Thursday, 5 November 2009

Playing catch up

Task saturated is what the helicopter pilots call overload and that's how it felt at Westminster yesterday. There was the Kelly report on expenses, five dead in Helmand and Kim Howell breaking ranks calling for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and David Cameron making a major policy announcement on Europe. In the middle of all that I had to go interview Culture Minister Ben Bradshaw about broadcasting in Scotland.

With each of these big stories it feels as if we are close to arriving at a tipping point.

Howell's interview on Afghanistan was gloomy indeed. He's no left winger, he's no dafty, he knows the situation on the ground and he's linked into the intelligence community through his supervision of the Intelligence and Security Committee. More tellingly, on the day of five deaths in Afghanistan, no Minister stood up to contradict him.

Gordon Brown will make a "major" speech on Afghanistan tomorrow, which we reckon will be a retrenchment and a commitment to keep on keeping on. Instinct, and the front pages of the newspapers today, says that he has a very short time to start spelling out a very clear exit strategy or he will end up behind the curve of public opinion.

On Europe, Cameron made his big speech and while it will mollify neither his own Euro-sceptics or the Europhobic British press it confirms his status as a lucky politician, and you need luck as well as policies and skill to become Prime Minister.

He will hope he has now parked the issue of Europe for a parliament and that the tears before bedtime will be well out of the way before a general election. Europe has a nasty habit of biting the Tory Party in the bum though, and UKIP might benefit. But while dropping a referendum pledge might cause internal divisions the voting public don't give too much of a toss.

Expenses - the saga of the year is not over yet but the Kelly report goes a long way to cleaning up the image of parliament, even though there are genuine doubts about the new rules discouraging less well-off people from standing.

You can read my take in the Herald page on expenses and thanks to Jo Swinson and Michael Connarty for taking time to stick their heads above the parapet.

I should point out, for the record that the quote from an anonymous MP "This is tempting - I could sack my wife or divorce her" should not be attributed to Tom Harris MP who appears in picture next to the article with Carolyn Harris, his wife. I'd hate to land the blogpin in trouble.

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