Who knew what about MI6 and Number 10’s dealings with Gadhaffi?

Last evening’s revelations from Human Rights Watch regarding MI6, the CIA and Gadhaffi is probably the most explosive plitical news story in a generation, and has the potential to bring down some leading Labour politicians from the last decade, perhaps even see some prosecutions.

At the very least it looks as though Number 10 under Blair and possibly Brown worked with the Gadhaffi in order to rehabilitate this monster, even to the point of helping him with speeches and the stage-managing of the 2004 meeting between Blair and Gadhaffi in the latter’s bedhouin tent (the venue was the idea of Number 10).

According to the Independent newspaper, “[The prime minister’s office is] keen that the prime minister meet the leader in his tent,” (quoting a memo from an MI6 agent). “I don’t know why the English are fascinated by tents. The plain fact is the journalists would love it.”

In another memo according to the Independent, UK intelligence appeared to give Tripoli details of a Libyan dissident who had been freed from jail in Britain.

Foreign Secretary William Hague tried last night (Saturday) to play down the revelations, saying that they “relate to a period under the previous government so I have no knowledge of those, of what was happening behind the scenes at that time”.

That isn’t good enough. Our strange ‘constitution’ doesn’t have Labour Governments and Conservative Governments, they have Her Majesty’s Government and Her Majesty’s Opposition, that ensures continuity regardless of the occasional general election. David Cameron understood this when he apologised for the Bloody Sunday massacre on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, even though he was a boy in short trousers at the time of this atrocity carried out by the British Army.

Questions need to be asked about who knew what and when. These questions will be asked, and it would be best if they were asked openly and answered publicly and honestly by the political establishment. For Labour, the party with most to lose from this Watergate moment, will it damage itself further by being party to a cover-up, even though the truth will out in due course – it always does. Will Ed Milliband assist in ensuring that light is shone in the darkest corners even if it provides discomfort, or worse, for his brother David who was the previous Foreign Secretary?

A plea for Labour in Brighton and Hove to become an inclusive party of the left

It is said that Margaret Thatcher’s greatest legacy was New Labour, and in many regards this is the inheritance that Labour has to overcome.  Gordon Brown had a great opportunity to break with the past by making some big, bold changes, but he fluffed the chance.  So too had (has, just possibly) Ed Miliband.  But rather than announcing something ambitious, he set in train a two year review of Labour’s policies.  That might work for Labour Policy Forum anoraks like Simon Burgess (its national vice chair), it leaves most voters cold and bemused.

But there is another legacy of Thacher – the “enemy within”.  This was a phrase famously coined by the Iron Lady for trade unionists, most notably Arthur Scargill.  She had seen off the Argentinians in the Falklands War, and she turned her sights on the unions.  Under the disastrous leadership of Neil Kinnock, Labour turned on Scargill and then other ‘enemies within’ – Militant, the left generally, and then under Blair, the Brownites.  So much of Labour defined itself as Blairite or Brownite, even though there was not that much in policy terms to separate them.  After the fall of Brown, the primary points of reference related to the Miliband of Brothers, Ed and David.

Labour used to describe itself as a ‘broad church’.  There have always been those on the right (traditional social democrats), the soft left (Fabians), the non-aligned left (in Brighton these even included Christian Socialists), and  Trotskyists (divided into as many sects as there were members).  This mindset persists.  Recently in conversation with me, someone referred to the “Trots” as though they were as unpleasant as their namesake!  Little credit was given to the positive contribution Militant made to the building of the Party in Brighton, and to the success in 1986 when Labour took control of the old Brighton Council.

The leadership of any political party finds dissent difficult, and some times the dissenters can be a right pain in the proverbial. But that is a small price to pay for a vibrant political party.  Labour in Brighton and Hove should seek to become, once again, that broad church, inviting and welcoming anyone and everyone who is left of centre.  Sadly, it is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future.  Labour is still licking its wounds from the last general and local elections, viewing the Greens as the new ‘enemy within’.  I cannot count how many times in conversation Labour activists have been quick to attack the Greens in general and Caroline Lucas in particular.  This constant sniping makes Labour look churlish  and sectarian.  Not attractive qualities.

