Blairwatch Competition


Help Tony write his memoirs by suggesting the best title for the book. Contest closes Friday 6th July. If we get prizes organised the best three might win something.

Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright?


Frightened yet?

The terror of 7/7 was awful enough, but now al-Qa'ida has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK. And it will get worse before it gets better ... There is growing suspicion that al-Qa'ida operatives ­ possibly British- born ­ have returned from Iraq as well as Afghanistan to guide, direct and influence groups here."

Quarsan picked up on this quote by that extremist Murdoch-shilling taking dickhead of an ex-plod earlier, but it needs expanding on.  This is the new Prime Minister's future advisor on international security matters, telling us that the complete, utter, rank amateurish, balderdash of profoundly non-terrifying non-car bombs that the press and broadcast media have been having collective fear-wanks over for the last five days are worse than 7/7, an attack run on coldly professional lines by men who knew what they were doing, killed 52 people and injured many others, physically and mentally.  Now I reckon that's an insult to my intelligence, to my fellow Londoners and, I suggest, to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in 7/7.  It beggars belief that this man is listened to by anyone with an ounce more sense than a jam sandwich.  Oh, and I switched on my radio this morning to hear Tony McNulty in the same job sounding exactly as dull, stupid and unpleasant as he did when John Reid was in the hotseat.  Plus ca change.

I was in a pleasant poolside bar in Greece when the new Cabinet was announced, and was enjoying myself ('Bye, Doctor Reid!  Bye, Marge!') right up until I heard about Lord Stevens' appointment.  This is a man who, let us not forget, was appointed by the football authorities to investigate corruption in the game and dutifully found it was clean as a whistle.  What do we think will happen when he's appointed by New Labour to investigate whether, say, the Iraq War has led to an increase in the terrorist threat?  Perhaps he can invite Lord Hutton and Lord 'What's He Doing In The Lib-Dems?' Carlile along to help out with buckets of whitewash (supplied by Halliburton, naturally).  Mind you, I still think appointing Ruth Kelly to Transport is someone's idea of a sick joke, so perhaps the Stevens appointment (and that of the unacceptable fat of capitalism Sir Pigby Jones) should be seen similarly.

Actually, reading round the blogs to get some bleedin sanity back into the picture, Juan Cole points out that the known arrests are of medics from the Middle East, specifically Jordan and Iraq (I'm assuming that the people responsible are about as good at evading the polizei as they are at bomb-making here).  This points to another rather ironic bit of New Labour idiocy - the import of foreign doctors into the NHS to meet targets, followed by the MTAS junior doctor job debacle where there were more doctors than jobs.  If the quality of the medical care by the gentlemen arrested is anything like their apparent bomb-making ability, I'd run a mile screaming from any hospital unlucky enough to employ them.  Go in to see them with an infection and they'd probably prescribe antibiotics, but be unable to work out how to get the drugs into you ('perhaps you could just, like, sit next to them and wait?').  So much for record NHS investment and making the NHS a top priority.  We should send them back where they came from.  What do you mean, it's a blood-stained hell hole of our creation?

However, that's not the most amusing part - that must go to our old friend 'al-Qaeda General' Dhiren Barot, the numpties' numpty, the king of the jihadi muppet wing, who spent an inordinate amount of time devising unworkable plots, which were then obligingly published by the Met to show what a cold, calculating killer they'd caught, and seem to have been taken as such by other numpties.  With the Met on the case vectoring the PDFs, you don't even need to actually stage an attack to have influence.  We all knew Barot was a stupid, ignorant fantasist with an inflated opinion of himself and no apparent sense of irony, but then we read SpyBlog and others and form our own opinions based on the facts.  Perhaps it's a good thing wannabe jihadis watch Die Hard and read the News of the World and believe what they're told by the Met, then.  Much safer than actually working out how to build real bombs.

UPDATE - More from septicisle covering much the same ground rather better.

The Bogeyman Strikes

At least we must be grateful for one thing; terrorists are becoming more incompetent with every attack. According to vast acres of press coverage, it's all down to the familiar old bogeyman - al Qaeda.

"clear that we are dealing, in general terms, with people who are associated with al-Qaeda" - Gordon Brown
"The terror of 7/7 was awful enough, but now al-Qa'ida has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK. - Lord Stevens

The last quote is interesting as it does seem to admit that the Iraq war has provided a training ground for terrorism. But, naturally the quote of the day goes to Tony.

Blair held out the example of the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan - criticised by Islamists as an example of the heavy-handed imperial West oppressing Muslims - to highlight unfounded claims of grievance. He asked how it is possible to claim that Afghanistan's Muslims are being oppressed when the Taliban 'used to execute teachers for teaching girls in schools'.

