Confessions of a Political Animal

October 31, 2008

Short hiatus and some updates

I am away this weekend (the picture should be a clue as to where) and today looks busy, so probably no posting this side of Monday. Don’t cry too much, please.

However, I thought it might be worth providing some updates on a few of my earlier posts, just so they don’t feel forgotten (and so in some cases the Animal can say “told you so”).

October 28th Is the Game Afoot? The Animal speculated that a prolonged period of single figure Conservative poll leads over the next couple of months would suggest that the narrative about the next election would change, with a hung parliament maybe becoming a stronger possibility than a stonking Tory majority. We’re a long way off a prolonged period yet, and the latest Yougov poll does show Labour moving out a smidgin, but the Tory lead remains (just) within the psychologically important single figure zone. 

October 27th European Left Watch: Out of Office in Lithuania The Animal reported on the defeat for the parties that formed the Social Democrat-led government in Lithuania by a mixture of (more…)

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October 30, 2008

Is this the most ridiculous Boris quote of all time?

Westfield. It'll save the world. Boris says so.

Westfield. It'll save the world. Boris says so.

Move over cyclist-squashing bendy buses, culturally-derivative Chinese, inverted pyramids of piffle and tribal warriors with watermelon smiles. For Boris Johnson has managed, to my mind at least, to top practically every previous statement for sheer jaw-dropping bonkersness. As reported by today’s Evening Standard in relation to the Mayor’s visit to a new shopping emporium somewhere out Shepherd’s Bush way, Mr Johnson has deigned to provide us with the following words of economic wisdom:

“If anything can persuade the British public not to worry too much but to spend, it will be the Westfield shopping centre.”

You have to admit, it is more coherent than anything that the Tory’s real economic spokespeople have yet to utter. Time after time, the economic textbooks have told us that what dries up consumer spending is not a fear of unemployment or home repossession; not the drying up of consumer credit (more…)

October 29, 2008

In praise of people who don’t agree with me

Has near-unanimity damaged the case against Heathrow extension?

Has near-unanimity damaged the case against Heathrow extension?

Waiting for my train at Charing Cross last night, I was flicking through a magazine in the WHSmiths reading room outlet. A columnist making the case against a third runway at Heathrow had written a piece reeling off the political opposition to the scheme. This included

Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who whatever you may think of him commands several million votes [sic], many times more than any Member of Parliament and a sizable chunk of the British electorate, is opposed to the third runway[.]

Indeed he is, although his opposition seems to rest more on the inconvenience that extra flights will cause to Conservative-voting West Londoners than to any commitment to cutting air travel or emissions: see the approval of increased flights from City Airport or the Heathrow-on-Sea plans as examples.

But, I thought, surely you are understating the case – in the Mayoral elections it certainly wasn’t just Johnson who was against the expansion of Heathrow. Without doing a full search through every (more…)

October 28, 2008

Is the game afoot?

One of the essay titles that I can choose to write 3,000 words about for my masters module on British Politics is ‘Can Labour win the next general election?’. Given that the questions were set some months ago, I’m guessing that they were expecting me to address the likelihood given a Conservative opinion poll lead of 20% plus. But now, at least temporarily, the rules of the political game have changed with those of the economic game. Keynsian economics is back from the dead and dead political ducks might just be learning to fly again.

So far in October, three opinion polls from two different organisations have shown Labour’s poll deficit to be in high single figures (either 8 or 9%). With the exception of one 9% lead in a September poll, this is the first time since April that the deficit has been that low, with no fewer than 20 polls having shown a Conservative lead of 20% or greater during that period. Throughout those past few months it was widely, and understandably, assumed that a Conservative majority in the Commons was now a (more…)

October 27, 2008

European Left Watch: Out of office in Lithuania

Seimas (Parliament) Building, Vilnius

Seimas (Parliament) Building, Vilnius

We reported two weeks ago on the first round of Lithuania’s parliamentary elections. From the first set of results it was clear that the Social Democrat-led coalition was headed for a particularly nasty defeat, with the lead party itself set to arrive in fourth place overall. Well, two weeks on the news isn’t any better, with the constituency seats now declaring.

The Lietuvos socialdemokratų partija (Lithuanian Social Democratic Party) do appear to have done a little better in the constituency run-offs that took place yesterday than they did in the proportional list based seats decided last week – presumably because the power of incumbency for established party representatives allowed some in-roads to be made against the newly-established populist parties who did remarkably well in the list votes. This means that the Social Democrats are likely to be able to claw themselves into second place in terms of Seimas seats, but well short of the resurgent Tėvynės sąjunga – Lietuvos krikscionys demokratai (Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats).

