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The despatch box

We're you thinking what the Conservatives were thinking? Did you believe the Lib Dems were the real alternative? Is Labour moving forward not back? This blog will focus on all things political. It will be irritating, agitating and maybe just maybe it will get you thinking.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sir Malcom launch somewhat ignored

With all the press coverage about Ken Clarkes entry into the leadership race, spare a though for Sir Malcolm Rifkind who announced his four parliamentary backers today as Peter Bottomley, Jacqui Lait, Crispin Blunt and Andrew Pelling. Now the Big Beast has awoken - all challengers will be raising their game.

Maybe this is just what the party needs. Something to re-invigorate that passion for winning, and replacing Mr Blair. Clarke has thrown down his gauntlet - and it won't be long before the other contenders respond accordingly.

From the horses mouth

Mesasge from Ken outlining why he wants to lead the party.

Dear Colleague,

Today I have announced that I am a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I wanted to tell you personally why I believe I am the candidate best placed to lead our Party and, after the next election, our country.

Unless we broaden our Party’s appeal, we will never win power again. I believe that I have the popular appeal and experience to bring swing voters to our Party.

It is likely that Gordon Brown will be Prime Minister by the next election. I have faced Mr Brown across the despatch box before and I would be delighted to do so again. I am confident that I have the experience in Government and Parliament to challenge Mr Brown’s economic record and his policy agenda for the future.

But we need to do more than challenge the Labour Government. We need to set out our policy agenda for the Britain of today and tomorrow. We have to respond to the issues and problems that face people now – creating a strong economy, fighting terrorism, tackling the pensions crisis and providing good schools and hospitals.

Our Party needs more than a new policy agenda to revive our electoral fortunes. We have to change as a Party too. That means building on our recent successes in local government. It also requires that we build a Party representative of all sections of British society. We must again be a truly national Party, with stronger representation in Scotland, Wales and the cities of England.

I know that many of you have been concerned about my views on Europe. The euro is clearly off the agenda for a decade or more and the European Constitution is dead. It is time to put the battles over Europe behind us.

I believe that we can win power again but we shall only do so if we really want to win. I want to lead a united team that works together to bring victory to our Party at the next election. I hope you will be part of that team.

Yours sincerely,

Ken Clarke

PS: You can follow my campaign on the website I have launched today,

Ken goes surfing...

Anyone would think that Mr Clarke had been planning a bid for the leadership for some time.

I've just been sent the link to his rather professional website which is certainly worth a look.I'm assuming this makes him the first of the candidates to officially have a presence on the web. No doubt the other candidates will also be putting the finishing touches to their on-line presences.

I can't wait!

The BIG BEAST enters

Well he's a big beast according to the front page of Daily Mail. Ken Clarke that is.

An interestinga rticle that is certainly worth a read. Clarke links the terrorist attacks to the war on Iraq, but still leaves me unsure as to what action he would have taken as leader or indeed as PM.

Then of course there are the amusing take me as I am type of comments - such as refusing to give up his outside itnterests UNLESS he becomes leader.

Worth a read. I wonder what Wat has to say.......

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Clarke to announce

According to the BBC, Ken Clarke will formally announce his leadership bid in a newspaper on Thursday. Now that the runner and riders appear to be lined up it's GAME ON.


I read with disbelieve an article in the Daily Mail which suggested that a secondary school is allowing, yes that's correct, allowing pupinl sto swear at teachers.

Apparently they believe that by allowing a pupil to use teh F word up to five times, it will improve the behaviour of the children.

Now what planet are these people on. They say that the plan means teachers will tolerate but not condone. What on earth does that mean. Teachers are in a position of authority - and by allowing children to swear their inaction is obviously condoning such activity.

Headmaster Alan Large who apparently commented "The reality is that the f word is part of these yyoung adults' everday language" really needs a reality check. If he instructs his teachers to tolerate this language - he is also giving the message to pupils that they can speak this way to anyone - the pensioner on the bus; the checkout girl at the supermarket; the policeman and so on.

