Saturday, October 02, 2004

Some guy has a televised chat with some other guy

It's scarcely breaking news that Kerry is held as marginal winner of the first bear pit square-off of Bush v. challenger. This little beauty (courtesy of mefi) gives another perspective on things.
Basically, to paraphrase an old friend of mine, it's a load of linguistic old bollocks. Hammer home the key points over and over and Joe TV-viewer might just understand. It's also old school politics (off the top of my head, the best immediate comparison is the 'Brutus is an honourable man" speech from Julius Caesar. Kings, leaders and wannabes have been at it since time immemorial, and it's worth remembering that there are no good and bad guys. Kerry wants the voter to think of Bush as an incompetent and uncaring leader. Bush wants the voter to think of Kerry as unreliable and feckless. At this point in time the contest is dirty, bloody and ignoble. It's rare in modern politics for issues to have any importance, but only a fool would look for any real evidence of them at this point in the electoral cycle.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Anglo-American S&M - the terrorists have won

Britain is one of America's closest allies. So why does the US persist in illegally detaining and torturing our citizens?

This report, of a letter written by British Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, alleges yet more torture by US troops.

No surprises there, but this is a British citizen, not some random Afghan or Iraqi peasant about whom no one cares because his government isn't part of the G8 and doesn't have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

This is not the way you treat your allies' people - especially when the ally in question has repeatedly asked for custody. Tony Blair himself, President Bush's bestest friend in the whole wide world, has personally asked for the four British detainees to be handed over to British custody. All requests have been refused.

Begg has allegedly been kept in solitary confinement since February 2003. He claims to have been subjected to torture, and to have witnessed the murder of fellow inmates at the hands of US soldiers. In their turn, the US would no doubt claim he was involved in anti-American campaigns.

Whether the claims from either party are true or not is beside the point: Begg has, as of yet, been charged with no crime.

Laws preventing governments from locking people up without trial for their supposed political views are essential for a democracy to work. Habeas corpus - the right to a trial - has long been a tradition in both British and American law. In 17th Century Britain we fought a Civil War (partially) over this very issue which led to the first introduction of habeas corpus and the 1689 Bill of Rights, on which the US constitution was partially based.

The 1689 Bill of Rights marked the birth of modern parliamentary democracy. A few years later, in 1695, the lapsing of the licensing act ended press censorship in England, allowing political debate to flourish. You know how the British parliament is known as "the mother of all parliaments"? That's why: Britain was the first country to entrench in law the right to freedom of speech without the fear of government retribution.

Without the habeas corpus, freedom of speech - which Americans seem so proud of, and always bring up as one of their country's finest achievements - is worthless. On a whim a government could lock up any dissenting voices and throw away the key - as has effectively happened with those detained at Guantánamo Bay.

In other words, Guantánamo Bay - as well as being a nice "fuck you" to Britain - makes any American claims that the US is spreading democracy utterly worthless. Not only were there some well-publicised very dodgy practices in Florida in the 2000 elections, but no US citizen can any longer be certain that they won't suddenly have US government agents dragging them off to rot in a cell. (Then there's the problem that a sizable number of Guantánamo Bay detainees are not American citizens, their "crimes" were not committed on US soil, so what right does the US have to detain them?)

The delightful thing is that under the US Patriot Act and recent UK Counter-Terrorism legislation - which have suspended the automatic right to habeas corpus on both sides of the Atlantic - three-hundred years of freedom and democracy has been wiped out.

Well - would you look at that? The terrorists have won.

Bush/Kerry Press Review

Checking the front pages of today’s US papers, it looks rather like last night’s debate – coinciding as it did with yet another appalling attack in Iraq - is hopefully going to work to Kerry’s advantage. There can be few greater indications of the failure of Bush’s foreign policy than dead Iraqi children, and even the most callous American voter must be aware that these kids – “towel-heads” though they may be – were not a terrorist threat, and would not have been killed were it not for the invasion of Iraq.

Newspapers across the states are dominated by coverage of the Kerry/Bush clash over foreign policy which is juxtaposed to images of explosions and injured children in Iraq. Those with headlines mentioning “35 children killed” alongside the debate include (after a quick glance at PressDisplay) The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The New York Sun, The Seattle Times, The Tampa Tribune, USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times. There are, no doubt, others.

American leftish coverage: " for much of the debate, television networks showed a split screen, displaying Mr. Bush often scowling and grimacing as Mr. Kerry challenged his management of the war."