Blair added: 'How are [we] oppressing them? You're oppressing them when you support the people who are trying to blow them up.' - Source

Speaking of blowing people up, isn't this oppression then? The civilian casualty figures climb daily in Afghanistan, in Iraq.

Our strategy to fight terrorism was derailed by the Iraq war and made the problem a lot worse. As we continue down this foolish road, terrorism will remain amongst us, and eventually the bombers will gain some technical competence and strike, causing death and injury.

The strategy needs to be urgently changed because at the moment we are not winning, we're making it easier for the terrorists to recruit, making it easier for our civil liberties to be taken away from us.

Coming soon: 90 Day detention.

Payback For Bloggin' Tom Watson?

Today, the junior level of officials will be announced and it will be interesting to see if Tom Watson will get his reward for his part in the botched coup that lead to Blair's long goodbye. During these events Tom, popped over to Gordon's Scottish home to discuss the coup sit and watch a DVD with the little Brownlet.

Tony and the Porn Star


There is a lovely little story in the Sun about a porn star posing as a rich Countess being given the full treatment by Lord Cashpoint, in return for the promise of a donation, including meeting Tony. She's just been flown over to be interviewed by the police.

Tony Joins The Club


I spoke to a very senior official of the Club of Madrid - the association of former heads of state, who told me that Tony Blair has been informally invited to join them and that formal membership was forthcoming.

They felt very excited to have him and his experience on board and their members would be providing him with contacts and access to networks to aid his Middle East mission.

This does strengthen him considerably, although it remains to be seen how much actual support he is offered, but it is highly significant that he was offered membership so quickly.

Tony as M.E. Envoy - Why It Makes Sense


It may come as a surprise to see that there are good reasons for giving Blair the job as the unifier of the Palestinians and angel of peace. Good political reasons, that is.

On the plus side he does know the importance of getting a lasting Israel/Palestine peace process to the whole of the Middle East. Secondly, he has some experience, given the Northern Ireland peace process. It doesn't really work when you stretch the analogy too far, but it is a plus.

For practical reasons, the US and Israel want him, the EU is less sure, but is prepared to give him a try. Russia is uninterested. The important thing is that all these people want to be seen to be doing something, but expectations of actually achieving anything are very low. So a good performer is the key requirement. Sure, he might be able to bring something off, but that's a long shot and everyone knows it.

So, what's in it for Tony? Well he's got one bit blot on his CV, an Iraq shaped blot to be exact. If he can play the peacemaker - and Iraq doesn't explode - for a few years then he will be better prepared for a job he actually wants, the Presidency of the EU, that starts in 2009.

Then, after a few years of that he goes for the UN Secretary General in 2012.

Blairwatch - we're going to be around for a lot longer.

Sell, Sell, Sell


The US is going to investigate BAE - whose shares are down 9% already. Meanwhile the Saudi's are putting the 20 Billion Eurofighter contract 'on hold' until October, when they've built a relationship with Gordon Brown.

I wonder what that means? Could they be pressuring him, as they did Blair, so that nobody investigates corruption and the sweeteners continue to flow?

Carry On Poodle


When I first heard about the plan for Blair to be a Middle East envoy, I thought the idea was so surreal that it could be filed with the other unrealistic job possibilities that have been suggested for Blair. Once again, it seems that the most ludicrous idea is the one that actually becomes a reality. Plans have been finalised and it looks like Blair will indeed become a Middle East envoy as soon as he leaves office. Can you imagine the shouts of joy all over the region as the warmonger arrives claiming to be a peacemaker? I admit I'm having difficulty picturing it. Of course the Israelis will celebrate at the prospect of an envoy who as UK Prime Minister never once criticised their atrocities whilst always being the among the first to condemn Palestinian or Hezbollah atrocities.

Now that his new job is looking like a certainty, some of the details about how he landed it are starting to emerge.

The idea of Mr Blair doing this job is understood to have originated with the prime minister himself in conversation with George Bush, who then suggested it to the UN. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, is said to be a keen supporter and Washington was reported last night to have mounted "an enormous push" to ensure Mr Blair got the post.

Diplomats said there was some disquiet over the way US talks with Mr Blair were well advanced before any details were shared with the other quartet partners.

So it was Blair's idea and it was pushed through by Bush with the Quartet only being informed in the final stages. Hmmm, sounds like a familiar pattern doesn't it? I wonder what the reaction of the Quartet would have been if its members had been informed earlier. For Blair the job is ideal. He gets to carry on being Bush's poodle and also retains a degree of diplomatic immunity which could be very handy in the coming months. No doubt Gordon Brown is delighted at the prospect of having Blair out of the way too as he starts his new job...and in such a dangerous part of the world. Meanwhile Cherie can travel the safer parts of the world finding suckers willing to pay money to listen to her.

