Friday, December 30, 2005

The Miliband Streak


As Dave Miliband surges on, it's interesting to note how he got into Parliament in the first place. He became the MP for South Shields in 2001, and here's Red Pepper's assessment one month before that election:

"This truly is payback time for the backroom boys. If the 1997 intake was marked by spotty student politicians and legions of bland "Blair's babes" plucked from local government and the voluntary sector, this list is older, almost entirely male, and dominated by ministerial advisers and the old trade union right.

Many of our guaranteed new MPs arrived via an interesting route. Some were imposed from the centre when their predecessors conveniently announced their retirement too late to follow a full democratic selection...DAVID MILIBAND was a last minute parachute as David Clark announced his retirement days after the election was called."

As you fans of the Mallen Streak will know, South Shields is in Catherine Cookson Country, where dependable clogs-to-clogs Labour MP David Clarke had a shock-proof majority of 21,153. Alas, young Miliband immediately managed to reduce it by a third, to 14,090. Despite the second Labour landslide.

Still, he would have been an unknown quantity, and folk in them parts like to be introduced proper like. At least he then had four years in which his constituents could get to know him. Unfortunately, having done so, they cut his majority still further in 2005- to roughly half of Clarke's total.

You mark my words- there's trouble brewing up at the big house.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chop Chuck


Charlie decided he couldn't wait until the New Year to deliver his New Year message. Sadly, it hasn't worked:

'A senior MP has threatened a vote of no confidence within 14 days if Mr Kennedy does not stand aside. The unnamed frontbench critic said the clock was ticking on his leadership. "One way or another, things have got to be resolved in the next 14 days," the MP told the Daily Mail. "We all have to decide where we are going in the next fortnight on that particular issue."
Right now, every day's a bonus.


Picture: Ian Salvage

Friday, December 23, 2005

Where's Charlie?


Since last week's excitement, Charles Kennedy has gone to earth.

We've now tracked him down. The Baton Rouge Advocate reports from downtown:

"Missing inmate Joseph Hollins called from the Waffle House at Airline Highway and Cedarcrest Avenue wanting to turn himself in. Hollins told deputies he had been staying at the Deluxe Inn on Airline with Charles Kennedy".

The Waffle House sounds like the right place.

Come on out Charlie- we know you're in there.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Here's A Good One


We all know Gordo is a bit of a comedian, so he can probably take a joke as well as the next man. But it must all be wearing a bit thin in the case of Dave M's rapidly shortening odds.

In just the last 24 hours they've come in again from 10/1 to 7.8/1.

And remember- as recently as October, just before Cameron's meteoric rise, Miliband was 50/1! Then everyone said that a green apparatchik who'd only become an MP in 2001 couldn't possibly hope to succeed Tone.

Nobody's saying that anymore.

Meanwhile Gordo's own odds, 1/10 pre-Cameron, have slipped again to 0.5/1. In terms of implied win probabilities that's down from 91% to 67%- still the odds on favourite, but at this rate not for much longer.

Vote For Change


The Liberal magazine has set up a new website to help Charlie on his way. It's an online petition, Kennedy Must Go.

You can go there now to register your support. Tyler has already ensured Bill Gladstone, Herbert Asquith and others have already done so.

The Liberal itself looks like a hoot, promising on its website contributions from Lord Fattersley and one Matthew Paris: wonder if he's any relation to Matthew Parris?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Don't Vote For Milburn


It's always good for a politico's standing when he/she has websites devoted to slagging them off. Milburn has a real goody called Don't Vote For Milburn.

The site is obviously a work of seething anger, but it's unclear whether it's written by a Tory or a seriously pissed off real Labour type:

"Alan Milburn has never had a proper job, he quit his doctorate at Newcastle University and went into politics via the Days of Hope bookshop. He knows nothing of the difficulties ordinary people face in their work. Consequently, he finds it easy to strike macho poses and criticise others. He has a reputation for being a party timeserver who would shaft anyone and adopt any policy to get on in politics. In the words of one former labour MP "Alan Milburn ..... is a strange type who copies the Prime Minister's body language and management speak. I am never sure whether he does this to curry favour with the Prime Minister or whether he simply does it naturally like a chameleon."