The Greens offer a broad church for those concerned about environmental issues, and attract support and members from former Labour, Lib Dem and even Tory members and supporters.  While this is a strength, it is also a weakness.  The Greens don’t offer an ideological home for the left and socialists in particular.  I am more likely to say “I am a socialist, which is why I joined Labour” that “I am a socialist, which is why I joined the Greens”.  But at the moment most on the unaligned left are not likely to say either.

Thank you Nancy, Caroline and Charlotte for a great campaign

Apart from endorsing the Tories, today’s Financial Times had an interesting quote from Nick Clegg, that electoral reform is not a precondition to the Lib Dems working in government with the Tories.  So much for principle.

And both Clegg and David Cameron have joined forces in attacking Labour.  So why the united attacks on Labour and Gordon Brown?  The polls tonight are saying something – that Labour is showing some recovery (although just a couple of points) while the Lib Dem surge is now in decline.  The Tories are showing no sign of recapturing the 40% rating that characterised the last 12 to 18 months.

The Daily Mail has come out tonight in favour of the Conservatives.  No surprise there but it is not a ringing endorsement.  They support the Tories because they don’t want a hung parliament.

Tomorrow will be a fascinating day, and then we have election day itself.  May I take this opportunity to thank Nancy Platts, Caroline Lucas and Charlotte Vere for a great campaign in Brighton Pavilion.  You have all graced us with your presence.  I think it is a shame that the 2010 intake to Parliament will not be blessed with all three of you, but I suspect in the fullness of time the three of you will be reunited on the green benches in lively opposition.  Thank you and best wishes for your futures.

Cameron wobbles while Brown has his best day as the polls suggest no progress for the Tories

The polls tonight are moving in a way that makes even more uncertain the result of the 2010 General Election (or should that be the May 2010 General Election?).  An Ipsos MORI poll, usually the most reliable / least contaminated of all polls, has a poll taken in 57 marginal seats currently held by Labour, has Labour on 36%, the Tories on 36%, and the Lib Dems on 20%.  

A YouGov poll for the Sun, often the one that gives the Tories the most favourable result, has the Tories on 35%, Labour on 28% and the Lib Dems 28%.  This poll, even if it is correct, would not give the Tories a majority by some distance.  Another poll published tonight, by Opinium for the Daily Express, has Labour on 28%, the Tories on 33% and the Lib Dems on 27%.

Cameron has begun talking up his prospects, saying what he will do on Friday and in the first weeks in government.  Others are being more cautious.  Even Sky News, which has all but announced the Coronation of Cameron, has just said that the election is “too close to call”.   What must be worrying for the Tories is that, in spite of the overwhelming promotion of his cause by the media, the polls are not moving in the direction that would see a Tory government elected.

One other development worth noting was Brown’s inspiring speach which most observers, even tradional Tory supporters, praised very highly.  With two days to go, anything could yet happen. There was a very interesting discussion on the Election Show on BBC News this evening.  It wasn’t about the March of the Cameron into Downing Street.  No, it was the problem Cameron will face on Friday.  If after his massive poll lead for well over a year cannot deliver a majority, then there will be immediate moves within the Tory Party over his leadership.  Even if he forms a minority government (he has ruled out electoral reform thereby making a coalition with the Lib Dems impossible, unless Nick Clegg sells out on day one!), he won’t have a mandate to make the cuts he is planning.

One final development, Peter Hain in tomorrow’s Independent, is calling for Labour supporters in ‘no hope areas for Labour’ to “vote intelligently”.  This is the nearest a Labour Cabinet member has gone in calling for tactical votes.  Had he gone further, he would have been in breach of Labour Party rules, and he would have faced immediate expulsion.  But the message is clear from Hain: vote tactically to keep the Tories out.

Gordon Brown takes on Paxman – a great performance from a man who should remain Prime Minister

What an absolutely supperb interview Gordon Brown has just given to Jeremy Paxman.  Forget the beauty parade  of the Leaders’ Debates.  This was Brown one on one with the Bruiser of the BBC, Paxman.