Less delighted will be the Palestinians who will have to negotiate with someone who only has American and Israeli interests at heart, but then they are probably used to that and they should know Blair well enough not to believe a word he says. After all they only need refer back to Blair's record in the region. After lying Britain into the Iraq war whilst knowing that there was no plan for the aftermath, Iraq is now the world's second most unstable country, after Sudan. And Blair is so deluded that he still fails to recognise that it was that disaster (along with his determination to prevent a ceasefire in the Lebanon war) which helped cut short his last job.

Because Blair is being sponsored by the Bush administration for this job, there is little chance of him succeeding. The Quartet has already been criticised in a UN report because of America's support for Israel.

The role of the Quartet was recently criticised by the UN's outgoing Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, who claimed that American support for Israel was hampering efforts to broker a peace deal in the region.

Mr de Soto used an "end of mission report" to mark the end of his 25 years in post to accuse the Quartet of gradually losing its impartiality.

Which makes one wonder just what Mr Blair will be able to achieve. He will be filling the vacancy created by the departure of Jim Wolfensohn.

Mr Wolfensohn worked on issues such as galvanising international economic assistance to the Palestinians, economic development, governance, justice and human rights.

Does this really sound like the sort of thing Blair is suited to do? Blair is better known for supporting the cutting of aid to Palestinians in order to punish them for making a democratic choice he disagreed with. He is also known to have little time for the judiciary in Britain and his support for torture puts a huge question mark over his commitment to human rights. In order to carry out his duties, he will have to talk to Hamas who are in control of Gaza and have significant support in the West Bank. He will also have to force concessions from the Israelis, something he has, up to now, been noticeably reluctant to do.

So the relief of seeing Blair depart from Number Ten is tempered by the knowledge that we are still going to see him continue to strut about on the world stage. I suppose his disappearing into obscurity was too much to hope for but I did think we'd at least be given a break.

The New Boss


So at last the interminable interregnum is over, bar the send-off for Tony Blair on Wednesday. Gordon Brown is now leader of the Labour party and will be Prime Minister in a couple of days. Harriet Harman has narrowly won the contest for Deputy Party Leader and will be Party Chairman but, interestingly, not Deputy Prime Minister. Plenty of people are now speculating what the new cabinet will look like. Hopefully we will be treated to a purge of remaining ultra-Blairites from any position where they can do further damage.

After preventing Britain from acquiring the human rights enjoyed by the rest of Europe in the EU summit, Blair has one final insult for us. He might be leaving Downing Street, but he's hanging on to Chequers. He's "homeless" apparently. While he's earning rent from his four million pound London home, we are expected to house him at the Prime Minister's country residence (I guess residences of Cliff Richard, Robin Gibb and Prince Girolamo Strozzi were otherwise engaged now that Blair's no longer the Prime Minister). This is either Gordon Brown demonstrating his magnanimity after revelations emerged of Blair's plans to sack Gordon after the last election, or he's just succumbing to pressure from the Blair's who can't let go.

It's still too early to say if Brown's premiership will be substantially different from Blair's but I think the honeymoon period Labour is currently enjoying will be brief unless Brown makes some impressive changes. I'm yet to be convinced there will be any significant change in direction. Just look at the similarities in Blair and Brown's rhetoric at the start of their tenures:

Tony Blair 1997

"We wish to change politics itself, to bridge the gap between governed and government and to try to address the deep seated and damaging disaffection with politics which has grown up in recent years." - 14 May, Speech to Charter 88

"It will be a government that seeks to restore trust in politics in this country." - 2 May, Blair's first speech in Downing Street


Gordon Brown 2007

"One of my first acts as Prime Minister would be to restore power to Parliament, in order to rebuild trust in the British people in our democracy. Government must be more open and accountable to Parliament."


"To build trust in our democracy, I'm sure we need a more open form of dialogue with citizens and politicians to genuinely talk about problems and solutions. "It is about a different type of politics, a more open and honest dialogue," he said.