It also quotes the words of a senior female Labour minister "He is one of the most macho politicians around. He is laddish, he is bullying and he is arrogant. He is not my cup of tea at all" "This is the guy who said he was giving up his job as Health Secretary last year to spend more time with his family - pull the other one"

All good stuff- go and take a look.

Miliband Surges On


We already noted how yet another Boy David is starting to look good. Just a week ago he was 16/1. Two days ago he was 14/1. Now he's come in again to just 10/1.

Miliband is 40, famously the son of Marxist philosopher Ralph Miliband, and very bright: comp followed by an Oxford first in PPE (er...just like y'know who), and a Kennedy Scholarship at MIT. Too academic? Ali Campbell christened him Brains, and nerdiness is clearly an issue.

Beliefs? According Andrew Rawnsley:

'The joke among today's left-wingers goes like this: Ralph Miliband argued that the Labour Party would never do anything for the working class; his son is going to prove it...

But he once told an intimate that the Third Way was 'wanky'. He is on the Left of the New Labour spectrum. He is a believer - in a way that Blair is not entirely - in Continental social democracy.'

But he's reckoned by many to be Tone's preferred successor. Rawnsley reports a Blair intimate as saying 'David is very smart, he's pretty normal, and he's nice. There's not many people like that around in politics. Can he go all the way? Yes, I think he can.'

At this rate Gordo- who's odds have now started to softened a little- is going to have to stomp on him. Good and hard so it spoils that youthful face.

Watch this space.

Crowd Wants Early Start

"Voters want Kennedy to go" is the Guardian's stark headline over its latest ICM poll:

'Only 38% of those questioned thought the party would perform best at the next general election if he remained as leader, while 52% thought a new leader would be a better bet.

To make matters worse, satisfaction with Mr Kennedy's performance among his own supporters is lower, at 76%, than that enjoyed by Tony Blair (82% of Labour voters), Gordon Brown (83%) or David Cameron (82% of Tories). His dissatisfaction rating among supporters was higher, at 22%, than the prime minister's (18%), the chancellor's (15%) or the Tory leader's (6%).'

The message is clear, and the only question is whether he decides on the decent thing quietly at home over Christmas, or whether he has to be dragged out screaming in the New Year.

Rumours of resignations from frontbench colleagues "at the end of their tethers" persist.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nick Clegg?


He's been an MEP and has a column in the Guardian.

But against that, he's got dreamboat looks and an MA in Anthropology. And my fellow backer of winning leadership candidates Iain Dale reckons Nick could could nick the top LD spot:

"The LibDems needs their own Cameron and Nick Clegg is the one that fits the bill. He looks the part, he's got the experience (despite only being elected in 2005 he has gained good experience as an MEP - if that's not an oxymoron) and he's got the charisma and sense of humour. ... Nick Clegg is the only one who, as a Conservative, I would not look forward to fighting."

Tim Mongomerie also goes for Nick, enthusing "he really does have Cameron-like star quality".

With Iain and Tim both on board, that's the Tory blogovote pretty well sewn up. But the bookies have him as 12/1 outsider, so we wonder what the LDs think.

We will investigate further.

Heavy Going For Gordo


On the back of yet another poor poll result for Labour, the house journal tells them "Get used to it: the Tories are back". And for Gordo, the news is even worse: the Tory lead is even bigger with him as Labour leader than with Tony:

'The evidence of this poll is that it is Mr Blair's presence that keeps Labour in contention, even though he is generally unpopular, and even though almost half of Labour's voters think the government has "run out of steam". The logic of this should not be shirked. Mr Brown must begin to articulate much more convincingly the values and beliefs he would champion after Mr Blair steps down, or else Labour must look more seriously at the possibility of some other successor to Mr Blair.'

