Monday 23rd August

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It must be, I suppose, about a hundred days since the Labour Party rounded up five of its slowest-moving and most dim-witted members,  put them in cages and took them round the country to be jeered at and bombarded with ham sandwiches by other denizens of the tribe, the notional reward from which was that there would be a vote at the end for which one would make the least repulsive leader of the opposition. Hardly anybody knows anything about these pathetic contestants, or what they stand for, and even fewer care which one wins. It would be a greater kindness, once the process has eventually run its course,  to have all five of them humanely destroyed, but there would doubtless be all sorts of pettifogging legal restrictions against such a course of action. One is tempted to consult Ms Harriet Harman on the question, the Labour Party’s matriarch and a distinguished former law officer, save that the termination route would lead to a destruction ratio of four males to one female and this could be expected to cloud her judgement.

If there is one thing, however, to have emerged from this scrofulous palaver it is a deep and disturbing animus against the Liberal Democrats, with the candidates outbidding each other in how nasty they want to be about these harmless creatures. One of them – a Miliband at a guess – has called for the entire Liberal species to be made extinct.  What is one to do?  Down here in Somerset, the local member, Mr David Heath, can often be seen in and out of the hedgerows, looking for berries and it seems a trifle harsh to fetch down a shotgun on the say so of a scion of socialism. Perhaps it will be enough, if Labour ever do return to power, that Liberal Democrats are simply interned.

More compassionate figures from within the Labour movement – latter-day Oskar Schindlers if you like – are taking pity on the unfortunate Libs and trying to arrange escape for the likes of Charles Kennedy, though Kennedy is an obstinate man and won’t move without assurances about the state of the drinks cabinet on the other side. Perhaps they should target the truly helpless instead, and start with Ming Campbell. Whatever did become of that plan to send him to Australia with a plumed hat and make him high commissioner? In their own dark days of hung parliament terror, the Aussies badly need the deluded Ming.

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Wednesday 18th August

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100 coalition days are up and Cameron has gone on holiday, leaving Clegg alone to run the country and survey the dissolving remnants of his poll numbers, though not necessarily in that order. Mr Clegg is thus in the position of a child whose only friend has gone down to Cornwall for the remainder of the summer holiday, leaving him the back garden to kick the football around on his own.

That the deputy prime minister has few, if any, other friends left in politics, seems fairly evident.  Hardly a day goes by that his own deputy, the deceptively earnest Simon Hughes, doesn’t issue some blood-curdling warning or new demand, the latest being that Lib Dem MPs should hold a “veto” over the policies of the coalition, and now Ed Miliband – or it might have been David – says that Labour would never be able to form a coalition with the Liberals with Clegg in charge. I took Gordon Brown three years to achieve a position of such repulsiveness that no one would work with him; Clegg has managed it in three months.

Wednesday 11th August

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It is August when politicians who are not otherwise on holiday – caravan parks just outside Frinton are economically and politically de rigeur this year –  do not have enough to do, and Baroness Warsi has proved this thesis handsomely by writing to a clutch of former Labour ministers asking for their severance payments back. The bored Tory chairman has picked on the four ministerial exes who are tussling for Labour’s leadership and so stands to reap a handsome dividend of £80,000 for the country’s coffers, minus the cost of a couple of stamps from Central Office, if they comply, which, of course, they won’t.  This couldn’t possibly be a political gimmick could it.

It was certainly something of a novelty to see Warsi line up with Chris Huhne at a press conference called specifically for the purpose of heaving into Labour. Luckily the hacks were as bored as the Baroness and so had some fun asking her how hard the Tories will try to unseat Huhne from Eastleigh at the next election.  Precluded by  the niceties of coalition politics from turning to her co-presenter and advising him to be very afraid, Warsi’s answer implied that Huhne’s scalp might not be the first in the Tories’ sights. With the Lib Dems’ polling numbers sinking faster than the Bank of England’s hopes for the British economy, Mr Huhne would be vulnerable to an electoral challenge from a lobotomised gibbon with a string of convictions for expenses fraud.

Friday 6th August

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Over in the Guardian there is a very long article by someone called Andy Beckett asking whether Cameron is the “new Dubya”.  It is not known why the Guardian should choose now to pay somebody to contrive 1,000 words on this theme,  but I suppose that the idea might have been suggested to them by the prime minister’s recent muff-ups abroad, a lack of facility with foreigners being something that bien pensant liberals used to find most hilarious about the former president.  The fact that the former president’s lack of facility might have been inspired less by an ignorance of foreigners than by a deep and abiding knowledge of the awfulness of bien pensant liberals never seemed to occur to them and why should it.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter because, as Mr Beckett so penetratingly observes in his article, Mr Cameron is still in power while George W. Bush is not. Which is why it is Mr Cameron who has just emerged, relatively unscathed, from the home-leg of his double-header with Pakistan – a cosy dinner at Chequers last night with its President Zardari from which the two of them surfaced this morning pledging mutual and eternal fealty.  Not bad, given that  week ago, in India of all places, Mr Cameron accused Pakistan of “promoting the export of  terror” to Afghanistan. The Pakistani High Commissioner in London called this “an immature reaction from an immature politician”, a sentiment that was enthusiastically echoed by that well-known elder statesman David Miliband.  The current foreign secretary meanwhile, Mr Hague, was unavailable for comment, a posture that, when it comes to foreign affairs, he adopts with surprising rigidity.

