Archive for November, 2008

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Is he just keeping the seat warm for Davis?

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Why hasn’t Dominic Grieve been a bit more high profile?

It’s not often that a new government in Europe leads one to the Conservative frontbench, but another Grand Coalition will take office in Austria early next week, and as with the previous government, it’s headed up by a Social Democrat Chancellor while the conservative People’s Party holds the remaining big posts of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior Ministry. With the “comparative politics hat” firmly affixed, a UK equivalent of the new administration in Vienna would have a “big four” of Brown, Osborne, Hague, and Dominic Grieve.

The other three, whatever you may think of them, are major figures in UK politics, but it might be pushing it to say the same of Grieve, appointed in the wake of David Davis’ surprise resignation to fight the multi-candidate by-election in Haltemprice & Howden. The Home Office has long been a high profile and traditionally “difficult” portfolio to hold in government, containing as it does such responsibilities as the police, prisons, and immigration, which receive much attention from the media.

So why is it that Dominic Grieve, after spending several months in what should be a high-profile shadow role, isn’t really much less little-known than when he started it? Unlike his opposite number who will struggle to hold on in Redditch, he has a safe seat for life in the shape of Beaconsfield, so couldn’t fairly claim to be distracted by having to nurse his constituency. Rightly or wrongly, modern politics at home and abroad is fought out in the media, and here his presence does seem to have been diminished and muted compared to his predecessor. How many members of the public would be able to correctly identify him from a picture?

As Greengate unfolded, David Davis has been on the media having his say on the situation as a mere backbench MP – but is the current crisis an opportunity for Grieve (as today) to be thrust into the limelight more to argue his party’s case, and be putting Jacqui Smith under pressure at a very difficult time for her – and perhaps in so doing significantly enhance his reputation and as it were “earn his spurs”?

The suggestion persists however that Dominic Grieve may have been merely “keeping the seat warm” for a possible future return for Davis ahead of a final shadow cabinet resuffle before the Conservatives go into the long pre-election period. Grieve was a surprise and hasty appointment as the Davis resignation drama unfolded, and might he thus end up merely being a stopgap? Cameron could move Nick Herbert to Shadow Attorney General, and put Davis at Justice, or move Grieve to Justice and give Davis his old job back. There could also be some combination of moving Osborne/Hague to a DPM-in-waiting type role.

The Conservatives will not be taking the next GE for granted and know that they will have to fight hard to win it, and like the last opposition to take power, be ruthlessly focused and disciplined, even in the face of apparently unassailable poll leads. Given that Labour have brought back Mandelson (with Blunkett still to return?) in the “all hands to the pump” meme, shouldn’t Cameron bring back the “big beast” of David Davis, currently languishing on the backbenches, and who could help the party in the north, in a SCOAT (Shadow Cabinet of all the Talents)? If Shadsy’s reading this, how about a market on who’ll be the Shadow Home Sec going into the next general election? What price Dominic Grieve?

International round-up

Double Carpet



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In the Sunday papers

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Cameron – “this is a watershed moment”: Brown must speak out

How will Clegg’s aeroplane comments play in the Lib Dems?

Writing in the News of the World, David Cameron calls on the PM to “make his opinions clear” on the Green arrest.

“…does he think it is right for an MP who has apparently done nothing to breach our national security to have his home and office searched by a dozen counter-terrorist police officers, his phone, BlackBerry and computers confiscated, and to be arrested and held for nine hours? …if this approach had been in place in the 1990s, then Gordon Brown would have spent most of his time under arrest. He made his career from passing on Whitehall leaks. And he’ll be guilty of hypocrisy if he doesn’t speak out.”

The Mail on Sunday reports on the claim that the police used phone calls from a Home Office whistleblower Christopher Galley in a bid to entrap Green, trying to persuade him to call the shadow minister.

The Independent reports that the Commons offices of Green and other senior Tories are routinely swept for bugs, and that there is a fear among MPs that the security services now have an open door to snoop, while John Rentoul argues that the police are now a law unto themselves.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times focuses on Scotland Yard, reporting that it is in a state of turmoil, with senior police officials criticising its new boss and admitting the handling of the Green arrest had been “catastrophic”, while David Blunkett has called on the cabinet to review the process by which the police have access to the offices and confidential material of MPs.