So in the twinkling of a Cameroonian eye, Gordo has gone from being an apparent electoral asset to being a clear liability.

And misery on misery, the IMF has chosen this very moment to put the boot in on those fabled "Golden Rules":

"The IMF said last night that the Chancellor’s decision to adjust the length of the economic cycle twice this year had been “an unhelpful distraction...the Government should consider an implementation of the golden rule that replaces the constraint now coming from measuring performance over the cycle with expanded NAO [National Audit Office] audits.”

In other words, G's been fiddling the figures and is not to be trusted with them any more.

That Snake River Mud is about to claim its own.


Picture: Broom Tackle

Monday, December 19, 2005

Punchy Labour


What with Tony's humiliation in Europe, the ongoing punch-up over schools reform, and most of all, the massive threat from Cameron's Conservatives, squabbling Labour are coming up to the boil.

So as the Tories powered into a 9% lead, the odds on Labour's leadership runners started to shift.

Gordo is still favourite on 0.47/1. But last week's second favourite, John Reid's odds have collapsed from 14/1 right back to 23/1. Perhaps Reid's silky diplomatic skills are reckoned to be a mite sophisticated for the bar-room brawl now getting underway. Although bizarrely he's been replaced as second favourite by Miliband, now on 14/1. But does the boy actually know what a Glasgow kiss is?

They'll all be hoping for some sanity to return with the Xmas pud, but Prezza's extraordinary outburst yesterday is not going to disappear so easily. Can anyone think of another case where a deputy leader has publicly laid into the leader's flagship policy and survived?

But then, this is Tone's New Labour, so the normal rules probably don't apply.

Should all be worth watching anyway.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oaten's PR Career


One of Mark Oaten's claims to be the LD David Cameron is that he too had a career in Public Relations. So we're keen to discover more.

His official biog says:

'Consultant for Shandwick Public Affairs 1988-92, Group Director for Westminster Communications, Managing Director of Westminster Public Relations 1996 .'

All these organisations are or were engaged in the mysterious (to us ordinary voters) world of political lobbying. Weber Shandwick (as they now are) explain their business thus:

"Parliamentary lobbying and campaigns: the core of our business is the delivery of effective campaigns to drive issues in Parliament and the assemblies across the UK

Analysis...

Political monitoring and intelligence gathering...

Political and public policy events: we mobilise large numbers of Parliamentarians and policy-makers at a variety of events, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, seminars, receptions and other fora."

Hmm. Not sure what any of that really means? No, neither are we. Although to reassure us they add:

"We are leading members of the Association of Professional Political Consultants and abide by its Code of Conduct . We are committed to ethical and transparent conduct in public affairs."

So that would appear to be in order.

And it's certainly more than you can find by Googling Westminster Communications and Westminster Public Relations. All you get about them are a few tantalising "small world" snippets from the nineties, such as:
  • Tonyscrony Lord Faulkner used to be a fellow director of Westminster Public Relations
  • Sir Ming used to be a director of Westminster Communications

And some of the links do also throw up references to that embarrassing cash for questions imbroglio...wait- yes, now we come to think about it...back in the early nineties wasn't it a bunch of lobbyists who actually got that whole thing going? And wasn't it also them that started bunging MPs for effecting privileged introductions? And wasn't there a great public outcry about the role of lobbyists generally? And didn't they then get off the hook by blaming it all on the venal Tories?

Not of course, that we're suggesting any of these lobbyists were involved. Still less that Mark had anything to do with any of it. Or indeed any form of skulduggery whatsoever.

It's just that...well, none of it really seems like PR in the sense of Public Relations, as you or I might understand the term. It all seems to be very inward looking Westminster Village stuff.

Not at all what Mr O's been trying to imply.