A word first about Paxman.  He has in recent years become too predictable, interupting, bullying and ridiculing his interviewees.  I have turned off Newsnight when he has been presenting.  There was less of that tonight, but when he did fall back into his bad ways, Brown coped well, focused and determined to make his points.  Brown was master of his brief, showing his true qualities, command of his brief, and his determination to manage the current economic crisis.

If you do nothing else before polling day, watch this interview on BBCi.

Brown did well in tonight’s debate. And that’s important for the country.

The third Leaders’ Debate has taken much the same form as the first two.  Nick Clegg still comes across as the best performer, reflecting the bounce he achieved in the first debate, although that bounce was not enhanced after the second debate. Clegg continued to be most self assured, looking straight int the camera.  It was a shame he joined the “don’t let anyone scare you” chorus.

David Cameron is no heavy weight.  He looked shallow with his attacks on Brown about “trying to frighten people”.  He backs the family, backs this and backs that.  He has a “great team”.  He offers a frsh government and a fresh start.  But he doesn’t say what that means.

This was Gordon Brown’s debat.  On the conomy he was a man amongst boys.  He has unparalled authority on the economy and on world affairs.  By comparison, Clegg looked weak.  He put himself forward as the leader to see the country through to the recovery.  Cameron lost it on inheritance tax while Brown scored big on fairness.

Brown’s was strong that there is too much at stake, that he is the one to fight for the future. When asked for detail Cameron had nothing to offer, nothing, and he got it wrong presentationally and politically. 

Cameron’s hidden politicies will benefit the rich and harm the poor, and that came across in the debate.  And finally, Brown was effective in linking some of the policies of the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Labour leave a lot to be desired, but Labour will be less terrible than a Tory / Lib Dem coalition.  Well done, Gordon Brown, you did well tonight, and that was important for the country.

A final thought.  Nick Robinson has just concluded on the BBC 10 O’Clock News that there were no winners in tonight’s debate. Given his anti-Labour bias, that must mean that Gordon Brown won!

Candidates and political leaders are under enormous pressure. We should give Gordon Brown a break and focus on the economy

What a silly storm in a tea-cup over Gordon Brown’s unfortunate comment calling Gillian Duffy a “bigot”.  He shouldn’t have said it, he acknowledges this, and has apologised.  But I for one have a huge amount of sympathy for Brown and, for that matter, all party leaders and all serious candidates.  They must all be under unbelievable pressure.  Brown in particular has copped so much criticism, personal abuse and character assassination.

All of us say things behind closed doors that we would not want repeated, let alone recorded and broadcast on every available outlet. 

But there are two issues far more important than an unfortunate error  by a man who must be exhausted and stressed beyond endurance. The first issue is about immigration.  Why on earth is the media broadcasting ignorant and inflammatory views from bigots who are saying that immigrants are taking all the jobs and houses.  The media have a responsibility to ensure that this incendiary issues is not allowed to stir up racial and other community tensions.

The second issue is the economy, particularly the collapse of the Greek economy.  Portugal will be next, then perhaps Spain, Italy and …. Britain?  Tomorrow night is the third Leaders’ Debate, and the theme is the economy.  This is what the debate in the media should be about, and this is the issue that should and may yet decide this election.  IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!!!

History beckons the Greens in Brighton Pavilion. Don’t do anything risky, work hard, and you will make your historic breakthrough

As we enter the last full week of campaigning, and with just 10 days of campaigning left, here are some views about the campaign.  The last big event is the third and final Leader’s debate on Thursday.  The theme is the economy and this is Gordon Brown’s big opportunity.  Not only is this his strongest area, it is David Cameron’s weakest, and Nick Clegg is no Vince Cable.  Expect Gordon to come out of this debate stronger than the first two, and he recorded the best improvement between debates 1 and 2.  Nationally, anything can yet happen in this unpredictable election.  Tactical voting could yet decide certain results.  It is just a shame that Clegg is becoming so hostile to Brown.  His Tory origins are beginning to come through.

