Saturday, September 30, 2006

You are not a contender till you are on Broadcast News

In the last few months, we've seen the print media (especially The Times and The Guardian) push Alan Johnson as a potential contender for Labour leader very hard. The Times in particular had a favourable Alan Johnson puff piece almost every day in the past few weeks. Yet they've had precious little impact on the general public.

Perhaps we pay too much attention to the print media. Their circulation has been falling. According to ABC figures, the average papers bought per day in August 2006 were as follows:

The Guardian 362,844 papers a day
The Times 675,030 papers a day
The Telegraph 898,289 papers a day
The Independent 254,854 papers a day
The Mail 2,381,461 papers a day
The Mirror 1,662,930 papers a day
The Sun 3,223,841 papers a day
Evening Standard 313,181 papers a day

The total is 9,772,430 newspapers sold a day in Britain, out of a population
of 60 million. And the Times and Guardian are among the smaller papers, so don't really have reach. True the readership figures are much larger than the circulation figures, and lots of people now read papers online, but even so, the figures are small.

If you want to make an impact on the public, you need television. Not just any television either - Newsnight, Question Time, The Daily Politics, are niche programs. You need to get onto the BBC early evening news (viewing figures 9.8 million), or News at Ten (about 5.7 million). When there is a crisis, eg the 7/7 bombings, or the airport plot, people are more likely to tune in.

John Reid has been on the news a lot. First his capable handling of the airport crisis, where he was not overshadowed by Blair (who was on holiday) or Brown (who was on paternity leave and doubtless didn't want to step on his colleague's toes). Then the heckler at his speech to the muslim community got him into the news again. I've seen Alan Johnson on the evening news just once (over scrapping Maths GCSE coursework). David Cameron usually gets on for one of his publicity stunts, though his India trip wasn't really covered much. Other Tories and the Lib Dems don't get onto the news at all.

Of course Gordon Brown is on the broadcast news all the time, thanks to his feud with Tony Blair. It's become customary for any coverage of Blair to have a piece on how it will affect Brown. Often the coverage isn't positive (Nick Robinson wouldn't be Nick Robinson if he didn't imply plotting and back-stabbing and intrigue). But perhaps some coverage is better than no coverage at all.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Leadership Poll Results

I got rather a bigger response to my poll than I expected, thanks to Mark Wadsworth (a Tory who voted Labour in 2001), who decided that the poll was fun and trailed it on Political Betting, Labour Home, John4Labour and Conservative Home (though luckily the Con Hom trail wasn't a clickable link). I think Mark was trying to skew the results, but that might just be my suspicious mind!

Not surprisingly, the results were, er, varied. I know several Tories voted McDonnell as a joke, from watching the "who do you vote" poll rise last night by Tories who went for McDonnell, Johnson and Benn in the leadership poll! But lots of those who voted McDonnell were genuine supporters too.

The results as at the moment this post gets published are as follows:

82 people took part

McDonnell 24.4% 20 votes
Johnson 20.7% 17 votes
Benn 14.6% 12 votes
Brown 14.6% 12 votes
Straw 9.8% 8 votes
Milburn 7.3% 6 votes
Reid 6.1% 5 votes
Miliband 2.4% 2 votes

The "who do you vote for" poll had 80 respondents, with the following results:

Conservatives 37.5% 30 votes
Labour 35.0% 28 votes
Lib Dem 22.5% 18 votes
Other 3.8% 3 votes
Abstain 1.3% 1 vote

I hope people had fun voting and trying to get their faves through and
tactically voting against those they thought would be a threat to their parties!

I'd quite like to develop this into a discussion thread, so would be interested in hearing what attracted people to Hilary Benn (I was surprised at his popularity), and I'd be interested in hearing from the McDonnell supporters to ask them why they arn't supporting Gordon Brown, who has helped the poor through the pensioner minimum income guarantee, tax credits and a steady economy that has allowed people to find work. I presume that no-one in Labour disagrees on the economy, and the point of dissent is foreign policy - am I wrong? I think Lib Dems went heavily for Johnson - is this correct and why? John Reid did poorly, despite his good showing in the official opinion polls. I know Lib Dems loathe him, as do some Tories, though others quite like him. So why so few votes? Were opposition groups tactically voting against him, or is it that the type who vote in blogs don't go for his type? A mystery.

