November 19th, 2009

Amol Rajan: More questions for Ashcroft - and his employees

Stephen Foley, Business Journalist of the Year, has produced another superb scoop from the Caribbean on Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire Tory donor.

When Stephen's last Ashcroft exclusive went on our front page, it was dutifully put onto the daily email about Tory stories from ConservativeHome, a brilliant and innovative website run by Tim Montgomerie.

That was very pleasing, because as Tim noted here, Lord Ashcroft has recently become the majority investor in ConservativeHome, which raises concerns about its independence.

(Lord Ashcroft also became co-owner of PoliticsHome, causing Andrew Rawnsley to resign as Editor-in-Chief).

Though it was not given much prominence, I and many others were happy that Stephen's last Ashcroft story made it onto the daily email from ConservativeHome (which you should sign up to), because it showed a willingness to confront stories that may discomfit the website's benefactor.

I am extremely disappointed to note that Stephen's latest Ashcroft story did not feature in today's daily email from ConservativeHome.

Ben Chu: Myners sets the wrong terms for the debate

Long-term thinking?

Paul Myners, the financial services minister, defends the lamentable failure of the Government to impose meaningful reform on the banks in the Financial Times today, arguing "we rejected nationalisation because we knew it would create long-term problems". This is surely the opposite of the actualité.

What we have now is a long term problem: giant banks which are heading back to risky business as usual with an implicit government safety net. Nationalisation would have created a host of short-term problems: separating bad loans from decent ones, dealing with angry shareholders and bondholders, fending off the banking lobbyists etc. In the long-term, nationalisation at the height of the crisis would have been nothing but a blessing.

photo: HM Treasury

Amol Rajan: "Tory Blair"

Nine paragraphs from the end of his column this morning, Stephen Glover refers to "Tory Blair".

I read this in print and assumed it was a sub-editing error. He must mean "Tony", I thought. But, at 11.20, it hasn't been changed online.

Glover is a brilliant columnist, and has a donnish style that always conveys the impression he chooses his words very carefully. This adds to my sense that maybe he did, indeed, mean "Tory".

And yet I can't see how doing so would have enhanced his argument.

Ben Chu: Are foreign troops really the 'problem' in Afghanistan?

It's often asserted, here for instance, that the presence of US and Nato troops in Afghanistan is stoking violence in Afghanistan, giving the Taliban an opponent against which to organise nationalist resistance, and that the best way to help the local population is to pull those forces out.

But a new survey from Oxfam paints a rather more complex picture:

Graph showing what Afghans believe is the cause of conflict

The proportion who belief that the presence of foreign troops is driving the conflict (18 per cent) is almost equal to the proportion who think the problem is that the international community is not doing enough in Afghanistan (17 per cent).

I don't argue that the data necessarily supports the case for either withdrawal or troop surge. But I think it does imply that the situation is considerably more nuanced than many in this debate seem willing to admit.

graphic: BBC

Larry Ryan: Michael Gove gets served

This is rather enjoyable. The Tories' shadow schools secretary Michael Gove trots out the usual talking points about GSCEs and dumbing down so his Labour counterpart Ed Balls decides to give him a little pop quiz...

It's a pity this exchange didn't take place in front of a packed Commons, the howls from the Labour benches would have been deafening.

With a nod to
Jack Riley and Cheryl Smith

Civil liberties: are we placing ourselves at the mercy of the state?

Number 173 in my series of Questions to Which the Answer is No is asked by the Hansard Society. It is the title of an event held under the rubric of the Democracy Forum next month. And it is illustrated by the tiresome visual cliché of a cluster of CCTV cameras.

Actually, I think that those are traffic control cameras but, as Peter Oborne and Henry Porter will no doubt explain at the forum, one of the rights enshrined in Magna Carta was that to sit in a traffic jam for as long as it takes.