"Extremely Moderate And Infrequent"

Yes, we heard the answers to Jonathan Dimbleby's booze questions, but unfortunately we also saw how Charlie's eyes involuntarily flicked away as he spoke.

It's too cruel to labour the point. Hills report brisk business on an early exit.

So Who's Backing Whom?


Everyone seems to agree that as things stand, Simon Hughes would win the LD member vote. True, he lost in 1999, but he was the overwhelming choice for Party President.

Naturally he's loathed by most of his colleagues, but that's not normally a bar. Far more important is that he's a couple of hundred miles to the left of Class-War Prezza, and would therefore lose all those Middle England votes everybody needs.

His MP colleagues must therefore stop him at all costs. What's best?

Oaten naturally thinks he's best: only 41, a young family, and still with all his own teeth, he's presenting himself as the LibDem's own David Cameron. He even claims to have a background in PR (to be investigated further) and a catchphrase- "Tough Liberalism".

But alas, as many others have pointed out, he's as bald as a pre-DC Tory leader. Plus...well, he's exceptionally tedious, as any who heard him droning on Any Questions will testify.

The early money is evidently going on Ming, and the Orange Book modernisers are falling in:

'Younger figures who had been thought likely to mount their own challenges are now preparing to throw their weight behind 64-year-old Sir "Ming".

Younger-generation MPs such as David Laws, Nick Clegg, Ed Davey and Chris Huhne, are planning to unite behind the older candidate in an attempt to stop Mr Hughes, whom they regard as too Left-wing. Their support would bring dozens of other MPs on to the Campbell bandwagon.'

Old Ming might not be that exciting, but he has a public profile, and his old Tory demeanour wouldn't frighten those ME horses. Meanwhile Laws, Clegg et al get to build their own profiles, safe in the knowledge that the old boy would last just 4 years. Absolute tops.

Of course, they then have to fight among themselves for the next succession. But at least they might still be MPs.

Then again, if Si wins, those wafer majority modernisers could always blow the hatches and escape to Cameron's Conservatives.

That would save a lot of time. And might even get one or two of them cabinet posts in 2009.

Sweet.

Attack Of The Stiletto Queens


For once the Torygraph can use the headline without needing to question anyone's sexuality:

'When Charles Kennedy faced his shadow cabinet at a routine meeting and asked for help in quelling rumours of his imminent demise, he was expecting a formulaic clamour of support.
Instead, the room fell silent. No one offered a word of encouragement, but no one spoke out against him either.

Then, with the moment about to pass, a female voice shattered the torpor. Sandra Gidley, the party's spokesman for women and the elderly, quietly told the leader that his call for loyalty was simply not good enough. "There are those of us who have real concerns and don't think we are going in the right direction. We need more drive. We need to respond to what is happening in the Tory Party," she said.

The party's "big beasts" remained silent. But Sarah Teather, 31, the plucky local government spokesman, said that she too had serious concerns.

The ambush last Tuesday earned the women the title "Stiletto Queens" among Kennedy advisers - and their assault burst the dam after weeks of agonising over his lacklustre performance and rumours about his drinking.'

It's easy to see why the Queens moved. Ms Gidley's majority in Romsey is a wispy 125, and Ms Teather's Brent East majority is a barely firmer 2,712.

And what with Dreamboat Cameron's new website actually showing their constituencies turning blue, a touch of the vapours is only to expected.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Botched Putsch


The Grauniad names the guilty parties:

'In the past, threats to Kennedy's position have come from traditional ideological opponents such as Simon Hughes, whom Kennedy beat for the leadership in 1999. Not this time, though. This week, Hughes sat on his hands. Instead, it was the people whom Kennedy has promoted and championed, people such as Vince Cable, Norman Lamb and Sarah Teather, who made the running, along with Davey and Laws. People, in other words, who are close to Kennedy. This was a modernisers' revolt, a challenge by people who want to be government ministers before they are through.'