Anyway, I'd appreciate feed-back.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Leadership Poll

I've just realised that I forgot to include John Reid in my leadership poll. I was unable to amend the orginal, so have set up a new poll. Please can everyone vote again - sorry for the inconvenience! The poll is in the sidebar (I think you have to load the entire blogspot, rather than just this post to view it).

P.S. Wasn't Blair's speech good!

Profile of Sarah Brown

The Telegraph has an interesting, positive profile of Sarah Brown, Gordon Brown's wife:

As Mr Brown put it recently: "My wife is from Middle England so I can relate to it."
Mrs Brown, the daughter of a publisher and a teacher who grew up in north London, couldn't be more different from the Liverpudlian actor's daughter, Cherie Blair.

...............Although at 41, Mrs Brown is 10 years younger than Mrs Blair, she is in many ways more traditional. When she got married, she changed her name from Macaulay to Brown and she has given up her career for her husband — dividing her time between charity work and her two sons John and Fraser. "She is more like a Tory wife. She is phenomenally loyal and very professional about her role," says Robert Peston, the author of Brown's Britain.

She will never push her own political views. The MP Geoffrey Robinson says: "She's never jealous of those around him and she's not competitive. She enjoys his ambition rather than feeling threatened by it."

........................For a former public relations executive, Mrs Brown is extraordinarily averse to publicity. She has never been interviewed and does not gossip with journalists at parties, preferring to work behind the scenes. She courts key contacts. She has made friends with Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, and makes sure to keep good relations with Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail.

.....................Those who know the couple well say that Mrs Brown has "civilised" the Chancellor — she has got rid of the fold-up camping chairs in their constituency home and installed a new kitchen. "There are no longer plates in the sink," says Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's former spin doctor.

The writers Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and JK Rowling are friends. But the Browns are still informal. "Neither of them is a great cook. It tends to be M & S. John's toys are scattered over the floor," says one writer.

....................She has also become a mother figure to the Labour Party. When Robin Cook had his heart attack, it was Mrs Brown who went to comfort Gaynor Cook.

Mr Blunkett came to rely on her while he was fighting for access to see his son, William. "Gordon is incredibly lucky," he says. "She is a huge strength and guide, she provides real stability in this hectic and chaotic environment. She can seem quite cold until you get to know her, but she has been amazingly kind to me."

Her only fault is her aloofness. "She can be intimidating," says a mother who shares a baby her age. "You find yourself babbling, she's so self-controlled."

One of her closest friends says: "She is very aware she will end up in the history books, and she doesn't want to have her head chopped off for getting it all wrong."

Interestingly, the Daily Mail gave Brown's speech positive coverage, with the editorial headlined "Brown offers Britain a Moral Compass", and which went on to say: There is a decency and integrity about Mr Brown that the Mail admires. If he can bring these qualities to government, that can only be a huge improvement on the Blair era of spin, sleaze and cronyism.

It's no secret that The Mail is worried by David Cameron's cocaine/parties/shopping values, and is casting around for alternatives. Perhaps the Browns' traditional Labour values of community and hearth are what they are looking for.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Luntz versus ICM

We got the results of two focus groups today, both repeating the exercise they did just before David Cameron became leader of the Tory party. They give slightly different results.

Frank Luntz, writing in the Times reports that this focus group found Alan Johnson "boring", Alan Milburn equally boring, David Milliband Tory-looking but articulate, John Reid as "action not talk", and Gordon Brown as "old, Scottish, and history". He concludes that John Reid won, even though Reid is as Scottish as Brown, and older - which suggests that during the exercise, Luntz emphasised Brown's Scottishness (he admits that he "pushed them" on it), but played it down when talking about Reid. He also seems to have spent some time dwelling on Brown's "duplicity" about stabbing Blair, despite the evidence that the coup against Blair came from Blairites as much as Brownites, with predictable results. Luntz works for David Cameron and has an agenda to push.