Yet again another example of political correctness gone mad.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Foxs wants to shift focus on Labour

Liam Fox has suggested the current Conservative leadership campaign has been the longest phoney war in history urging all Tories to focus their energies on attacking the Government.

I have to say that I share these views and I am sure it is how well the leadership contenders fare over the coming weeks in taking the fight to Labour that will determine who will eventually succeed Michael Howard. It's what the members want and I'm sure it's what the MPs want. After May 5th we can't afford to let the Government get away with anything it wants to while waiting to get a new leader in place. All contenders need to be showing their worth and taking the fight to Labour.

David Cameron has clearly already raised his game; David Davis has got Labour on the back foot with regards the ridiculous licencing changes being pushed through by the Home Office, and we all await to see Ken Clarke's contribution to taking on Labour if the recent speculation about an imminent leadership bid is to be believed.

So far I would suggest Davis is ahead on points due to his masterful handling of the Home Office brief but there is plenty of time for the other contenders to show what they're made of.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Do we really want more PR

I was interested to read that Andrew Marr has written the MPs should basically become more PR savvy so as to engage with the electorate. Surely the opposite is true. The public had more respect for people such as Mo Mowlem and Robin Cook than the Prince of Darkness who was known to be a master of the art of PR and Spin. This time Mr Marr has surely got it wrong – what we want is more plain speaking and honesty.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Are you being served?

Many commentators have written about the similarities and indeed differences between politics and business. I have long held a belief that parallels can be drawn between politics and retail. Well what exactly do I mean?

If you are a retailer you can go about things in a variety of ways. You may well spend millions of pounds developing a new product – and you are convinced that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. BUT if the consumer doesn’t want it – then it doesn’t sell. The successful retailers have realised that actually it’s not about telling customers what they should be – but more about providing the things they want (and sometimes didn’t realise they want). There is an argument that a successful political party needs to do the same. Instead of telling people – actually you want this – you need to look around and see what people are actually calling out for – and then look as though you are the best party who can deliver it.

Then of course there is the scenario where certain retailers believe they have a right to exist, solely because they always have. The fall from grace of Sainsburys has been well documented as have others. Why? – because they took their eye off the ball. The same is true in politics – historical success is no indicator of future success. Just because the Conservative party was the most successful election winning machine in the past doesn’t mean it will be again – unless changes are made.

There is the argument that all supermarkets are all the same – but of course they aren’t. One has market share approaching 30% with the next largest about half its size. They may sell similar products – but the most successful – Tesco is giving people what they want, where they want it and at a price they are prepared to pay.

Does this apply to politics – Well in some respect yes. The Labour party decided it would give people a version of centre left politics (sometimes centre right) packed in a style that they could live with and a brand that when it started – they had trust in.
Retailers have to understand their customers –and realise that people can be complex. Something that worked sixth months ago – may no longer work now. The cost of failing to understand the customer is going out of business. This lesson applies to politics. If you fail to understand the electorate then you are on the long road to electoral decline. I believe the 2005 election laid good foundations which can be built upon – but for me, the key to electoral success is understanding what voters want, not what we think they want – and then being perceived as the most capable party who can deliver.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Depatchbox broadcasts to the world

The despatch box had gone global! Using the open podcast website (Click here) I have launched a trial version of the Despacthbox podcast. You can hear me ask Michael Howard what he was most proud of during his tenure as Conservative Party leader (first broadcast on Radio 2).

Those of you with IPODs can subscribe to this feed which will also download lots of strange American broadcasts - but will automatically download new broadcast versions of this blog.

I'm hoping to put together broadcasts from each of the party coferences.

Lessons to be learnt?

There is a great article today in The Telegraph which looks into the business experience leadership contender David Davis has with Tate & Lyle. Now politicians do not necessarily make good businessmen - likewise businessmen don't always make good politicians, but can the lessons learnt in business be applied to modern day politics?

