Helicopters in Afghanistan

Listening carefully to the row over helicopters – the provision of which (if adequate) would stop our troops having to be transported in USA reject land vehicles over mines and bombs that blow up and kill our young soldiers – I remembered Harriet Harman’s words last PMQs:

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we must do everything possible to ensure the greatest protection for our troops in the field, and there is no complacency about that. We have increased the number of armoured vehicles that have been procured for and made available to our troops, but we are not going to be complacent and there must be more. We have increased the number of helicopters by 60 per cent. over the past two years, but we recognise that we should do more. We want to do more not only for their personal protection but in recognition of the importance of their mission in Afghanistan, not only to that country but to the region and to the security of this country.

As you can see – Harriet claims increased helicopter numbers by 60% – but she is being disingenuous – because the sorts of helicopters she is talking about cannot transport troops – they are attack helicopters. It is the Chinooks that we need to carry our troops safely.

I do not understand how a minister of the state like Harriet can think that such an answer is acceptable. She knows perfectly well that she is avoiding a proper answer which would have been: ‘we have increased our attack helicopters by 60%, but the honourable member is right, we have not provided any more of the type of helicopters that can transport troops – or we have provided x more troop carrying helicopters.’

Bad karma Harriet!

Simon Mayo

Hazel Blears must have known what she was writing in that article. ‘Lamentable’ and ‘You Tube if you want to’ are hardly accidental insults.

At PMQs, David Cameron went for Gordon – sensing a weakened and beleaguered Prime Minister – somehow he managed to mess it up and come over like a bully-boy – unpleasant and over-political. Every one of his six supplementries was attacking Brown. So whilst Brown was wooden and unable to make quips – he didn’t suffer the way he ought to have given his fragile state and the week from hell just passed. He was desperately trying to be a serious man for serious times – coming back at Cameron for not asking a single question on policy or the economy. Underwhelming on both sides I thought.

Actually – the duel was deeply depressing. Red / blue, blue / red – same old same old. About time we had a different way of doing politics! Yes – us.

The only really decent questions (apart from Nick Clegg – obviously) was about the Gurkhas and the complete failure of Brown to understand the mood of the nation and somehow believe that rattling immigration bars (no doubt guided by focus group) would somehow trump the hearts and minds of British people. our souls are built on fair play! But Gordon doesn’t get it.

So – we ranged over this in Simon Mayo – and ID cards (waste of money and won’t work), swine flu (briefly thank goodness) and the Gurkhas again – and the demise of Gordon. Doom and Dust!

It’s a great program – and I note that Simon ‘I’m being made to tweet’ Mayo (last time I was on re twittering) now finds it irresistible!

One new President, one expenses u-turn

Now you see it – now you don’t. Clearly Gordon Brown saw the writing on the wall in regard of the Freedom of Information vote on MP’s expenses. At PMQs he refused to back down – then after PMQs he backed down.

It’s bad enough that the economy is in meltdown – but at such times we are disappointed to find that we have not got a serious man for serious times – we have a rudderless boat!

Still – Labour would have lost the vote. I wish the vote had gone ahead and they had lost – ‘cos would have taught them a lesson. However – given the outcome is the right one – I forgive.

But I really wanted to write something about Obama. I know – everyone has. Every column inch by every writer / journalist etc in the country has more than said it – but the spirit moves me. I thought the fluffing of the lines was just fine. If Obama had clutched his head and said ‘oh my god – what a terrible thing to happen’ it would have been a bit of a gaff but Barack’s talent is knowing just what to do and being unfazed – he grinned. Grinning was the absolute right thing to do!

And it’s his temperament that I admire so much together with his intellect, timbre of voice and use of vocabulary. When I watched the whole speech live I didn’t pick up all the rich phrases at the time – in fact if I had a criticism it would be that there was nothing but rich phrases and well-crafted sentiments. But when I heard parts later on radio and broadcast news – they were all brilliant. How clever is that? ‘Cos effectively that meant whatever part was used by the media – it would make complete sense and convey his message – hope and change etc.