British leftish coverage: “First Blood to Kerry in TV Debate”

French coverage: “The Massachusetts senator employed a moderate tone, but he rigorously criticised the policy of Mr. Bush, who was forced to try and justify himself.” (My poor translation)

American rightish coverage: “By the time the debate was over, it seemed clear that Kerry had given himself a new lease on life and guaranteed that the campaign has a long way to run.”

The British rightish press (The Telegraph, The Sun, The Express and The Daily Mail) seem to have been fairly reticent in their judgement thus far, providing little more than summaries – partially because they don’t much like the idea of giving their copy away free online…

However, by most accounts (amazingly including the rabidly pro-Bush Fox News, on which even the hawkish Morton Kondracke was forced to admit that “Kerry looked like a commander-in-chief”), Kerry won pretty much hands-down, with Bush getting only a very few decent hits in.

Considering that these elections seem to have polarized – largely thanks to the Bush camp's constant efforts to attack Kerry's war record – around the foreign policy debate (despite the fact that the US economy is hardly booming, and is set to worsen with the record oil prices brought about by a combination of Bush’s overseas adventures and the hurricanes of recent weeks), if this debate has been won by Kerry the entire campaign could shift back to his favour. Can the Democrats capitalise on this in time? It remains to be seen…

Bush’s constant accusations of Kerry changing his mind a lot (the endemic “flip-flopping” nonsense) have started to look tired already. With a month to go, the Republicans need to find a new line of attack, as Bush has provided the Democrats with ample footage of him seeming confused, angry and at a loss when faced with Kerry’s new approach of succinct and pointed arguments, to flood the airwaves for the next month.

Will it be enough to turn the tide? Fingers crossed, eh?

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Like political stuff?

Then check out DocuTicker (with the obligatory ta to Metafilter) - "a daily update of new reports from government agencies, ngo's, think tanks, and other groups."

Looks like a superb blogging resource, providing handy summaries of and links to various wonderful long-winded documents on a vast range of subjects. Hurrah!

From one of the recent posts:

"Recent audits expose serious failures in American oversight of Iraq's revenues and U.S. reconstruction funds, said a report by the Open Society Institute's Iraq Revenue Watch project. The audits-released in late July by the Coalition Provisional Authority Inspector General (CPA-IG)-paint a picture of disorder and negligence. Contractors made little effort to control costs, while the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was in charge of managing Iraqi reconstruction funds, failed to adhere to federally mandated procedures for awarding and overseeing contracts"

Another moan about the "yes" campaign...

Let me know if I'm boring you...

I just posted this as a comment to this post on EU Referendum. I ended up going on a bit, along the same lines as I did the other day...

The pro-European campaign has been in disarray for decades, so no surprises there. The problem is, as you hint at, that it's all being left to the second-stringers. McShane is not a good spokesman for the European cause - not only is he practically unknown in the real world, but he lacks the subtlety or knowledge to present a good case. If we don't have McShane, we get the likes of the smarmy Hain or distrusted liars Mandelson and Blair. Added to this is the fact that the only people who seem prepared to stand up and argue the case are faced with eurosceptic arguments which are often couched in black and white terms, and are foolish enough to respond in kind.

If some respected, intelligent heavy-hitters like Patten actually bothered to get involved then the debate might hot up to a level where genuine issues, benefits and problems might be discussed. Unfortunately the most prominent anti-Europe arguments are coming from the likes of Kilroy-Silk and his UKIP bretheren, and are largely based on distortions and half-truths. Rather than turn around and tell them they're talking bollocks, pro-Europeans need to demonstrate that their concerns are either unfounded (as is often the case) or that concessions are obtainable.

The EU has a lot wrong with it, certainly - that is part of what the constitution was supposed to address, but it was left in the hands of a bitter Frenchman who still hasn't quite got over how Roy Jenkins managed to get his own way at the Commission back in the late 70s. The constitution on offer is therefore not an ideal one by any means, and that is part of the problem.

After thirty+ years of prevarication we're now charging ahead with an excessively long and detailed document which isn't doing Europe any favours. Most of us pro-Europeans are such for the GOOD that the EU can offer, while being fully aware of the bad that's there. Unfortunately, to find the good in the proposed constitution is far, far more difficult than it is to find the bad.