The Observer’s editorial argues that Brown’s silence betrays Parliament, while Andrew Rawnsley compares the situation to “Harare, Minsk, or Rangoon”. Matthew d’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph says that Labour doesn’t mind leaks – so long as it is doing the leaking: “the arrest has turned Mr Green into the Andrew Sachs of politics”.

Finally, the Sunday Mirror reports on Nick Clegg slagging off his colleagues while on a packed aeroplane:

    He revealed his dislike for Steve Webb… “Webb must go,” he said. “He’s a problem. I can’t stand the man. We need a new spokesman. We have to move him. We need someone with good ideas. At the moment, they just don’t add up.”

    …He then slated rising star Julia Goldsworthy. “We have to move her too. She gets patronised. And we can’t give her Foreign. She’s just not equipped to do it. Huhne also came in for a battering. Clegg dismissed him for the key Environment job by saying the shadow cabinet needed someone “more emotionally intelligent”. He then talked of demoting Huhne.”

Double Carpet



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Mori give Conservatives a boost

Saturday, November 29th, 2008


CONSERVATIVES 43% (+3)
LABOUR 32% (-5)
LIB DEMS 15% (+3)

Mori jumps from 3-point lead to 11-point lead

According to comments on the previous thread, Sky News is reporting that in tomorrow’s Observer newspaper, Ipsos Mori have a new poll which is startlingly different to their previous offering, which famously reduced the Tory lead to three points. Their latest poll is far more in line with what we have seen recently from other pollsters, such as yesterday’s ICM.

With the spreadbetting markets already having factored in the ICM post-PBR Conservative leads, I would be surprised if this confirmation of the PBR’s failure to nurture the Labour ‘bounce-back’ had any significant further effect. The question now is how the public will react to the ongoing saga of Damien Green’s arrest.

UPDATE (00:40): The new poll article is now up on the Guardian/Observer website

Morus



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What are the betting implications of ‘Green-gate’?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Does Sir Hugh Orde benefit the most?

Paddy Power (who else) are running a market on who is going to be appointed the next permanent Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service.

The two clear favourites for the job, according to media sources, were Sir Paul Stephenson (the Deputy Commissioner, and currently Acting Commissioner following Sir Ian Blair’s departure yesterday) and Sir Hugh Orde (the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland).

    After the debacle of police officers from the Counter-Terrorism Unit conducting a search of a Parliamentary office, and with video footage rumoured to follow, surely Paul Stephenson’s 11/8 looks very poor value? I would say that the 4/1 available on Hugh Orde is by far the better bet, and I would consider covering bets on the next few candidates on the list as well (Firewall strategy courtesy of our own Peter the Punter).

Whoever is given the job, I cannot believe that Sir Paul Stephenson’s chances are as good as they were yesterday – he will not have pleased the Government (who are washing their hands of his decision), the Conservatives (who are livid), or the Mayor of London (whose concerns were not heeded). Is there value here?

Morus

As Mike points out, there has been an astonishing move towards the Tories on the General Election spreadbetting markets. Spreadfair are showing a Conservative seats midpoint of 352.5 up from 340.5 on Thursday, and Sporting Index are up to 347 from 339. This represents a move from Labour to the Tories of around 10 seats, giving them an estimated majority of 50. I’m having problems accessing the IG Index website, but when I do, I’ll update the PB.com ‘Balance of Money Index’. These shifts will be due largely to the ICM poll yesterday, as well as the growing concern around ‘Green-gate’.



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Who will bear the brunt of ‘Green-gate’?

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

A Special Comment…

If kind readers will indulge me in the absence of Our Genial Host, I found myself last night watching Keith Olbermann’s recent ‘Special Comment’ segments – usually a combination of unashamedly personal analysis and self-righteous ranting, variously covering California’s Proposition 8, the death of Habeas Corpus, and most famously the Geraldine Ferraro comments about Barack Obama. Looking at ‘Green-gate’ (as some immutable law of reporting would have us call it), I couldn’t help but imagine: What Would Olbermann Say?