Charisma oozing and charm and talent personified – off he goes to ‘remake America’ and we all wish him well with what lies ahead. Seems to me that what has been revealed about all of us watching is our needy desire to believe and hope for a better future. I’m just glad that we still can believe in change and the better nature and aspiration of man to overcome adversity and triumph! We’ll see. I cry in happy movies too…

Ten most popular blog postings (4th quarter, 2008)

No real surprises here, with one story dominating your and my attention – the awful death of Baby P.

10. George Meehan and Liz Santry resign – the two key Labour councillors (council leader and lead member for children’s services) finally took responsibility for Haringey Council’s failings.
9. Baby P investigation update – thoughts following a meeting with Cabinet minister Ed Balls.
8. Panorama on Baby P – my advance thoughts, particularly on how the pressure to agree may result in people not sticking by their concerns.
7. Baby P at PMQs – a very brief post, but got lots of traffic due to the Brown-Cameron spat making that PMQs very high profile.
6. The departure of Sharon Shoesmith – my reaction to the (eventual) departure of the head of Haringey’s children’s services and education.
5. The roles of Sharon Shoesmith and George Meehan – in which I explain why I believed they should take responsibility for the errors and blunders exposed in the Baby P saga.
4. Brian Coleman and the Fire Brigade – see no.3.
3. Fire Brigade rushes to help – the Brian Coleman saga where, for latecomers, I feared for my and family’s safety, called the Fire Brigade – who said I did the right thing – but Brian Coleman (Conservative London Assembly member) took it upon himself to criticise. Cue numerous comments on my various blog postings and via my website from firemen agreeing with my actions.
2. Reading the Baby P Serious Case Review – after initially being kept secret, the review was shown to a small number of MPs, myself included
1. Baby P verdict – reaction to the trial verdict.

So – that was the last quarter. Let’s see what gets your attention in the next one…

Gordon Brown's taken up my idea!

At the start of this year I wrote about how Prime Minister’s Questions could be improved – including the suggestion that the PM could involve the public by letting people video themselves asking questions to which he then responds with video answers. And lo – that’s what 10 Downing Street has gone and done (though I suspect not just as the result of my suggestion!).

Why Sky is the Liberal Democrats of TV news

I had decided to ask Gordon Brown a question at PMQs today – on listening to the people and learning (post disastrous election results last week) and suggest that if he had the guts he could prove he was listening by dropping the Post Office closure program. (Bad news for us by the way – none of our Post Offices were saved. We will have to get the info on why only a meagre seven in London were saved using FOI and then make hell let loose.)

Anyway – sadly I had to go to a funeral of an old uncle who died yesterday – so missed PMQs. On the radio coming back from the cemetery to parliament, blow me, I heard David Cameron ask exactly my point. That is scary! (For Nick’s questions, see the write-up on Lib Dem Voice.)

Raced to Sky News lunch with Adam Boulton and crew who were lunching Lib Dems to discuss how their news could extend even further into plurality and impartiality through internet and so on. Gorgeous lunch – and always interesting to hear what the other side thinks. Adam seemed to think that Sky News was the Liberal Democrats of news programs – in as much as they are always having to punch above their weight against the terrestrials of BBC and ITN.

I do think – and so did most of us MPs present – that Sky has the best rolling news and breaking news. And although I didn’t see their election coverage (as the stupid row with Virgin robbed me) I gather it was excellent. So unlike the BBC TV coverage that everyone in blogland has been blasting to high heaven for its low grade and tatty approach.

Very enjoyable – and as Julia Goldsworthy pointed out – half Sky’s top ten fanciable MPs were present. So – we ain’t got the power – but we sure got the looks!

PMQs: Parliament shows how out of date it is – again

Well, well – so Vince Cable tried to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Questions today – and it was ruled out of order. His heinous offence? Mentioning the Queen in his question:

It is reported that Her Majesty the Queen cancelled her Diamond wedding party because it would be ‘inappropriate’ to indulge in extravagance when the country faces recession and economic gloom. Is this another good example of Her Majesty’s unerring instinct for the national mood; or does the Government think she is simply overreacting?

Well excuse me – but what sort of out of date organisation is it that has this sort of ban? So much for being a modern democracy!