In short, you eurosceptics have a very easy job. The public know practically nothing about the way the EU works, so will believe anything you tell them. You're working with a national press that is largely sympathetic to your arguments. You've been making the case against Europe for decades. Us pro-europeans, meanwhile, have been faffing about for as long as I can remember, certain that eventually everyone will come around to our way of thinking because, to us, it seems the right way, and mistakenly concentrating on the details that you eurosceptics keep on raising. The details are important, certainly, and even entire chunks of the EU project like the God-awful CAP (which even pro-Europeans have been trying to get reformed for at least a quarter of a century), but the broader picture is what we should ALL focus on. Flawed details can - eventually - be changed; this doesn't prevent the project as a whole from being beneficial.

And yes, before anyone points it out, I know I haven't made any specific arguments as to why I think the EU is a good thing...

1,191 : 15,033

1,191 : 15,033

Isn't liberation grand? If a similar ratio of liberating military to civilian deaths had been the case during the freeing of Europe in World War II, the total civilian dead on the continent would have been in the region of 76.4 million (as opposed to the actual top-end estimate of c.8.45 million - including holocaust dead).

In WWII there was systematic carpet-bombing of major cities (Dresden, Coventry etc.), there was the attempted genocide of an entire people, there were concentration and death camps, almost the entire continent was overrun by the Nazis and had to be won back in street-by-street fighting across several hundred miles, umpteen towns, cities and villages, and several different countries.

Yet despite all the chaos of WWII (and despite the fact the Nazis were deliberately killing civilians left, right and centre) still proportionately far fewer civilians were killed during that conflict than have been killed in Iraq.

War - huh! What is it good for?

Still, it's not as bad as it could be...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Growls and barks in Greek, German, Polish and several other languages

Intense workloads have prevented me from posting about the questioning of the new EU Commissioners that is going on from now until 8th October. Updates on the hearings seem to be cropping up on EurActiv most of the time.

The barks and growls were in response to the appearance of Neelie Kroes, the Dutch Commissioner who has been nominated as the person in charge of competitions policy - one of the Commission's most powerful positions. Accusations of numerous conflicts of interest have been pursuing her for weeks over her past positions on the boards of twelve separate companies. Her defence is reasonable enough, ""My role is that of a referee ... We demand impartiality in applying the rules, but we also want our referees to know the game inside out," but it's not going to be enough to convince everyone, even though she has resigned all her private posts, and even though she will not handle any cases which might involve her former employers.

With Britain's own controversy-monger, Peter Mandelson (appointed to take over the Trade portfolio), still to appear, there could be some rough patches between now and 1st November, when the new Commission is set to take over. You'd think we'd all try and avoid placing more controversial figures into what is already one of the least-understood and most corrupt parts of the Euro regime, but apparently not...

Oddly, "the Parliament can only approve or vote down the entire commission and cannot pick out individual candidates for veto." This could make for tough work for the new Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. Not only has he had no say in who his subordinates are (they are nominated by individual member states and he has to work with what he's got), but he's also been lumbered with some dodgy-sounding ones.

After all the controversy of the last bunch, who were dogged throughout with the usual charges of corruption and lack of democratic accountability, it's a bit of a shame (to put it mildly) that the entire working of the Commission wasn't rethought before the new lot take over. The fact that France and Germany are both a bit miffed that their candidates haven't been given higher profile roles could create added difficulties.

Ever since Roy Jenkins' presidency, the successive heads of the Commission have been trying to get more control and say over the organisation they have to run, but to little avail. Not only does the Commission face opposition from the European Parliament, but from national governments as well. Yet without a strong Commission it is very hard to get anything done.

The whole process needs a rethink. Unfortunately, we - like Barroso - have to work with what we've got, and reform - as the efforts to sort out a workable, acceptable constitution have proved - is a tough thing to get going.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

God, we're useless

Despite my last post, the "yes" campaign has a long way to go. As long as we continue to bitch among ourselves, the stronger the "no" campaign will become. Although they may seem obvious to us, the benefits of closer co-operation with our European brothers and sisters are not at all obvious to many others, as the MORI poll results in my last post demonstrate.

We're already fighting petty-nationalism and xenophobia hanging on from not only the two World Wars, but even from the Napoleonic and Hundred Years wars. We're already fighting ignorance and an entrenched euroscepticism in the mainstream press. If we start slagging each other off, and if the "yes" vote can't finally get its arse in gear and present some logical and sensible cases for continued and ever-closer membership, then we deserve to lose.

In fact, there's a very good chance that the EU would be better off without us anyway. We're the ball and chain around the European project's ankle, constantly retarding its progress with petty objections and refusals, and moaning about how if we'd joined in '57 we could have been in charge of the whole thing. Well, guess what? We didn't join in '57, and no amount of whinging about it is going to let us adopt our "rightful place" at the heart of the EU.

