Grant Shapps is caught up in another row about manipulating his public profile. He used the pseudonym Michael Green for more than a year after he first became an MP to run an internet business, something he continually denied until his denials were exposed and pictures emerged of him at a US internet conference badged as “Michael Green”.
The latest row is over claims that he was involved in editing his Wikipedia entry to remove references to this scandal and other embarassing entries. A Wikipedia user called Contribsx systematically removed material from his page and added negative commentary to the pages of some of his political rivals.
Wikipedia editors said that they “believe that the account Contribsx is a sockpuppet of Grant Shapps’ previous accounts on Wikipedia … and based on the evidence the account is either run by Shapps directly or being run by someone else, an assistant or a PR agency, but under his clear direction.” The user’s account has been blocked after Wikipedia investigation.
The Lib Dems took immediate advantage and put out a press release from Paddy Ashdown saying “Grant is a wonderful guy – he is a credit to the Conservative Party …and if, like me, you have been lucky enough to meet him, you know you have been touched by greatness. Quite simply, a colossus.”
In a note to editors at the bottom it said the release had been edited by Contribsx.
Malcolm Rifkind has resigned as chair of parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) and will not seek re-election as an MP at the general election.
His decision follows an undercover investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches and The Telegraph into services for cash. Both Rifkind and Jack Straw MP were suspended from their parties after accusations that they offered services to a fictitious Chinese company.
Jack Straw suspended himself from the Labour party as the evidence came to light but Rifkind held on and was still fighting to keep his ISC chair until this morning when he announced that stepping down was “entirely my personal decision.”
He added “I had intended to seek one further term as MP for Kensington, before retiring from the House of Commons. I have concluded that to end the uncertainty it would be preferable, instead, to step down at the end of this parliament.”
He maintains that the allegations made by undercover reporters are “contemptible.”
It sounds preposterous doesn’t it? Bear with me though.
Most of the polls put Labour and the Tories neck and neck with around 33% of the vote each and a forecast 280 seats. That would leave either party short of a working majority by 46 seats. Most polls put the SNP as the next biggest party with 40-50 seats. At the low end that is not enough for a two party coalition. Even if Salmond had enough seats to broker a majority, the animosity held by SNP voters for Labour in Scotland and for the Conservaties full stop would make a coalition deal nigh impossible.
Despite attracting around 15% of the popular vote the electoral system will probably deny UKIP more than 10 seats. The LibDems look like they’ll get around 25 so not enough for them to hold the balance of power this time around.
So what are we left with? A second election may produce the same result again. A three party coalition would require three parties that could work together and there are no combinations that fit that bill.
A Con Lab coalition starts to look a little more plausible doesn’t it? The fixed term parliament act provides for a five year term. The leader of the party with the higher share becomes PM. The leader of the other party steps down and his successor becomes Deputy PM in a government of national unity. These things happen in times of great strife. With chaos in Ukraine and the Middle East, the European Union rocked by the election of Syriza in Greece and the existence of the Union under enormous stress with the rise of Scottish nationalism this may be such a time.
This is the most complex general election in living memory. There is no predictable result, so an unthinkable outcome could be exactly what we get.
Social media has been awash with incredulity at some of the items auctioned at this week’s Tory party’s Black and White gala, a major fundraiser for the election campaign.
Diners paid up to £15,000 per table for a place at the secretive event attended by David Cameron and senior conservatives. With some of the country’s richest hedge fund managers in attendance lots included the opportunity to go “shoe shopping with Theresa May”. It’s not clear whether the £17,500 bid includes the price of the shoes or whether that will be extra.
Other bids were for a “unique bound collection” of George Osborne’s Budget speeches, signed by the chancellor,
a “roast chicken dinner” at the home of Chief Whip Michael Gove and a JCB digger.
On twitter user @paulsinha summed it up with the following:
“Shoe shopping with Theresa May” sounds less like an auction lot and more like a rejected TV pitch from Alan Partridge.
Monkey Tennis anyone?
