Saturday, 16 May 2015

Douglas Carswell's Tory friends would benefit from Nigel Farage's exit

Ukip's "ferrets in a bag" battle this week have entertained many, and frustrated many more.

But the real battle is yet to come. 

Nigel Farage believes the comments coming from the likes of Patrick O'Flynn and Douglas Carswell are people letting off steam after a long General Election campaign, and there is no doubt some truth in that.

(Most of the comments were aimed at his advisors Raheem Kassam and Matthew Richardson. Seeing as Kassam's contract was set to expire at the end of the month and he was on holiday in America until then, it seemed odd that O'Flynn, a journalist with 25 years experience, decided to bring this battle into the open.)

It is an open secret that Carswell takes a far more libertarian view on immigration, and as he wrote in his Times article yesterday believes Ukip need to focus on other ways the European Union affects the UK.

He also believes focusing on HIV sufferers makes the party look nasty, when it should be setting out a positive vision for life outside the EU.

The article culminated with Carswell calling on Farage to "take a break".

A source close to the Ukip leadership told me last night: "These are really sad comments".

The source dismissed the idea that Ukip ran a negative campaign, and pointed to research carried out by the British Election Leaflet project which claims the party had the least negative leaflets compared to the other main parties. (

The source added: "Why doesn't Douglas, as the one MP for four million people, why doesn't he just focus on becoming a superstar?"

But it is not just how the General Election campaign was conducted, but how the No to the EU campaign will run that is the gas underneath this pressure group - and this is bigger than Ukip.

Like Farage, Carswell is a dyed-in-the-wool Eurosceptic who believes the UK would flourish without answering to Brussels.

So to is Carswell's friend Daniel Hannan, who has been leading the charge against the EU since becoming a Tory MEP in 1999 - the same year as Farage.

All three of these figures see themselves as the potential leader of the Out campaign in the EU referendum. 

Farage believes his 3.8million votes, high profile, and support of the Ukip membership should give him the right to lead.

Carswell would point to the fact he is in Parliament, and is in a better position to attract support from the millions of voters who don't like Ukip but do want to leave the EU.

Hannan seems himself as an intellectual who will be able to bring Tory voters and perhaps even convince some of the much derided Liberal Metropolitan Elite to back the Out campaign.

Hannan and Carswell could work much better together than Farage and Hannan.

The danger, for the Out campaign, is why the squabbles over who-should-do-what continue, Cameron et al will start to convince Brits he has achieved some monumental change to the UK's relationship with the EU, when really it will be little more than the colour of the tea cups in the negotiating room.

Owen Bennett (@owenjbennett) is the author of Following Farage, available to pre-order now:

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Labour has finally seen Ukip's tanks, but doesn't know how to destroy them

After years of putting its fingers in its ears and shouting ‘la-la-la-la’, the Labour party has woken up to its Ukip problem.

It turns out, to quote Nigel Farage, it is not just retired colonels who live near Salisbury Plain that back Ukip.
The recent European election saw the party win votes in traditional Labour areas, including Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales.

Matthew Goodwin and Robert Ford, the academics who know more about Ukip’s support than even the party’s high command, have produced a list of the most Ukip-friendly constituencies in the country.
Of the top 20, 17 are Labour-held seats.

So Labour knows it has to fight back – but how?
Playing the man not the ball isn’t going to work. As wonderful as it was to hear Shadow Cabinet Minister Michael Dugher label Farage a “phoney bullshit artist” in an interview with me in May, that kind of attack plays into Ukip’s ‘The Westminster elite are scared of us’ strategy.

At numerous fringe meetings on how to tackle Ukip at the Labour conference last week, activists pleaded for a message from the leadership to deliver on the doorstep to dissuade voters defecting to Ukip.
The party only now seems to be coming up with one. The “More Tory than the Tories” line, complete with the photo of Farage drinking from a Thatcher mug, will play well in northern seats.

But for those in the south, especially in costal, “end of the line” constituencies, it is the immigration issue which needs to be tackled.

Labour candidate in Thurrock, Polly Billington, told a fringe meeting at the party conference as much last week. The Tories won the seat by just 92 votes in 2010, and in “normal” circumstances it should be an easy win for Labour next year.
But privately, Labour are worried the party won’t be able to overturn the 0.2 per cent majority.

That is because the seat is being worked incredibly hard by Ukip’s Tim Aker, a 29-year-old local man, who is playing up the party’s message on immigration and his personal connection to the seat.
And Labour's immigration message - like the Tories - doesn't stand up to scrutiny: "We will reduce immigration, except we can't as we don't control our borders and can't actually stop millions of Europeans coming here so oops!"