We can't spend all our time throwing our toys out of the pram in a huff and then expect them to give us our own way. Sooner or later we'll end up getting a well-deserved spanking - just like we did in '61 when our application to join the original six was flatly rejected. I don't think much of De Gaulle as a politician, it must be said, but he had it spot on with that one...

We've done nothing but cause trouble ever since we entered. It's meant to be a partnership of equals - that means co-operation and compromise are essential for its success. In our relations with the EU, we have been acting just like the US is currently behaving towards the entire world: arrogant, demanding, and unsatisfied until we've not only got our own way, but got everyone else to admit we were right.

We seem to be incapable of shedding our Imperial arrogance. Well, guess what? The globe's no longer pink. It's time for Britain to accept its place as a second string nation, snuggle up nice and close to its own kind, and not go gallavanting around the shop pretending to be as influential or as powerful as the USA. If we can accept that reality then the EU may just seem like a much nicer prospect.

Oh, and before any accusations of this being "unpatriotic" start appearing, answer me this - which is more unpatriotic - acting in partnership with as many other countries as possible in an attempt to increase the chances of a peaceful and prosperous existence for your country, or irritating people left right and centre with belligerency which not only invites both violent and diplomatic retaliation but also drains your country of finances which could be spent on healthcare and education?

Europhobic or Euroignorant?

The eurosceptic EU Referendum blog points me in the direction of The Foreign Policy Centre's website, and a pdf download entitled "The Referendum Battle". It is, as EU Referendum points out, effectively a plan of attack for the "yes" campaign, and as such looks like interesting reading. (Well, interesting if you're interested in that sort of thing - otherwise it's probably mind-numbingly tedious...)

Some bits, in a vague attempt at a summary of a 42-page document which I don't really have time to read properly:

"At present a major disadvantage for the 'yes' cmpaign is the widespread ignorance about the European constitutional treaty in particular and the EU ingeneral. This allows the euro-sceptic press to print scare stories and misinformation about the EU including the claims that the constitution will be a threat to national identity and will lead to a European super state... MORI shows that the more people know about the EU, the more likely they are in favour of it."

Us British are insular nationalists. Hurrah! (No indication of regional splits, however, or of the relative levels of support/opposition in Scotland and Wales compared to England, or of how ethnic minority voters feel about the situation, although there are later gender, age, political party allegiance and social class comparisons...)

"most Britons do not think of themselves as European - 62 per cent consider themselves 'British not European' rather than partly or totally European. this is easily the highest level among the EU15 average of 40 per cent... in the same survey 55 per cent of Britons declared themselves 'very proud to be British'... the corresponding figures for the French and Germans were 38 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. In such a climate of opinion, a supra-national body whose opponents portray it as weakening British nationality and independence needs to argue a strong case to gain acceptance."

But it's not all doom and gloom:

"On none of the three issues [the constitution, the euro and continued EU membership] have even half the public definitely made up their minds."

"Hostility to the EU does not necessarily imply opposition to a constitution which will in some ways restrict its operations. Indeed... Britain is in favour of 'a constitution for the European Union' by 42 per cent to 24 per cent. But there seems to be much less support for the specific constitution now being proposed - or, at east, for that constitution as it is perceived, filtered through the reporting of the British media and interpreted by its political supporters and opponents."

One to make us smarty-pants types feel smug:

"Support... increases the higher the level of educational achievement. People with no formal qualifications are nine times more likely to say they strongly oppose the constitution than strongly support it."

And some hope for the "yes" campaign":

"there is a qualitative difference between the majority of strong opposers of the constitution and those who are 'generally opposed' but might change their minds - they differ not just in strength of vies on a single scale but in the whole foundation of those views" two-thirds of committed opponents are anti-EU in principle, while the same is true of only a handful of waverers. The latter must not be treated as if they are simply a more moderate version of the hard-line Eurosceptics, but recognised as a different species of voter altogether."

The major problem:

"Almost three-quarters of the public assess their knowledge of 'the european Union, its policies, its institutions and bodies' at 5 or less on a 10-point scale. More objective measurements of knowledge point in the same direction. Only 41 per cent of the british public have even heard of the EU Council of Ministers; 55 per cent say positively that they have not..."

