Archive for February, 2009


Oh the dangers of being a pundit…!

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Continuation thread


Can Civil Liberties have an impact?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Today, I will be joining around 1,000 participants nationwide at the Convention on Modern Liberty – a conference of speakers and activists from across the political spectrum who share a concern about the direction with respect to our basic rights and liberties.

Although not an automatic adherent, I acknowledge that we now live in a society that is becoming ever more scary from this particular perspective, and am interested to see what some of the great thinkers of the age have to say on the issue. If memory serves, then there is one CCTV camera for every 14 people in the UK. We have seen the proposal of hitherto-unthinkabe legislation (42 days and the ID card database), and it is estimated that 8% of the population is already on the DNA database, independent of whether they have ever beeb found guilty of an office.

Beyond the Damian Green affair, we have seen modifications (or attempts at modifying) a whole host of fundamental liberties, including trial by jury (for complex legal trials) and double jeopardy. The biscuit,however, should go to Jacqui Smith for allowing (upon her order) the police to search the home of any employee who works for a company that has signed a non-disclosure agreement for the ID cards programme. Overturning the needs for a search warrant on the back of an NDA is just breathtaking government.

    Civil Liberties is one of those issues that will rarely if ever garner electoral support for its political movements. Haltemprice & Howden still stands out as a largely anomalous campaign. It is staggering that in 30 years of asking, the issue still doesn’t register on the Ipsos MORI issue tracker, and is unlikely to if it remains in its current format. The Mori options, generated by respondants, are almost entirely ‘tax and spend’ priorities, rather than significant concerns, and I think the poll gets treated as such. Getting more abstract principles to break through as principal concerns is very difficult.

If the comparison can even be made, I remain skeptical that an issue such as Civil Liberties could hold its own agains the major issues in a ‘tax and spend’ priorities, but that is largely a function of the questioning. I wonder if their importance to the Briitish public could be seriously underestimated, and whether there are seats in the South East especially where this could make all the difference. This is a limitation of the strength of modern polling – measuring the breadth and depth of public support for an agenda that has been largely hidden will be a most difficult task, but if able to track and improve those results, then the Convention on Modern Liberty will have exceeded our heavy expectations.

So, will Civil Liberties be a tangible issue at the next election? It could be, but that will take some co-ordinated effort. These good people have their work cut out – but I wish them the very best.



Who’ll win the Brown-Goodwin pension stand-off?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Take the 6/1 that Fred’s pension will be cut

I’ve just put £100 on at 6/1 with William Hill that the former RBS boss, Sir Fred Goodwin will accept a cut in his much publicised pension entitlement. The bet is that he will either do so voluntarily or be forced to do so by the end of the year.

There’s so much political pressure on Brown that the chances of Goodwin being unable to brazen it out must be better than the 6/1. For as long as this remains unresolved it’s a major irritant to the government and a reminder that they cocked it up in the first place.

    Goodwin clearly is a tough cookie – you don’t to the top unless you are – but at the end of the day Brown cannot allow the stand-off to continue. The fact that the PM has been prepared to go so public is a measure of the resolve from Number 10.

I think that this is a great bet. It’s not available online – you have to phone and refer to the William Hill press release that went out this afternoon.

Best of luck.


Is this Nick Clegg’s dilemma?

Friday, February 27th, 2009


Is anything other than equidistance wrong for the LDs?

If other polls follow YouGov and we get near to hung parliament territory again there will be more focus on what other parties, notably the SNP and the Lib Dems, would do. Here the views of party supporters might be important.

The best regular guide of how Lib Dem voters view things comes in the monthly Telegraph poll with the detailed splits on their forced choice “Brown or Cameron” question. This has been asked in the same form for years and it’s interesting to look at trends and how supporters of other than the big two see the situation.

In the table above we see the outcome this month – Lib Dems supporters are split totally on what they would like to see with 41% saying a “Cameron-led Tory Government” and 41% saying a “Brown-led Labour” one.

To show how far things have moved on and to put the findings into context in February 2006, while Cameron was enjoying his media honeymoon, the YouGov split on this question amongst Lib Dems was LAB-Brown 52%: CON-Cameron 22%. That’s a huge improvement and indicates, perhaps, the success that Cameron has had making his party more attractive to the centre ground.

Nick Clegg and the rest of the Lib Dem leadership simply have no alternative – with their voters so split they cannot err on one side or the other.

I used to think that the party’s activist base was much more Labour-inclined than party supporters. Now I’m not so sure and I detect little enthusiasm for propping up Labour.


Does Fred’s pension put stopping the Tories beyond reach?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

How can minsters claim competence after agreeing to this?

The numbers involved are on such a scale that it’s hard for the ordinary voter to comprehend the crisis that the financial system has been going through in the past five months. The challenge for ministers has been to appear confident and competent without being complacent.