“And finally, as promised, a Special Comment. By way of preface, the last 48 hours have seen Parliamentary history remade, with an Opposition spokesman arrested by Counter-Terrorism officers, and his Parliamentary office searched. The initial confusion has begun to settle to the consensus that something remarkable, and potentially quite sinister, has occurred. The Conservative Party is outraged, MPs are livid, the Government are washing their hands and the Metropolitan Police Service are refusing further comment. Something has gone awfully awry, and what began as a routine investigation into a leak within the Home Office has metamorphosed into an ugly brawl of recrimination.

    I cannot claim that any of the actors in this sordid drama emerge with any credit – the Government’s insistence of Ministers’ ignorance of proceedings does not paint them in a positive light, the Conservative’s are being forced onto the front foot and hoping that the fault does not lie with their arrested Spokesman, there are ructions within the Palace of Westminster, and the Police are likely to come under severe pressure to explain themselves. So whom amongst this sorry cast fares worst?

The Government is insisting that no Minister was aware of the arrest before it took place. Assuming this to be true, and I believe questions still stand regarding the extent to which the Cabinet Office (who initiated the investigation) were kept abreast of developments by the Met, the Government might escape lightly. They substitute the charges of political manipulation of the police for a guilty plea to ignorance. That is an unconscionable position for political leadership to hold. The Conservatives must have had some fleeting concern that seeing one of their front-benchers arrested would bring back the memories of their darker days, unless his name can be cleared with great haste. Their strategy of unflinching support seems to have allowed them, at least until this moment, to escape unscathed. Unless lies have been told, and I do not rule that out, I doubt senior heads will roll in either party.

The Mayor of London is reflected in perhaps the kindest of these unflattering lights – he told the Met that he thought their errand foolhardy, but did not (indeed could not) act to prevent the arrest of an official from his own party. The Metropolitan Police Service will undoubtedly come under severe pressure, but in the context of crises from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes, I am sure they will weather this storm too – in lacking a permanent figurehead, the axe is unlikely to fall at New Scotland Yard.

The two organisations to come out worst from this episode are the Civil Service and the Offices of the House of Commons. The Permanent Secretary of the Home Office, Sir David Normington, has admitted that he knew of the arrest shortly before it occurred. Similarly, my conversations with the Cabinet Office yesterday revealed that ‘senior Civil Servants’ had the same knowledge just as the police were moving in, though they could not confirm that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, was amongst that number. An explanation is required as to why this message was not communicated to Ministers in time for remedial action to be taken – any moderately-capable politician would have known that this would open the Government up to accusations of abuse of power. Either the Civil Service were tardy in relaying the message to Ministers, or they were unable to do so in time to prevent the unfortunate scenes that will no doubt emerge on the video tape whose very existence has yet to be officially confirmed.

    And yet all of this could have been avoided, all of it made moot, had the Police been refused permission to search the office on the Parliamentary Estate. I cannot believe that they would have found it as efficacious, or even plausible, to arrest Damien Green knowing that the evidence they sought was beyond their grasp. There would not have been the same scale of cross-party outrage, genuine outrage, had that invasion not taken place. This would have been a much less significant event had members of the Counter-Terrorism Unit not been allowed to execute their warrant, an action that simply would not and could not have occurred had Parliament not been in recess.

And for that reason, the blame lies in one of two offices. I had laboured under the apprehension that the Speaker of the House of Commons alone could grant permission for the police to go about their duties on the Parliamentary Estate. If Speaker Martin did explicitly authorise this egregious breach of protocol and convention, then I wonder whether the voices calling for his removal from office will not grow in deafening crescendo.

But news from the Spectator indicates that Speaker Martin was not responsible for granting the Police their field-trip. That dubious honour appears to reside with the Serjeant-at-Arms, Jill Pay, the first civilian to ever hold that office. Speaker Martin is apparently furious that, whilst he was merely informed of the action, one of his senior officials gave authorisation to that from which anyone familiar with Speaker Lenthall would have undoubtedly resiled.

This is a story of second-tier officials making decisions that rightly belonged to the very highest decision-makers in this land. Whilst ‘doing his job’, I do not believe that Damien Green should have left his party and his Leader in such a potentially-awkward political and legal predicament. The Acting Police Commissioner should not have pursued what his predecessor, however flawed, would have recognised as a heinously overzealous investigation. The Permanent Secretaries, if given the chance, should never have lagged in conveying to their Secretaries and Ministers of State what would have been recognised as egregious political insensitivity. And finally, and most seriously by far, the Serjeant-at-Arms should never have permitted what the Speaker would surely have known was a fundamental rent in the fragile fabric of Parliamentary privilege.

