Archive for the 'Britain' Category

Kelly or Smith for Labour Leader?

May 26, 2008

Its football teams having all failed to qualify for the European Championships, Britain’s national sport for the next few weeks will be to name Brown’s challenger and/or successor.

A reasonable way of going about finding that brave Labour MP is to identify those cabinet ministers whose seat is most in danger.

The most marginal seat held by a cabinet minister is Bolton West – Ruth Kelly’s majority is only 2,064 (5.1%).

Jacqui Smith’s position isn’t much better: her majority in Redditch is just 2,716 (6.7 %). Both are going to be wiped out if something big does NOT happen between now and the spring of 2010.


Labour’s got a serious problem: DEATH

May 23, 2008

Yesterday Labour was humiliated in a by-election triggered by Gwyneth Dunwoody’s death. And Labour’s former PM Tony Blair had a near-death experience. Add those two events together and what you get? In the next two years, the Labour Party had better look after its MPs very carefully. It wouldn’t be very Labour, but they might want to seriously consider private health care and private security for their precious Members of Parliament…

missing links

May 22, 2008

I had missed this further twist in the Scottish independence referendum saga (hatip: Scottish Sketch). So Wendy stole Gordon’s idea, then. Thereby compromising the idea – and their relationship – alltogether. At a different time, the whole story would have also compromised their reputation and credibility, but it’s far too late for that now.

Is there still something that would make Labour rid itself of Gordon?

May 22, 2008

Mike Smithson asks an interesting and legitimate question: what kind of result today in Crewe would mean that Gordon Brown will not lead Labour into the next general election?

What about coming more than twenty percentage points behind the Conservatives or coming third behind the LibDems? Can Brown really survive either or both these humiliations? No, but then again neither scenario is likely. Much more likely that Labour contain their defeat within single digits, and that the LibDems suffer the kind of squeeze suggested in recent polling.

In a way that’s Labour’s problem: having already installed a Leader and a PM without voting, they need a really loud and clear excuse for doing it again. The near certainty of losing the next general election would be one such excuse, but the public doesn’t really think that far in advance. So that doesn’t seem to be big enough. Boris Johnson was a loud enough excuse alright, but Labour did its best to downplay it, and they seem to have convinced themselves that they can live with that.

So now they have set the bar real high for the kind of circumstances that will justify ousting their leader: certain defeat won’t do; Boris won’t do; what must happen so that Labour find the courage to help themselves?

Who will kill Caesar?

May 20, 2008

Today’s rumoured Brutus is Alan Milburn, courtesy of‘s Mike Smithson. Both Dale and Guido already picked up on it. In this frenzy of names, I keep wondering why nobody mentions the most obvious one, PM.

Can this really be happening?

May 1, 2008

This chart describes betting patterns on the London Mayoral Elections for the last three months – converting them in implied probability. It’s got two messages, really: as unpredictable an election as I can remember; in the last few days most people seem to have made up their minds that Boris will actually do it, as unbelievable as this might sound on Earth.

Brown’s strategy will backfire both north and south of the border

April 16, 2008

You don’t need a nostalgic Blairite to waste his precious time convincing you that Gordon Brown is a poor political strategist: you already know that all too well. So it’s no surprise that Mr. Brown is getting his strategy for the next election completely wrong. Roughly, this is what Brown and whoever advices him are thinking: we’ve got a Scottish problem. If the English electorate perceives us as too Scottish, we really have no chance at the next general elections against two candidates, Cameron and Clegg, who are quintessentially English. So what we are going to do is making sure that the English public can’t say that we are being partial to Scotland. That will also suit the purpose of giving Salmond a very bumpy ride; so that whenever we decide to call the next general elections – because it’s we who call the shots – we’ll get respect from the English for not having given in to our Scottish roots; and also Scottish Labour will be stronger against the SNP just in virtue of the fact that we have made it so difficult for the SNP to govern, thanks to a – relatively to the past – underfunded Scotland.
That sounds, if not clever, at least reasonable. And it explains, along with many other things, the anti-Scotch budget; and the recent unsuccessful trip to Westminster by John Swinney, Scotland’s Finance Secretary. Problem is, Gordon Brown’s strategy is going to backfire. Here’s why: the Scots are going to be particularly outraged by a Scottish Prime Minister who appears to be particularly tough on them of all people. That will inevitably result in a perception of the SNP as the only party standing for Scotland – as was more than obvious over the budget, when Scottish Labour MPs had to go on telly defending anti-scottish legislation: Salmond knows how to play that card; has played it ever since the beginning of his time in office; and Brown is being thick enough to continue playing in Salmond’s hands. This could ultimately result in the SNP being a serious player in the next general elections: it is estimated that, with the present level of support, the SNP could get as many as 30 Westminster parliamentary seats next time around – which could prove decisive in case of a hung parliament (and, needless to say, it’s not with Labour that the SNP would strike a deal).
But Brown’s strategy might backfire in England as much as in Scotland. His thinking is that by being tough on Scotland he’s going to prove to the English that he would do their interest, and never put Scotland’s interest ahead of the interests’ of the majority. Fair enough: problem is that if Brown alienates the Scots, he offers the Conservatives a brilliant argument against him. Cameron can then tell the English: here’s a Scottish politician loathed by his own people; why should we English trust him?