And for the most part since then the government has given off an aura of knowing what it’s doing which has been picked up in survey after survey. Even when the voting intention findings have looked bad Labour has taken a lot of comfort from the “who is best to handle the crisis” responses.

    Yet could all that be put at risk by Sir Fred’s pension – a story it is said that was leaked yesterday in order to divert attention from the big picture – the £24bn loss at the company he ran and into which billions of taxpayers cash is being pumped.

The charge the Treasury agreed to these massive annual payments has the potential to change completely perceptions of the government’s handling of the whole financial crisis. This is very bad news for Brown and Darling.

People can relate to the amount of cash that one man in these straightened times is getting. It’s bad enough that any fifty year old should get a pension of £14,000 a week – when the beneficiary is seen as one of the key architects of disaster it becomes, as the Express front page shouts at us this morning “OBSCENE”.

    That Fred is able to sit back and say no just adds to the impression that a major cock-up has occurred and one, judging by the headlines, that is resonating. Even worse the story looks set to stay in the news. This “has legs” as they say.

It also provides an issue for the opposition to get their teeth into and a great defence against the “do nothing” charge. It will be brought up time and time again to cast doubt on Labour’s ability to cope.

If David Cameron was not, sadly, otherwise engaged he would have an extra spring in his step. What a great counter to the perhaps disappointing YouGov poll overnight discussed on the previous thread.


The Tories down 3 points with YouGov

Thursday, February 26th, 2009


CON 41(-3) LAB 31(-1) LD 15(+1)

But there’s still a double digit lead?

The Daily Telegraph’s YouGov survey for February is just out and as predicted on the previous thread is showing a 10 point Tory lead.

The changes are all within the margin of error though they do offer a spot of comfort to Labour. Interestingly the best poll findings for Brown’s party are coming from the on-line pollster at the moment and the margin is the smallest that we’ve seen since mid-January.

Quite why the YouGov methodology should be putting the firm’s shares in this position is hard to say. Their weighting structure is much more pro-Labour than the other pollsters but generally that does not seem to have an impact.

So with the Tories still in the 40s with a double digit lead, Labour seeing its deficit down a touch and the LD number going up there’s something for all the parties.

It will be recalled that during the Brown bounce in September 2007 YouGov had some of the best polls for Labour.


How damaging is Fred’s RBS pension to Labour?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

What can Darling do about the £650k pa outrage?

The big talking point on many of the radio phone-ins today has been the mammoth pension of £650,000 a year that the ex-RBS boss is due to get for the rest of his life. Listen in – there’s a lot of anger and fury out there and who can blame people.

This comes on the day that the Royal Bank of Scotland posted a £24bn loss – the biggest in British corporate history – and the news that Mr. Darling is to “request” that the ex-chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin, “forgoes” at least some of the cash.

Goodwin, who is only 50, stepped down from the job last October as part of the government’s rescue and was the man in charge when when many of the key decisions were taken.

    Why wasn’t the pension raised during the bail-out discussions last October? Could one of the conditions of pumping billions of tax-payers’ money into the firm be that such agreements had to be stopped?

Clearly there are big legal problems with Fred having an entitlement to such a massive sum each year. But the fact that Darling can only ask makes him and the government look weak.

No doubt there are good answers to all of this but if Fred sits tight then the embarrassment to Brown will be enormous.

The cartoon, as ever is by Marf. More of her work can be found at

Later today on PB: I’m in London this evening for the launch of Nick Cohen’s new book “Waiting for the Etonians” and probably won’t be able to post or moderate. I am expecting a new YouGov poll this evening and I will get a thread up as soon as I can.


Could the politics now become less personal?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Will we see a new relationship between Dave and Gord?

If it had not been postponed because of yesterday’s tragic death David Cameron and Gordon Brown would have been meeting later today at Number 10 for the formal unveiling of a portrait of the last Tory PM but one.

The organisation of this event had been marked by extraordinary bickering and an apparent effort by Brown first not to have Cameron there at all and then, once that became impossible, to have the opposition leader coming into the building by the back door.

For the past two years has been characterised by an extraordinary personal animosity between Brown and Cameron which has seen the two men hardly ever having a conversation and the PM, in particular, going to incredible lengths to avoid the customary courtesies between PM and opposition leader. Thus little things like the customary civil service briefings for the man who could be be his successor have been help up and then offered begrudgingly.

There have been times when it’s appeared that the sole purpose of Brown’s strategy has been to get one over on someone whom he despises. This has had negative consequences. Would the 10p tax fiasco last year have happened if Brown had not sought to pull a fast one on Cameron in his March 2007 budget speech?

    All of this background made yesterday’s short statement by Brown even more moving and more dramatic. How can normal hostilities be resumed in the old way after this?

And if this does indeed mark a change in their relationship what could it do to the coming election battle?