Thursday, 28 February 2008

Slavery guilt and Obama ...

Trevor Phillips in Prospect. Barack Obama will stall a post-racial America....

Whites are only voting for him because of 'slavery guilt' and Obama is exploiting that according to Phillips. Mr Phillips is head of our Equalities Body the Commission for Equality and Human Rights in the UK and is a major public figure.

Nobody is saying that the election of Obama would sweep away the racial divide- certainly not Mr Obama himself. But it might just get people to look at things in a different way.

Certainly, the 'whites' I spoke to in Virginia and Maryland weren't that bothered about race as an issue at all. In fact, it wasn't mentioned once. Leadership, approach to Iraq, changing politics, all were mentioned. I think Mr Phillips is feeling unloved and wants a bit of attention....

POST SCRIPT: Mr Phillips has received a ringing endorsement for his article. See the blog on the Prospect website. Well done, Trev. Prospect had a very well argued article by Robert Reich about Barack Obama's candidacy which they demoted under Trev's article. I would recommend buying this issue of Prospect for the Reich article which is excellent and for other pieces (Mark Leonard's piece on China is fascinating.) Just have a bit of a giggle at the Phillips article ( and maybe feel a bit of concern that he is Chairman of our public equalities and human rights body.)

Tories and the NHS

At 7.42am this morning just as I was spitting out my Sultana Bran in complete surprise, somewhere in Mannings Heath, Norman Tebbit was spitting out his cereal in absolute horror (an aside: what do you suppose Norman has for breakfast? Iron filings in Castrol GTX?).

Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary, has committed the Tories to increase health expenditure somewhere in the region of £30 billion! Fine. Maybe. But I just don't see how they can. They want to 'share the proceeds of growth', i.e. constrain public expenditure to a level less than the growth rate and use the remainder to fund tax cuts. To increase health expenditure by around 2% of GDP there would have to year on year increases greater than the growth rate to get there.

So what gives? Well, a Tory Government wouldn't be able to reduce expenditure on defence or law enforcement- there would be blue rinse flowing into the Thames Estuary before they could. Social security is sensitive to the economy and we are now into the base expenditure that is really hard to cut without leaving many people in penury. They could get rid of tax credits but that would hit families really hard. Education? Transport? All the big line items are pretty tough to significantly cut. Will they borrow more to spend locking in unsustainable debt?

No something will have to give: either economic competence, tax cuts, or expenditure pledges. Whichever one it is, they are going to look pretty incompetent. Which one it is will say a lot about where the Tories' real heart is. Norman Tebbit is probably chewing on scrap metal in anger as we speak.

No Barack Obama

It was only a matter of time before the Obama wave hit these shores. It was inevitable that it would be David Cameron that would go for it first. See below for a familiar anti-establishment/ change message:

David Cameron's first attempt to be Barack Obama

Incidentally, linked with this initiative is the 'opportunity' to sign up to be a friend of the Conservatives (for as little as a £1!) It's a great idea. From now on, I am going to charge people to be my friend too. The basic fee will be £10 with a 50% discount for under-25s, UB40 and OAPs. I know it's more than Dave's charging but most (OK, some...) of your friends will still talk to you if you are a Friend of Painter and they probably won't if you're a Friend of Dave. If you want to pay more you can. Fees will be reviewed on an annual basis. Please do not request special treatment- as Dave says 'you can get it if you really want it.'

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Constitutional Change

We famously have a malleable, unwritten, uncodified constitution. Discussion about constitutional issues that would be central to political discourse in somewhere like the US or Japan, seem academic and obscure in the British context. Something happened yesterday which should be a cause for concern notwithstanding the yawn factor that any such discussion induces. Our constitution was potentially changed by a Government agency without any legislative or legal discussion.

The decision by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, to release the minutes of Cabinet meetings where the issue of whether we should go to war in Iraq was discussed fundamentally challenges the process of Government and the doctrine of collective responsibility. If a Secretary of State can't voice his or her objections openly in Cabinet (and processes connected) then they are either silenced or collective decision making will be undermined.

We should absolutely expect openness and transparency from our Government. It may be that the 30-year rule of disclosure is outdated (and, in fact, that is an ongoing consultation into this very issue.) It may be that the doctrine of collective responsibility itself is outmoded (but let me state categorically that I don't believe that it is). It may be that it is right that these minutes are released (and, let's be frank, we know what was said in these meetings from a number of biographies and autobiographies published since.) It may be right that there is a wider Inquiry into the decision and assessments that were made about the case for war.

All of these things may or may not be true. No, my argument against the Richard Thomas' decision is that he has unilaterally undermined a number of constitutional principles. If we are to change our constitutional arrangements then it should be after democratic, administrative, legislative, and/ or legal consideration. Not the unilateral decision of an agency officer. Our constitution does need considerable reform but this it not the way to do it.

