The general election is unlikely to be much more than six months away and for the last two years the Conservative Party have been consistently riding high in the opinion polls. Despite recent indications that the Tory lead over the Labour Party might be narrowing, it appears highly likely that David Cameron, with his tattooed designer wife, will be crossing the Number 10 threshold sometime in the first half of next year charged by the Queen to set up a new government.
But exactly who are the candidates likely to fill up the cabinet posts in Cameron’s first administration? Some names are familiar to many; figures like George Osborne, William Hague and Kenneth Clarke are widely recognised but the rest are even obscure to veteran politicos.
Compare their bright names with those of the Labour Party circa 1997. Then Tony Blair had many familiar figures in his team: Gordon Brown; Robin Cook; Jack Straw; Chris Smith; Peter Mandelson; Margaret Beckett; John Prescott; David Blunkett; Mo Mowlam. I am not suggesting for a second that all of these are and were impressive political colossuses, or indeed that they all had successful political careers. But they were all more familiar public figures than David Cameron’s current shadow cabinet.
Curiously, with the former cabinet ministers of William Hague and Kenneth Clarke, the Tories actually have more ministerial experience than Labour did in 1997. Of Tony Blair’s first government only Margaret Beckett had been a minister under a previous administration, John Prescott had served in Europe and Jack Straw had been a fixer, adviser and bag-carrier under Wilson. The rest of that Labour cabinet had no ministerial experience at all and most had entered parliament during Margaret Thatcher’s rule.
So it seems an opportune time to have a brief introduction to the characters who could soon be running the country and over the next few weeks I'll post a few pieces outlining who exactly they all are, from the leader David Cameron to the frankly unknown Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Secretary of State for Wales (I bet most of you didn't know that!).
So, before I embark on this bit of fun, as an introduction below is the entire Shadow Cabinet. How many can you identify?
Members of the Shadow Cabinet Leader of the Conservative Party - Rt Hon David Cameron MP
Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords - Rt Hon Lord Strathclyde
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons - Rt Hon Sir George Young MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer - George Osborne MP
Shadow Foreign Secretary - Rt Hon William Hague MP
Shadow Home Secretary - Chris Grayling MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Business - Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke MP
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office - Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
Shadow for Children, Schools and Families - Michael Gove MP
Shadow for Communities and Local Government - Caroline Spelman MP
Shadow Secretary of State Culture, Media and Sport - Jeremy Hunt MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence - Dr Liam Fox MP
Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Nick Herbert MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Health - Andrew Lansley MP
Shadow for Universities and Skills - David Willetts MP
Shadow for Energy and Climate Change - Greg Clark MP
Shadow for International Development - Andrew Mitchell MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice - Dominic Grieve MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - Owen Paterson MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland - David Mundell MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Transport - Theresa Villiers MP
Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Philip Hammond MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales - Cheryl Gillan MP
Shadow for Work and Pensions and Shadow Minister for Women - Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Shadow Minister for Europe - Mark Francois MP
Shadow Housing Minister - Grant Shapps MP
Chairman of the Conservative Party - Eric Pickles MP
Chairman of the Policy Review and Chairman of the Conservative Research Department - Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP
Opposition Chief Whip - Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP
Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action - Baroness Warsi
This is not a new video - it was produced by the excellent campaigners Don't Panic this summer - but I felt it was worth posting for several reasons.
Firstly, it's a healthy reminder what an unbelievable and depressing bunch of people young Conservatives are. Global warming deniers, sexist women and 19-year-olds who are going on 40.
But away from just giving me a chuckle, the main reason for posting the video is NorthBriton had the pleasure of being at university with Mark Clarke, in the same college, and he was a slimy little s*%$ then and clearly remains so ten years later. 'I've had dinner with David Cameron and he asks after my mother' - Jesus.
Eric Pickles sent me an email today, which was nice of him. It contained a video of the plump one telling viewers why the next election is harder than it might appear.
The line that the Tories have to do better than at any election since 1931 has been doing the rounds for some weeks now and in this video Pickles does a good job to refresh the Conservative Party's challenge at the next election and it does give me a certain amount of optimism that the Tories might yet fail.
