Confessions of a Political Animal

August 19, 2009

Laughing on the left side of your face

udderbellySome things are predictable about the Edinburgh Fringe: it’ll rain, the ticket prices will have crept up again, by the end of your stay there you’ll have seen enough good stuff to not mind the hole in your bank balance and that someone will have a whinge about just how ‘lefty’ the whole thing is.

This year, the honour of providing that final ingredient falls to Mr Peter Whittle, writing in the Daily Telegraph under the oh-so-arch headline ‘Edinburgh Festival to feature smug Lefty Tory-bashing. Again. Yawn.’ This is the first time Mr Whittle’s work had crossed my radar, so I took the opportunity to have a skim through his Telegraph back catalogue. It’s something I’d strongly recommend doing yourself.

Mr Whittle, we are told, is the founder/director of The New Culture Forum. The good news is, that if Peter Whittle’s output is anything to go by, the New Culture will be poorly-written, ill-researched and predictable. Oh yes, he’s that good. When an online article straight-facedly carries the tags ‘Smug lefty comedians’ and ‘Smug lefty Radio 4’, genius is at work.

We could leave aside the school-boy factual howlers, well documented by the commenters on the original article, but given they serve to demonstrate just how heavily rooted in genuine research Mr Whittle’s work is, they are worth running through: (more…)

July 29, 2009

What a load of Phibbs

conservative-homeIn many ways I admire ConservativeHome. It’s an attractive, reasonably open and user-friendly site that does genuinely appear to seek to engage with the Party’s grass-roots activists and supporters.

It has a problem though – serving as it does as a bit of a shop window for the Tories, it does with some regularity highlight to the outside world the more, ahem, interesting points of view and personalities within the Party. You know, the sort any party would want to keep a little under wraps – it’s not a partisan thing, every party has them. However, ConservativeHome sometimes seems to go out of its way to highlight them. Take, for example, the innocuous sounding statement ‘Cllr Harry Phibbs edits ConservativeHome’s Local Government page‘. I don’t know a huge amount about said Cllr Phibbs, but I’m learning – largely through his own teachings. And the more I learn, the more I feel that an equivalent statement would be ‘Margaret Moran MP edits LabourHome’s Probity in Public Life page’.

Cllr Phibbs represents the Ravenscourt Park ward in the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, flagship council of the Tory right since they took control in 2006 – tax-cutting, service-slashing, employee-bullying, homeless-bashing. The council’s most recent brush with the media spotlight has surrounded the intriguing views of Leader Stephen Greenhalgh about exactly for whom and where social housing should be provided. Some have intimated that his policies are almost Porter-esque. The Animal is saying nothing for fear of the libel courts. (more…)

July 3, 2009

New Standard – same old news values

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

Printed in Southwark: not all that interested in reporting on it

I am Political Animal, and I am a secret purchaser of the Evening Standard.

Well, just once in fact, so perhaps I don’t need to head for Standardholics Anonymous just yet. But yesterday, the sun was shining, there was 50p burning a hole in my pocket and my train home was 5 minutes late. So I gave in to temptation. But, honestly folks, I had a motive. I wanted to check a hunch I had. Bear with me.

I’ve written before about the running fiasco that is the Elephant & Castle regeneration project. This is probably the biggest such project in Europe and affects the homes and businesses of thousands of people in one of the most deprived areas of inner London. It includes thousands of new homes, businesses and transport facilities. Well, on Wednesday the newswires(alright, Google News Alerts, but that makes me sound so much less important) alerted me to the latest depressing development – or rather, non-development – in the saga. With the project already around seven years behind the original timescale, the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition at Southwark Council have failed to meet their self-imposed deadline of 1st July to reach a deal to progress the project. This follows two years of exclusive negotiations with struggling Australian property giant Lend Lease (also responsible for the Olympic Village) – the exclusivity deal expired on Wednesday. Where this leaves the project is anyone’s guess – in these difficult financial times it is entirely possible that Lend Lease will refuse the meet Southwark’s demands on affordable homes, small business premises and green space protection and simply walk away, leading to years more of delays. The thousand households in the soon-to-be-demolished Heygate Estate are effectively in limbo: no-one knows when their replacement homes will be built and the council is years behind targets in building the temporary ‘decant’ homes. (more…)

April 29, 2009

Satisfying the masses…or not

city-hallMuch has been written this week about the Yougov poll, commissioned by the Evening Standard which shows a reasonable satisfaction level for Boris Johnson’s performance as Mayor for his first year, caveats about honeymoon periods providing an unreliable polling background excepted.

There isn’t any getting around it for those of us of a more sceptical bent – Boris’ support is sound, albeit relatively limited, and beating him in 2012 isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Not, of course that that should mean adopting the desperate measure of attempting to draft the eminently unsuitable Sir Alan Sugar, regardless of current polling evidence.

But there is another set of numbers, also released this month, which have had a lot less publicity. These tell a subtly different, but far from irrelevant story. Each year, the GLA commissions an Annual London Survey, asking questions about residents’ perceptions of living in London. Generally, the media either ignores or scorns the Survey, because it shows a picture that doesn’t fit with their narrative: Londoners feel pretty safe on their streets and the transport system serves most people pretty well. The surveys from Ken Livingstone’s terms in office are available here, whilst the latest is here. There is a gap for 2008: for reasons of purdah it couldn’t be produced before the election and, understandably enough, it looks like the new administration pushed back the dates to allow for a bedding-in period. (more…)

April 17, 2009

A Third Way for MP’s career paths?

parliamentThe Animal has returned from a very successful wildlife watching trip to Badenoch and Strathspey (and before anyone asks, Mr Charles Whelan was not amongst the fauna spotted) to find that there has been something of a hoo-hah over blogs, emails, smears and spin doctors.