NAFTA and the EU

For all the bad press that the EU gets, it is important to understand what can happen if a free trade area does not have institutions with bite and rules that are enforceable to go with the removal of barriers to trade. The debate last night dwelt quite intensively on the issue of NAFTA. There is little doubt that NAFTA has benefited Canada, the US, and Mexico significantly. Alongside that, certain areas have had to face industrial change that has hit them hard over the last two decades.

It would be foolish to focus on NAFTA to the exclusion of everything else. But it is a justifiable hypothesis that competition from near neighbours could be one of the factors behind industrial decline that has befallen states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Both Senators Clinton and Obama support the need for tighter social, environmental, and health and safety standards within NAFTA combined with more enforcement. The only way that can be realistically achieved is to deepen NAFTA and give it legal authority, an identity beyond the three signatories in other words. That is exactly the theory behind the development of EU institutions such as the Commission and the European Court of Justice as well as principles such as legal primacy for European legislation. I am sure that no Presidential candidate will grasp this particular nettle. Without institutional deepening and the right legal foundations for free trade, however, any reform of NAFTA will be purely superficial.

Northern Ireland

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fought out a very close debate last night in Cleveland, Ohio. It was very substantive. Hillary came across as a bit tetchy, Obama was allowed a great deal of latitude by the moderators, Tim Russert and Brian Williams of NBC. He was allowed free reign, particularly in the latter stages but didn't use that opportunity to great effect. His rambling and pre-prepared close was out of context, out of mood and so just fell flat. The debate was tense and intense. At times I felt myself wishing that NBC had chosen Chris Matthews of Hardball as moderator. That certainly would have put the cat amongst the pigeons and livened things up a bit.

Being British, one comment by Hillary Clinton caught my attention. When she was listing her experience in foreign policy she said: "helping to support the peace process in Northern Ireland." I had one of those comedian style double-take 'What??!!??' moments. Now I am more than happy to be contradicted here, but I do not recall her having any role whatsoever in that process. The Clinton administration had an envoy in NI (not Mrs Clinton...) who had a process rather than instrumental role in the negotiations. The most significant steps in that process have occurred after the Clinton administration.

Her claim, on the face of it , just does not seem to be credible. Her Presidential bid comes down to two things it seems to me: experience and being a 'fighter who gets things done.' Her experience is difficult to discern and I think that McCain, if he decided to go for the jugular, could really show up the lack of transparency of her achievements. What was her, what was not, and in the case of Northern Ireland, is there any substance there at all?

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Nick Clegg's Lib Dems (errata)

I stated in a post yesterday that the Lib Dems are not potty.

I apologise unreservedly:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7265516.stm

The ticket (part II)

On Saturday, I took a look at the issue of who would make the best Vice Presidential candidate. My conclusion was that Bill Richardson was the man to balance Obama's ticket.

In a 'to be broadcast' CNN interview, Bill Richardson shows very little leg but seems to be moving toward an endorsement. If he endorses before Texas it could have a very marginal impact on the Latino vote in Texas but everything counts at this stage. The campaign he endorses will certainly make the most of it.

Let's see what happens but it would be devastating for Hillary if he fails to endorse her having served in two senior positions in her husband's second administration. But it is clear from the interview that he would be willing to consider a Vice Presidential nomination. I still like the sound and feel of an Obama-Richardson ticket but let's see whether Richardson rules himself in or out.

The Argument

While in the States, I picked up a number of good books but the most intriguing was 'The Argument' by Matt Bai. Subtitled 'Billionaires, bloggers and the battle to remake Democratic politics', Bai's analysis of how the Democrats tried to create their own liberal conspiracy to fight back against the conservative movement is powerful and entertaining.

Barry Goldwater germinated the American conservative movement as we know it by fusing economic, social, neo and christian conservatives in a ramshackle but effective coalition. George W Bush's presidency was the greatest threat to the continuation of that coalition, focusing on its neo-conservative strain to the detriment of the other coalition branches.

However, it was not enough for the character set who star in 'The Argument', to wait for power to fall into the lap of the Democratic party. So a loose but networked group of Wall Street financiers, think tankers, political action committees such as moveon.org, a new breed of union boss such as Andy Stern at the SEIU, bloggers such as Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas, the Democratic National Committee, set about trying to engineer a broad but focused Democratic consensus. At times the coast to coast political static has the feel of a Martin Amis novel (the old Martin Amis rather than the religious aggressor Martin Amis....) but there is a serious message within also. That is change has to be fundamental, broad and persistent.

These new democrats juxtapose their movement not only with the Bush Administration but with the Clinton years of triangulation also. Bai describes the Clinton years thus:

"Clinton transformed the party of Jefferson and Jackson into the party of Wall Street and Silicon Valley."

Of course, Clinton is not the type of politician to take this assault on his legacy lying down. In an act, that was a omen of what was to come on the 2008 primary trail, he turns up at a meeting of the Democracy Alliance (a kind of Freemasons for the well-heeled left) and berates the room full of a cumulative few billion dollars or so of potential donors about their criticism of Hillary's support for the Iraq war. On John Edwards' expression of regret for his own vote in favour he says:

"Let's get real here [remember his 'give me a break speech before New Hampshire?- AP]. Go ahead and give Edwards a gold star because his mea culpa is better than Hillary's. Do it....and lose."