However, there do seem to be some welcome signs of encouraging developments. Gordon Brown has announced an intention to reverse Tony Blair's ban on demonstrating without permission outside Parliament which has been so ridiculed by the Mass Lone Demonstrations. There is also mounting pressure to hold inquiries into the Iraq war and the July 7 London Bombings. And the long-overdue departure of Lord Goldsmith might mean a shake-up of the role for any future attorney general in the light of his advice on the legality of the Iraq war, the conflict of interest in the cash for honours scandal and the decision to halt the SFO investigation into BAE. Addressing those issues will go some way to restoring a little faith in British politics but they are very small steps. We are also hearing rumours of an early General Election. This new commitment to democracy glosses over the highly undemocratic way Brown won the leadership. I also wonder if Labour can afford to fight an early General Election with the party being so in debt, but Brown may well realise that an early election while he is still riding high on the unpopularity of Blair is his best shot.

On the other hand, New Labour 'reforms' in public services will continue, as will the British presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Brown still seems committed to the idea of imposing ID cards on us. There may be a slight cooling of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Bush administration but I doubt it will be enough to make much of a difference to either Britain or America although how Gordon performs on the international stage will be interesting to watch. The good thing is that Blair is so unpopular and discredited that it can only help Brown to distance himself as much as possible from him, and the party will probably follow. Unfortunately he's probably unwilling and unable to be radically different, but I think it would be very difficult for him to be even worse than Blair if that's any consolation.

Richard Bowker, National Express and the Curse of Blair

Richard Bowker, currently (since 2006) Chief Executive of National Express Group, has a history of earning a tidy living job-hopping on the lucrative interface between the public and private sectors, sadly not always leaving the bathroom as he would wish to find it.  However, as a man who once played keyboards alongside the ex-Ugly Rumours axeman Tony Blair, he hasn't done too badly for himself over the last ten years.  His CV includes a stint at London Underground overseeing an early PFI for the Northern Line (which actually worked until Gordon Brown plonked the PPP on top of it), then at Virgin Trains where he was involved in the order of trains which were allegedly described by GNER's boss as and nasty...

He left before the shit hit the fan at Virgin (in 2002) to become Chairman and (additionally) Chief Executive of New Labour's Strategic Rail Authority, just in time to rescue Virgin from bankruptcy with the help of wodges of public cash.  His subsequent stewardship of the SRA was so successful that it was abolished in the 2005 Railways Act (absorbed into Gordon Brown's empire at the Treasury annex known as the Department for Transport), and he was rewarded in August that year with the job of Chief Executive of Partnerships for Schools.  This body is charged with flogging lots (£40bn worth) of really expensive, inflexible and ugly PFI school schemes where it costs hundreds of pounds to bang up a noticeboard, and similar rubbish:

Previously, Richard was Chair and Chief Executive of the Strategic Rail Authority from December 2001 to September 2004, where he provided strong and clear leadership for the whole industry. This resulted in the successful delivery of the multi billion pound West Coast Main Line Route Modernisation and the establishment of stability and clarity in the public private partnership with train operators.

So strong and clear was his leadership that barely 13 months later he was off back into the private sector, to leading coach and rail operator National Express, as Chief Executive.

In 2005, five of the top seven TOCs on performance were run by National Express.  At the time of his appointment, NatEx still operated the following Train Operating Companies:

  • c2c
  • Gatwick Express
  • Central Trains
  • Midland Mainline
  • one
  • Silverlink

That's after losing a few franchises in the previous couple of years - a tendency that one might have expected would be reversed with the appointment of a politically well-connected and experienced Chief Executive a year or so ahead of some big shakeups in the franchise map.  It didn't quite pan out like that.  In the last few weeks some big announcements have been made so let's review that list:

  • c2c - safe until 2011
  • GatEx - DfT announced in April that it will be taken off NatEx in May 2008 and merged with Go-Via's Southern franchise.
  • Central Trains - split between the new East and West Midlands franchises, which the DfT awarded this week
  • Midland Mainline - absorbed into the East Midlands franchise
  • one - safe until 2011
  • Silverlink - split between the new Transport for London London Overground concession and West Midlands this week

So, with three of their six franchises up for grabs this week, who got tickets for the gravy train?

  • East Midlands went to Stagecoach, who also run South West Trains and are the brains behind Virgin Rail.  Cool, professional, dispassionate so-and-sos.  NatEx qualified, but were unsuccessful
  • West Midlands went to Go-Via, a partnership including the French company Keolis, part owned by SNCF, now definitely one of the big boys with the deal to do the Olympic specials in 2012 and this deal which puts them head-on with Virgin in one of the few areas where there's any real competition.  NatEx sat this one out.
  • London Overground (which is a 'concession', not a franchise*) went to the highly regarded Chiltern operator Laing Rail with the even more highly regarded Hong Kong metro operator MTR finally getting a UK rail operation as equal partners.  NatEx bid, but were excluded from the final two back end of last year.