Speaking from his 'war room' - a name surely picked to bring echoes of Winston Churchill planning the fightback during WWII - he starts by saying 'Hello chums'. Oh, if only he knew.
He says the Tories need to win 117 seats, not achieved since 1931, and need a bigger swing than Thatcher in 1979. The Tories will need a 'double digit lead in vote share over the Labour Party'. The Tories will need seats not held since 1987 like Pendle and Ipswich, seats not held since 1983 like Dewsbury, and even 1959 like Carlisle.
Listening to all this certainly puts hope in my heart that the Tories might fail at the next election. Complacency, hubris and arrogance, as well as their ragbag of chaotic policies, might yet defeat them.
So there is hope but my God it is pretty slim and I can't really see the Tories throwing it away. Gordon Brown's premiership has often been incompetent, frequently dithering and weak but I shudder at the thought of a Tory administration and the damage it could do.
A Labour candidate's career appears to be over before it has really begun. Peter White, who is due to stand in Havering at the next local elections, described the monarch as 'vermin' and a 'parasite'.
Writing on the Facebook page of Tory MP Andrew Rosindell, Mr White said: 'What is the point of celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of someone who is born into a position of privilege and milks this country for everything she can, she has more front than Margate asking for extra money from the civil list.
'Maybe she should sell a couple of her properties. Maybe if she wants Buckingham Palace to be maintained from public funds she should open it to the public. Don't get me wrong I have no problem with a public holiday but lets have one that means something, rather than vermin.'
Holding a republican point of view is perfectly acceptable and I share some such sentiments, but expressing them in this uncivil, manner is deeply unwise. News reaches me that he has been summoned before a meeting with key party members and could well be deselected.
One thing the Royals can hold on to, though, is that they are not as bad as Tories. 'Vermin' they maybe but Nye Bevan famously described Tories as 'lower than vermin' - a phrase which sums up the party perfectly.
Ahead of tonight's meeting in Norfolk where Liz Truss could be deselected as Conservative PPC, let us remind ourselves what the delightful Sir Jeremy Bagge said in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday regarding the role of women in society.
Let's remember that the paper tells us that he 'repeatedly says he has nothing against women'.
'Sorry, no, I have never said I'm anti-women. I have got absolutely nothing against women.
'Who cooks my lunch? Who cooks my dinner? How did my wonderful three children appear? Women, you can't do without them. My god, take my wife.'
And what does she do for a living? 'What does she do? She looks after me. Looks after the children. Runs the house.'
That's all perfectly clear then. Women know your place.
The Daily Mail features a classic splash today, with the headline ‘Chemicals in plastic ‘change the way boys play’ shouting from the front pages.
The first paragraph features a perfect example of the fear-instilling reporting for which the paper is justifiably renown. ‘Chemicals used in plastics are “feminizing” the brains of babyboys, a disturbing study shows,’ it yells.
‘Those exposed to high doses in the womb are less likely to play with “male” toys such as cars. They are also less willing to join “rough and tumble” games.’
I don't want to come across as Daily Mail obsessed - I promise you I'm not - but the piece was an extremely entertaining piece of sexist scaremongering.
According to the article household objects such as soft shoe soles, flooring, furniture, luggage, traffic cones, buoys, swimming pool covers (you do wonder how many homes have all of these items) contain phthalates, a chemical which apparently mimics the female sex hormone oestrogen. While it is not said, the glaring implication from the story is ‘look this is why there are so many softy, feminists in today’s society’. If we got rid of all this plastic stuff, throw away those buoys clogging up the living room, and get outside and indulge in some manly ‘rough and tumble’ Britain would return to the traditional values that made it ‘Great’. The research is actually tiny. Only the play of 145 pre-school children were examined. Hardly a convincing survey by the University of Rochester Medical School.
But to be fair to the Daily Mail they do make a stab of writing a balanced article and include a quotation from Tim Edgar, from the European Council of Plasticisers and Intermediates. This, obviously, needs to be taken guardedly as he has a vested interest, representing plastic manufacturers. Here is what he said:
‘We need to get some scientific experts to look at this study in more detail before we can make a proper judgment.’