But this new network ultimately fails. The Democrats win Congress in 2006 but without a clear and distinctive programme. There are some fleeting successes such as the primary defeat of Joe Lieberman, the ultimate cross dressing former Democrat, by Ned Lamont. Lieberman then goes on to win the election.

Bai leaves us with a sense of a fascinating movement that is far less cohesive or understanding of its goals than the Goldwater conservative movement was (or, let's be frank, is). He leaves us just as this primary campaign is beginning and tantalises us with the notion that, "the candidate who could articulate a relevant and convincing argument for change would be the one to rise above the field, just as Bill Clinton had in 1992." Matt Bai is not a bad pundit then it would seem.

'The Argument' will intrigue all those who are considering where, in our own context, Labour should go next and how it should or shouldn't get there. The re-energisation of Democratic party politics is an interesting case and its success will ultimately be judged on the ability of the party to win the White House and hold on to Congress this year. For us on the left in the UK, it poses interesting questions about not just renewal of a party but renewal of an entire political view point. There must be the courage to respond to these very fundamental questions.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Shame on you....

Two polls come out today by Gallup, one showing McCain in the lead nationally against Barack Obama by a point where Obama has been ahead previously, the other showing Obama ahead of Clinton by twelve points nationally. It is just one poll and if there is anything that we have learnt in this primary process, it is that we must look at range rather than a single set of polls. The risk though is that we may see an increasingly commanding Obama lead in the primaries but his position relative to McCain suffering the longer internecine campaigning continues.

However, it does provoke a serious question. Just how long will attacks like this or even this go on before the Democrats' chances are seriously harmed?

Incidentally, Obama is ahead in Texas according to one poll tonight. Just one poll...

Nick Clegg's Lib Dems

Leader of the Liberal Democrats is the hardest job in British politics. Chancellor of the Exchequer is pretty tough. Leader of the Opposition has its frustrations for sure. As Prime Minister you are doomed to a number of years of accelerated aging and personal abuse. At least with all these jobs, you have some control over your destiny. At least if you make mistakes they really matter.

As Leader of the Lib Dems if you make a mistake it's only your personal pride that takes the hit, a wider consequence is difficult to discern. The position does matter though. Should there be a hung parliament you become rather important. If opinion polls are whereabouts they are now at the time of the general election then Nick Clegg will come under a considerable amount of scrutiny. The question will be, do we want this lot holding the whip hand in the new Government? If the answer is 'no', public opinion could swing one way or the other but decisively away from the notion of a hung parliament much as happened in 1992.

To get your share of media space as Leader of the Lib Dems you need something different to say apart from 'we're not Labour or Tory', you need to be personally and politically effective, and you need to be running a party that does not want the introduction of insane policies- say, closing prisons and turning them in the warehouse network behind a state-run drugs supply operation manned by former inmates or some such. How is Nick Clegg doing?

Well, he's been rather ineffective so far. Today's call for a euro-referendum is typical of the worthy but slightly off target position that he's been taking. For a pro-european he's unnecessarily playing with fire. In Prime Minister's question time, his presence is weak and again he comes across as worthy but scatter-gun in his approach. In terms of the criteria outlined above, he has failed to craft a distinctive or substantive narrative, he has not displayed the personality or tactical political ability to command attention but his party is not potty, they are just rather ill-defined nowadays.

The real problem he has in his Treasury spokesperson, Vince Cable. Certainly on the personal/ political effectiveness measure, Cable is head and shoulders above his party's leader. When the Lib Dems ditched Menzies Campbell on outrageously ageist grounds for a party that purports to believe in equality, they allowed themselves to be seduced by some really woolly thinking about image and the modern media. Cable himself was seduced by this superficial analysis and failed to stand. Lib Dems failed to ask, who will make the best leader? Cable failed to assert, actually I would make the best leader.

So the party is in a bit of a pickle. There is something delightfully eccentric about Vince Cable though he is, it does need to be said, formidably bright and highly politically astute. Like that animated eccentric, Wallace, there is something endearingly heroic about him. That type of thing tends to attract attention.

Menzies Campbell's sartorial fogeyism might lead one to accuse him of wearing the wrong trousers. Nick Clegg might just be leader but at the wrong time. Without Vince Cable, it would seem that the Lib Dems might just have the wrong leader.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Hackney twinned with Soweto?

The Tories have re-released their 'what a dark world we live in, bring in a ray of Tory sunshine' video. About twenty seconds in amongst the 'interesting facts about the world' bit of the video comes the claim 'The streets of Soweto are safer than those of Hackney.'

My close affinity with Hackney forced me to double take. That 'fact' is surely absolute nonsense given that this is Soweto and this is Hackney. Crime plummeting, house prices soaring, more green spaces than any other London Borough and the most improving Council, Hackney, one of the Olympic Boroughs, is flying. It also happens to be home to the fantastic Hackney Community College of which I am a Governor (there, interest declared...)

