Friday, 17 January 2014

Faintly Ridiculous

The notion that Gordon Brown could emerge as 'everybody's darling' as opposed to a lame-duck prime minister seems faintly ridiculous to me - although those supporting a No in the forthcoming referendum are now making noises strengthening the powers of the Scottish Parliament including the member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

Now I can't remember Gordon Brown suggesting that more powers for Holyrood were a big priority when a Labour Government was in power, so I find it pretty unconvincing that he or the Labour Party are really serious about further diluting the power of the Westminster MPs over Scottish affairs.

In my view, it's all just a big act because these Westminster MPs are the same ones, by and large, who got their knickers in a terrible twist 10 years of so ago - when the First Minister, Henry McLeish, began referring to the Scottish Government and not the Scottish Executive, which was the favoured term up until that time.

But incredibly the use of the word 'Government' caused uproar amongst Scottish Labour MPs who did not want the Scottish Parliament or its Ministers getting ideas above their station - so they mocked and briefed against they own side, anonymously, of course. 

Even more ridiculous is the report in Gillian Bowden's piece from the Sunday Times that Gordon Brown is set to stand for Labour again at the 2015 general election - the man is effectively a part-time MP who spends a considerable amount of time outside Scotland and away from Westminster.

So, I think the cartoon by Brian Adcock at the top of this post (from Scotland on Sunday) hits the right note. 

Brown could become everybody’s Darling

By Gillian Bowditch
“Hopeless leadership”: Alastair Darling’s memoir accused Gordon Brown (left) (Luke Macgregor)

It may have been the season of goodwill to all men but the news that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling kissed and made up during the Christmas break will have friends of the former chancellor wondering if he should be a contender for an Oscar for best actor.

In his memoir Back From the Brink, Darling accused the former prime minister of “hopeless leadership” and “appalling behaviour”. The chairman of the Better Together campaign said that Brown’s attacks on him were “deeply unpleasant” and left a mark that “could not be erased”. Brown is said to have been on the brink of sacking or demoting his former friend five times between 2008 and 2010.

Last week, it was reported that the two men had put their differences aside for the sake of the Union. The pair met at Westminster last year. More recently they had a private meeting at which they agreed, if not to bury the hatchet, at least to kick it under the sofa and out of the way for the time being. Brown has spoken out against independence twice in the past week and his supporters believe he is gearing up for a more sustained role in the campaign.

Brown is said to be rewriting his “five economic tests” designed, when Labour came to power in 1997, to gauge the rationale for Britain’s joining the eurozone. The new economic tests would be used to “stress test” the SNP’s claims for a sterling currency union.

Better Together has been ahead in the polls since day one of the referendum campaign but it has taken a bit of a hammering in recent weeks, with Darling under fire from Conservative and Labour politicians. The campaign more generally has been seen as too negative and blokeish. The feeling is that it has failed to connect emotionally with the electorate and it appears to have lost confidence in recent months.

Darling may be trusted by voters but he lacks the populism of Alex Salmond. The unionists know that it is not enough to win the referendum, they have to win decisively. To prevent a debilitating rerun in a decade or so, they must push the Yes vote below 40%.

They are also aware of the momentum independence may gain from the feelgood factor of the Commonwealth Games, the Year of Homecoming, the 700th anniversary of Battle of Bannockburn and the build-up to the Ryder Cup. These will be positive, celebratory events at which the first minister will take centre stage and in which ordinary Scots will have a significant stake. More than 50,000 volunteered to help with the Games. Woe betide the unionists if the message they disseminate then is perceived as negative.

So despite their standing in the polls, there is no shortage of questions for the unionists, the most pressing of which must be whether Gordon Brown is the answer to any of them.

Under the skilful guidance of his wife Sarah, Brown has undergone a transformation. Gone is the dourness of the nail-biting brooder. These days he combines pent-up, raw energy with the cussed determination of the natural-born Fifer and the moral stricture of an old- fashioned Presbyterian. What Brown can bring to the party is intellectual firepower, a sense of authority, a well-connected address book and utter self-confidence.