There's only one way to deal with them now. Not probation, or even a spell on the backbenches.

Off with their heads!

Either that, or they regroup and have another go.

Isn't this fun?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Oaten Bee Abuse


During his Telegraph puff, LD second favourite Mark Oaten unfortunately let slip his addiction to a bizarre pate de fois style delicacy:

'His indulgence is Manuka honey at £15 a jar. "They peel the honey off the bees' knees, it's fantastic," he says.'

Fantastic it may be, but we wonder if Mr O has given any thought to the bees whose lives are shattered by the grotesque practice of peeling their knees?

It's all very well him trying to cover it up by going on about "tough liberalism", and saying:

"At some point if Charles steps down it would be something I would consider. I'm at the point in my career now, having given up a successful business career, where I, and others of my generation, are not prepared to carry on doing this job and not be involved in getting our values into Government. If one way of doing that is to become leader of the party then that's an ambition that I'm sure I share with others."

But that's hardly the point.

His Manuka dependency is not some harmless peccadillo of the kind we have grown used to in our politicians. And it's not something that he perhaps tried once during his student days at the Hertford Polytechnic. It sounds as if he's a regular user.

It is nothing short of a disgrace.

Minging

Today's Minging:

"There is absolutely no doubt that the Liberal Democrats are at their best when they are led by Charles Kennedy in full flight.

He himself has told us that it is necessary for us all to raise our game and he included himself in that and of course it's not surprising that we should have to raise our game because the political landscape has changed with the advent of David Cameron.

Like the rest of us, Mr Kennedy is not immortal. The fact that he is leader of the Liberal Democrats today doesn't mean to say he is going to be leader of the Liberal Democrats in 10 years or 15 years.

I have never made any secret that if a vacancy were to arise, I would most certainly consider whether or not to put myself forward."

Now, let me see...in 15 years time Ming will be 79.

Hmm.



PS "minging" qv here:

"Minging is a word that has it's origins with the British Army, It started to become mainstream around five years ago.With regards to the word's meaning it is most correctly applied to an object that is dirty but can also mean drunk, disgusting or ugly. I can also be replaced with gipping, gopping, gouting or any other word ending in "ing" as it's not the syllables but the rthym that are important here.
"Your boots are minging,your plumes in shite,Your balls are swinging from left to right...."or; I'm minging drunk, let's get mingining,but also "Euchh, your locker is full of ming!"even...I shagged this right hippocrocadilapig, she yas minging."

So now we know.

Drowning Chatshow Dragging LibDems Under


His colleagues may think him fuzzy, undependable, hopeless even. But Charlie has thus-far had a killer argument for keeping the leadership- his popularity with the public.

Alas, this morning's YouGov/Telegraph poll shows that popularity is collapsing. 'Asked who would make the best prime minister, voters put Mr Cameron and Mr Blair on 30 per cent. Mr Kennedy is on 11 per cent, a seven point drop since the last election.'

11% is a disastrous seven point shortfall below the 18% support for the LibDems overall. Chatshow is now dragging them under.

And far from respecting private grief, those nice Cameron Tories are plunging in to exploit the tragedy. DC will reportedly use a speech today in Hereford (who dares wins) to urge "Liberal Democrat supporters to jump ship and join his party...He will argue that his own brand of "modern compassionate Conservatism", including more environmentally friendly policies, should appeal to Lib Dem voters."

Can Charlie actually last until the New Year?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thank Goodness For Smithson

The excellent Mike Smithson has now added realtime odds for the Kennedy Handicap. Opening prices from Paddy Power are:

  • Ming 13/8
  • Oaten 5/2
  • Hughes 4/1
  • Davey 11/2
  • Cable 8/1
  • Laws 17/2

So Paddy rates Ming's implied probability of success at 38%, much lower than Hill's earlier pricing at 56%.

We've added a link on the sidebar, shamelessly sponging off Smithson's industry (er...thank you Mike).