So what on earth are the Tories up to? It turns out that the 'fact' refers to an absurd claim made by a South African surgeon back in 2002! A South African journalist, Justice Malala, rebutted the claims robustly and convincingly in the Guardian at the time, articulating that what an injustice the accusation was to the actual victims of crime and those who fear of crime in the Johannesburg township. It is also a disservice to Hackney and the people of Hackney.

It turns out that not only is crime rapidly falling in Hackney but it is far from the worst Borough in London: Camden, Islington and even Westminster are worse. None of them can in the slightest way be compared to the Soweto.

So let's have an honest debate about the challenges that face us instead of this outmoded and tenuous stereotyping, Mr Cameron.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

The ticket

Hillary closed the debate on Thursday in very strong fashion. Any journalist will tell you that the last word counts double. She managed to get the double score but it is probably a double edged sword. The 'I'll be just fine but it's the American people that I worry for' line strikes me as containing a certain amount of resignation. We'll see how it impacts the polls over the next few days.

Assuming that it doesn't reverse Obama's fortunes in Texas where he is closing fast, the conversation will soon turn to the Vice Presidential candidate. In fact, the Washington Post has started the speculation already.

It would be amazing if Hillary, assuming that she does not manage to turn her campaign around, either is offered or accepts the VP slot. I think this is a real pity no matter how tense the campaign has got. Hillary is a formidable politician and another run at the Presidency is not unimaginable in four or eight years time. She would also be making history by being the first female VP should Obama win....

But realistically it is not on the cards. For now. John Edwards is a strongish candidate. He's been there before running alongside John Kerry last time around. His campaign didn't garner a great deal of support for him other than from the centre-left base. An Obama-Edwards tickets feels too left heavy to withstand the likely Republican attacks on Obama as the most 'liberal', i.e. left-wing, candidate since George McGovern (or even ever!)

Very soon all eyes will start to turn to Bill Richardson. There is an impeccable logic to Richardson that Obama's team are going to find hard to resist. He is Southern and will geographically balance the ticket (even better, he was born in California and is now New Mexican). He is tremendously experienced as a former US Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration (the link to the Clinton administration will be a strength in itself.) The UN experience in particular will help to shield Obama from the McCain attacks on national security. Having been a Governor (of New Mexico), he has 'run something.' What may not be obvious is that he is also Hispanic.

Both camps are currently courting Richardson's endorsement. Obama's social calls every three days could well turn to very serious business. He may just want Bill as a running mate.

Rules of the game

Desperation is a distorting emotion. Hillary is now arguing that Michigan and Florida primary voters should have their delegates restored despite signing a non-campaign agreement in those states (the two states brought their primaries forward against the Democratic Party rule book and so have been effectively disqualified from the process.) It doesn't change the delegate count much but it looks like the act of a campaign that is going nowhere.

The logical response is to say, 'fine Hillary, we'll run it again this time for delegates, full campaign force, caucus or primary, whatever, let's go.'

Friday, 22 February 2008

West Wing politics

Someone was good enough to remind me that a few weeks ago I made reference to West Wing Series 6 and 7 and the current Presidential race. I thought it was a pretty banal point but it seems there is a linkage, in that Mr Obama was a creative foundation for the fictional Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits of LA Law fame.) A case of life imitating art imitating life, surely?

My embarrassment is that I wanted the moderate conservative Republican Arnie Vinick to win the fictional race (for the novelty value). Vinick was an atheist as he divulged over ice cream in a slightly surreal scene with President Bartlett which took place in the White House kitchens (in fairness most of the West Wing is more than slightly surreal.) John McCain seems to have problems with even mild environmentalism let alone atheism. So I find it unlikely that my support for Vinick will extend to McCain. It's Matt Santos all the way for me. LA Law was great after all.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Citizenship

What does it mean to be a British citizen? For Gordon Brown, it is about values: liberty, civic duty, fairness, and internationalism. Certainly, it does comprise those things but, as many have pointed out, just because these values have such a strong association with our history, it doesn't make them peculiarly British. So it's something more than values. It is also about identity or rather identities (because diversity is intrinsic to Britishness- in fact diversity has been essential to Britain's survival as a nation and political community.)

The English language, understanding of British society, appreciation of the history of Britain and its empire, associating oneself with a British 'way of life' would all seem to be part of it. All these things can be easily demolished intellectually. They are real but very tricky to define. In a complex world of multiple and overlapping commitments, questions of identity are breathtakingly complex. That does not mean that identity does not exist.

John Major's risible idyll of warm beer (yuk!) and cricket on a village green on a Sunday afternoon is just as compatible with 'Britishness' as Philippe Legrain's hysterical plea for a cosmopolitan Britiain in today's Guardian. (As a quick aside, as part of their training every journalist should have to spend at least a year outside of London with top-up sessions of 3 months in every subsequent year- it would certainly do Mr Legrain some good.) But as a snap-shot of culture in today's UK or even any of its constituent parts both are completely wrong. Major's ossified notions of identity are a nonsense. Legrain seems to deny that Britishness even exists which is equally nonsensical.