‘However, given the simple approach of the research and the relatively small sample of children, I think these results need to be treated with extreme caution. I don’t think anyone should jump to such conclusions without some much more sophisticated research being carried out.’
Quite a measured response really. In contrast, this is what Elizabeth Salter-Green, the director of the chemicals campaign group CHEM said.
‘These results are extremely worrying. This feminising capacity of phthalates makes them true “gender benders”. Clearly the boys who have been studied are still young, but reduced masculine play at this age may lead to other “feminised development” in later life.
‘This cannot be good news for their long-term health and development, or that of our society in general.’
What a palpable load of clap-trap. I don’t deliberately want to sound like a namby-pamby, leftie feminist. Be reassured I enjoyed plenty of ‘rough and tumble’ games as a child, with a healthy quantity of toy guns and soldiers, but our problems in society would be significantly reduced if more men were ‘feminised’. It seems perfectly obvious to me that the continued dominance of men in society does society no end of harm. Similarly, across the world aid agencies are well aware their work will progress further if women are empowered, rather than handing all aid monies over to men.
This predictable article is infused with huge amounts of chauvinism aimed squarely at its conservative, traditional, middle England, little-England, readership. To be fair on Mail readers many of their comments are quite sensible and make the point that the Mail’s reporting of medical issues is pretty poor – just remember the MMR scare stories whose damage continues to this day. But there are a few corkers. Here’s a couple:
‘anyone with half a brain realised a decade ago that household chemicals cause cell damage. - lesk, voting BNP in Devon, 16/11/2009 10:05 All ties in with the Leftist-PC policy of emasculation of indigenous males. Hence Beckham with his sari skirt, alice-bands etc as an icon. - O. Cromwell, Shrewsbury
All in all, it makes me proud to call myself a feminist.
There are a host of reasons why a voter might be unimpressed with Gordon Brown with varying degrees of justification. His handling of the economy irks many, the continuing, seemingly unwinnable, war in Afghanistan grows more unpopular daily and the government’s stance on various issues relating to personal liberty against the power of the state is worrying.
However, one thing is quite clear: there is no justification for attacking the man for having crap handwriting. The Sun, the delightfully offensive newspaper which tries to support winners in the run-up to elections so Rupert Murdoch can stay close to the set of power, used the grieving mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan to launch a vicious, personal, attack on the Prime Minister. Jamie Janes, 20, died in Afghanistan on October 5 and, as he has done to every family who have lost a loved one in the war, Gordon Brown wrote a personal, handwritten, letter of condolence.
He does have awful handwriting, that much is clear. There are certain professions in which poor handwriting appears to be vital: English teacher; headteacher; doctors. Politicians perhaps falls into this bracket.
But rather than concentrate on the fact that our Prime Minister took time out of his no doubt busy day to put pen to paper to write quite a moving and affectionate letter of condolence, Jacqui Janes has got upset that it is illegible. ‘The letter was scrawled so quickly I could hardly even read it and some of the words were half-finished. It’s just disrespectful,’ she told the paper. She claims the letter is littered with spelling mistakes, but I'm not sure I agree; following this argument to its logical conclusion leads readers to the conclusion that the prime minister cannot spell his own name. Not a serious proposition I'm sure you will agree.
Missing letters and words is easy to do, something I have done myself after years as a reporter, using crappy shorthand. I actively use a fountain pen when writing long hand as a tool to force me to write neatly, spell correctly and not omit words.
It is pretty shameful of The Sun to use this obviously distraught mother to continue their personal attacks on Gordon, just shortly after the paper decided to switch allegiances and pledge its support to Cameron’s vacuous Conservative Party. Did anyone ever believe The Sun was a Labour-supporting paper?
But so many of the attacks on Gordon are, it seems, deeply personal. They target his funny jaw movements, his apparently random smiles, his awkwardness in public. The Tories are not shy of using this tactic either – remember it was the shadow Chancellor George Osborne who called him ‘autistic’. I would like to launch my own personal attack on Osborne here but realise this is not the right occasion. And David Cameron often strays too close personal abuse.