In his book "How to Turn Round a Comapny" David goes someway to giving us a clue as to his management style.

  • "Meetings... can be great wastes of time."
  • "No meeting that I chair will be allowed last more than one and a half hours."
I like what I hear so far!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

NHS navel gazing

No it isn't some new medical procedure - but yet another example of Government waste. The Guardian notes that the NHS will be spending money monitoring the press coverage they get - as part of a "£200,000 programme of research into public attitudes to the NHS".

Apparently the department has planned to "publish regular reviews of journalists output over periods of six months."

Nice to see the Government focusing on substance and not spin eh!

Monday, August 22, 2005

It's all OK - We know where Tony is!

We can all rest easy in our beds now that we know Tony and family are enjoying the sun in Barbados. Apparently the media were asked to not report where our premier was. Unfortunately Westminster circles are pretty small - and I was reliably told not only that they were in Barbados - but where Tony and family were stopping after I scurrilously suggesting his noticeable absence could have been an indication of further medical problems (Shows how much I know eh!).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Labour hypocrisy

The Sunday papers have given plenty of column inches to Labour MP, Dr Hywel Francis and his complaint about a local pub near his London flat applying to extend their opening hours, in spite of the fact that he supported the legislation allowing this to happen.

Unfortunately this sad state of affairs comes as no surprise to me. Firstly I find it ludicrous that this Government thinks you create a continental cafe culture by allowing pubs to open longer. I would say "wake up and smell the coffee", but if they get their way it will be wake up and smell the lager, vodka shots or whatever else you have in mind.

It's even more galling when you read stories like this where those who have backed this move suddenly don't like it when it's in their back yard. But then it comes as no surprise does it. If you are a Labour MP you can complain about people who send their kids to private school - but justify sending your own. A party whose MPs had free University education - who pass it onto our children. The list goes on and on.

Leadership contenders (Well ones for the Labour's Deputy)

With all the newspaper coverage surrounding the Tory Leadership election, David Charter wrote an insightful article into who may well become the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in The Times on Saturday.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Gordon Brown is odds on to take over the Labour leadership, however the favourite to become his deputy could seemingly prove quite interesting.

Before Robin Cook’s untimely death it was being suggested that there may well have been some sort of deal to bring him back into the Cabinet – although we will never know what position he would have been handed.

If as is suggested, John Prescott stands down at the same time as Blair, then New Labour have to choose a deputy. On first inspection various candidates seem to sping Out. Jack Straw would be up there – Foreign Secretary; Charles Clarke – Home Secretary, although I would suggest he doesn’t have the best relationship with Brown, or even Patricia Hewitt.

However according to David Charter – the current favourite is Alan Johnson – Trade and Industry Secretary. I first came into contact with Alan Johnson when he was Post Office Minister, as I had to provide parliamentary answers to every questions asked about the company. As a former postman and leader of the CWU (postal workers union) Alan was well versed in the issues faced by the business – but could also appreciate what it was like for Union members. It is that experience that may well take him to the deputy leadership. As Charter points out in his article, Alan Johnson could be the one man who is seen by a Blairite by the Blairites, and a Union man by the Unions.

Could the Conservatives learn something from this. I suggest they need to look for a leader who wins the support of traditional Conservatives – whilst at the same time has the vision to introduce the radical changes that are required to re-engage with the thousands of voters who have deserted the party. Is there a single person who embodies this. I think so.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dream ticket muted

The BBC report that David Cameron has refused to rule out a dream ticket deal with fellow leadership contender Ken Clarke. Is this a political master stroke or a sign neither candidate feels they can win over the required votes alone?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Close encounter with Cameron

The time 2:50pm.
The date August 17th
On the pavement next to Parliament.