Race Fixed For New Year


The whisky bottle was empty, but the pearl handled revolver hadn't been used. Presumably nobody really wanted to clear up the mess, so it seems that Charlie has been given Christmas to prepare for a dignified exit early in the New Year.

Ming, Hughes, and Oaten have all said they will not run against him, but Peter Riddell sums up the reality:

"Charles Kennedy has survived until after Christmas, but it is probably a stay of execution, not a reprieve.

"The public statements of loyalty by Liberal Democrat MPs after their meeting on Wednesday evening - and Mr Kennedy's public claims that nothing really has changed - should not be taken at face value.

"Several senior Lib Dem MPs in their Shadow Cabinet have lost confidence in Mr Kennedy because of what they believe has been his inadequate and, at times, erratic performance since the general election.

"They believe Mr Kennedy should resign before long. But they do not want to push him out immediately, and anyway they cannot. The critics do not want to humiliate him, but to give him time to think over the Christmas holidays, before a more dignified departure is arranged."

So the runners and riders now have a sensible period in which they can get down to some serious plotting and scheming. And early frontrunner Ming will be the man in everyone's crosshairs.

So it's a very Happy Christmas all round.

Me-Too Formguide Starts

Trailing badly behind R&R, PoliticalBetting has now got its own formguide up for the Kennedy Handicap. The difference being...er, they've actually got some prices. Mike Smithson's tips from inside the LibDem enclosure:

'Menzies Campbell (dark blue suit, white shirt, yellow check tie) A thoroughbred and like the last victor from the party’s Scottish stable which has provided winners for similar races before with Jo Grimond and David Steel. This would be his first time out. Has gravitas and has built up a lot of respect over his handling of Lib Dem policy on the war. The 4/5 price looks very good value.

Mark Oaten (dark blue suit, white shirt, yellow check tie) It would be first time out for him and was quick off the mark on Tuesday with an email to all Lib Dem members with an update of his home affair brief - a move widely seen as part of his leadership bid. Could he be trying too hard? The 6/4 does not look generous.

Simon Hughes (dark blue suit, white shirt, red check tie) Has been a runner before and had an overwhelming victory last time out on the same course in a national members’ ballot for the party presidency. But he was up against Lembit Opik not Campbell or Oaten. If it was down to him and Campbell at the final fence he might find it hard though the 11/2 looks reasonable value.'

Mike S's site is always compulsive reading, not least because it's LibDem Central. And some of the comments on this particular thread again confirm what a splendid spectacle this race promises to be:

'Campbell is going down a plughole as far as my Lib Dem friends go this week with this ridiculous plotting (it’s more naked than David Davis against IDS [!!!]). Mark Oaten as leader would be a disaster if people react to him in the same way I do; he makes my skin crawl and then I throw things at the TV.'

'simon hughes is by some way the most boring man i’ve ever met. can’t think of anyone i’ve come across in politics who loves more the sound of their own voice. he’s also laughably pompous and seems to live in his own weird little bubble... to suggest he’d make a good national leader is laughable.'

Something there to warm us all on these chill winter evenings.

Picking The Favourites


We've already noted there are not yet any formal prices for the Kennedy Handicap, but the three early favourites are undoubtedly Sir Ming, Simon H, and Mark O.

Sir Ming is champing so hard at the bit he may break it:

'Asked whether Mr Kennedy should stay or go, he replied simply: "I have had a long and profitable relationship with the leader of the party." Asked whether Mr Kennedy should go sooner or later, he replied "no comment".

Mark Oaten may even have false started, Portillo-style:

'There was anger directed at Mark Oaten, who has defended Mr Kennedy but whom MPs accused of planning a series of regional tours and putting a campaign team together in case Mr Kennedy should stand down. He told The Times last night that his tours were visits to police stations and prisons.