The two new ‘populist’ parties, the National Resurrection Party founded just last year by Lithuanian TV personality Arünas Valinskas who hosts the country’s version of Pop Idol (Politicalbetting considers if (more…)

October 26, 2008

The quest for housing apartheid – Part 2

I wrote a few days ago about the emerging trend for The Evening Standard, aided and abetted by its stable mate The Daily Mail, to push an agenda which boils down to the promotion of economic ghettoisation in London. First, we had the apparently over-expensive council house for refugees in wealthy Acton, then a council having the gall to temporarily accommodate a decanted council tenant in a nice house in decidedly bourgeois Highgate and on Friday we had the latest installment.

Under the headline £1.5 million houses for homeless, Friday’s Standard expressed its horror at a London borough spending ‘millions’ (allegedly, although the working isn’t shown) on renting houses in pleasant areas of the capital for those judged to be at risk of homelessness. The borough in question is the most aspirational of all – the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Of course, the Standard omits to mention that this is a permanently Conservative controlled borough and goes out of its way to pin the blame for this alleged injustice on the Labour government.

The Standard has uncovered one family living in a £1.5million, four-bedroom mews house in (more…)

October 23, 2008

Isn’t this an untenable position?

Today’s Guardian reports (Update: and The Standard has much the same story) that the latest twist in the ‘When Toffs Fall Out’ saga involving George Osborne is that Nat Rothschild is

declaring a form of uneasy truce 

with the Shadow Chancellor. The newspaper reports that Rothschild’s friends are saying that

he did not at this stage want to escalate the public battle with his old friend. They said Rothschild had not intended to bring Osborne down by disclosing the shadow chancellor’s involvement in talks about raising money from Deripaska. Instead, the friends said, Rothschild had intended it as “slap on the wrist” because he was furious that Osborne had breached confidences in an attempt to damage Labour business secretary Lord Mandleson.

So, Osborne has been given some breathing space. But beyond the very serious questions that now hang over his actions and judgement, surely there is a very serious question of national interest (more…)

October 22, 2008

Boris: Racism ends in 13 days, official

Apologies for the Boris-centered nature of this blog at the moment – but the man keeps on delivering the goods, so to speak, and it would be rude to ignore him.

The news following the mayoral election that Mr Johnson would be keeping on writing his column for the Daily Telegraph, at a rate of a cool quarter of a million per anum, was met with a mixture of surprise and outrage. Now the outrage is reasonably understandable, but the surprise really shouldn’t be. The problem is that many of the Mayor’s critics fall into the trap of dismissing him as a bumbling fool: but the truth of the matter is that he is a highly skilled political operator, and the retention of the column is a crucial part of his operations.

Johnson is clever enough to work out that the day-to-day routines of running London are not, in themselves, going to be enough to keep the Mayor in the national media eye. In fact, it won’t even necessarily keep you in the Evening Standard. This problem becomes all the more acute when your conception of the job of Mayor seems to boil down to running bus design competitions for 11 year olds and passing off your predecessor’s achievements as your own. So what’s a Mayor with greater political ambitions to do? The answer is quite simply: keep on with your previous career as a professional controversalist – especially when past experience shows that you can shrug off any ensuing criticism through your ‘loveable’ bumbling persona. So over the (more…)

October 21, 2008

Questioning Boris: some highlights (& lowlights)

Tory Troll has alerted me to the fact that the written answers from the Mayor’s most recent Question Time session (which we previewed here) are now available for public consumption, although as yet only in the rather clunky pdf format [post now updated with direct links]. Forgive me therefore if I can’t yet provide direct links to the questions and answers discussed below – we’ll have to wait for the ‘Mayor answers to London’ section of the website to be update for that.

Most of the Mayor’s responses are the normal carefully phrased promises to do everything and nothing that we have come to expect, or indeed constitute blatant attempts to answer a different question to that which was asked. A few responses caught my attention, however.

In question 2195/2008, Labour’s Val Shawcross asked for a list of the stakeholders consulted regarding the Mayor’s proposals to allow motorcycles into bus lanes. Johnson’s answer:

The following stakeholders will be consulted with regards to the use of Motorcycles in bus lanes:

  • All of the Boroughs with bus lanes on the TfL road network, together with the emergency services
  • The Freight Transport Association
  • The Road Haulage Association
  • The Post Office (more…)

October 20, 2008

And they say there’s no need for feminism any more…

London Lite 20/10/08

In case you can’t read it due to the appalling quality of this scan, the question that London Lite (the Evening Standard’s freesheet) asked its readers is: ‘Would a woman chief be good for the Met?’.

OK, I know its a voodoo poll based on a self-selecting sample, but the result is more than a little shocking.

And tomorrow’s question: ‘Is it time for a cap on migration?’ Remind me not to read the results of that for the sake of my blood pressure.
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