The City was hot and sweaty. I was busy pushing through the throng of tourists waiting to gain access to Parliament, when it happened. Striding out manfully there he was. Leadership contender David Cameron. I smiled and said hello - but he must have been too busy to notice me.

Oh well - I am sure he has other things on his mind.

For those of you who would like such an encounter I believe he will be addessing the New labour think tank - The Foreign Policy Centre on Wednesday the 24th, talking about ‘Homeland Security and British Values’. It promises to be an interesting talk!

And yet another one....

Apparently John Precott's Department in it's wisdom has published plans to would allow them to seize and occupy empty properties – including the homes of the recently deceased.

Just whose house is it anyway?

Yet again another example of the arrogance of this current Government who contiue with their "We know best attitude" whilst failing to consider the feelings and rights of ordinary people.

I wonder if that means I have a right to confiscate one if JP's jags if he happens not to be using it? Probably not - they will probably need it for the 50 foot trip from The Grand to The Brighton Centre at Labour Party Conference.

And another one....

A report out today has highlighted (what a surprise) that the relaxation of drinking laws in other countries has had a "had a negative impact on health, crime and safety".

Did we really need a survey to tell us this? Come on - you only have to go to certain town and city centres to see the effects that excess alcohol has. And the Government's answer - oh lets just let pubs open longer.

The Government wants to create a cafe culture in our towns and cities. Well you do that by opening more cafes - not by opening pubs longer. Another issue we need to be calling the Government to account on.

Real issues that matter

I sometimes wonder how many hours have been spent discussing and re-discussing the leadership election. While this is very important the world continues to turn. Only today it has been announced that the number of people our of work and claimining benefits has increased for the sixth month in a row.

This is before the supposed Civil Service reductions promised by Gordon Brown, which have mysteriously failed to materialise.

Party commentators say they want to engage with real people. Well here is an issue that real people care about. I'm not sure the same can be said about the leadership contest.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Where is Blair?

Is there more to Blair’s absence from Robin Cook’s funeral than meets the eye. After being berated by racing pundit John McCririck one has to ask the question just where is Tony Blair. There has been absolutely no media coverage as to his family holiday. Could it be that he is having some treatment for his recent health problems and doesn’t want anyone to know. If anyone spots Tony while on their Summer hols – let me know!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Roger Helmer loves Europe

You heard it here first (or possibly in the Telegraph today). Roger Helmer Conservative MEP for the East Midlands loves Europe. Is this some sort of U-turn from the usually Eurosceptic Member.

Thankfully No! He is distributing Love Europe Hate the EU bumper stickers. Roger has kindly popped some in the post for me to use. Anyone who would like one should send a stamped addressed envelope to Roger's constituency address.
Keep up the good work!

What have you done for me lately?

The question that a lot of people want to know (whilst also being the title of some 80s song I think) is what have you done for me, or more to the point the party, lately.

I would be interested if readers could list the achievements for the party and for Conservatism of the main contenders in the leadership race. Lets leave the age issue aside and look at what they have done since the 2001 election.

Let the debate commence.....

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Mines a pint!!

Sometimes I really think that this Government needs to get out a bit more (god forbid). Now we are reliably informed Hazel Blears is in charge while the Home Secretary is on his holidays. Well Hazel - are you honestly saying that is pubs open 24 hours with staggered closing times, people will disperse at different times.

Come on - have you been to any of our town or city centres recently. What will happen is that "punters" will go from one pub club to the next and all go to the one that closes latest - with the effect being that they will have had more time to drink than if premises had not been able to have extended licenses.

Home Office officials think it's a bad idea; judges think its a bad idea; the police think its a bad idea.

Hazel - It's a bad idea.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Being let down by Labour

I read three interesting pieces in the papers at the weekend which one would hope the party would want to capitalise on – to highlight three very different issues.