So, including in the loss of Gatwick Express, a big round 0 out of 4 for NatEx there since Richard Bowker became Chief Executive, with only the currently Virgin-run Cross Country (complete with cheap and nasty trains) and the re-re-let Intercity East Coast left to play for in the short term.  It might be worth watching where he goes next, particularly if you have shares in it.  National Express Group has been sharply down in recent weeks (although, to be fair, it outperformed the market for the first few months of his tenure) and from being the major player in the privatised railway industry they're now down to fourth behind First, Stagecoach and Go-Via.  All of which makes the final two franchise awards extremely interesting - Virgin, Arriva and NatEx are in the running for both, with First only going for the East Coast, having been evicted from the Cross-Country bidding last month.  The awards are in a few weeks time.

* The difference being that in a concession fares, trains available and service levels are explicitly set by the public sector and the private company has to meet them as best it can, as opposed to franchises where the public sector implicitly sets the service levels and the trains available and the operator gets blamed for raising fares to meet them - the West and East Midlands deals allow unregulated fares to go up about 50%.

Don't Let The Door Bang You On The Arse On Your Way Out, My Lord.

Rat Overboard!

Lord 'Will Tell You What You Want To Hear For Food' Goldsmith has defenestrated himself, ahead of the expected cull of Blair loyalists by Gordon Brown, who evidently prefers the company of opposition parties rather than his own party bigwigs.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, and I'm sure we all wish him a long, quiet retirement, preferably somewhere with bars on the windows.

Doubtless the people of Iraq will be delighted, although they might be a bit busy dealing with the aftermath of the invasion Lord Goldsmith gave his legal approval to.

Britain Rejoice!


You will all be pleased to hear that Tony has been successful in his quest to deny you fundamental rights enjoyed by the rest of Europe.

“For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in the charter creates justifiable rights applicable to the UK except in so far as the UK has provided for such rights in its national law.”

I'm sure you will also appreciate the Brownies unsubtle bit of spin: Go back and stand up to the French, Brown orders Blair

The real scandal is that, once again, the agreement was reached by all-night negotiations, of flunkies running up and down corridors and countless phone calls between delegations and capitals. Eventually, when all were too exhausted to continue, agreement was reached. One that is a fudge, a bodge, a last minute panic and can be interpreted in different ways, depending on your audience.

This is no way to run a continent.

The reason the EU is in such a mess is not primarily because of greedy MEP's, incompetent bureaucrats or the like; it's in  a mess because the Presidents and Premiers of the EU states can only agree anything after a huge panic every time they hold a treaty. Every single time. It's a farce, but one that affects 600 million people.

Whatever you think of the treaty, or any summit agreement, the obvious truth is that by failing to act in a rational, efficient and considerate manner, they are treating every European citizen with contempt.

Dear Gordon

When Gordon opens his first Prime Ministerial mail he will find an invitation to a 'Council of the Isles' meeting, from the victorious SNP leader, Alex Salmond. Relations are not good, in a breach of etiquette, Tony failed to call him to congratulate him on his success in the Scottish Assembly elections, where he managed something almost unthinkable for many years, knocking Labour off the top spot.

Alex is after independence, but has learned to play a long game. currently he's also angry about the Blair-Gadaffi Memorandum of Understanding that may lead to the Lockerbie bomber being quietly moved to serve his sentence in Libya. He also has a strategy. The first step is to bring independence onto the agenda, by forming a competent administration and getting the English on board.

The English? Yes, not necessarily the politicians but, getting support amongst the citizens. He's got two alternatives; to make the UK want Scotland to bugger off, or to show the English the advantages of Scottish independence. The invitation on Gordon's desk is part of the latter approach.

The Council of the Isles aka The British Irish Council was set up as part of the Good Friday agreement and comprises of representatives from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, UK, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

See who's missing? No England. But wait, aren't the English represented under UK? Possibly, but wouldn't the representative be the PM, Gordon Brown, a proud Scot? Salmond's game is to show how Scottish - and Welsh - independence will give the English representation and expect him to keep chipping away at the West Lothian question - something that is approaching the notoriety of Fermat's Last Theorem

The EU Treaty Opt-Out - Why Tony Needs It


The Independent lists some of the rights that Tony is desperate not to afford us. These include:
No one should be subject to torture
No one can be removed to a state where there is a serious risk of torture - I think we can work out why Tony is soft on torture, soft on the causes of torture. Oh Tony, how you've changed the political landscape. I remember the good old days when being against torture was uncontroversial.

Trafficking in human beings is prohibited.
It is beyond shameful that the UK is refusing to ratify the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. In the good old days, slavery was considered to be a terrible wrong. Thanks to Tony this is no longer the case.