While obviously Britishness is not a racial or ethnic concept, it still conveys an identity but what is that identity?

Yesterday's announcement of a process to citizenship is an interesting one. It seems, on first reading, like a good approach- a period of residence, followed by a short probationary citizenship, then full citizenship with the rights and benefits that come along with that. There has to be a pathway to full citizenship and it has to mean something.

But this is not just about immigration. We all need to consider what modern British citizenship is, the duties that we have, the benefits that citizenship confers and what it means to be British. And actually, these are more important questions than who's in and who's out. So Britishness and citizenship both matter but they matter to us all.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Two fundraising emails

I've received two fundraising emails this evening, one from the Clinton camp, one from Obama's (thank you for forwarding them to me). Clinton's declares, "We're putting everything on the line." Obama tells us that they have over 900,000 contributors and they are now aiming for 1 million. The tone couldn't be more different.

Tory EU antics

Iain Dale is reporting that Dan Hannan has been ejected from the European People's Party. I take a different view to Iain on this and see the ejection as an abject humiliation for the Tories. I think that implying that Hans-Gert Poettering, German President of the EPP, was acting in the manner of Nazi, the reason Hannan has been ejected, is grossly offensive. What's worse is that this type of behaviour is a pattern- disruption and petty obstruction is the order of the day. It is completely tolerated by the Tory leadership. It's ironic that for a party that is so sceptical about Europe, the Tories are so obsessed by it.

Footnote: Good luck to Celtic against Barcelona tonight.

Houston, we have a problem

You should never write off the Clintons. Or so the modern day cliché goes. But equally let's not underestimate the significance of what has happened in the last three major primaries. In Virginia, Maryland, and now Wisconsin, Obama has devastated Clinton's coalition. As things stand, it would appear that only a lead amongst older, white women and Latinos remains (this latter demographic has not really been tested since Super Tuesday.)

As I intimated yesterday
, Wisconsin should have been a slam-dunk for Hillary- white, industrial/agricultural, primary. She hasn't just lost it, she has lost it by seventeen points. Just two weeks ago, the polls were pointing to a Hillary win here. But again the Obama momentum and ground organisation were unstoppable. Even worse for her, the only state where Obama has been able to focus for a week or so on exclusive campaigning that he has lost is Nevada. And he won in overall delegates there.

Hawaii has gone Obama's way as well- I think that's ten in a row but you lose count after a while. After the row about Obama plagiarising the speeches of the Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, one wit remarked last night that maybe Hillary should plagiarise Obama's coalition. He hasn't plagiarised hers. He's demolished it.

Write the Clintons off? Not yet. But Houston, boy do they have a problem.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The first football post

I know that there is a great deal of eagerness for me to start posting about football. I now feel ready.

A tremendous Liverpool performance to defeat Inter Milan 2-0. The referee was absolutely spot on all game apart from failing to penalise Vieira's handball and award Liverpool a deserved penalty. I have been Kuyt's biggest critic but I'm willing to partially forgive his almost complete lack of technical ability for tonight. Should we finish the job at the San Siro (and let's not forget, this Inter Milan team is basically Juventus in disguise- very high quality) then it will be great to have something to cheer for the rest of the season. The thought of a war of attrition for fourth place with Everton, Aston Villa, and Manchester City and nothing else fills me with dread.

Great to be able to enjoy a football match for a change without always having to think about who to blame. Owners? Manager? Players? We'll leave that for another day.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA

In the mid-1990s (when I was student) I turfed up in Manitowoc, Wisconsin to sell books door to door. The community was a very Protestant community, ethnically European, a small 'city' based on industry and hard work. It was certainly hard work getting them to buy my study guides. So I went to California after a couple of weeks to man fairground rides on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

The Lutherans (the population has a strong German influence) of Manitowoc will be voting in their Presidential Primary today. John Kerry won this state by 50-49 in the 2004 Presidential election. Wisconsin is a swing state and a must win for the Democrats is they are to win the White House. This state should be prime Hillary Clinton territory- no particularly significant ethnic minority, per capita income below the US average, agriculture/ industrial economy, it is a primary rather than a caucus, it most definitely is not a 'red state'! But a Hillary win does not seem to be on the cards.

Hillary's spinners will explain the Obama victory- should that be what happens- away. It is close to Obama's home state. They couldn't campaign properly because of the snow (but surely that would hinder Obama more given his ground operation?). They weren't expected to win. This last one is the one that has amused me the most in recent weeks. If you lose, you lose!

For me, it will be a significant win and if the across the board support (with the exception of white women in the upper age range) Obama gained in Virginia and Maryland is replicated then it looks like there really has been a parting in the road.

Footnote: Liverpool v Inter Milan tonight. Have some pity on me.

Monday, 18 February 2008

The Tory approach to the EU

Caroline Jackson, a Tory MEP for the South West, dissects her own party's euro-scepticism in the FT today (I think that link may only work for 24 hours). It is clear that a number of Conservative representatives are not capable of responsibly representing their constituents' interests in the Europe.