Locally, also on Thursday, is the debate at the church by the Fire Station.  Nancy Platts will hope that the fire fighters will be there to support her.  Her campaign regarding the fire station has been stronger than most local issues.  Charlotte Vere must be keenly looking forward to May 7th so that she can leave Brighton for the last time and seek a safe Tory seat in outer London.  She hasn’t done badly, but her campaign has never really gelled, and it is hard to see what she can do over the next 10 days to salvage things.  Her attacks on Caroline Lucas have proved counter-productive and she should have avoided name-checks to the front-runner.  If you attack, you must land a killer blow or else you look petty and partisan.

As for Caroline Lucas, she needs to continue to motivate her supporters.  The pressure will be on her and she needs to make sure she takes some time for herself, does not come across publicly or privately, as stressed.  She needs to continue to charm and show what a formidable alternative politician she is.  Her supporters need to redouble their efforts, but her campaign manager must ensure that she enjoys the next 10 days.  It is the Greens’ campaign to lose.  I can’t see Nancy or Charlotte landing that killer blow on her campaign.

History becons.  Don’t do anything risky, work hard, and the Greens will make their historic breakthrough.

Next to Clegg, Cameron looks tired & bland; Clegg by Brown looks lightweight. Bruiser Brown wins on points

Here are some of my immediate reactions to tonights Leaders’ Debate.

Gordon Brown was in his element, the Leader with experience on the world stage and the policy anorak. He was calm, firm, authoratative. But twice he didn’t carry it off: his “get real, Nick” comment.  He doesn’t do macho at all well.  The other was his demand to know why commitments to the elderly wasn’t in the Tory manifesto. Cameron was able to give the commitments straight into the camera. Stick to your own policies, Gordon, with the occassional “there is too much to lose / at risk”.

Brown on the economy was impressive.  Clegg needs Vince Cable alongside him.

But his defence of Trident through his attack on Clegg was a huge, huge mistake.

“The buck stops with me” ending was excellent but not the attack on Clegg’s Trident stance.

Clegg was not so assured this week.  High expectations but came across a bit ‘samey’.  Did not compare that well against the heavy-weight Gordon Brown. Clegg was strongest on immigration. Landed blow on Brown when saying you can’t deport 900,000 people – “You don’t know where they live!”.  His demand to know the target figure from Cameron showed up Cameron who could only say “You’re better off under the Conservatives”.

Cameron was strongest when giving assurnce that the Tories will retain the winter fueld paymnt, free tv licences, free bus passes, fre eye tests.  His accusation of Labour “lies” hit home.  Question is, can you believe that this will be the case when they ‘discover the reall state of the countries finances’?

Cameron’s “don’t scare people in a general election” was a bit over-rehearsed.  Generally, he looked tired, and  lacked sparkle.

Cameron’s ending weak – Labour trying to scare voters.  Clegg’s “We can lead the world” a good vision. Glad there was no “We can make Britain great again”.

Alongside Clegg, Cameron looks tired and bland; Clegg alongside Brown looks lightweight. Bruiser Brown wins on points, but Clegg hasn’t done his cause any harm..

Something very interesting is happening with support growing for Labour

Comments made by colleagues over the days since the Great Leaders’ Debate tells me that something very interesting is happening. There is little warmth for David Cameron. In fact, there seems to be a tide of hostility towards him.  In a wholly un-scientific poll taken in a rather haphazard way amongst a group of (mainly female) colleagues, the one colleague who had declared she would vote Conservative (in Hove) has been charmed by Gordon Brown.  She did not think he was dynamic in the debate, but said she isn’t looking for that in a Prime Minister.  She felt Nick Clegg had won the debate but she credits Brown for tackling the recession.  This from someone who two months ago said she would vote Conservative because it was time for a change!

Others have said that Clegg impressed most but all said they had warmed to Brown and were intending to vote Labour unless they were in Brighton Pavilion where there was a debate about the Greens.  There was a sense amongst a couple who felt more secure in voting Green if the Tory lead has been cut.  (A strange logic, but more evidence that the momentum remains with Caroline Lucas).

So, good news for Labour.  It is lovely to see the Conservative poll position in free fall.  Much can yet change, but what is certain, all predictions from a week ago must be reconsidered, other than a Green vote in Brighton Pavilion.