More than anyone else, he will be able to reposition the unionist campaign away from arguments over procedures, in which it has become bogged down, and onto the issues of principle with which it so desperately needs to engage. At his best, he brings a more statesman-like, international perspective to a debate in danger of becoming parochial.

Brown is not a particularly effective campaigner with the general public, as can testify Gillian Duffy, the woman who berated him on the last election campaign and whom Brown testily called “bigoted”. But he knows how to rally Labour troops. At the 2010 election, which saw him ousted from 10 Downing Street, he boosted his share of the vote in Scotland by 2.6%.

With the defection of a number of once seemingly solid Labour figures to the independence camp — including John Mulvey, a former leader of Lothian Regional Council; Sir Charles Gray, a former president of Cosla [the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities]; and Alex Mosson, a former provost of Glasgow — the traditional left appears vulnerable. This is the constituency to whom Brown has the strongest appeal and to whom Nicola Sturgeon made a direct entreaty last week, insisting that independence fits with the “home-rule traditions” of Labour voters.

But set against Brown’s undoubted skills is the fact that he comes with more baggage than Lady Gaga on a world tour. Had he said at the outset of the campaign that he wanted to be a figurehead for keeping Scotland within the UK, he would have got the job and the necessary backing. Now any sustained campaigning on his part will inevitably undermine Darling, especially as Brown does not believe that the unionists are Better Together. He has joined the alternative United with Labour organisation to avoid having to share a platform with the Tories.

Should the two campaign together, the public will be given a stark visual reminder of the men widely considered the architects of the UK recession. “Their problem is that Gordon is too big a figure,” says a friend of Brown. “Everything he says and does is magnified. His problem is that he thinks he is superman and can do it all. Throughout his career and especially during his time as prime minister he was a control freak. He had to have his finger in every pie.”

At the low-key celebrations to mark his 30th anniversary as an MP in June last year, held in the Kirkcaldy church where his father was once the minister, Brown surprised friends by voicing his intention to stand as a candidate in the 2015 general election, despite rarely being seen in Westminster. They believe he needs a more substantial role in British politics.

Brown can bring substance to the debate. The unionists may claim to despise personality politics but that may be because they don’t have a personality big enough to take on Salmond. A Salmond/Brown televised bout could reinvigorate this interminable campaign.

For Brown, the referendum could be a vehicle for his rehabilitation. If he brings his significant talents to the cause of keeping Britain together, is prepared to work alongside Darling and resist the urge to succumb to paranoia and factionalism, he could go down in the history books not as a lame-duck prime minister but as the man who saved the Union.

Trouble is, as Darling knows all too well, it’s a big if.

Blatant Sexism (3 December 2013)

Here's an interesting story from the Mirror newspaper which is having a go a Nadine Dorries MP for employing her daughter as a personal secretary on a £35,000 salary - despite the fact she lives almost 100 miles away.

Now I think the Mirror has a fair point, but I also think the paper is guilty of blatant hypocrisy and sexism - because why single out Nadine Dorries when there is a much worse example right under their journalists noses.

Step forward Gordon Brown MP - the former Labour leader and Prime Minister - who spends a lot of his time out of the country at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University, which means that he is clearly unable to attend to the duties of his day job at the House of Commons.

I looked up the distance from London to Abu Dhabi and it's approximately 3398 miles - yet this doesn't seem to concern the Labour supporting Mirror in the same way.

But it should.   

Tory MP Nadine Dorries threatens to 'nail Sunday Mirror reporter's testicles to the floor using own front teeth'

She was answering a question about how her daughter could work as her £35,000-a-year secretary when she lives nearly 100 miles away

Threat: Nadine Dorries lashed out on Twitter

Tory MP Nadine Dorries yesterday threatened to nail a Sunday Mirror reporter’s testicles to the floor – for asking how her daughter could work as her secretary when she lived nearly 100 miles away.

The controversial MP claims up to £35,000 a year of taxpayers’ money to employ Jennifer, 26, under House of Commons guidelines.

They allow for “secretarial support” at an MP’s Westminster or constituency office.

