21 March 2007


OK, it's neutral and tight – but boy, what a headline act: 2p off the basic rate of income tax.

It's true that most of that comes from abolition of the 10 per cent lower band, and I'm not entirely convinced about the benefits of doing it – but it's good enough to stuff Cameron, which I like, and with everything else taken into account it's redistributive from rich to poor, which I like more.

And even with my excessive booze and fags habits I'm told by the BBC ready reckoner that I'm £68 a year better-off. So I'm voting Labour next time, no problem.

19 March 2007


The plan by UCAS, the universities admissions system, to ask prospective students about their parents' educational background has given rise to some hysterical tripe.

But it is an idiotic scheme. On one hand, as we know from the argument about the feasibility of a graduate tax when student funding was a big issue a couple of years back, there is no way of telling who has a degree and who has not. There is no central database of graduates, and no institution has the means to check university by university. So wannabe students can simply make up their parents' educational histories as they choose.

On the other, as an admissions tutor, I can't help but think that the knowledge that Sparta Sporg's mum is that Ethel Sporg, feminist historian at the University of Neasden, and that her dad did a doctorate in English at Oxford supervised by the legendary Terence Mountebanke, author of Post-Post-Modernism: A Critique, might tilt even the most right-on equal-opportunities leftist in the poor girl's favour.

Wasn't Ethel in the IMG with Tarquin who teaches sociology at Bermondsey? And didn't Terence go out years ago with Julia, who then had an affair with that bloke on the Guardian?

At least Sparta will know about books ... so give her a place, make up the access quota elsewhere on the quiet – and pass the sickbag.

11 March 2007


Roy Hattersley reviews Kenneth O Morgan’s Michael Foot: A Life (HarperPress, £25) in the Observer today (click here). I have just finished reading the book myself and I’m writing about it elsewhere, so I’ll not say what I think about the tome for now. But I was struck by Hattersley’s vehemence in condemning Foot’s leadership of the Labour Party between 1980 and 1983:
On page 436 (as incredulous readers can confirm for themselves), Morgan examines why and how Michael Foot became leader of the Labour party and concludes, with masterly understatement, that it was not 'in order to win an election'. He was elected 'to keep the party together'. But, dubious though that contention is, it cannot compete for improbability with what Morgan goes on to claim about the way in which Foot discharged that duty: 'This he did with patent sincerity and literary flair.'

In fact, he did not do it at all. He certainly tried. But during the first year of his leadership, Labour suffered a split that was worse than anything in its history except possibly the schism led by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931; and the number of defections from both the parliamentary party and the party in the country were far greater than those that followed the creation of the National Government. And, unpleasant though the fact may be, it was all precipitated by the choice of Foot as leader.

A couple of weeks before Jim Callaghan's resignation, I discussed the party's future with David Owen as we walked from the TUC to the House of Commons. Owen told me: 'It looks as if Denis [Healey] will get it and we'll be all right for another three years.' Last week, to confirm what I remembered, I asked Lord Owen if he would have left a Labour party that was led by Healey. He replied that the thought would not have entered his head. Nobody doubts that Healey would have produced a better election result than Michael Foot managed in 1983. We must not create the myth that Healey's defeat in the leadership election was necessary for the party's welfare.

The crucial votes that guaranteed Healey's defeat came from craven members of the parliamentary Labour party who mistakenly believed that troublemakers in their constituencies would quieten down if an old left-winger became leader. They preferred the certainty of Labour losing the next general election to the risk of being ejected from their safe seats. Their cowardice was compounded by the treachery of a group of Social Democrat defectors who postponed their resignation from Labour until they had voted for the party leader who in their estimation was most likely to guarantee electoral disaster. Morgan identifies three of them. They did not think that Healey was the wrong choice to lead a revival.

Now I don’t want to reopen old wounds – and I was nowhere near the action in 1980 (I wasn’t even in the Labour Party) – but I think Hattersley gets Labour’s mood in 1980-81 completely wrong here. To put it bluntly, he refuses to recognise that the party in the country – both the constituency parties and the unions – had swung (petulantly but decisively) way to the left, and that Healey’s election as leader would have been followed by an even-worse civil-war-cum-schism than the one that ensued under Foot. Which would in turn have resulted in an even-worse electoral defeat than Labour suffered under Foot in 1983.

I don’t buy the story that the Gang of Three would have stayed if Healey had won: their planning for a new party was too far advanced by the time Foot won, and the real reason they left was not Foot but policy on nuclear arms, Europe and mandatory reselection of Labour MPs. I’m not a great fan of the Bennite insurgency of 1979-82, but it was much more than a few troublemakers in the constituencies, and only a leader from the soft left could have kept any sort of lid on it. Foot was the only credible candidate that came close to fitting the bill – and although he had a torrid time as leader (and wasn't very good at certain aspects of the job, not least sorting election manifestos), he did see off Tony Benn and made a start on chucking out the Trots. Morgan, in other words, is right.

4 March 2007


Part of my day-job is teaching a course on history of journalism at City University, and I've just had back a large batch of essays in which students quote from Wikipedia as if it's a reliable source.

I've told them not to do it. I'm penalising those that have. I make it clear that there are legitimate and illegitimate sources for academic work.

But – aargh! – I can't stop them. I really can't. It's not that they still do it: it gets worse year by year. I'm fighting a losing battle.

So I've decided that there is no alternative but to improve the historical entries relating to the history of journalism that appear on Wikipedia. But I can't do that on my own, so I'm appealing for help.