1. Firstly it appears that for all of Gordon Brown’s talk about reducing the size of the Civil Service have come to nothing. Well what a surprise. I’m not sure who said it (it was probably on the West Wing actually), that businesses create jobs, not Government. Well not under New Labour who have created hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, and lets be honest – they aren’t all delivering front line services, whilst the private sector gets burdened with more and more regulation. Nice one Gordon.

2. Apparently certain people at the counselling service “Relate” believe that we should change Mothers and Fathers day to Special persons day – so children don’t feel bad if they have two mothers or no mother. Do I really have to say what I think about this one?
3. Apparently there has been a 22 percent increase in admissions to hospital of people with mental illness with the blame being placed directly on the decision taken by Government to downgrade cannabis. I have never seen how a Government that wants to ban smoking on the one hand – can send the message that it is fine to smoke cannabis by downgrading.

Interested to hear of more ways bigor small that we are being let down by Labour.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Robin Cook

I have just heard the sad news that Robin Cook has died today. Apparently he had a heart attack while walking in Scotland. My one personal memory is sitting next to him on an exercise bike in the gym in Westminster - and seeing that he was clearly much fitter than I was (and I was half his age!). That's what is so shocking - how a seemingly active and fit person can be struck down this way. A great orator, a former political heavyweight, and recent critic of New Labour policy. At times like this our thoughts should be with his family.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Clash of the Davids?

There has been much written about the current leadership of the Conservative party - and I wouldn't want to bore people with the numerous comments, rumors and so on that are circulating at the moment.

If we are to believe the papers, and perhaps more importantly the bookies (and they usually get it right) whenever the contest happens, and whatever the rules are - it's going to be between David Davis and David Cameron.

As an ordinary party member I have to say that most people will not have heard of Mr Cameron - and won't really know what he stands for. There is a very interesting piece in this weeks New Statesman entitled "The birth of Blameron" which liken Cameron to Blair. The basic thrust of the article is that Cameron is trying to be a Tory Tony Blair. My one question is that does the party, and indeed the country need or want an updated version of Mr Blair?

My personal view is no we don't. Yes we all can learn the lessons of the Labour Party and how they had to modernise their own campaign machine and so on. And yes, image does count for something - though not as much as some people probably think.

Whether MPs, members or indeed both have a role in selecting a leader I think they should be looking for certain things. Someone with a track record, someone who can be a statesman yet "retain the common touch" which to me means they know what people are really interested in (and whether we like it or not it isn't the European Constitution or whether Peter Mandelson has more power as an unelected bureaucrat) , and quite frankly someone who has leadership qualities.

You can't learn them, you can't inherit them, you don't get them from a posh school - perhaps its the hand you're dealt with - but some people have it and others don't.

The New Statesman article comments,"

At about the time Evelyn Waugh was complaining about the modernism of his generation, a journalist confronted Brendan Bracken, Winston Churchill's slippery but plausible sidekick. He couldn't put his finger on what was wrong until something clicked, and in an indomitable voice cried: "You're phoney! Everything about you is phoney. Even your hair, which looks like a wig, isn't." Unless he can mature overnight by at least ten years, the same will be said of David Cameron."

Now I am certainly not in a position to comment on the merits of David Cameron - Im sure he is very capable. What I do know is that if we are choosing a leader for today - and that's what we are doing, we need someone who can inspire our activists and engage with the public. That means engaging with people not just in leafy suburbs in the South - but reaching out to the millions of voters who have deserted us in many urban areas in the North.

We aren't choosing someone who might be ready to win in 10 years - we need someone with the capabilities to win now. If you are looking for a winner then in my book it has to be David Davis.

Hiding or Lurking

A couple of weeks ago - before recess - I was waiting for my boss before we headed off to a Parliamentary reception. Gwyneth Dunwoody approaches from teh left - walking with purpose and booms at me, "Are you lurking or hiding my dear boy," to which I feel like I am suddenly back in infant school - and blurt out "Lurking - I think Im definitely lurking".

If Gwyneth and myself keep meeting - people will start to talk you know.
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