"The British public's acceptance that it has a low degree of knowledge of Europe's political institutions has several implications. First, it may lead to an underestimation of the Eu's real importance, thereby reducing the issue's salience (and feeding a vicious circle of further reluctance to find out more about it). This also implies a low level engagement with European political institutions, and low turnout at European elections, and perhaps also at the referendums."

"this feeling that, in the normal routine, Europe is not an issue to be worried about seems to relect a perception that, at the moment at least, the EU is not important. Also... MORI found that the European Union is seen as having less impact on people's everyday lives than either national or local political institutions, and less than the media and business."

In other words, eurosceptic claims of Brussels bureaucracy interfering in people's lives are not believed. There is hope for us yet...

Press speculation ahoy!

The Guardian, Times and Independent all seem to have read more into Brown's speech yesterday than was necessarily there. Is this the usual nonsense, or is there actually something going on?

Guardian: Chancellor Swipes at Blair and Milburn

Times: Turf War Haunts Blair's Speech

Indy: Brown's Assault by Stealth

This is all especially confusing as, in another article, the Guardian states that "Party chiefs in Brighton last night breathed a collective sigh of relief after the chancellor's annual conference speech... was judged to be a unifying force and not the feared assault on Blairism."

Hang about - confusing? what am I saying? It's the same old rubbish as always. Neither Blair nor Brown are stupid enough to bugger around with the leadership at this stage. If there is going to be a change of leader it will almost certainly be a mutual decision, and almost certainly come after the next General Election, not before.

And yes, I do see the irony of slagging off speculation and then indulging in it myself...

Monday, September 27, 2004

The materials are there. It is just time that's short.

A very good piece by Linda Colley on the US elections (as if there aren't already enough pieces on the bloody things) in today's Guardian which I've only just noticed. It says nothing particularly new, by it is a very good clarification of the problems that Kerry is facing. Worth a look at any rate.

Europe to Bush: Go Away

The San Francisco Chronicle wins today's best headline award, as well as the award for stating the bloody obvious. A majority of Europeans would prefer to see Bush lose in November? Well I never!

Meanwhile, oil prices hit a record high - largely thanks to the foreign policies of failed ex-oilman George W Bush - and the world continues to go to hell. The only people who can save us all are the US voters who seem incapable of deciding who's better to have as a head of state - a recovering alcoholic religious fundamentalist (who happens to be fairly charismatic) or a genuinely intelligent and reasonable war hero (who happens to be a bit dull).

And so, on this side of the Atlantic, the EU vs US debate will continue to hot up over the weeks leading up to the inevitable Bush victory, as Europe collectively shits itself at the prospect of four more years of the man's warmongeringly disasterous foreign policy. In the Guardian, Roy Hattersley argues not just that a European superstate is inevitable, but that it's a good thing (something EU-Serf evidently has some strong opinions about), and EU Referendum counters with a pro-America, anti-Labour diatribe.

Yep, in the absence of a US President that anyone other than the most rabid political maniacs can agree with (failed Tory party leader Iain Duncan-Smith on why Bush is great here - reg required), the Euro squabbles are going to continue for a fair while yet.

Who knows? Perhaps if (when) Bush gets his second term the sheer horror may be enough for the eurosceptics to overcome their aversion to their European cousins. Four more years of helping the US blow the living hell out of third world countries while being rewarded by trade embargos, increased pollution and ever-increasing risks of terrorist retaliation may just be enough to demonstrate that maybe the "Special Relationship" isn't quite all it's cracked up to be...

Could Bush inadvertantly end up the saviour of the European project? Could this be the silver lining of the Bush presidency that we've all been searching for for so long?

Propaganda, pledges and polls

Well, the Labour membership have apparently managed to force a vote about the Iraq war at the conference, but this still doesn't stop the party's website clogging itself up with unintuitive design, little easily-accessible content, constant demands for money, and Q&A sessions filled with stooge questions. Could this be because genuine members might ask slightly awkward ones, perchance?

Meanwhile Gordon Brown chugs on apace as the new face of caring, sharing Labour:

"Last night Mr Brown pledged £100m a year to help debt relief for 32 of the poorest nations. He promised to write off Britain's share of the countries' debts to the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The move, part of increased aid budgets announced in this summer's three-year spending review, was designed to encourage the international community to speed efforts to write off Third World debt."

Elsewhere, more reports of Brown's speech seem to make it look like he's going for the business vote alongside the fair trade one:

"Facing a global recovery that is uneven and still fragile, where oil prices have doubled and imbalances worsened, I will tell the G7 and IMF when I travel to Washington later this week that we will take no risks with inflationary pay deals ... no short-termism, no easy options, no irresponsible pre-election promises."