ICM did a similar exercise for the Guardian. Their results were different. The voters prefered Brown, but said that he should be himself, and not try to make himself over. "Gordon Brown deserves his chance but they shouldn't try to make him dance and be a people person," said a 2005 Tory voter. They thought Alan Johnson was "lightweight" and "a bit 70's". John Reid came across as a "hard man".

The ICM results fit with what other polling says. That the voters respect Gordon Brown's brain, but are aware of his social awkwardness and are in turns amused and embarassed at his attempts to fix this. No one feels menaced by him. John Reid does frighten some people, while others feel relieved that he is at the home office.

I think that Gordon Brown will be elected leader of the Labour party (and hence PM), and that John Reid will stay permanently at the Home Office. The message of the Luntz exercise is this - Reid has managed to fix the problem that caused Labour's ratings in the polls to plunge in May - the impression of lack of control in the home office.

That leaves just the other remaining problem to fix - Tony Blair, who came across angry in his interview with Andrew Marr. He struggled to admit that the post-war phase in Iraq had been badly handled (unlike the chancellor, who readily volunteered this opinion, which everyone else holds anyway). He's clearly churned up at the thought of having to leave office, and by the looks of it, hasn't come to terms with the idea that it's his poor performance over the summer, along with deterioration in Iraq, that has contributed to his premiership ending earlier than he would have liked.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Importance of not Judging on Looks

No that's not John Reid, that's the Emperor Vespasian. I just thought I'd post the picture, because so often Reid gets characterised as a "bruiser" or "thug", by middle class types who shudder at the thought of someone as, well, thuggish, in one of the great offices of state. Appearances can be deceiving though -just as the "thuggish-looking" Reid holds a doctorate, Vespasian lacked a noble profile, but turned out to be one of Rome's greatest emperors.

He became Emperor in AD 69, the "year of the four emperors", following the civil war after Nero's death. He was of humble birth, the son of a customs official, who joined the army and rapidly rose through the ranks. He participated in the invasion and conquest of Britannia and then governed Africa, and also put down the Jewish revolt of AD66. He was undoubtedly very tough, (else he wouldn't have won the battle to be emperor, against more artistocratic opponents), but he turned out to be a great emperor. His great skill was reading character and spotting talented people, whom he promoted. He restored discipline in the army, repaired Rome's finances, and built the Colloseum. He was one of the few emperors to die peacefully in his sleep (as no one wanted his reign to end prematurely).

Clearly the Romans were wise not to bother with chatteratti who judged soley on appearance and niceness. They didn't care he was a pleb either (but that may have been because at the end of A69 they were utterly exhausted and welcomed anyone who looked like he could last longer than five minutes, even if he wasn't a patrician - Vespasian didn't have a hope of being emperor at the start of the year, he had to wait for attrition to fell the others before making his move).

If I come across emperors that look like Blair or Brown, I'll post their pictures (the BBC drama last week notwithstanding, Blair does not look like Nero, who had a very fleshy sensuous face).

Labour Leadership Poll

I've put a poll in the sidebar on the Labour Leadership, and I'd be grateful if people would take part.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Insights into Leadership from the Polls

The Sunday Mirror ICM poll, which was caried out on the 13th and 14th September was spun as "Labour voters prefer Blair", notwithstanding that Labour voters had shrunk to a poor 33%. The details of the poll proved much more interesting though.