But when we told 56-year-old Ms Dorries we had discovered Jennifer lived in a ­Cotswolds village 96 miles from her mother’s desk in London and 89 from her Mid-Bedfordshire base in Shefford, before emailing a statement she took to Twitter to vent her spleen.

In an extraordinary outburst, she tweeted: “Be seen within a mile of my daughters and I will nail your balls to the floor… using your own front teeth. Do you get that?”

The rant came after the Sunday Mirror revealed last week how her business partner Andy Rayment also runs a business with a glamour model.

Our latest revelations are based on details in official Parliamentary records that show Jennifer is her mother’s “senior secretary” - a position that often calls for face-to-face meetings with constituents.

On Thursday Jennifer was at home taking her dog for a stroll in Willersey, ­Worcestershire.

Office job: Jennifer takes dog for a walk
Sunday Mirror

A Commons official said: “It’s hard to see how she can deal with an MP’s electorate in the most efficient way when she lives nowhere near Parliament or the constituency.”

Jennifer is the second of Ms Dorries’ three daughters to work for her mum at taxpayers’ expense.

Her eldest, Philippa, earned up to £45,000 a year as her office manager.

When a storm broke in September about Jennifer’s job, Ms Dorries claimed she provided “value for money”.

Ms Dorries last night claimed her daughter did the 89-mile journey from her home to the constituency office in 80 minutes.

The AA’s online route planner says the fastest route is two hours, 12 minutes.

The MP said: “Jennifer’s main place of work is in the constituency, where she stays for some of each week.

“Her journey time is 1hr 20 mins. She does not claim from the staff travel allowance and covers all her own travel costs.

"Her journey time is less than mine from Bedfordshire to Westminster which is 1hr 30mins, as it is for all of my constituents who commute to London.

“I do not claim travel expenses and cover my own travel costs.

"I find your interest in both myself, out of 650 MPs, my daughters and their private business is questionable, irrelevant, bordering on harassment and rather creepy.”

Rampant Sexism (12 November 2012)

Rampant Sexism

The Conservative MP for Mid-Befordshire - Nadine Dorries - swans off from the House of Commons for up to 30 days to take part in a celebrity TV programme - which is made in some remote part of Australia.

Result - she gets 'pelters' from all quarters and deservedly so - including from the Deputy Labour Leader - Harriet Harman - while standing in at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).

Ms Harman famous for her support of equalities issues even made a lame joke at Nadine's expense - something about the Tory MP having to deal with all kinds of snakes and toads - before she even arrived in the jungle. 

So why is the row in the House of Commons so sexist?

Because lots of other MPs swan off when it suits them - including Harriet's Labour colleague and former Prime Minister - Gordon Brown.

Except Gordon is away from his day job for much more time than Nadine Dorries - 70 days a year (every year) in one job alone - at the New York University in Abu Dhabi, for example.

Yet no one says a word - or makes jokes at Prime Minister's Questions.

Maybe they'll start doing so now.

I certainly hope so because it would be a breath of fresh air - and thoroughly deserved.      

Gissa Job (16 July 2012) 

I read the other day that Gordon Brown - the sometime Labour MP for Cowdenbeath and Kircaldy - has added yet another string to his bow. 

Apparently the former Prime Minister is to become a global envoy for the United Nations. 

A position which will, of course, compete for Gordon's time along with his paid role as a 'Distinguished Global Leader in Residence' - at the Abu Dhabi campus of New York University - where he is required to spend 70 days a year. 

And his time spent on other charitable works on behalf of 'The Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown' - which I have commented upon previously. 

Now I have no problem with Gordon Brown spending lots of time out of the country. 

But what I don't understand is why he doesn't just resign his seat as an MP - and give someone else the chance of doing a proper full-time day job? Particularly at a time of such high unemployment. 

According to press reports Gordon's heart is just not into being a Westminster MP - and since losing the 2010 general election he has apparently taken part in just two parliamentary debates - and only 15 per cent of the votes. 

So surely it's time for Gordon to do the right thing - and step aside.