Nice Balls and a dull campaign


The leadership hopefuls (photo: J Lipman)

It’s interesting, isn’t it, what a difference a campaign can make.

Reading Anne McElvoy’s interview with Ed Balls in today’s Evening Standard, I had to pinch myself to remember that her subject was the same man who spent years as Labour’s comedy bully.

Ed Balls was the unreconstructed Labour man, the union champion, Brown’s enthusiastic and angry number two.

But lo, here he is after a summer seeking the leadership, and he appears articulate, thoughtful and even rather human. Anecdotes about novelty cake and his marriage abound from this “Newly Nice Ed”.

Shame, because he’s not going to win. A metamorphosis for nothing, though he’d probably be happy enough in the chancellor’s seat – and he’s certainly got the best economic credentials out of the gang of five vying for the top spot.

But it’s funny isn’t it. I went to a debate at the beginning of it all, the day Diane Abbott joined in. None of what was said was particularly remarkable; what I took out of the event most of all was the animosity between the Ed’s – patronising replies, furious glances across the podium. This would be a campaign of tension, anger, drama. With Balls around, surely somebody would get into a fight.

But it hasn’t and they haven’t – and any Labour friction has been entirely New in its making, courtesy of Mandy and Blair.

It’s been the campaign that wasn’t.

Sure we’ve had some sniping between the brothers, but beyond a few manufactured media stories that’s been pretty minimal. Diane Abbott has restricted herself to some low-level grumbling from the sidelines, and Andy Burnham – well, he was always going to be nice, wasn’t he.

Can it be that the New Labour drama really is over? If you can’t even rely on an election with five high-profile contenders, including Ed Balls, for a fuss, then maybe so. The party seems to have grown up.

Which, one the one hand is great for Labour’s political rehabilitation.

But on the other, well, it doesn’t exactly make for a nailbiting contest, does it?


Doubly damned if you didn’t but now you did

Damned if you, damned if you don’t and doubly damned if you didn’t but now you did.

 No, not a new tongue twister. 

Just my response to the inevitable media sniggering that has accompanied the news that, owing to extreme public outrage, Brown et al probably won’t be scrapping childcare vouchers any more.  U-Turn, the Sunday Times cried at me across the breakfast table.   Others sneered about a government ‘climb down’

But what exactly is so wrong with the government changing their mind after 81,000 people signed their names to a petition on the subject? 

Surely that is what democracy is all about – leaders listening to our opinions and reacting to them? 

Why else would you set up a petition, except to encourage change.  No one lobbies politicians just to make a point; you place pressure in order to get a result. 

Ideally they might get it right first time, but i’d still rather a government who were responsive to popular sentiment.  Of course they are doing it because they have calculated the ‘mum and dad vote’ is rather crucial to prevent a Conservative landslide come May, but so what!

Isn’t it better for them to ‘climb down’ on an issue they have apparently got it wrong with, than remain stubborn and defiant just to prevent accusations of flip-flopping. 

Just imagine how different world history could have been, if only leaders were a little more willing to contradict themselves. 

All write, enough already

So, the backlash has begun.

After he made the cardinal sin of a spelling mistake in a letter – because no one else has EVER done that before – of condolence to a mother whose son was killed in Afghanistan, it turns out the British public thinks we should be laying off Gordon Brown.

Writing in The Times, Melanie Reid argued that nobody deserves the vitriol being directed to him The Mirror has struck out at David Cameron for making political gain out of the matter, while the Twittersphere is submerged in ‘sympthy for the blind man’ messages.

There are valid points on both sides; surely Downing Street has someone with a keener eye than Brown to check his outgoing mail. And was it really necessary to record what should have remained a private conversation between the PM and Jacqui James Jones Janes? As for The Sun? Well, it has even emerged today that the paper doesn’t always practice what they preach.

So, after three days of wrangling, apologies and remorse, how about we let Gordon Brown gets back to the big picture? Apart from anything else, if we want to reduce the number of mothers in Jacqui Janes’ position, we need to allow the government to, well, govern.

It’s the same story with the drugs advisory council furore. Nutt’s comments caused a fuss, and quite clearly sent Alan Johnson a message as well as reviving the very important debate on drug legalization or decriminalization. But then yesterday, three more advisors made very public resignations.

I don’t doubt they have a point. But proper policy change doesn’t come from publicity stunts.

When the government is forced to spend their time dealing with these scandals – from biscuit preferences to allegations about eyesight – it takes time away from dealing with the real issues.

Pressure is important. Holding the government to account is fundamental for a thriving civil society.

But this is a democracy, not a free for all. If you have to shout about it, go to speakers corner.

Take your complaints through the proper channels, not to the tabloids.

Issues not eyesight

Look, OK, I get it. Gordon Brown is public enemy number one these days. Down in the polls, unpopular with his party, derided by columnists; he might be Sarah’s hero but he isn’t anybody else’s. Fair enough, we have reason to be angry at him. The economy is down the pan, I have as much chance of getting on the property ladder as Robert Mugabe does of winning the Nobel peace prize. Strikes, scandal, sleaze – all under Gordon’s lead.

Still. Can we stop hitting the man while he’s down. First it was Andrew Marr giving credibility to a hardly objective rumour mill simply to augment his celebrity status. Today, headlines everywhere are screaming about Brown’s eye damage.

Apart from the fact that Gordon having eye damage is hardly remarkable, (it is no secret that as a teenager a rugby accident caused him to lose sight in his left eye), I can’t really see (NOT intended as a pun) why this is relevant. I can understand why having a leader on antidepressants might present a problem, though that wasn’t why Marr was asking, but having eye problems?