You would have thought that Counservatives would have been appalled by the childish and obstructive behaviour of some of their representatives. You would have thought that David Cameron would realise that European cooperation was critical to achieve his environmental aims. You would have thought that discipline would have followed some outrageous behaviour by Tory MEPs. You'd be wrong.

What's more, the Tory rank and file love this disruptive and offensive behaviour.

In time, the policies pursued by his party in Europe and the conduct of his representatives will come to haunt David Cameron. Maybe sooner rather than later. Unlike a group of lads on a European city stay stag weekend, what happens in Brussels will not stay in Brussels.....

Sunday, 17 February 2008

US election on the web

I thought that it would be useful to post some sites that are handy if you want to get into the detail of the US political process.

First, let's start with the 'mainstream media.' Two stand out for me:

CNN. Its election night coverage is second to none. Exit poll data appears the moment the polls close and its politics site is so easy to use. With access to billions of pounds of public money, how come the BBC website does not even come close to this?

MSNBC. I include this one because of two programmes in particular: Meet the Press with Tim Russert and Hardball with Chris Matthews. The former is the most cerebral and intellectual US politics show (you can download podcasts of the entire show which is a good way to spend gym time). The presenter of the latter, Chris Matthews, has to be seen for his sheer energy which can occassionally become offensive but is fascinating nonetheless.

Fox News doesn't get a link but one of its pundits, Dick Morris, who used to work for Bill but despises Hillary, does because his analysis, while tendentious, is acute.

On to political sites, two are excellent and one is worth mentioning because its writers are all over the 'mainstream media' but I don't rate it particularly highly.

The best site in this election overall, even edging out CNN's excellent site, is www.realclearpolitics.com. Wow. It selects the best articles on the race every day, provides easy access to all polling data, and very considered think pieces by the site's staff. This site saves me from having to provide an exhaustive list of sites because you will reach other sites through this portal. When you are pointed to a site by www.realclearpolitics.com it will invariably be to an original and illuminating article.

The Huffington Post is reasonably good and contains some very good, on-the-ground, local reporting. It can be a bit hit and miss. But I would recommend the off-the-bus section which has some great eye-witness reporting. That section also contains a list of blogs.

politico.com is the establishment site. It even co-hosts Presidential debates. Maybe it has reached too far into 'mainstream media' land but I haven't really developed an affection for it. Interesting that a political site could become part of the furniture though.

For blog sites, a good place to start is the 'celebrity bloggers.' Jerome Armstrong who is pro-Hillary runs mydd.com. Also check out, the Daily Kos which also has an annual blogger convention, the Yearly Kos in Las Vegas! I will do a review of a book call 'The Argument' which tells the tale of these bloggers in the next few weeks.

There are hundreds of other blog sites (see the Huffington Post list to access a few.) My personal favourite is a little known but growing blog called e8voice. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The first culture post

In today's Guardian, Martin Kettle writes about Daniel Barenboim's cycle of piano sonatas at the Royal Festival Hall which concludes tomorrow. I have had the fortune to attend two of these concerts seeing a true artistic and intellectual master in action. I have seen him conduct an incredible cycle of Brahms symphonies previously as well as an urgent and driving performance of Beethoven's ninth. As Martin Kettle argues, some things just are great. Beethoven's music is great and Daniel Barenboim, a rare artistic leader who has reached into intellectual and political endeavour to devastating effect, is great also.

Southam, Warwickshire, UK

Some might say the Southam is not as glamourous as Washington DC and Warwickshire doesn't exert the same global power. And they'd be right.

But I had the joy of getting straight off the plane and heading to the West Midlands with Michael Cashman MEP to visit one of the friendliest Labour branches in the country.

Michael eloquently articulated the importance of the European Union to diversity, the spread of human rights, and the protection of equality. The members kindly listened to my enthusing about the US primary battle. It is clear that the Obama v Clinton fight is captivating and exciting the entire democratic world.

Maybe there should be a UK primary much like the Premier League is planning to host one match a season overseas? Bill Clinton once came to the Labour party conference and declared himself to be the delegate from Hope, Arkansas, Constituency Labour Party after all!

Footnote: Liverpool have lost 2-1 to Barnsley of the Championship (second division in England) today. At home. The first football post is one step closer.....

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Google Ads

I hope that you are all finding the Google Ads for Arlington, Virginia second-hand car dealers and real estate agents useful. As you click through in droves to such useful services, I look forward to receiving cheques which may occasionally hit a whole dollar. Thank you Google, sorry for doubting you, it turns out that you are great for reasons other than not being Microsoft.

The first football post....

....will be coming soon- thank you for the requests. I have promised myself not to turn this blog into a rant so it's going to be a difficult one to do. But I'm sure that it will be impossible to hold back at some point.

Liverpool host Barnsley on Saturday. That could provide the opportunity.

Arlington, Virginia

A new poll out today shows Senator Clinton over 20 points ahead in Ohio (previous polls can be viewed here.) For all the enthusiasm in and around the Obama campaign, there is still a long way to go. No amount of ground organisation will overcome a poll lead that large.