The most awful aspect of this is, of course, that the Prime Minister is practically blind. Sue Arnold on The Guardian has written very well about this issue here. He writes with a big felt pen, in large letters. The Sun even had the cheek to quote a 'handwriting expert' who said the letter smacked of panic. What kind of expert? A cheap, political comment which is grossly ignorant of the facts of the case.
Gordon Brown does not make an issue of his blindness. He hasn't, today, pleaded in mitigation that his handwriting is bad because of his sight. Instead, Gordon Brown has said he is mortified at the prospect he might have upset this mother. This is a genuine show of emotion from the Prime Minister, not a piece of politicking, unlike the behaviour of The Sun. Thankfully, it appears many other people share my opinion; even people who have posted on the Daily Mail website - normally the most appalling, green-inked, psycho brigade - generally express sympathy for the Prime Minister.
This should be a post which gives me delightful pleasure. Such has been the working week, pleasure has been put somewhat put on the backburner as hours build and deadlines mount.
But you don't give a fuck about that do you?
Let's talk about Europe. That wonderful place Britain has been apart of since, God Christ knows, as we have been European for so long, any kind of attempt to raise the idea British aborigines would make a person sound like Nick Griffin.
We have had the delightfully entertaining spectre of watching the Tories scramble, desperately, hopelessly, pathetically, pitifully, for a semblance of a realistic policy on Europe. They have, after all, no options left as the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified and is likely to come into being on December 1.
And after all that, what about the Tories? William Hague came out today to say exactly what has been expected all along: that David Cameron's 'cast iron guarantee' was made by a man whose feet were firmly bedded in clay.
I really shouldn't be so gleeful - it's just an inbuilt mechanism that makes me revel in Tories squirming. But there is a genuine democratic problem about Europe.
Not necessarily about this treaty, for it does little but streamline the processes that exist, although pledging pointless votes was politically pretty inept - by Labour and the Tories.
Accountability, however, in Europe is pretty much non-existent. The idea Tony Blair might become 'President of the EU' appalls many. Is there any clear idea of what the job entails? What are his powers? No, regardless that the position is little more than a more permanent version of the totemic presidential system already in place, it is a rum state of affairs. At the very least the political reach of the position should be understood - newspapers generally refer to the position as 'President of Europe' which just as ignorant. But any clarification has gone unnoticed by everyone.
There are fears over a foreign representative position? But can that really be so bad? Every country will still have their personal representatives and the chap - it will be chap, sadly, I reckon a Mary Robinson would be better - who has the task of putting forward Europe's opinion is likely end up a neutered ally of the UN secretary general, never wanting to say anything to upset any side.
Cameron is in an invidious position really. He knows, as he is likely to be Prime Minister within months, that isolating Britain from Europe in the midst of a bloody awful recession, would be bloody stupid. He and the delightful George Osborne must already know how unpopular they are going to be as, if they win, it will be the Tories who unveil the most savage cuts on services for decades. And poor old Dave still has to deal with his barmy anti-Europe party members. It is ironic that he will be the most anti-European Tory leader there has been and yet Eurosceptics are brushing their chicken wire toothbrushes, ready for action.
The EU election gets such tiny voters it is depressing. This is a big issue. If people were interested reform could be achieved. Instead we are left with political powers deciding what political powers decide, voter indecision and political lightweights running the show.
The likely next alternative government is a Conservative one. UKIP reckon after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the Tories' support will collapse in the face of terror. UKIP will, as a consequence, pick up 50+ seats at the next election. No chance. But the Tories have no coherent European policy and this is very worrying. Cameron will spout at 4pm at a West End gentleman's club today (Nov 4) but say very little of any real value. He knows his policy has died and must surely be well aware - after all he's not a stupid man - that his idea of 'repatriating' various powers is dead in the water. He will say very little about his policies as he has none.
European reform is long overdue. Hardly likely to occur under the current Labour government but absolutely no chance under Cameron's Tories.