November 18th, 2009

John Rentoul: Labour leadership update

Curious report in The Guardian today that Compass, the left-wing faction that wants to stop the world and get off onto a mythical land called Sweden, is "considering" backing a coup against Gordon Brown.

Sunder Katwala thinks this is bad news for the AJ4PM campaign - although he also points out that Neal Lawson, the chair of Compass, called for a change of leader in May last year.

On the contrary, everything is going according to plan, although AJ is currently down and DM is currently up. AJ made a mistake on GMTV last week when he defended bonuses for Ministry of Defence civil servants, saying that some of them had to go "into the front line" where they did a "difficult and sometimes dangerous job".DM, on the other hand, delivered a very boring speech about Afghanistan yesterday, but it sounded grown up and Hillary Clinton says: "He is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He's really a good guy. And he's so young."

As I said last week, it is in the interest of the country and the Labour Party that there are two excellent candidates to replace the Prime Minister. My only fear is that if Brown falls Alan Johnson might support David Miliband rather than putting himself forward in the competitive leadership election that is preferable. Still, if Brown falls, the essential part is done and Labour's prospects at the election are improved, and Compass's "internal discussions" push us a little further in the right direction.

Amol Rajan: Dave's Darlings vs Dave's Divas vs Cameron's Cuties

Readers of Eagle Eye will recall my earlier defence of the phrase 'Dave's Divas' as a better Tory update to 'Blair's Babes' than 'Cameron's Cuties'.

All are chauvinistic and therefore at least slightly undesirable, but the demands of hackery are such that they will come into common parlance soon anyway. Given this, better to ensure the best phrase wins.

My earlier argument was threefold: first, Dave's Divas has a better rhythm than Cameron's Cuties (being one-two, one-two, rather than one-two-three, one-two); second, it is doubly alliterative (with two d's and two v's, rather than just two c's); and, third, the etymology of 'Divas' (from the Latin for goddess) and its operatic connotations give it an affection that the less subtle 'Cuties' lacks.

Terence Blacker imposes himself on this argument with typical charm in his column today, by referring to Liz Truss as "Dave's Darling".

This is an interesting development. Darling does have a warmth about it, and lacks the suggestion of hysterical over-reaction of 'Divas' ("stop being such a diva"!). That is to its credit.

But I'm wedded to the attraction of the double double. Having not one but two sets of alliterative consonants in such a short semiotic sequence recommends 'Dave's Divas' to me above 'Dave's Darlings'. There is a consistency and sense of immediate reinforcement that the '-lings' of the latter destroys.

I know it's vain but I still think Dave's Divas is the best.

Ben Chu: Ignoring the issue on Israel lobbying

Denis MacShane seems to argue on this blog that because Israel "has the worst press of any UN member state in the British media" the notion that Britain has a powerful and successful Israel lobby is somehow wrong. My esteemed colleague John Rentoul backs him up here.

But leave aside the question of whether Israel really does get such a bad press (my impression was that the Telegraph and News International titles are all strongly sympathetic to the Israeli government), this ignores one of the central charges of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, namely that the Israeli lobby has considerable - and quite often non-transparent - influence over British government and political parties. If you're going to pour scorn on the Dispatches programme, surely you need to address one of its main points.

A fine, impartial journalist

I'd also take issue strongly with John's remark that Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East Editor was "rightly" reprimanded for anti-Israel bias. To my mind, the BBC Trust's ruling was a travesty; a betrayal of a fine, impartial journalist.

photo: BBC

Douglas Alexander: Ignore the voguish nonsense. Aid works

Every year British taxpayers are helping save the lives of millions of people in the developing world. They are doing so because their money is being carefully and rigorously targeted at improving health care in some of the most disadvantaged nations in the world.

As a result of the efforts of donor governments, international institutions such as the World Bank and NGOs real progress is being made. Polio, once the scourge of the poor worldwide, is on the verge of eradication, more than 4.5 million people are being treated for TB and a further three million now have access to life-saving drugs.

The UK alone will by next year have handed out 20 million bednets to combat malaria - which we estimate will prevent 110,000 child deaths. None of this has happened by accident. This Labour Government has trebled aid since 1997 after the Conservative Government halved it.

To claim, as Philip Stevens did in yesterday's Independent, that millions of pounds are somehow being flung at wasteful and corrupt governments is plain wrong.
The UK does indeed channel cash through governments into health care. We measure effectiveness by results and we are confident that we are getting bang for our buck.

It is simply not credible to bypass governments if the Millennium Development Goals are to be met. The only way to cut dependence on aid - an aim we all share - is to allow the governments of developing countries to build up their own health services. To do otherwise would be like pouring water into a desert. The money would swiftly be soaked up in projects which would have no lasting benefits. By channelling the money through governments we allow them to develop their capacity to provide sustainable health care based on their own priorities.