Can Brown really appeal to all constituencies simultaneously? Hell, why not - Blair managed it back in '97, after all...

Oh, and speaking of Blair, The Times runs one of those classic pointless polls which tells us nothing we don't know already - namely that Blair's less popular than he was, but that no one's going to vote Tory anyway. Hurrah!

And even as I write this, the full text of Gordon Brown's speech pops up online - he had a three minute standing ovation, apparently. Not amazing, but it'll be interesting to see how Tony's received in comparison. But was this bit somewhat pointed?

"I believe that we have shown that when we make a compelling case and trust the progressive instincts of the British people we can build a shared sense of national purpose, we can build a progressive consensus that inspires the country..."

Plus Gordon manages to slag off both the US and EU:

"learning from but different from America whom I admire for its enterprise but where - with 45 million without health insurance - great economic success is not matched by great social justice... learning from but different from the rest of Europe which has greater social cohesion but where, with 19 million out of work, that social cohesion is not matched by economic dynamism."

Is he really starting to build up the patriotic argument? What is Brown's game at the moment?

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Gordon's Alive!

Well, well, well... Seems like the Chancellor's all over the shop in the run-up to the Labour Conference. Following yesterday's fluff-piece in the Guardian magazine, today Gordon Brown gets a surprsingly favourable interview in the pro-Tory Telegraph (registration required) and the Sunday Times magazine runs a long article which effectively concludes that Gordon Brown is the best Chancellor of the Exchequer pretty much ever:

"Following the ERM humiliation, our economic record has enjoyed the longest period of growth for at least 200 years and a performance superior to most of our competitors for the first time in the modern era... The Treasury, more than any other government department, affects all our lives. The Gordon Brown era... has seen it extend its influence greatly. The Treasury has masterminded the huge increase in funding for health and education... It can claim to be presiding over a new golden age of prosperity for our households."

What does this all point to for the Conference? The media-friendly Blair has kept a low profile since the Ken Bigley kidnapping business; Brown usually tries to stay away from the limelight, and rarely gives interviews, now two come along at once. Why is he allowing the media spotlight to focus on him once again? Are there moves afoot in the Brown camp? Will this conference finally see the long-speculated about leadership challenge?

It is doubtful a direct challenge will happen - Brown's far too astute to risk a contentious leadership battle with (almost certainly) less than a year to go before a General Election. But if, as the Telegraph suggests and as was reported a couple of weeks back, Blair really has been considering stepping down, could the infamous Granita deal finally be amicably concluded?

The only worry is the US elections. If Bush stays in, as looks increasingly likely, keeping Blair as PM would be sensible for the extremely (scarily?) close relationship the two men seem to have built up. If Kerry gets in, it makes far, far more sense for Brown to take over - he and Kerry are already close friends, and together they can set about clearing up the messes the Blair/Bush partnership has created.

Ignoring the impact of diplomatic relations, if Blair were to announce that he is going to step aside in favour of Brown after the next General Election, it could be a very sound move in terms of building domestic support. Blair's current unpopularity threatens to damage Labour in the polls and perhaps seriously threaten the party's majority in the Commons, whereas Brown is fairly clear of blame over the whole Iraq thing and continues to be as popular and apparently as successful as ever.

By announcing he'll step aside after the election, Blair could spin it that any seat losses were due to the leadership uncertainty, rather than on the public's dislike for him and his policies. At the same time he can ensure that Labour maintains the appearance of a united front - and that the party continues to be fronted by one of the most successful political figureheads of the post-war era throughout the run-up to the election. Meanwhile, via interviews, television appearances, positive comments from unlikely sources and the like, Brown can slowly build up the public's perception of him to one which more closely matches that of a potential Prime Minister - the loving, affable, hard-working and intelligent family man that he apparently is.

This conference could turn out to be interesting...

Between Iraq and a hard place

Kerry has pretty much ditched attempts to fight the election on the basis of domestic policy and is staking it all on ruining Bush's credentials over foreign policy and the war on terror. So, will this work?

The smart money says no, but Kerry is not in a position to choose the issues that will dominate media coverage (if not necessarily the minds of the electorate). The sad fact is that the Democrats have been trying to put domestic policy on the agenda; trying and failing. This is there only option, and it is an equally sad fact that the Iraq debacle has not caused anything like the level of dissent seen in the UK, or in America during the Vietnam era.

However, let's see how things stand in a few more years.

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