The assumption seems to be that Clinton will win Texas too. Most people see it as an even safer Clinton bet than Ohio. Speaking to a couple of people in Texas yesterday, I'm not so sure it's a banker to that extent though Clinton is the clear favourite. There are significant differences between Texas and Nevada or California which I'll be exploring over the next couple of weeks. There are no polls out that I've seen yet but there will be some out in the next few days I'm sure. Texas also has a strange hybrid of Caucus and Primary that will dampen any delegate bonus for the winner. More on that later.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Bailey's Pub & Grille, Ballston Mall, Arlington, VA


How do you get a statewide on-the-ground campaign up and running in just eight hours? Phenomenally, that is exactly what the Obama campaign in Virginia achieved. Campaign volunteers gave me the full low-down at the Obama victory party in Arlington last night (right).

Three paid volunteers swooped into the state just six days before the primary and literally had to get everything up and running within hours.

They had a bit of luck. On the first day they had a phone call from a local law firm who had a suite of servers, phone lines, and office space ready and waiting for the campaign to move in. Why? Because they had set up the facility for the Mitt Romney campaign and now it was vacant. So a ready-made campaign call centre was available for free! It would seem that not all Romney supporters have gone to Huckabee or McCain.....

By election day, the campaign had 150 people on the phones and 300 volunteers on the doorstep (and many more people across the nation using the free phone facility available through the www.barackobama.com website.) This was in the northern three counties of Virginia alone: Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria. As a measure of the enthusiasm for the campaign, they had 1,400 tickets for the T.C.Williams High School event available to their supporters. They had run out after two hours- people were queuing up for hours to get the tickets.

Hillary's on-the-ground campaign? Nowhere to be seen. It is increasingly clear that the Clinton campaign has not got the infrastructure to compete effectively and one has to assume that this is because they didn't expect a real contest.

Footnote: A chef from one of the local restaurants to the Clinton campaign HQ tells me of the haughty and condescending attitude of Clinton staff. He is amused to find Clinton Deputy Campaign Manager, Bob Nash, scratching lottery card after lottery card in the local 7-11 on the day of the primary. He wonders if this is the latest Clinton fundraising strategy.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Yorktown High School, Garden City, VA

-6 C. Freeezing. Someone had dropped an ice drink by my car earlier today (why on earth were they drinking ice in this weather?) It is still there this evening. It rained this afternoon- rain drops have actually frozen all over my car. The ground is just one sheet of black ice. And yet the turnout in the primary vote is extremely high. Hardy these Virginians.

I interviewed a couple of dozen voters and a handful of party activists at the 'polling place.' I picked Yorktown High School as it is in an exclusively white neighbourhood. The voters are almost all public servants in some way and almost all Democrats. In fact, 73% of them normally vote Democrat.

The result is out in thirty minutes so I may end up with egg on my face here. But it is looking very good for Obama. Of the twenty or so who declared their vote to me (pretty much evenly split between men and women), only four were voting for Hillary. Three of those were white, middle-aged women- her absolute core. People are voting for Obama for a number of reasons: electability is a major one, a fresh start is another but he's starting to break through on one or two issues also. Two professional economists I spoke to thought his economic plan was perfectly respectable.

As I write the first snippets from exit polls have started to filter through. They show that Hillary's vote is split 77-11 white to black, whereas Obama's is split 56-44 white to black in Virginia. What I was picking up in the comfortable, white neighbourhood of Garden City is underlined by those figures.

7.07pm update: CNN's exit data shows that Obama has split the white vote almost 50-50 with Clinton and he WON the vote amongst women. Clinton is in real trouble and has three weeks to save her campaign.

8.23pm update: Sorry for a second update but it really is worth looking at the exit polls. Obama is going to win about 60-40. But if you scan the underlying figures there is remarkable consistency all the way down. The conclusion has to be that in this primary at least he is starting to break boundaries and reach into Clinton's core, building a universal appeal in the process. It's just one primary but interesting nonetheless.

1st Mariners Arena, Baltimore, MD

Teddy Roosevelt once said that there are only two types of President- a James Buchanan or Abraham Lincoln. I took the opportunity of a couple of hours to kill and picked up a copy of the Baltimore Sun which had an article on experience and Presidents and now understand what Roosevelt meant.

Buchanan had it all: served in both houses of Congress, Minister to GB, Secretary of State and finally President. He was a woeful President, presiding over the expansion of slavery financial panic and drift towards civil war. Lincoln, who had only served in the Illinois state legislature and for one term in Congress, proved to be a history maker, winning the civil war and abolishing slavery in the process.

There is, of course, another one-term Illinois Congressman in the current race. Not surprisingly he makes generous references to Lincoln. CV's only go so far. They don't demonstrate the real qualities of a leader.

Quick footnote: Obama spoke to 25,000 people at lunchtime today and 13,000 this evening. He had to cancel a rally this morning due to high winds (high AND cold, believe me!) That's 38,000 in a day!