Anyone who knows anything about the history of the press in the UK, please take on one of the Wikipedia pages on a UK national newspaper and turn the rubbish that now appears in the history section into cogent and accurate prose. I've started myself on the Daily Herald and the Sun, but nearly every entry needs rewriting.

3 March 2007


I have been alerted to this, which informs the world that the copyright owner of the Cameron Bullingdon Club aristo-scum pic has withdrawn it from circulation because it has decided school photographs should not be sold on.

Never mind that it is not a school pic – these disgusting parasites were at university when they dressed up for their little show. The photograph has been so widely reproduced that it is now public property, and it is a crucial political and social document. The use of copyright law to suppress freedom of expression should be resisted by any means necessary. In other words, reproduce it at once on your blog or other website to ensure its continued dissemination and send it to all of your friends.

The more of us do it ... you know the script.

1 March 2007


I know it sounds retro, but I enjoyed an excellent lunch today with Michael Foot at the Gay Hussar. Barckley Sumner, retiring deputy editor of the organ, got its veterans together for his farewell bash at the famous Soho Hungarian restaurant, and it was magic. Talk of Beaverbrook, the Daily Herald, Bevan and Israel — and of course the atrocious Blair and the appalling state of the New Statesman and the Guardian. Michael, Ian Aitken and Geoffrey Goodman were all on top form. Where are their likes in the papers today?


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 2 March 2007

Sometimes even Alastair Campbell gets it right. The old bruiser was up to some new tricks in the Times last week, dispensing advice to the Tories about how to win the next election.

Not that his advice was particularly useful. It amounted to little more than the assertion that David Cameron needs to do a lot more solid policy work if he is to have a hope of emulating Tony Blair’s reinvention of Labour in 1994-97. The Tories are not as far ahead in the opinion polls as they need to be to win next time, the onetime spindoctor went on, and the government under a new prime minister has every chance of winning a fourth term.

I don’t buy all of this — not least because Blair didn’t have to change much policy from Labour’s early-1980s dog-days, for the simple reason that his predecessors, Neil Kinnock and John Smith, had already done it. (Don’t forget that Gordon Brown’s declaration of the end of “tax-and-spend” and Blair’s “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” soundbite both date from 1992-93, under Smith’s leadership, or that Blair’s abandonment of Clause Four, though obviously important symbolically, changed party policy not a jot.)

But Campbell is on the money when he says that the Cameron Tories are an empty vessel and that — as things stand — they are not well placed to beat a Brown government.

So far, Cameron has played his hand as well as anyone else in his party could have played it. He has done the casual nice-guy routine with some panache (certainly more than Gordon has managed so far) and there’s something about his media image that is attractive. He is saying the right things — from his party’s point of view — about how the Tories have learned from their mistakes, are no longer nasty or extreme, are concerned about poverty and all the rest. He’s bidding for the centre ground, in other words.

But he’s not doing so well as to induce panic. Open-neck-shirt visits to sink estates will not shake off the perception that he is a Etonian toff (as he is). The bike to work followed by the chauffeur was bad. The picture of him posing with the Bullingdon Club at Oxford is potentially disastrous, because it suggests that he has an inner arrogant-aristo arsehole struggling to get out. It should be used relentlessly in Labour propaganda.

And as Campbell says, there isn’t a lot of substance to Tory policy. What would a Tory government do about the big issues with which it would have to deal? All we get on the NHS, education, the environment, Europe, Britain’s relationship with the US and so on is mood music. They’re seriously embarrassed by their yet-to-be-jettisoned voter-unfriendly baggage. In Labour terms, they’re Mandelsonised Kinnock circa 1986.

As for the polls, the Tories are doing well, but not brilliantly.

On the standard “Which party would you vote for if there were a general election tomorrow?” test, the Tories are running at 37 per cent on average, with Labour on 32.5 and the Lib Dems on just under 20. It looks a commanding Tory lead, but even under the new constituency boundaries for the next general election it would be enough only to give the Tories roughly the same number of seats as Labour in a hung parliament, with a massively reduced number of Lib Dem MPs holding the balance of power. Again, it’s Kinnock circa 1986.

Which is another way of saying that opinion polls a long way from a general election don’t necessarily matter. Campbell is again right to point out that the government has had a torrid time for the past six months and that there is every reason to believe its poll fortunes are at or close to their nadir — particularly as there is a change of prime minister in the offing.

OK, so Gordon isn’t exactly inspiring, but he’s a lot better than John Major in 1990 when he replaced Margaret Thatcher — and Major’s succession gave a massive poll bounce to the Tories that carried them through to victory in 1992.

Here, the polls asking people how they would vote if Brown were PM now with Cameron as leader of the opposition need to be taken with a lorry-load of salt. Brown is not PM and has been keeping a low profile sticking to his brief while Blair takes the flak. We simply don’t know either what he’d be like in charge or how voters would respond.

There is plenty that can go wrong for Labour. The leadership and deputy leadership elections have the potential to turn into chaos — the first with no credible candidate but Brown, the second with too many candidates that have nothing to say apart from how proud they are to have served (with minor qualifications). Iraq and loans-for-peerages are not over yet. And then there’s the other stuff...

But as long as the succession is handled competently and hysteria over Iraq subsides — and as long as no one is nicked on loans-for-peerages — Brown should look a fresh enough start. And it needs just a tiny swing to Labour from the current polls for Brown to give Cameron a tonking in 2009 or 2010 and secure a clear majority for Labour. Don’t give up the fight. We’re still in the driving seat.