Mr Oaten sent a two-page e-mail to Lib Dem activists on Tuesday, the day the crisis erupted, describing his achievements as home affairs spokesman and inviting them to contact him. One Lib Dem said: “He has clearly pushed a green button somewhere.”


A definite stewards' enquiry on that one.

Meanwhile Party President Simon Hughes appeared on R4 Today to defend Charlie. Yeah, right.
The Telegraph's tips are here. They make Ming, Si, and Mark favourites, with a middle order group of Ed Davey and Matthew Taylor, and longshots Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne. We're not at all sure about Taylor and Huhne. Whereas we would include Orange-booker David Laws.

So all to play for.

Rules For Kennedy Handicap

Everybody knows the LibDems are democrats- it says so on the tin. But the precise formulation of their internal party democracy has proved much harder to fathom. What are the actual rules?

This morning, the Telegraph has a useful summary:

'Mr Kennedy can be ousted if a no confidence motion - which requires only two MPs to propose and second - is passed by a simple majority of the party's 62 members in the House of Commons. The party's constitution allows for the grassroots activists to force a contest but only if 75 separate constituency associations demand it.

Any candidate in a subsequent leadership election has to be nominated by seven other Lib Dem MPs.

Under party rules, the new leader would be elected by a one-member, one-vote ballot of the party's 75,000 grassroots membership.'

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Nervous Jangling In The Pants Of Power


In the interests of...well, espionage, I've been taking a canter through the dark recesses of LibDemery. And boy, are nerves a'jangling.

An Oxford Liberal squawks:

"Do I think CK is perfect? No. Does he sometimes frustrate me with his fuzziness? Yes. Has he been a successful leader? Undoubtedly. Has he got the stomach to stay on as leader 'til the next election? Perhaps not.

But let's allow him some time to decide that, and not indulge in some knee-jerk panic to the much-hyped Cameron honeymoon. My message to those MPs indulging in reckless media briefing against CK is simple: shut the fuck up, or else show some backbone, and say in public what you're whispering in private."

Cripes.

Or what about the quaequam blog:

"I was going to declare the old story as being Kennedy’s own personal “Pants of Power” moment (notwithstanding the PM’s daily Pants-wearing incidents). Now, however, that all looks rather redundant."

Sorry- pants of power? Just what does go on under those LD kilts?

"Seriously though, this has gone on for far too long. It’s time to put up or shut up. Making Kennedy damaged goods is all very well, but if you aren’t prepared to stand up and be counted now, you are simply arseing about. The problem, I suspect, is that no-one wants to be another Heseltine - caught holding the bloodied knife and thus rendering themselves unelectable as a future leader. But all this isn’t damaging Kennedy; it’s damaging the party.

UPDATE: Predicably, the Times has done a right number on Kennedy on this issue, even listing the runners and riders for an expected leadership contest. Personally I think they are looking at too narrow a field. And Mark Oaten has “youthful appeal”?! Having bald leaders didn’t exactly do the Tories much good in the recent past."

It's all there- pants of power, bloodied knives, and a morbid fear of baldness. But is that how you spell arsing?

They Think It's Over...


Speaking after tonight's meeting of the LD parliamentary party, Charles Kennedy told reporters:

"I have been very gratified by the overwhelming level of support that was expressed for me and my continuing leadership of the party, which I don't think was ever seriously in doubt. We go forward as a united party, optimistic into the future."

Limpid Opec added that the attempted putsch had "totally failed".

Hmm.

You see, you LibDem chappies, once the blades have been unsheathed, one side or other has got to use them. And if you don't get in first, it'll be you on the carpet in a pool of blood.

As simple as that.

LibDem Ageism


In an early use of the whip, LD Treasury spokesman Chris Huhne has resorted to ageism. He reckons that two of the early frontrunners- Sir Ming (age 64) and Simon Hughes (age 54)- are too old:

"It would be very unusual for somebody as young as Charles to make way for an older man."