The results were

Con 37%
Lab 33%
Lib 21%
Oth 8%

Certainty to vote showed

Con 71%
Lab 59%
Lib 54%
Oth 40%

The Labour certainty to vote is an improvement on previous polls, but the Tories also improve to an astonishing 71%

Breakdown of certainty to vote into social groups gave

AB 55%
C1 48%
C2 44%
DE 53%

Overall 50%

Now the interesting bit. On who would you like to be next Labour leader and hence PM

Gordon Brown 33% 32% 32% 38% 30%

John Reid 7% 6% 9% 8% 7%

Charles Clarke 5% 5% 4% 7% 6%

Alan Johnson 4% 5% 3% 1% 5%

David Milliband 2% 1% 2% 1% 2%

Someone Else 21% 20% 25% 20% 17%

None of These 7% 7% 6% 8% 8%

Don't know 20% 22% 19% 15% 25%

The most striking thing is that Someone Else scored 21% along with 7% saying
None of These, totalling 28%. It's possible that the "None of these" make up die hards in other parties who think no Labour person is good enough. But the "someone else" should provide food for thought.

Gordon Brown's support comes from the C2's - the group least likely to vote! If he wins, the party should be thinking furiously how to increase turnout from this group. Alan Johnson's support comes from AB's (who've probably been reading puff pieces in the Times and Guardian) and DE's (who are probably attracted to the working class aspect). The other thing is that the "Don't knows" are 20%. Any of the candidates could pick up this vote, if they shine in the leadership election.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Do Hungary's woes signal the end of New Europe's tax-cutting fad?

The IMF has forecast Hungary's 2006 budget deficit to be 10% of GDP, way above the Maastrict Treaty's recommended 3% and way above what any sensible economist thinks is sustainable.

Budget deficits arise when you don't raise enough tax to meet your spending. In recent years, Hungary has been cutting taxes, trying to keep up with the likes of Slovenia, while keeping spending the same. Corporation tax was slashed to 16%. Income tax on incomes up to 1,550,000 Forints was slashed to 18%, and 36% above that, the middle band having been abolished.

Ferenc Gyurcsany, the Prime minister since 2004, admitted to his party that this was unsustainable and that they'd been "lying in the morning, in the evening and also at night" when they implied to the public that they could have it all. He's introduced austerity measures, increasing utility prices, charging student tuition fees and patient's doctors fees, as well as cutting public sector jobs. The reaction of the public was confused, a demand that he resign, a demand that he reverse the austerity measures and in effect a demand that they have it all (low taxes but same spending) - possibly a sign of the immaturity of their voters.

For a number of years now, New Europe and their "exciting" low-tax models have been touted everywhere, and Old Europe (including Britain), which has insisted on raising sufficient tax to meet spending and has tried to stick to deficit rules and balance spending with tax, has been labelled fuddy-duddy. But what is the evidence that New Europe is performing better? 16% unemployment in Poland? 10% budget deficits in Hungary? Looks like the fuddy-duddies have it right. There is such a thing as cutting taxes too low, and there is such a thing as having to maintain a certain level of public spending to provide public goods that can't be got otherwise.

If anyone waves the New Europe tax-model at us, throw Hungary back in their faces.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My Mum's view of the Labour leadership question

My mum is 65 and fairly typical of her generation - she worries about how things are going for her children, she frets about inheritance tax, and she worries about immigration ("There are so many, are you sure they're not taking people's jobs?"). She thought Thatcher was "cruel" and voted Alliance/LibDem in the 1983, 1987 and 1992 elections, and switched to Labour in 1997 and 2001, and went back to LibDem in 2005.

Anyway, she's become a Gordon Brown fan after seeing his interviews on the BBC and Sky! "He's very clever" she said to me, "Did you know that he went to university at 16?" She was also very taken with his response to the collegiality question, where he said "As chancellor you sometimes have to say, Sorry, No", which she repeated back to me ("Strong leaders have to be able to say No"). She does charity work for pensioners in distress and she thinks Gordon Brown "has a big heart" for providing the minimum pension guarantee and the winter fuel payment which she thinks has helped people.

She doesn't rate Alan Johnson - "looks like an East End gangster". She thinks he is disqualified from the PM's job because he's got no qualifications, "John Major was a dunce and look what happened when he was in charge". She has no truck with the argument that his life circumstances were harsh and as a result he didn't pursue higher education, "University was free then and you got a grant. Anyone who had brains, went" and "If he chose not to, that just proves he's got no brains..."

