Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Politics Decoded: Labour Pains, Energy Gains & Lib Dem No Brains

Here is yesterday's Politics Decoded column that I write every Tuesday on the Wardman Wire...

Labour’s annus horribilis

The misery just keeps on coming for Gordon. This week was the second time he has tried to get back to business with a major assault on policy. The first time it was the queen’s speech where he tried to keep it as boring and serious as possible. Unfortunately for him the media were more interested in scandal. This week it was take two – the CBI address, where Brown was to tell the listening world about nuclear power and new runways and that he would not “shirk” over the major decisions. Only problem was, no one was listening. We were far more interested in the claims that the party who claim to be whiter than white were receiving donations from people who not only did not make donations but don’t even support the Labour party. Dear, oh dear. This really has been an annus horribilis for the Government, or at the very least it’s been a bum few months. Will this slide down greasy political pole continue and if it does, what will mean for the Labour party and in particular Gordon Brown?

More Donor Problems

First let’s deal with donations. Once again this is another classic example of Brown having nothing in his power that could have foreseen or stopped this scandal, yet it is adding to the ever growing perception that his leadership is riddled with incompetence. Of course, there is probably a very good reason why Brown and the rest of the parliamentary labour party do not get involved with the finer points of party donations – ask no questions, hear no lies. But that does not mean to say that Brown should be held responsible. For Peter Watt’s, Labour’s general secretary, to say it was a mistake on the other hand is very, very hard to believe. In fact, I would put that another way but I don’t want to be involved in legal action. The guy was a compliance officer for the party, for goodness sake! He rightly resigned, but still in disgrace and without telling the whole story I “suspect”. Brown has now said the party will give the money back – no doubt it will be re-donated via the correct channels this time…

Major Brown

This is just another story in the long list of gaffs, cock ups and darn right failures by the government since Brown came to power. No matter what Brown does or says at the moment, someone in his party or government are seemingly trying to make him look like an absolute buffoon. Whereas Blair could shake off the most outrageous and sticky bad news stories with a grin, a quick joke, a few gesticulations and a rebuttal that usually began with the words “Look” or “Listen”. It was as though we didn’t get it and after it was made clear by Tony all would make sense and we could move on. With Brown, it is as though he is a hoarder, collecting as much dirt and bad press as he can – with Brown the bad news sticks. This is prime John Major territory we are entering. You cannot account for it nor do an awful lot about it. You just have to hope you can ride it out. That is what Major did for nearly five years. Though he failed to ride it out – quite spectacularly.

Can Brown Ride it out?

So can Brown ride it out? It has to be said, despite claims from the more ardent of Tory supporters, the past few weeks have been no Black Wednesday. The economy is still afloat and the Northern Rock crisis looks to be stabilising a little at the moment – even if it is set to rumble on for longer and could still take a turn for the worse. The missing data discs are part of the story, but not the key part. The sleaze stories such as donations again add to it all, but in themselves will not take down Brown or the party. Even all these things together are not enough in the long term to seriously threaten Brown. It has been a rough few months – what he really needs to avoid is a rough 12 months. If these stories keep coming out from seemingly no-where and the party remain in the 20s in the polls (as today’s ComRes suggests) by the time the conference comes round next year, then what’s the betting on a leadership challenge? It is far too early to predict this, but there are some big Ifs that could turn to realities. Brown will do all he can to avoid this, but come the day, if it comes, how will he react? The question for Brown is what is more important to him, the good of the New Labour movement and the party, or his own well publicised and long awaited appetite for the keys to No.10?

Climate Change & the Green Lobby

Last week, hidden behind the fiasco that is the Treasury and the rest of the Labour party, Gordon Brown made a climate change speech. No one noticed and even less people cared – but the issue of energy and climate change in this country is big dollar. We are talking billions upon billions of tax payers’ money being spent and right now the key decisions are being made. There are two main parts to the energy argument – the security of supply (can we rely on Russia’s gas?) and carbon emissions. However both these two areas are framed in the context of money. Something the green lobby seem to have no idea about.

Good work Malcolm

Malcolm Wicks, the energy Minister, is a busy man at the moment. In January key decisions will be made about nuclear power and the prospect of tidal power (particularly in the Severn estuary). I have a lot of time for Wicks, but he is being forced in to this game of trying to appease the green Nazis (who, to be fair are not all greens, but a section of them) while making decisions that are best for the country. He has described the green lobby as the Vicky Pollard of the industry – and quite rightly. A perfect description in my opinion. Ask them if they want wind power they respond yeah but no but. In fact ask them if they want any energy production at all and they’ll find a problem with it.

Do the maths

Yes in an ideal world we would not have oil or gas to rely on. But right now we rely on it for 80% of our means and to change that would literally bankrupt the country. We could build wind turbines all over Britain but they are neither reliable nor predictable nor cheap. We would need to pave half the country with them too – which of course the greens would hate because we would be ruining the habitat. We could build nuclear power and that would solve many problems – most notably CO2 emissions. But they argue that the nuclear waste is an even worse prospect and that it is just a finite resource. Of course the waste is a problem, but it is not beyond the wit of man to solve it. And of course it is a finite resource – so is oil, coal and gas, but we still have plenty of that left after hundreds of years. The latest proposal they oppose is the Severn Barrage. It could produce 5% of our energy needs but will cost £15bn. It will be entirely predictable, cheap to run and have absolutely no emissions and it won’t rely on the Russians for it to work. But there will be environmental impacts on the bird wildlife – some good and some bad. It is as though they want us to decommission all of existing capacity and not build anything else to replace it

There is a cost whatever we do

The facts are if we don’t continue to burn fossil fuels the lights will go out. If we build these renewable energy projects there will be impacts on the local environment. If we do not build nuclear we will end up paying so much money on other projects that the country will be bankrupted and it will also come from our pockets. If you want to lower carbon emissions there is price to pay, but not nearly as big a price as doing nothing at all.

Dumb & Dumber

The Lib Dem leadership race ambles on. I still maintain that Clegg would be the wisest choice for the Lib Dems, but his has been possibly the worst campaign in living memory. OK, so Major’s 1997 campaign was doomed to failure but at least he gave it a shot and Kinnock lost the impossible in 1992 with his Sheffield Rally but he almost ended the Tory’s rule. Even Mark Oaten got some headlines last time round. Nick Clegg has just sat there taking abuse from Huhne and then agreeing with him on all the major issues. The only thing he done that has been picked up by anyone is complaining to the party that nasty Nick called him a calamity. Big deal Clegg. The guy does not deserve to win this contest, even if does stand more chance of stealing the Tory vote than Huhne. Once again, the Lib Dems appear to be doing the impossible – they have the perfect leader in place right now and yet instead of trying to get him to stay they ripping each other heads off and are likely to end up with either a wet fish or donkey.

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