intentional wrongdoing

December 4, 2007

If you are a philosopher of action, it is not everyday that your research interests are at the core of current affairs, talked about in the news as if it were knife-crime. So I must admit to be quite amazed by the whole of Scotland talking about ‘intentional wrongdoing’. Wendy Alexander has chosen it as her catch-frase to justify remaining in office notwithstanding her admission of having broken the law.

I have broken the law, Alexander admits. But I have not done so intentionally. What does that mean? It means that Wendy admits to having taken an illegal donation; and she admits to having taken the donation intentionally; but she denies that she intentionally took an illegal donation.

Alexander, philosophers of action would say, has only done one thing, ‘accepting Green’s 950 quid’. That was her action, and she concedes as much. But Wendy’s action can be described in more than one way: it can be described as ‘taking a donation’. Under that description, Wendy admits to her action being intentional. But it can also be described as ‘taking an illegal donation’. Under this description, Wendy says that she did not act intentionally.

But how can the same action be both intentional and unintentional? Suppose that you are waiting for the bus #29; suppose you board the bus #37 thinking that it is the #29. You have intentionally boarded the bus; but you have unintentionally boarded the #37 – your intention was to board the #29.

Similarly, Alexander claims to have taken the illegal donation unintentionally – her intention was to take a legal donation. Had she known that the donation were illegal – she is implying – she would not have taken it (and here her position gets difficult, given that she wrote to Green at his Jersey address, and given that she must have known – or, at least, ought to have known – that only registered voters can make donations).

Why is Alexander stressing that she did not brake the law intentionally? That won’t help her much in the courts because, as people say, ignorance is no excuse. She is doing so to defend her personal and political integrity. She might be the sort of person and the sort of politician who brakes the law, but she is not the sort of person and politician who does so deliberately. She is, in short, asking the public to judge her by her intentions rather than her actions; given that she is not disputing her having acted illegally, only her having intended to do so.

Indeed, politicians’ intentions matter. Consider a politician who sets out to rip us off by selling our personal data – say national insurance number and bank details – to fraudsters. Consider, on the other hand, a politician who simply loses such data (they might be called Alasdair, for example). The outcome might be the same; still, our opinion of the corrupt politician might be lower than our opinion of the merely incompetent one.

Does that mean that we can live with Wendy Alexander’s incompetence, just because her intentions are good (assuming that they are)? No, it does not.

Blairites must be loving it

December 4, 2007

Last night, while I was watching John Denham being interviewed on Newsnight, I came to think of this: out of the six deputy leadership candidates, Harman took an illegal donation; Hain failed to declare multiple donations; and Benn took a donation from David Abrahams at a time when Abrahams was illegally funding the Labour Party. Who’s left? Leaving aside Cruddas, who just the other day signed an appeal supporting Hugo ‘porque no te callas’ Chavez, only Blears and Johnson: that is, the two blairite candidates are the only ones who, at this stage, are untouched by the scandal. It does sound odd, doesn’t it? Blairite and clean in the same sentence… still, maybe that’s really what Donorgate’s doing: shifting our frame of reference.

“tirarsi la zappa sui piedi”

December 3, 2007

The Government has managed to free the teacher jailed in Sudan for reasons too pathetic to deserve a mention on this blog. This must, in itself, be considered a success. Unfortunately for Brown, though, the speedy resolution of this crisis means everyone’s attention cannot be anywhere else than on Donorgate. Brown, I have always thought so, is way too good (morally, that is – only morally) to be PM.

p.s. the title is an italian proverb which best describes how Brown has not helped himself by successfully freeing the teacher.