Mr Zardari should be grateful that his host wasn’t John Major, who would have dragged him to the Edgbaston test for the afternoon session, in time to see England bowl out Pakistan for 72.  Major, of course, would then have been unfailingly apologetic about such an outcome. Cameron, who regards his various foreign policy gaffes as exercises in frankness,  would have told Zardari that it was because his team are crap.

This is a sound analysis maybe – any team capable of losing to England at cricket must, by definition, be thoroughly useless – but it is not one to help in their common cause of taming Afghanistan to the extent that one day it can join the league of test-playing nations. Zardari said earlier this week that he thought the western effort in Afghanistan was a lost cause – perhaps because the Americans keep getting side-tracked into teaching the Afghans the rudiments of baseball. Zardari’s was an analysis from which, in public Cameron was obliged to demur though in reality it chimes all too well with his own view of the situation.


Thursday 5th August

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An unflattering portrait of the prime minister emerges in Tim Montgomerie’s assessment of the dreaded “first 100 days”, published by the New Statesman. Montgomerie, who recently landed the coveted 90th spot in the Guardian’s celebrated annual list of the country’s 100 top media bores, argues that Dave lost the respect of the Tory right when he failed to win outright the General Election.  And if the eminence grise of Tory blogging has anything to do with it,  the PM won’t be getting it back. Plus says Tim, snotty Dave is haughty and self-consumed – no cute little handwritten billets coupables to all those Tory frontbenchers left beached when the Krishnas stole their ministerial berths for instance – and, worst of all, leaves the office at seven o’clock in the evening having only arrived at it at eight-thirty that morning.

This less than puritan work-ethic probably explains why, according to Montgomerie, the Government Cameron leads is variously incompetent (Gove, whose inability to write out a simple list of schools for the axe recalls Edmund Blackadder’s shambolic failure to organise the playlist as Lord High Executioner), “hyperactive” (Lansley: half-cock ideas for handing over the NHS to the tender mercies of your local GP that are disbelieved by almost everybody, including the Treasury), heading for a punch-up (IDS, Fox over their attachment to ridiculously-expensive welfare policies and nuclear missiles respectively) and totally bonkers (Ken Clarke, with his quaint ideas for letting people out of prison and/or allowing them to stage in-the-nick revivals of The Importance of Being Earnest).

It is curiously only the Tory bits of the Government that attract Montgomerie’s fire and ire, thus sparing among others Uncle Vince whose business department over the summer has been the fastest-shrinking entity on the planet after BP’s share-price. The old man is fighting back, however, coming up with some wheeze called  “one in, one out”, which means that for every piece of red-tape dreamt up by Whitehall (but not by Brussels which lies outwith this brain-child) some other equivalent regulation will be ditched.  It is all very reminisecent of the coalition’s staffing policy for Liberal Democrats, though that might more accurately be called one out one in.

Montgomerie thinks that the Laws episode is when the coalition “bonded”, bless them. Laws, he notes, got a “warm letter” from Cameron. More than all those discarded Tories did. Ouch.

Wednesday 4th August

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Somewhere in Central Office is a room. Its walls are lined with screens and its consoles are full of dials and rows of different coloured buttons like a serviceman’s medals. This is where they monitor The Heffer.

The Heffer is an old-fashioned nuclear-powered columnist. He is not much loved, loathed by many and, in truth, a little feared by most.   Less often seen on the roads these days,  there are still a handful of 2CVs and Volkswagen campers out there, bearing little yellow stickers saying “Simon Heffer no thanks” and while this may be a little too hippy for the boys and girls of Central Office, they share the sentiment in restrained lack of display

Of course, it would be simply wonderful if we could develop reliable alternative sources of political comment.  But the hillsides peppered with lanky Brogans or whirling Parrises is sadly neither attractive nor efficient. So we are stuck with The Heffer even though with age, and the gradual degradation of the bilium-90 that is its staple fuel, it grows ever more uncontainable.

This morning The Heffer went critical again. In the control station at CCO the caged light above the door came on, bathing the room in fearful red; a siren exploded in short piercing bursts and the dials started to whizz and the screens to fill with lines trending to danger.  There was no panic though and, indeed, not much action. These seasoned technicians have seen it all before; they know how to react.  For in truth there is very little that can be done. Just keep an eye on the gauges, note the latest trends, and wait for The Heffer to cool down again.