We are not, however, blinded by dogma and in states where there is no stable government we do find different ways of helping the sick. Aid goes much wider than supporting the building of clinics and training doctors and nurses. It’s also about helping patients receive treatment.

Gordon Brown announced at the United Nations in New York in September that six countries, with UK support, would abolish the fees that put basic health care beyond the reach of millions of poor people. The abolition of fees in Ghana has had a dramatic impact on maternal mortality because pregnant mothers are turning up at clinics instead of giving birth without medical supervision at home.

An important part of the international effort is also directed at preventing the conditions which lead to illness. So the UK has pledged to spend more than £1 billion over five years to improve water and sanitation across Africa. We are helping to get millions of children into school in dozens of countries because education is widely recognised as a route out of poverty. An educated population will in general be better informed about health risks and better able to tackle them by maximising their earning potential.

It is regrettably fashionable to decry the extraordinary strides in tackling poverty over the past 20 years. The unpalatable truth is that aid is an easy target because poor whose lives it has transformed cannot answer back.

But there is no room for complacency. The challenges ahead are massive and it will be a struggle to meet the Millennium Development Goals. They will only be met by a concerted alliance between the governments of both rich and poor nations, the big international institutions and the NGOs. That is why I welcome confirmation in yesterday's Queen's Speech that Labour will enshrine the promises we made to the world's poor.

The author is Secretary of State for International Development

John Rentoul: Cameron's biggest U-turn

How much do the "progressive" Conservatives care about poverty? Reading Tim Bale's book about which I enthused on Sunday, and which can be pre-ordered here, reminded me of one of David Cameron's early U-turns. (His most recent was to insist on all-women shortlists and then to back off.)

Do you remember when in February 2006 Cameron announced a statement of the party's aims and values, called Built to Last? No? Well, it was no Clause IV moment. But the document was discussed, amended and then put to the vote of the whole membership in September 2006, and approved by 93 per cent (on a less-than-enthusiastic 27 per cent turnout).

Bale comments on some changes between the first and last drafts of the document, but misses what I think is the most important one.

Spot the difference.

Built to Last
(pdf): first draft:

"The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich."

(pdf) voted on by members:

"The test of a strong and just society is how it looks after the least advantaged – but this duty is not reserved for the state alone."

They keep wriggling on the promise to cut inheritance tax for a few of the richest people in the country. When I reminded a member of Team Cameron last year of the first statement, he said that it may be the test, "but that doesn't mean we have to pass it".


Photo: John Taylor.

Peter Oborne and James Jones: In defence of Dispatches

Antisemitism is the most notorious form of racism. Its long and hideous history culminated in the Nazi Holocaust and its still exists as a powerful and very dangerous force in the 21st century. The lesson of the past is that it must be fought wherever it manifests itself.

For this very reason, it is essential that the term should not be abused. Sadly, the Labour MP Denis MacShane has done so in his attack on our Channel 4 Dispatches programme, 'Inside Britain's Israel Lobby', broadcast on Monday evening.

acShane shockingly says that our film is "1930s style prejudice dressed up as modern TV journalism". He even more shockingly concludes that "antisemitic politics is back". The charge that we have somehow made common cause with Nazis could not be more damaging, or more false.

The pro-Israel lobby is a legitimate subject of investigation, just like any other lobby, and we carried out a scrupulous investigation. MacShane refuses to engage with any of the points raised about the need for transparency and accountability.

We showed in our film how some defenders of Israel deliberately exploit the charge of antisemitism as a way of discrediting legitimate criticism of Israeli foreign policy - a tactic which debases and cheapens a very real and dangerous phenomenon. Denis MacShane has fallen into that trap.

John Rentoul: Katie Price - world inclusive

As The Independent on Sunday's Katie Price correspondent (a post I secured because Alan Watkins was away that week), I draw readers' attention to another gem of postmodern media satire on the front cover of OK! magazine.

The top headline is:

Katie: "My only interview"

I think this means:

Katie: "My only interview in OK! magazine this week"

But if Ian Hislop wants to report Richard Desmond to the Press Complaints Council for misrepresentation, that is entirely up to him.

John Rentoul: Politics of inversion

Last chance for me to use my pleasingly symmetrical observation: that Gordon Brown has to pretend to want Tony Blair to be President of the European Council when he really, really doesn't; while David Cameron has to pretend to not want Tony Blair as President when, really, he does.

As several people have pointed out already, the Conservatives by opposing Blair have implied that they would rather the job went to Herman van Rompuy, who, it turns out, wants to impose EU-wide taxes. Blair, on the other hand, would have used the job to promote joint action on climate change, trade liberalisation and world poverty - and would have had no truck with federal nonsense of the kind that gave him so much neck pain as Prime Minister. They don't think there should be an EU president, but that's exactly what we want the EU to do, said one member of Team Cameron to whom I spoke recently.

Photo: Tony Blair in London yesterday, via Blair Foundation Watch.