So there you have it - a bit politically incorrect, but lots of people her generation think this way. In particular, they think "can he do the job", rather than "is he good at making jokes". In all the discussions about the leadership, everyone has been talking ad nauseum about niceness and working class roots, and smiling and not smiling, but no one has asked "Can he do the job".

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Gas this Winter

Interesting article in the Independent about gas supplies:

Energy minister Malcolm Wicks, National Grid and the industry's regulator Ofgem are to hold a summit with their Belgian counterparts tomorrow to try to ensure that gas continues to flow to the UK this winter.

...............Tomorrow's meeting is the first such summit in six years, and is aimed a making sure access for gas shippers to the Interconnector is not restricted.

...............Gas prices, which were over 80p per therm earlier this year, have since fallen by a quarter, but are still among Europe's highest.

..............Interconnector Ltd, which operates the pipeline, is a private company owned by, among others, BG, the German energy giant E.ON and Russia's state-controlled Gazprom. It blames the under-usage on a lack of pipelines to transport gas from Russia through Germany and to the Interconnector in Belgium.

Currently, around two-thirds of the pipeline's capacity is being used to import gas from the Continent. New pipelines being built across Europe over the next few years will increase the supply to the UK but prices are likely to remain high this winter..

..............Also this week, Mr Wicks will co-chair the second meeting of the Business Energy Forum along with Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI.

The forum was set up last year to look at issues such as why there are so few gas storage facilities in the UK, as well as the operation of the Interconnector.

Gas storage facilities are of course key. E.ON's web-site says that while Germany's gas storage facilities represent 20% of their annual gas consumption, Britain's only represents 4%. E.ON, which owns Powergen, has submitted an application to build an underground storage facility in East Yorkshire, which is due to start construction in 2007 and become operational in 2010. Construction on the storage facility at Holford in Cheshire has already begun.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ed Balls moves to protect the London Stock Exchange

Ed Balls announced yesterday that he will be putting through legistation to protect the London Stock exchange from attempts by foreign regulators to encroach.

``The Sarbanes-Oxley regime in the U.S. is not a regime that some companies find easy to deal with,'' Ed Balls, U.K. treasury economic secretary, told reporters in Hong Kong today. ``Were there to be an exchange of ownership, this could have the effect over time of rules from other countries being imported into the U.K.''

The government will legislate to let Britain's securities regulator block any new owner of LSE from changing rules on the market, Balls said in a statement. The Financial Services Authority will seek to ``strike a balance'' between protecting investors and the effect of proposed rules on companies, he added.

Sarbanes-Oxley is the onerous rules-based US regulation introduced after Enron, which has tripled accounting costs as a percentage of revenue for companies with market values of less than $785 million, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission advisory panel.

Once you are listed on the American exchanges, it is very difficult to delist as you have to prove you have fewer than a 100 American shareholders. International companies who are going public for the first time are therefore seeking to list in Europe instead, in particular they are going for listings on the LSE.

2006 has already become a record year for listings according to the LSE who say:

So far this year, IPOs on the Exchange's markets have raised £17.8 billion, exceeding the £17.4 billion raised by IPOs during the whole of 2000.

During July, the Exchange attracted 25 IPOs, raising £7.4 billion between them. On the Main Market, there were eight IPOs, of which three were international companies, raising £3.9 billion between them. The five IPOs on the UK Main Market raised a total of £3.0 billion – the best single month since July 2000 in terms of money raised. On AIM, there were 17 IPOs, raising £563.0 million between them. Of these, four were from international companies, which raised £120.9 million between them.

London is now running neck-and-neck with the American exchanges - the new listings on the American exchanges are mainly domestic, while little old London is cleaning up the international market. According to the Observer:

London remains the most attractive market for international IPOs, with 37 companies from abroad raising €1.8bn here. The City has proved to be an especially attractive destination for companies from the former Soviet Union following the successful float of Sistema, the Russian telecoms group, last year.

The figures reflect a growing reluctance on the part of Russian and other firms to accept America's Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance rules.

