The Pomp Returns
So the annual ceremony and pomp returns today when the Queen will read out “Gordon’s Vision”. This of course leaves Gordon open to the easy low blow that actually the man has no vision. How things have changed since July when it was Cameron who had no policies and Brown who was the heavyweight politician. It is traditional that the contents of the Queen’s speech are kept under wraps until she reads it out in the Palace of Westminster. This year, Gordon told all before the recess in July and so we know pretty much entirely what is coming – and it doesn’t exactly enthuse me. Cameron will play the “we’ve heard it all before” line - and well he might.
I don’t fully agree with what will inevitably be the Tory evaluation of the legislative programme as lacking in vision – today is more about shifting the agenda back in to Brown’s court rather than giving Britain a new vision. Brown is already looking jaded and it will just be too tempting to kick the man while he is down. However, is that a fair assessment or is today the day that Brown can seize back some of the initiative…
What are we in for?
One of the big headliners will be about party funding. Labour has been taken to the cleaners by the recent Yates’s cash for honours investigation. It has scared off just about anyone from giving the party any serious money. The Unions are now back in a stronger position as a result as they are currently the major life line – in return they want Brown to stop clamping down on them, something he will be reluctant to do. The Tories on the other hand are a bit flush right now – mainly thanks to Ashcroft. The real danger with this policy is that it could be perceived as being party political – Brown effectively saying, “we don’t have any money, so you can’t either”. However, given the terrible press and inherent public perception that money and politics is a dirty combination, any changes will probably go down well – unless he suggests public funding of parties, which will be like throwing petrol on Rupert Murdoch’s fire.
The other big idea involves NEETS. For those who have better things to do than learn jargon acronyms, NEETS stands for kids that are Not in Education, Employment or Training. Within the confines of Westminster they are NEETS, to the rest of us they are bums, wasters, layabouts. The Government’s solution to NEETS is to make them stay in school until they are 18. Problem solved. Well, not quite. I get the impression NEETS are the sort of kids who would laugh in the face of raising the school leaving age and while the theory may sound good, in practice it will be a whole different story. Expect much hilarity aimed at Ed Balls, (fast becoming exposed as a very poor politician), truancy rates to fly through the roof and somewhere down the line a report stating what a failure this policy has been.
Who will sleep easier tonight?
The Tories will pitch today as Brown demonstrating his lack of vision. Once again, Brown only has himself to blame if they pull this off, using the vision excuse as the reason he didn’t call the autumn election. Brown will try and pitch it as offering heavyweight politics again, a real choice between Red and Blue. There are plenty of more interesting arguments to be had in Parliament over the coming months – Europe and detention times are to name just two of the more divisive ones. However, today’s programme of bills is classic Brown – mundane, boring and predictable, which are Brown’s real strengths. He is trying to get back to the “July script” and today is the day he tries to do it.
The Poll Picture Becoming Clearer
It will be of little surprise that the Lib Dem vote is starting to recover a little. As I have said before though, the real interesting part of the Lib Dem vote is where it is coming from. If it is at the expense of the Tories, then Labour really hold the superior ground. If it is from Labour, then the Tories will be well in the game and the longer it takes for an election to come, the more chance they have.
Today’s Populous poll is a mixed bag for Labour and the Tories. Both are losing out to the Lib Dems, Labour are down three points and the Tories down by two. This gives Labour a one point lead. It should be noted that Populous have been far kinder to Labour in recent polls and so any conclusive proof of where we are is still some way off. It may well be spring, when all three leaders are settled in, before we can be sure who is doing what. But right now, I think all three parties will be fairly content without being overjoyed.
We need debate because we don’t agree with each other
Nigel Hastilow is a plonker. But not for the reasons you might think. He was just saying what he thought. It was neither inflammatory nor racist. He made the big mistake of being a Tory and mentioning Enoch Powell. What on earth made him think that by effectively endorsing Powell’s beliefs he would endear himself to a very touchy and paranoid Conservative party, I do not know. It was inevitable that he was going to have to go. But unfortunately, while I do not believe a word he or Powell said on immigration, how on earth are we supposed to develop coherent policies on the matter if you run the risk of being cast as a pariah every time you talk about the issue?
Rightly of wrongly there are large sections of society who are genuinely concerned about immigration and unless we have a grown up debate, we will create more problems than we solve. I implore you to read Dominic Lawson’s article today for an excellent take on the immigration debate – remember you may not agree, but we need to hear all sides – both Hastilow and Lawson – not just the wet, meaningless PC brigades views. Why avoid debate just because we don’t agree with each other?