So Labour find themselves in the same position as the Tories. Trying to control something without committing to doing the one thing which would give them control - rejecting the EU's freedom of movement law.

At Ukip’s conference in Doncaster last week, Farage told delegates the party was “putting its tanks on Labour’s lawn.”
Labour have finally looked out of the window, but are struggling to find the right weapons to blow up the tanks.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

WATCH "CALAMITY LAMMY" IN ACTION: Labour's London Mayor hopeful David Lammy's nightmare Mastermind appearance

"Calamity Lammy", as he is affectionately known
IF you think Henry VIII was succeeded by his father Henry VII, Marie Antoinette was a Nobel Prize winning physicist and the Godfather was a television series, you must be Labour’s London Mayor hopeful David Lammy. 

The Tottenham MP, who today announced he wanted to be Labour’s candidate in the election to replace Boris Johnson as London Mayor, made a disastrous appearance on Celebrity Mastermind in 2008 when he was Higher Education Minister.

The cringe-worthy appearance is just one in a long line of gaffes which earned him the nickname “Calamity Lammy” among fellow members of the previous Labour Government.

Last year Mr Lammy was forced to apologise after accusing a BBC tweet about the new Pope of containing a “silly innuendo about race”.

The news organisation speculated whether the colour of smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel chimney would be white or black – a signal as to whether a new Pope had been elected.

The BBC News World twitter feed, posted: “LIVE VIDEO: Chimney of Sistine Chapel as conclave votes for #Pope - will smoke be black or white?"

Mr Lammy replied: "This tweet from the BBC is crass and unnecessary. Do we really need silly innuendo about the race of the next Pope?"

He later apologised, tweeted: "Note to self: do not tweet from the Chamber with only one eye on what you're reading. Sorry folks, my mistake."

In 2005, it was reported that Mr Lammy claimed "all woman hunt supporters look alike because they are inbred" at a Fabian Society fringe meeting at the Labour Conference.

While serving as a minister, Mr Lammy apologised to Parliament for misleading MPs when in 2006 as Libraries Ministers he downplayed the extent of declining library stocks.

He was accused of using dodgy figures in 2008, when as Higher Education Minister he told Parliament 3.1million employees were covered by a pledge to train staff in English workplaces. The correct figure was 2.3million.

And while at the Despatch Box in the Commons as junior minister at the Department of Constitutional Affairs in 2004, one of his own MPs rounded on him for his poor performance.

During a debate on the Mental Capacity Bill, Mr Lammy interrupted the Conservative Iain Duncan Smith as he warned about euthanasia.

Labour MP Gerald Kaufman got to his feet and said: "If that's the calibre of the minister's interventions he would do better to remain seated."

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Boris Johnson needs to learn from the lessons of Michael Heseltine if he wants to be PM

IT has not been much of a holiday for David Cameron. On Tuesday, Baroness Warsi resigned from his Cabinet, and yesterday his old friend – or should that be foe? – announced he was coming back to national politics.

Boris Johnson said he announced his intention to stand in the next election in order to stop the speculation over his future.

But the questions will now shift from whether he wants to become an MP to whether he wants to be Prime Minister.

The answer to the second question is the same as the answer to the first – yes.

But Boris is no fool. He knows taking on Cameron is a risky strategy, and he will also be aware what happened the last time a charismatic, blonde politician knifed a Tory leader.

Michael Heseltine never got to wear the crown, despite wielding the dagger over Margaret Thatcher.

Boris knows this. Boris knows in order to get into Number 10 he needs to be as far away from a coup as possible.

If the electorate doesn’t depose Dave in May, he will hope George Osborne or Theresa May will move first and cause the “ball to come loose from the back of the scrum”.

Boris will play nice up until the election, so for now, David Cameron can relax and enjoy his holiday.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Living Wage? Not if you want to work for Harriet Harman

Ed Miliband managed to get his favourite catchphrase into his ‘I’m weird – get over it!’ speech today – “cost-of-living crisis”.

One of Labour’s ways to tackle this is to roll out the Living Wage to workers – starting by only awarding Whitehall contracts to those who pay their staff the amount.

He has even threatened that those who pay less could be “named and shamed”.

Miliband is obviously keen for Government and politicians to lead by example.

Alas, it seems the message might not have reached his Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman.

She is currently recruiting for a Trainee Caseworker for her South London constituency of Camberwell and Peckham.

The post promises a wage of £17,000 per year.