Whatever the outcome of the May Election there are only two leaders that can become Prime Minister. Despite falling support for both Conservative and Labout they are still the biggest parties by some margin. Almost every poll suggests that neither will get an overall majority though.
The SNP will more than likely be the next biggest party but Alex Salmond won’t form a coalition with the Conservatives and Miliband probably won’t do a deal with the SNP. Despite UKIP’s strong poll showing, that’s unlikely to translate into many seats because of the way support is distributed with very few constituency strongholds for the nationalist party. That may well leave the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power once again. The precedent that they set in 2010 is that they will enter into discussions with the party that get’s the most popular support. It will be almost impossible for them not to adopt the same policy this time around.
Most polls are putting Labour and Conservative neck and neck, In fact the May 2015 Poll of Polls today separates them by just 0.1%. So a swing of 1% either way could decide whether or not Cameron hands the keys to Number 10 to Ed Miliband in May.
David Cameron is giving his public backing to a £15 million Thatcher Museum at the same time as The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, National Rail Museum in York and Bradford’s National Media Museum face the threat of closure as a result of Treasury cuts.
The Prime Minister wants a museum modelled on the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California. The memorial to Margaret Thatcher is likely to include a selection of her suits and handbags. The announcement comes just a few weeks after the controversy over the multi-million pound tax-payer bill for Lady Thatcher’s funeral.
Meanwhile the Science Museums Group which comprises the the three Northern Museums will see a £6 million cut in its budget in George Osborne’s spending review later this month. The severity of the cuts may lead to the closure of one or more of the museums.
Thatcher ‘s policies greatly amplified the so-called North South divide and Cameron risks further losing popularity North of Watford with the insensitive timing of his backing for a Thatcher Museum. The northerm museum cuts have already caused outrage with a huge on-line campaign and over 20,000 people signing a petition in 24 hours.
Withington MP John Leech, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman has condemned the cuts and praised the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry: “It is part of our fabric here in Manchester, it inspires the hundreds of thousands who walk through its doors every year. I’ve raised this in Parliament as it’s vital we retain this fantastic museum for future generations.”
Many political aficionados were beyond surprised when David Cameron appointed the former News International apparatchik Andy Coulson, to manage his communications. Coulson was already tarred in the hacking debacle but Cameron felt he should have a “second chance”.
That decision was either a cold, calculated gamble to garner the powerful endorsement of the Murdoch empire in the run up to a general election or it was spectacularly naive. Either way it has backfired on the prime minister. Twitter is alive with condemnation and News International are hanging Coulson out to dry with the revelations that he authorised payments to the police. Is this a shot across Cameron’s bows by Rebekah Brooks?
A full public enquiry will undoubtedly turn the spotlight on Cameron and how much he knew or should have know about Coulson’s activities. It will also be very uncomfortable for a number of high-ranking members of the metropolitan police.
This has implications too for the coalition. It provides a once in a parliament opportunity for Nick Clegg to revive the fortunes of the Liberal party on an issue that isn’t part of the coalition agreement.
It’s not surprising that the leaders of a party so long in the wilderness should be politically naive. However the extent to which the LibDems are bearing the brunt of opposition to Conservative policy, particularly on tuition fees, must amaze even the most hardened Tory strategists.
Vince Cable famously said of Gordon Brown that “the House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean”. Cable himself has made an equally remarkable conversion from Father Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge. The LibDems today fell to just 8% in the polls. Translated into an electoral vote, that would actually mean fewer seats under proportional representation that they have now.
The mistake that the LibDem leaders made was to join the Tories in a full coalition rather that a confidence and supply agreement. In doing so the Tories would have had to agree to enact more of the LibDems’ manifesto and politically the LibDems would have avoided being tainted as a full coalition partner in an unpopular government determined to cut spending . They would certainly have not been dragged into supporting a policy on university fees that they so clearly opposed.
To regain popular support, they must return to the path of principle and it is likely that those who vote with their conscience today will emerge post-crisis at the helm. The alternative is to continue to take the rap for the cuts and to consign Liberal politics to political history.