This was a failure of the second-tier political actors. In all of this, the key decisions were made not by those whom we hold accountable by virtue of our suffrage, but those who are appointed to act of their behalf, to shield them from controversy, and to bear the brunt of the failures of their Leadership. This was a failure of the second-tier political actors because they themselves will never face by trial of election the brutal roar of our outrage that cloaks itself in righteous indignation at the neglect of our ancient liberties. This was the failure of the second-tier political actors, because the first tier were never involved. And that can only be described as failure at the highest level.

Good Night and Good Luck”

as told to Morus



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ICM has the Tories 15% ahead

Friday, November 28th, 2008


CONSERVATIVES 45% (+3)
LABOUR 30% (-1)
LIB DEMS 18% (-1)

Which post PBR survey do you believe?

The fieldwork took place before the Green case blew up but after the YouGov survey that we saw on Wednesday.

This will give a big boost to the Tories and on these figures the party would be returned with a near landslide majority.

ICM’s methodology is more favourable to the Lib Dems of any of the pollsters and this is having a big impact on the Labour numbers.

The Guardian article on the poll is here.


Mike Smithson
(on holiday doing this on my phone)



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Has Mumbai come to the Government’s aid?

Friday, November 28th, 2008

One of the things you quickly learn in the news business is that no story has intrinsic merit in itself. Everything is dependent on what else is going on when a new development comes on the scene.

So Cameron must be feeling a little frustrated this morning that his big attack on the government over the Damian Green arrest has been totally eclipsed by events in India. It’s tough – there’s really nothing the Tories can do about it.

The worry for Cameron is that not being able to step up the ante in the media – that his breakfast press conference was designed to achieve – might take the potency away from the affair.

The one positive element for him is that it is Friday and the affair broke at just the right time for the Sunday papers to get their teeth into.

So the debate continues and Cameron has set his stall out.

Mike Smithson



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So who had ‘prior knowledge’?

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Who knew Damien Green was about to be arrested?

BORIS JOHNSON, MAYOR OF LONDON, KNEW
“The Mayor of London has expressed grave concern over the arrest of Conservative frontbencher, Damian Green. Boris johnson, who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority expressed his concerns – in trenchant terms – ahead of his arrest. A spokesman said the Mayor finds it hard to believe that on the day when terrorist have gone on the rampage in India that anti terror police in Britain have apparently targeted an elected representative of Parliament for no greater crime than allegedly receiving leaked documents. The Mayor told the new acting commissioner of the Met that he would need to see convincing evidence that this action was necessary and proportionate. He suggested that this is not the common sense policing that people want when London faces a real potential terror threat and serious knife crime problem on the streets.”

DAVID CAMERON, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION, KNEW
“”It has come to an extraordinary pass when opposition politicians, questioning the government, calling it to account, making information available in the public interest, are being arrested … If this had happened in the 1930s Winston Churchill would have been arrested … If we routinely arrest politician who have made public information that they’d been passed, Gordon Brown would have spent quite a lot of time at the police station.”

MICHAEL MARTIN, THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, SURELY KNEW
Only the Serjeant-at-Arms, who reports to the Speaker, could authorise the search of Green’s Parliamentary Office, and would have consulted the Speaker before allowing such an extraordinary event.

JACQUI SMITH, HOME SECRETARY, DIDN’T KNOW

GORDON BROWN, PRIME MINISTER, DIDN’T KNOW

What is interesting about this case is that in absence of any facts about the case, it has become a process story about who knew what, and when they knew it. The Government seem quite keen to impress upon us that no minister knew in advance that Damien Green was to be questioned by police.

This seems remarkable. I don’t know the last time that a member of the Opposition front bench was arrested and his offices searched, but for the Metropolitan Police to act without consulting the Home Secretary will invite very many questions about their decision-making processes. Of course, one man who would surely have made that call would be Sir Ian Blair, whose last day as the UK’s most senior police officer came yesterday, having been abandoned to the wolves by the Home Secretary when the new Mayor expressed that he should no longer continue in post.

Curioser and curioser.

Morus