you didn’t stand a chance. It was the personification of “jobs for the boys”.
Following Fowler’s announcement came four months of strikes on docks across the land. But although the employers lost the legal battle – which ended in the House of Lords – in arguing against the legitimacy of a strike, the TGWU was defeated. The scheme was scrapped on July 6, and soon afterwards the last dockers returned to work.
Almost overnight, British ports became strike-free and competitive. Through a single act, the Conservatives triggered the revival of Bristol, Tees, Tilbury and Sheerness, which were suddenly able to compete with non-Scheme ports such as Felixstowe. It was, judges Nigel Lawson, a “textbook example” of good government – not least because the announcement took the trade unions by surprise and the reform was carried out with great political skill.
Important as the measure was, the abolition of the Dock Labour Scheme has wider significance: it symbolises the effect that one relatively small act of deregulation can have on the economy. Thousands of new jobs were created, new businesses sprang up, and shipping lines became far more willing to use British ports.
If we are going to get out of this recession, it is crucial that we look at taking that model further. Small and medium-sized enterprises are shackled by red tape – and although it isn’t as restrictive as old-fashioned labour agreements, it has a similar stultifying effect.
The Tories must draw up a list of such regulations to sweep away, even though parts of the Civil Service will try to block such measures, just as there were vested interests within the Department of Employment that fought the repeal of the DLS.
In my job with the National Association of Port Employers, I played a small part in the whole process of repealing the scheme. If I never achieve anything else, I will look back on that period with pride, and know that without our actions and our campaign, ports like Southampton, Hull and Forth would not be the thriving hubs of enterprise they are today.