There are signs that American exchanges are reacting to this by seeking to export their regulatory regime by simply taking over European exchanges, where the American ownership would then make them subject to US regulation and remove their competitive advantage vis-a-vis America. The members of the 200-year old LSE chose to give up it's private status and floated on July 20th 2001, immediately making it a target for bid after bid. So far they've kept the predators at bay, but the odds are that they might succumb at some point. NASDAQ has already built up a 25.1% stake in the LSE.

Mr Balls' legislation is designed to ensure that if the LSE falls to a foreign bid, the regulatory regime will continue to remain British. His intervention wouldn't have been necessary if the members of the LSE had had the sense to keep the exchange private, but given that they've floated, thank goodness the Labour government has come to the rescue!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Labour Leadership - why the Union ballot will help in the subsequent General Election

The 1993 changes to the Labour party leadership contest rules introduced "One Member One Vote", where the electoral college involving Affiliates such as unions, would be decided by a ballot of union members who had chosen to remain affiliated to the Labour party. Some 700,000 union members participated in the ballot that elected Tony Blair in 1994.

The Blair leadership election was 12 years ago. Since then, the relationship between the party and the union leadership has cooled, and the relationship with actual union members is distant. Many union members would have abstained in the last general election, or even voted for other parties.

The forthcoming leadership election therefore gives the Labour party a chance to re-connect again with this group of voters.

The graph on the top left shows the % of all employees who are members of unions. According to the Office of National Statistics, 26.2% of all employees belonged to a union in autumn 2005, a total of some 7.5 million people. There are a few interesting features about union membership at the moment - a greater percentage of female workers belong to a union than men. A third of employees who are aged over 35 are union members compared to a quarter of those aged between 25 and 34. Union density is at it's strongest in Northern Ireland (40.4%), it is 36.5% in the North East and 22.4% in the South East.

This is potentially a huge electorate and this will be the first time in an age that they will be personally involved in Labour party business.

We should do everything we can to encourage them to participate in the leadership ballot. Given our parliamentary democracy, it's not often ordinary people get the chance to directly elect the new Prime Minister of Britain. The larger the group that participate in the vote, the greater will be his legitimacy. It would be lovely if several million participated. In addition, those who feel they had a direct say in who the next Prime Minister was, would feel more inclined to turn out and back him in the General Election that follows. Party members and activists should therefore be thinking now about how they can encourage participation and turnout of union members in their ballot for the leadership election.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Blair makes the cover of Newsweek

The European edition of Newsweek features Blair and his problems on the cover. The main story is titled The Fall of Tony Blair with the somewhat misleading by-line "Old labour has finally got it's revenge on it's three term Prime Minister". The article itself is more balanced though it features such gems as "In the end, Blair was a defeated man. Last Thursday he interrupted a visit to a London school to speak to reporters. Where once he would have slapped down his opponents, he was now contrite. This, he said, "has not been our finest hour." Having said he wouldn't lay down a timetable, he did." There is a glimpse into the origins of the "mendacity" quote: "Brown left with less than he had asked for, but Blair could barely contain his fury. When he took a call from an old friend that night, he exploded, "Where did [Brown] get this mendacity from?'' " Who is this old friend? They don't say.

There are a couple of more articles in the special. One entitled A Man to Watch about David Milliband which begins "He's the only member of the British cabinet with enough 21st-century savvy to post a blog. His good humor and optimism attract almost as much praise as his brainpower. And in the snake pit of Labour Party politics, he's a rarity—a loyal protégé of Tony Blair who's somehow stayed on good terms with his impatient successor-in-waiting, Gordon Brown."

There is an article authored by Gordon Brown titled, We Need To Be More Fair where he talks about how to make globalisation work, in particular how to deal with the negative aspects. "One such problem: an emerging global surplus of unskilled workers. ..... More and more tradable unskilled work will be done overseas. In Britain, this suggests that by 2020 the number of unskilled jobs will have fallen by 85 percent. So we must find work for those who would have done those jobs. And as demand for unskilled labor falls, we must retrain our work force in new skills. We must ensure that people performing important but low-skilled jobs do not see their after-tax incomes sink so low that they become a new generation of working poor."