Which must mean that Chris is supporting one of the younger runners. Charlie is 46, so Mark Oaten (age 41), perhaps? Or what about David Laws, who's just turned 40.

Or better yet, Ed Davey who will be 40 on Christmas Day. All his life he's missed out on birthday presents, so what could be fairer and more LibDem than to give him the crown?

Chris Huhne for Ed Davey.

All The Media's Fault: Again


Charlie's latest difficulties have been sparked by Andrew Neil saying he had it "on good authority" that CK was preparing to quit the leadership in the spring. In fact, CK's so incensed by Neil's report that he's lodged an official complaint with the BBC.

But come on, Chatshow. As people kept telling David Davis' supporters during the Tory leadership race, complaining about the media is like complaining about the weather: "you just have to deal with it".

And nobody believes Neil made it up. You know as well as anyone, he's a past master of getting close to the movers and shakers. He was only relaying the dark whispers from your own closest and dearest.

They want you out, you see.

"Tough But Dignified"


Yesterday's meeting of Charlie's Shadow Cabinet was described by some present as "tough but dignified". Hmm.

It's now pretty clear his "colleagues" want him out soonest:

'Senior Lib Dems described Mr Kennedy's position as "hanging by a thread" as colleagues demanded that the long-running whispers against his low-key style must be resolved. "We must lance the boil," several were quoted as saying.

Senior Lib Dems told the Guardian last night that Mr Kennedy is in "real difficulties", and that the concern about his leadership was "more widespread and systematic" than in the past.'

The Times adds:

'Facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence, the Lib Dem leader tried to stamp on speculation by urging his most senior colleagues to stop briefing against him and rally behind him. But his plea was rejected when he faced 30 minutes of criticism of his leadership style, with senior figures insisting that the issue could not be shelved any longer.'

Last week it was David Cameron facing ordeal by PMQs. This week it's poor old Charlie.

Early Betting


As yet there are no prices on the Kennedy Handicap- can't really understand why, since most of the punters at PoliticalBetting seem to be LibDems. Maybe they're in denial.

But it's a different matter with the Attlee Memorial Stakes. Today's best prices are:
  • Gordon Brown 0.54/1
  • John Reid 14/1
  • David Miliband 16/1
  • Alan Milburn 18.5/1
  • Alan Johnson 25/1
  • Charles Clarke 27/1
  • Hilary Benn 32/1
  • Dobbo 549/1

So Dobbo still has a little ground to catch up (implied odds of winning 0.1%), but it's early days yet.

Gordo is on an implied win probability of 65%. Which sounds quite high- until you remember that David Davis achieved even higher ratings during the Tory race.

And it's brilliant that Glasgow's own John "I'll See You Jeremy" Reid is second favourite. The Doc is an absolute delight who would surely guarantee Labour retaining all those middle England seats Tony won for them.

It's a veritable constellation of racing talent.

Saddling Up


Cameroon's victory in the Tory Novice Chase has thrown competing stables into a funk. As one of Cameroon's top trainers said this week:

"Charles Kennedy's leadership is under intense scrutiny. Faced with a renewed Conservative party, and unable to capitalise on the "none of the above" voting category any longer, the Lib Dems are finally forced to make hard choices.

Can they seriously continue to be led by Kennedy, who has made no impression since the election?

But this issue is a sideshow compared to the much bigger problem faced by Labour. A whole series of issues have now come home to roost, and threaten to divide the party as never before.

It cannot be long before the impasse in the government leads to searching questions. It could mean an early exit for Blair, or the passing over of Brown. What bets do I have the Labour will choose their own David to lead them in 2009?"

Could it even be David vs David vs David in 2009? The race card looks compulsive, and top Tyler tipsters will be following the dirtiest of the action. We'll be climbing down into the merde to feel fetlocks and bring you the very hottest tips straight from the horse's bottom.

(What's that? We didn't tip the winner in the Tory Chase? Trust me- this time it will be different.)