My immediate action, having been at the receiving end of plenty of Tory-inspired smears during my brief career in student politics, is to sigh, shrug and mutter “’twas ever thus”. And then to refrain from any further comment.

But one thing stands out from this mess for the Animal is not that the political blogosphere has somehow ‘come of age’ (I’m far from convinced) but that it has confirmed the existence of a new career path for Britain’s politicians: that of MP as blogger. It is a highly risky path, albeit probably no more so than the high-wire route of seeking government office. It is probably also a route with relatively few vacancies in a limited market: but then so are the routes of scrutiny and executive. And it does hold out the possibility of far greater glory, notoriety (and indeed power) than will ever accrue to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Folding Deckchairs. (more…)

March 6, 2009

Sugar, and spice, and all things nice…

alansugar…that’s what an Evening Standard non-story is made of.

There’s a series of books doing the rounds with the generic title ‘I Never Knew That About [London/ England/ Scotland/ Ireland/ Wales etc]’. I’m hoping to find out who the series’ commissioning editor is and that I can convince them to issue a new one. It’ll be entitled ‘I Never Knew That About the Labour Party’ and will, I hope, by compiled by pro-Tory, right-wing populist journalist (and therefore expert on all things Labour) Andrew Gilligan.

Because this week, Mr Gilligan has taught me something I never knew about my own party. It’s an amazing fact; it will shock you to your very core and is definitely worthy of being the centrepiece of a major comment piece such as this one, or this one. Are you ready for this? Some people in the Labour Party don’t like Ken Livingstone very much and don’t want him to be the Mayoral candidate in 2012.

OK, and irony switched to ‘off’. (more…)

February 12, 2009

The seven silly sins of the anti-PC crusaders

Carol Thatcher

Carol Thatcher

I’m well aware that the fuss over Carol Thatcher’s apparent vocabulary malfunction has pretty much blown over now, at least until some media organisation decides to re-hire her. So no-one’s really going to care about the Animal’s two-pennyworth, especially as others have said what I would have said far better. And its a bit late for me to work up an outrage over the Mayor’s defence of the woman, though given his apparently…er…gritty vocabulary, perhaps he was just as well to take the stance he did.

However, a long series of links followed in an idle moment brought me back to the story, as reported on Tory über-blogger Iain Dale. Nothing particularly remarkable about his take on it: the usual rent-an-outrage anti-BBC meanderings that we expect from the right-wing blogosphere. For some reason, though, I continued below the fold into the comments section and found myself dragged into the happy world of the apologist-for-mild-racism at play. And what struck me was just how formulaic it all was. I’d read the self-same comments in defence of Prince Harry, Prince Phillip, Jeremy Clarkson, Prince Harry again, Patrick Mercer, James McGrath (yes, you’d forgotten who that was too), Chris Moyles and Prince Harry. So, with examples liberally culled from the pearls of wisdom dropped below Dale’s article, the (more…)

February 11, 2009

It’s a (guinea) pig’s life

Filed under: Media,Russia — Political Animal @ 3:54 pm
Tags: , ,

Essay deadlines are keeping me away from the ‘publish’ button at the moment, but I couldn’t resist this wonderful story in The Times (and yesterday’s Metro) demonstrating that guinea pigs do indeed have an essential part to play in politics.

Cavies of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your bath time (which we don’t like at all)!

January 27, 2009

A lighter shade of green?

third-runwayThe past week has seen a lot of column inches devoted to the increasingly infamous Boris Island Islands airport plan, with puff pieces in the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard following the Mayor’s day out in a boat with a handful of carefully selected journalists. The whole ludicrous scheme has been carefully taken to pieces by Tom at Boris Watch, whose posts someone at City Hall would do well to read.

What is fast becoming apparent is that this is the purest greenwash, designed to at once allow Boris to maintain an opposition to Heathrow’s third runway, whilst not losing ground with the Tory petrol-heads(or should that be kerosene-heads?) who consider Cameron’s opposition to Heathrow expansion to be an unforgivable concession to unwashed tree-huggers, or something.

Now, I come from the starting point of opposing all airport expansion, pretty much anywhere, but particularly in the South East. I’m invariably drawn to the position, therefore, of considering both the Third Runway and Boris Island to be two evils of pretty much equal magnitude – and therefore, on this issue, to consider Johnson and Brown to be at the same level of ecological villany. The question is, should I? Let us assume, for one rather improbable moment, that the argument in favour of increased airport capacity for London had been won. From an environmental prospect, which is the worse option of a bad choice? (more…)

January 21, 2009

Cheap by any Standard

Filed under: London Politics,Media — Political Animal @ 11:39 am
Tags: , , ,

standardSo…it’s official. The Evening Standard, that fine forward-looking, even-handed, well-written voice of London (I’m told it is all those things – I won’t have it in the house myself) is worth…a little over £1.33*. Just for the avoidance of any doubt, that’s for the whole paper, not for a copy. That remains at 50p.

The Animal always fancied himself as a newspaper proprietor, so had he known what the asking price was, he’d have been happy to enter into a bidding war with Mr Lebedev and gone all the way to £1.50 to take the whole caboodle off Associated Newspaper’s hands. Hell, I’d even promise to keep on Andrew Gilligan. Probably as some kind of gardening correspondent.

So what should Londoners expect from their new KGB nouveau riche owned Standard? Whilst few will shed many tears at the departure of Veronica Wadley, I’d be surprised if there is much of a change of course. The paper has nailed its trousers firmly to the mast of pro-Boris, London-is-crap, move-to-the-home-counties-as-quick-as-you-can mantra. And when you’ve nailed your trousers to the mast, climbing down becomes a little embarrassing.

*: Showing working for extra marks: Lebedev has brought 75.1% of the shares for £1.

Update: (more…)

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