Finally there is a piece entitled No More Poodles? which begins "It wasn't just jobs or taxes or even the occasional whiff of scandal that ultimately did him in. It was poodle-ism. In the end, Tony Blair became too closely identified with the foreign policy of George W. Bush. Neither the voters nor Blair's own Labour Party would stand for it" but which hopefully concludes that the anti-Americanism won't last long and will evaporate when Bush leaves office.

Friday, September 08, 2006

John Denham for Leader

There is now no doubt that we will face a leadership election in the next year, and bitter arguments seem to be raging between the Brown people and the Stop Brown people. Brown's popularity sadly seems to be sinking, as the blows from the Blair side register with the public, and I'm starting to think that it might not be retrievable. And the other side, Reid, Clarke, etc, look equally unappealing.

So it might be worth looking outside the cabinet for a new leader, and I think John Denham fits the bill. For me, the only non-negotiable is the economics, which I believe must remain the same if Britain is to win the next election - but this can easily be resolved by whoever winning appointing Ed Balls as chancellor. On Iraq, there needs to be a change of direction.

John Denham is New Labour, but crucially, a humane version, he's kept faith with the original ethos of the project. He's a man of conscience and integrity who resigned over Iraq. His judgement on Iraq proved spot on. The public like him, he's good looking, he is youngish (he's 53) but not out of nappies like Cameron, and he is English. As far as I can tell he has no enemies and the whole party should be able to deal happily with him. He would probably win back many voters who deserted in 2005 to the Lib Dems.

Here's his CV for those interested.

* Born John Yorke Denham on 15 July 1953 in Seaton.
* Educated at Woodruff Comprehensive in Lyme Regis and the Southampton University where he did Chemistry
* Elected Member of Parliament in 1992 as MP for Southampton Itchen
* Resigned his position as Home Office Minister in March 2003 in protest at Iraq
* Now sits on the Home Office Select Committee

(Before anyone accuses me of partisanship - he is not my MP, I'm from the neighbouring constituency of Southampton Test.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Book Meme

Andrew tagged me, so here goes:

1. Name a book that changed your life.

The Official Guide to Success by Tom Hopkins, which I found in my local library and which contained the (for me) revolutionary idea that you should never go into any negotiating situation (particularly if negotiating for a pay-rise, or negotiating pay at a job interview) if you haven't any savings in the bank (he calls it go-to-town-money or hold-out money). The idea is that savings give you confidence so that when you say "Take it or leave it", the other party knows you are serious. I never looked back after this - it really is true that people (particularly bosses) can tell if you have financial worries and will settle for less just to have a job.

2. One book you've read more than once

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It's a girl thing, but I love this book so much I practically know it by heart.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island

Wilderness Survivors Guide, or something like that - I assume I'd be too busy trying to survive to have any time to read for pleasure.

4. One book that made you laugh

A History of England by Jane Austen, which announces that "There will be very few Dates in this History", summarises Mary I's reign with "Many were the people who fell martyrs to the protestant Religion during her reign; I suppose not fewer than a dozen", characterises Elizabeth as "that disgrace to humanity, that pest of society" and Charles I as "an amiable monarch" .

5. One book that made you cry

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is a Victorian weepie about a little girl who is at boarding school, and when her rich father dies a pauper, she is banished to the garret, complete with rats. I first read this age 11 and sobbed buckets - it has all the horror of the Victorian era - the orphan thing, the riches-to-rags thing, the cruelty of wicked Victorian headmistress, whom I am quite sure must have been a Tory.

6. One book you wish you've written

Anything by Austen.

7. One book you wish had never been written

Bleak House by Dickens. I tried to read this book maybe half a dozen times, but never get beyond the first few chapters. It's dense, overwritten and tedious, and you lose the will to live within a few pages.

8. One book you are currently reading

Too busy to read at the moment

9. One book you've been meaning to read

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

10. Now tag five people

Patrick, Tyger, Danivon , Political Hack, Richard