Someone will be called upon to investigate what caused the system failure this time.  It looks, partly at least, as if the injection of some nasty historical data into the guidance programming may have been to blame. “The Brown Terror”, writes The Heffer, “was as traumatic as it gets without loss of life”, damaging not just the “wallet” of the typical voter but also his “demeanour and psychology”.  Yes indeed: it is no coincidence that we have already had two rampaging lunatics loose with shotguns on the coalition’s watch, their demeanour and psychology having been so recklessly interfered with by quantitative easing and the complexities of the child tax credits scheme.

But there are also some more conventional explanations for The Heffer’s latest meltdown.  Always ready to be roused beyond boiling point by the coalition’s disparate evils, it has boiled this time in the face of fixed-term parliaments which we learn will “knock a cornerstone out of the British constitution and cause the rest of the system to crack”. Gosh really.  And worse is to come, for this degenerate political alliance stands ready (apparently) to pack the House of Lords with its lackeys so as to force through these very same fixed-term parliaments, as well as the AV voting system and other “constitutional abortions”.  It is a wonder really that the House of Lords still sits where it does. If it had been as stuffed full of placemen, and as often, as critics suggest in order to railroad otherwise untenable legislation it would long ago have needed to move to the O2 Arena.

In the control room they will have noted that there is some ostensible purpose to The Heffer’s ranting. It is to rouse the Tory right (or Right rather) to rebellion. The Right, it says, should be prepared to “resort to ruthlessness”.  This, disappointingly, falls short of a call to slit the throats of junior ministers in their beds, but it might instead involve voting against constitutional reform in the House of Commons. Such a move, The Heffer imagines, could lead to the Liberal Democrats deserting the coalition.  There are, it adds darkly  “important calculations to be made over the next few weeks”.

By this The Heffer means calculations performed by people in an alliance of the left and the Right that they could bring the coalition down. It is more likely, however, back in the Central Office control room, that they are calculating that this sort of arrant nonsense is heard by few and listened to by nobody. The Heffer is not only capricious, but obsolete as well.


Tuesday 3rd August

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The Brokeback Brothers (who increasingly resemble twins who can be told apart only by dental records and the fact that one wears a blue and the other a yellow tie) have written a joint (natch) letter to their Cabinet colleagues reminding them about the need for cuts.  Closer examination of this missive, which they have thoughtfully copied to everybody else in the country, reveals that the cuts in question relate to public expenditure, not to support for the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. It is in the latter category of slashing, of course,  where the coalition has so far been at its most devastatingly effective.  The weekend polls show that overall support for the Hare Krishnas is at 12%, while Mr Clegg’s own numbers, which were once pushing at Winston Churchill’s record for wartime popularity, now look more like the Luftwaffe’s after the London blitz.

Fiscal polling hawks regard this as a long-overdue and necessary correction. Under the previous lax regime, the country gorged for far too long at the chocolate fountain of sychophantic infatuation with the Liberal Democrats. Now, true to the spirit of the age, we must learn to live in harsher times.

Weaning ourselves off the Liberals seems like not such a big deal when you get round to it.. Yet it asks a lot of the Libs themselves who, more than any  of our other political tribes, like to reassure themselves that they are not only the nice ones but loved and revered for their niceness. Now that the prevailing public mood appears to be that if we are going to vote for a bastard we’ll go straight to the Tories and cut out the arbitrageurs, the Krishnas are requiring ever larger doses of reassurance that this catastrophic loss of self-esteem is worth it in the end.

This is why, when you decode the twins’ “mission” letter, one sees further attempts at boosting the fragile self-confidence of the coalition’s junior partner.  So, for example, amidst a boilerplate passage in the letter about the “radical redistribution of power from government to communities and people” prominence is given to giving “locally-elected councillors a say over local NHS services”. This is an old Lib Dem fetish that was quietly diluted to homeopathic proportions in the coalition agreement.  Here now it reappears in a far stronger dose, presumably to give Master Clegg something else to wave at his retreating members to persuade them that things are really going their way.

In truth, the introduction of bumbling and self-aggrandising local politicians into the NHS’ labyrinthine ways is unlikely to do much additional damage to a service already hog-tied by bureaucracy and incompetence. Yet a potentially far bigger prize awaits the Krishnas if they can somehow manipulate Trident into the strategic defence review.

Up until now this has seemed impossible.  Ever since last Thursday though,  when Boy George announced that if the MoD wanted to hang on to its nukes they’d have to pay for them themselves, the inviolability of our independent nuclear deterrent has seemed less presumed. Liam Fox, the member of the Cabinet closest to being on suicide watch, seemed pleased with this news.  “In politics nothing surprises me” he replied moodily to a questioner in Portsmouth who asked him whether he had expected Osborne’s uranium-tipped bombshell.

Add to this the persistent gossip that Nick Harvey, Fox’s Krishna number two, is Dave’s man in the MoD and you get the distinct impression that the prime minister might be in for a nasty surprise himself.