If the employee does a standard 7.5 hour day, that works out at just £8.72 per hour.

According to the Living Wage Foundation, the London living wage should be £8.80.

Harriet Harman – named and shamed.

If you fancy the job – apply here

UPDATE: Having spoken to Harriet Harman's office, apparently the successful applicant for this "full-time role" will only have to work 35 hours a week - thus making the salary £9.34 an hour. Let's hope Ms Harman ensures the worker claims back time in lieu for the "occasional evening work" detailed in the job advert.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cameron trumps Miliband in first PMQs after his reshuffle

GLOWERING eyes were focused on David Cameron today during Prime Minister’s Questions – and not only from the Opposition benches.

Positioned at the entrance to the Commons chamber, seemingly unable to bring themselves to sit on the Government’s backbenches, were former Cabinet members Owen Paterson, Dominic Grieve and – still licking his wounds from 2011 - Liam Fox.

The trio watched, arms crossed, faces fixed with stern gazes, as the Prime Minister stood just a few metres away, talking up his new band of merry men and women.

He found time to praise Dominic Grieve – who, it seemed, did such a good job as Attorney General he had to go.

Perhaps that’s why Iain Duncan Smith – who stood alongside the discarded ‘pale, male and stales’ out of solidarity – remains in post.

Michael Gove, the headline axing from the reshuffle, sat in his new place at the end of the Government’s frontbench, staring straight ahead throughout.

Even when Cameron listed the former Education Secretary’s achievements, Gove showed no emotion, and noticeably avoided looking at the Prime Minister.

Perhaps he had realised in that moment, that he was no longer one of the big boys.

Being forced to sit so close to the Lib Dems may have made him feel like he was being moved out as others moved in. 

Perhaps if he had looked at the Prime Minister, a David Brent style tearful plea of “Don’t make me redundant…please” would have escaped his lips.

As it was, Cameron was on top form. Sure, the ambush of Ed Miliband with a quotation from his deputy Harriet Harman on raising taxes for the squeezed middle was – to put generously – taking the words slightly out of context.

But it didn’t matter. The roar of the Tory benches as Harman and Miliband produced opposite reactions to the claim showed victory was Cameron’s.

The Conservatives will leave for the summer recess feeling buoyed, with some media-friendly new faces at the top and a strengthening of Eurosceptism in the Cabinet - heard much from Ukip recently, anyone?

Labour MPs were subdued throughout PMQs. They had heard it all before – #costoflivingcrisis vs #longtermeconomicplan.

Cameron joked to Miliband that his party want to reshuffle him out of the leadership position.

After today’s showing, Miliband may have to spend more of the summer than he planned trying to stop his colleagues reaching for Labour's pack of political cards.

Friday, 20 June 2014

I'm white, working class...does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown loathe me?

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown debates with Rod Liddle (CHANNEL 4)

The entirely understandable, and indeed correct, anger over Michael Fabricant's "I-would-end-up-punching-her-in-the-throat" tweet has overshadowed something equally as important, and to me, offensive: the actual debate itself between Rod Liddle and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on Channel 4 News which provoked the stupid comment.

Before I get into this, let me say I am no fan of Rod Liddle. I find him to be at best clumsy with his language, and at worst downright nasty and offensive.

Last week, when the free copy of The Sun dropped through my letter box, I read his column about how great it was to be British. But for some reason it started with a perverse attack on Belgium and how terrible it would be to be born there. It's all very well going for the ha-ha-isn't-England-great-everywhere-else-is-rubbish line but for me it was in poor taste, unnecessary, and offensive.

And here is why.

I don't think it's right or fair to dismiss a whole group of people with shared, often negative, characteristics. I don't think it's right or fair to tar a whole section of society with the traits of a minority within that group.

Doesn't matter to me if that group is Belgian, Muslim, Christian, Black, White, Male, Female etc.

But last night Yasmin Alibhai-Brown did just night. She admitted she has "loathing" for the working class, based on negative and distressing experiences at the hands of some members of that section of society.

Here is the transcript:

Rod Liddle: "At least she is absolutely clear about her loathing for the working class as she says...

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:[Interrupts] "...And you. I'm clearly honest, I loathe you."

It's not admitting to her loathing of Rod Liddle that offends me, it's the fact she didn't deny she has "loathing" for the working class.

She hasn't met me. I come from a working class background. Does she loathe me?

Have I threatened her? Have I assaulted her? Have I carried out any of the terrible things that have happened to her? Were there done in my name, or with my blessing or knowledge?


Where is the indignation about that comment, to go alongside the anger at Michael Fabricant?