Interstate 95, Washington DC to Baltimore

Listening to public radio and it is airing a speech by Ann Coulter. Along with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others, Coulter is one of the ring-wing ideologues who inhabit the US airwaves and cyberspace. They are going to cause an immense amount of difficulty for John McCain. Quite simply only their version of conservatism will do and they are going to shout about it.

The mix is simple- unregulated free markets, low taxes, social conservatism, authoritarian domestic security, and aggressive and unilateralist foreign policy. Now, John McCain happens to have voted against Bush tax cuts that were targeted at the super-rich and exacerbated the budget deficit, believes in limiting carbon emissions, and favours a conditional amnesty on illegal immigrants. I honestly don't see how any of John McCain's positions contradict conservatism. On these particular issues, he just happens to be at the moderate end of conservativism (on other issues he is not, for example, he is 'pro-life')

But Coulter and co are refusing to accept that he is a conservative. Coulter is even saying that she will vote Hillary Clinton over McCain (I won't go into her logic because it's pointless doing so and quite boring). So McCain is in real trouble with the right of the party. They try to make a virtue out of non-compromise also. I really think that the Democrats are going to have a field day because if he's to motivate the base then he will have to 'flip-flop'- fatal.

One more note. The politics of these right-wingers is brutal and punishing both domestically and internationally. Coulter also manages to be personally spiteful with it. A really nasty piece of work that I'm glad that we don't have the like of in British politics.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Leisure World, Silver Spring, Maryland

At break-neck speed up to Maryland, I just caught the second half of a Bill Clinton's latest campaign appearance- in a retirement village. A local party stalwart explained to me that this precinct has the highest turnout of any in Maryland and the second highest in the whole US. So you know that despite the fact that the minimum age of this community is 55, if they pledge support you are going to get their vote!

There are more College degrees in this community than you find amongst the staff of the average Harvard faculty. Almost. Maybe. The activists here wanted to talk to me about the issues: health insurance, child protection, the economy, scientific research, waiting times at CVS Pharmacy stores. OK, not the last one. But where Obama's supporters were inspired, these guys have calculated very precisely who is the President is for them. It's Hillary and the people of the Leisure World constitute the demographic that has supported her in droves.

As for Bill, he's still brilliant. On the drive back home I listened to Hillary's speech earlier today. The policy detail was the similar between the Bill and Hillary speeches. Hers felt like fusillade. His like a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream with a glass of milk. This is her problem for me. On one side there is Obama who is like a soul singer preacher and on the other is Bill who can weave the most brilliant and profound political narrative and play it to the public through a saxophone. She is formidable on the policy but is struggling to keep from being swallowed by the Potomac.

T.C. Willams High School, Alexandria, VA

Remember the Titans? Well, it was a tale of racial integration in a High School football starring Denzel Washington. T.C. Williams High School team is the Titans and that's where I encountered Mr Barack Obama today. Get it?

I must have talked to three dozen Obama voters today, ranging from the activist of 50 years from Fairfax county to students of the High School itself to Latinos for Obama to Veterans and self-declared 'Obama-crats.' Each has a different tale but they are inspired and most aren't activists or regularly involved in the political process.

These Obama events are more akin to going to a Prince concert than a political rally. They are not devoid of substance, far from it. But this is a movement, a scream, a tornado, whatever you want to call it. And it's gaining a momentum that is becoming hard to resist.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Dupont Circle, Washington DC

My first encounter with a group of Obama campaigners today. Two things struck me chatting to them. Firstly, they really consider themselves to be part of a 'movement.' Secondly, I asked them why they had a problem with Hillary and they don't, they are just excited by Obama.

I will be heading to an Obama rally tomorrow. Better arrive early particularly as Obama has won big tonight.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Arlington, Virginia

My first 'E8voice' blog post is from Arlington, Virginia. I am here to see the primary campaign first hand. Three initial observations.

1) Obama is now the 'front-runner.' It is clear in the way he's being talked about. This could benefit Hillary. She described Obama as the 'establishment' candidate and it is clearly the strategy that's evolving in the Hillary camp. The reality is that is couldn't be closer but Obama will become the assumed candidate after the next few days and that will make things a little more tricky for him.

2) The cash shortage is hitting the Clinton campaign. Obama and McCain have TV ads in plentiful supply here in Virginia. Clinton ads are nowhere to be seen. This will aid her transition, incredible as it seems, to outsider candidate status. Again, she may benefit from this in Texas and then in Pennsylvania. She may be saving any spare cash for those primaries.

3) The Democrats could be heading for disaster at Denver. If Hillary's outsider strategy fails, Obama will head to Denver with more States, more delegates, and more votes. The super-delegates will then be in a position where they would have to back Obama. If they didn't, then the Republicans would have Hillary for toast given that the Democrats have not stopped going on about the 2000 election where Bush won with fewer votes than Gore. If they fall in behind Obama, then will Hillary go to court to get the Michigan and Florida delegates which she won re-instated?

All fascinating.