He’s PM, for crying out loud, not a driving instructor. You don’t need great eyesight to understand political dilemmas, to solve economic woes, or make good speeches.

Good foresight maybe, but not good eyesight.

Besides, the man almost always voted most beloved PM in history, Churchill, was renowned as a drunk, so I think its safe to assume his liver was not in tip-top shape. Across the pond, the messianic president himself, JFK, had Addison’s disease. Neither of them were better or worse as leaders because of their health. A good leader doesn’t succeed because he is healthy, but in addition to that. If (don’t want to use the inevitable when) Brown loses the next election, it should not be because he is not in good shape.

It is downright wrong to judge him on this, as it is wrong to like or dislike Cameron’s politics just because SamCam’s dress was from Marks and Sparks. In any other profession, discrimination on such grounds would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Hold him accountable for his bad decisions, his weaknesses and his political flaws. But please, let’s stop judging our politicians for things that are entirely peripheral to their careers.

Let’s step out of the mud and, instead or name calling and slurs, let’s have a real debate.




Does Labour’s pain really mean Tory gain?

So I survived another Yom Kippur without any dramatic fainting! of course, this might have had something to do with staying in bed for the whole of the morning services – made getting through the afternoon and evening all that bit easier.

Also gave me time to read the newspapers pretty thoroughly.  Summary from The Times; people are mad that M&S are only allowing a 35 day return window (because really, with all the many things wrong in the world, only having 35 days to return that shapeless and misguided Marks & Sparks version of catwalk, is the real travesty).  Oh, and Gordon Brown and Labour are doing really, really badly at the polls, worse than the Tories were doing before they lost power in 97.

So its all doom and gloom for the Labour Party, unless one of the young heirs to the throne stages some kind of coup and gets rid of the not-so-dear leader.  Which would be news, except that we’ve been hearing the story of Labour about to collapse for a good few party conference seasons.

It’s no secret that Labour are having all sorts of problems, internal squabbles, lack of direction, low voter confidence, blah blah blah.  What is being kept a secret, apparently, is why we’d be so much better of with anyone else other than Brown in power.  Maybe I’m the only person left in Britain with an ounce of sympathy for Gordon Brown, but does anyone seriously think the Conservatives make for a credible alternative?

Under Cameron, they’ve been better at presenting a united front, sure, and much more media savvy.  But in terms of new ideas, or real solutions, they are curiously quiet.  We hear them say how bad the government are all the time, there’s an awful lot of criticism going on, but very few new and feasible ideas being put about.  Rather than saying how bad Labour’s plans for the economy, public services, education or whatever it is, are, why don’t they construct a better alternative?  They are tipped to win the next election, but it says less about them having a viable manifesto than it does about a media-fuelled anti-Labour bandwagon. 

Perhaps we’ll hear something from the Conservatives at their conference.  In the meantime, lets give Labour and Brown the benefit of the doubt, because as Harold Wilson said, ‘a year is a long time in politics’.  The election hasn’t happened yet. 

Lets stop talking about the result and start listening to what the candidates have to say. 

Guards and Goats – the glamour of London Clubbing

Out clubbing last night, at that hub of North West London social interaction, the Electric Ballroom in Camden. Most remarkable thing about the night? There was more security there than guarding the top secret headquarters of MI5, the CIA and the FBI put together (probably – I’ve never actually been to the top secret headquarters of these places. I did go to the FBI building in Washington DC, but surprisingly enough, they no longer let tourists in).

Anyway, while I exaggerate just a smidgen, the security was pretty tight. For starters, the queue stretched over an hours wait down the street, so that would have been enough to deter even the most enthusiastic of criminals, drug dealers, general low lifes or whoever it is who is persona non grata at the club. Thankfully, I left my British side at home yesterday, and pushed in fairly near the front, so at least that obstacle was cleared.

At the door, a menacing bouncer shot me the omnipresent menacing bouncer grimace (always wondered if there is some special bouncer academy where they train that?!) and gave my driving license a cursory glance, So far, so standard. But this was merely the start of the process. Because inside, my license got shoved on to some swanky card-reading machine, subsequently making my license mug shot appear on screen. Once they’d determined I wasn’t on any most wanted lists, I was sent over to the next stage: the bag search.

So, OK, I get that chewing gum is a problem for clubs. It gets stuck on walls, toilet doors and then some poor shmuck has the task of cleaning it off. But still, it really pisses me off that they confiscate it at the door, because after all, everyone wants minty fresh breath when they go on a night out. A packet of cool breeze Extra (the Turquoise one) inevitably makes it in to the hand bag, and its just heartbreaking when it is cruelly seized and tossed into a bin. A tragedy of Shakespearean proportions really.

Mind you, at least my Kit Kat Chunky made it out alive (enterprising as we were, the cash back queue was shorter than the cash machine one).

The icing on the cake, the eliminator round, if you will, was a body search. Lovely. All this for the joy of paying £8 to go into a dark room, drink cheap vodka and dance to cheesy music. If only that wasn’t quite so much fun…

You’d think I was Colonel Gadaffi, trying to gain entry to a camp site, the amount of screening there was. I waited less time, and underwent less complicated scrutiny when I visited the Houses of Parliament last month.

Maybe for Gordon’s next series of Goats, he should call up the manager of a night club?  I’m sure they could handle National Security issues just fine.