Conservative Diary

Culture, Media, Sport

10 Aug 2012 06:55:49

Fleet Street won't acknowledge ministers' role in London 2012's success (but papers would have hammered them if the Games had gone wrong)

By Tim Montgomerie
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Fortunately these aren't today's headlines.

The Olympics aren't just going well, they are going very well. This hasn't stopped the newspapers teasing David Cameron for his photo stunt in front of the telly or for not doing more for school sports.

Let's be clear, however: if the Olympics had gone badly the Government would be under fierce attack right now. At the start of the year Jeremy Hunt (rather bravely) said that the Olympics would be the supreme test of the Coalition's competence. So much could have gone wrong on so many fronts. But it hasn't. There haven't been disastrous queues at Heathrow or clogged roads. The opening ceremony - for which Jeremy Hunt authorised a larger budget - was a huge success. Britain has beaten its medal target and even the Guardian is acknowledging that this has a good deal to do with the Lottery investment began by Sir John Major.

The Government would certainly have been battered if the Games had gone wrong but it won't get much credit for its part in delivering one of the best Olympics ever (and we must hope the final three days are as good as the first two weeks). Let us, however, on these pages acknowledge that, despite all the doom and gloom from Fleet Street before the Games started, they have been a great success and ministers have passed the competence test.

6 Aug 2012 08:28:27

Expect a nudge or two when it comes to gambling

By Peter Hoskin
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CasinoThere’s much heat and fury about gambling at the moment, in the wake of a recent Commons report on the subject and today’s news that Brits are losing over £1 billion a year to slot machines. In response, Harriet Harman has said that New Labour erred by having a liberal attitude towards gambling regulations. The Daily Mail is warning the Coalition against the same, and urging them to cut out this “social cancer”.

In truth, gambling tends to be a difficult issue for Conservatives, as it cuts across two strains of thought in the party. There are those who feel it should be controlled, as it entrenches the social problems that surround debt and poverty. And there are those who take the more free market view that supply ought to aspire to demand, and the state has no place to intrude. It is this fundamental tension that confuses so much of David Cameron’s own “responsibility” agenda. He wants people to be responsible, but he doesn’t want to order them to be responsible.

Continue reading "Expect a nudge or two when it comes to gambling" »

5 Aug 2012 21:33:22

Blair, Coe and Major win Gold in the Political Olympics; Boris gets Silver; Cameron and Hunt win Bronze

By Tim Montgomerie
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Politicians podium2
I might be one week too early but I'm awarding gold to Tony Blair, Seb Coe and John Major.

Blair and Coe won the Olympics for London. Coe, in particular, deserves his medal. He's been Lord Continuity through the whole process. He was there at the beginning of the bid and is still at the heart of the whole show now. Some ConHome readers say he should run the overhaul of British school sport, suggested by Lord Moynihan. I wonder if he should be the next Tory candidate to be Mayor of London?

Sir John deserves his medal, not so much for the Olympics - in which he has had very little direct involvement at all - but for starting the National Lottery and establishing the Lottery's investment in British sport. The top people at Team GB have generously acknowledged that we wouldn't be enjoying such a medal rush without this cricket lover's vision.

Continue reading "Blair, Coe and Major win Gold in the Political Olympics; Boris gets Silver; Cameron and Hunt win Bronze" »

5 Aug 2012 09:00:56

Put Sir John Major in charge of a review of sports policy

By Tim Montgomerie
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What an unforgettable night. For years to come we'll be remembering Britain's golden day. The Olympics is turning into a golden moment for Britain as a whole. The world is looking at a nation which is more self-confident, more patriotic and more at peace with itself than some of us dared to imagine. What a contrast with last summer's riots. The backdrops to the sporting events, from historic Hampton Court to beautiful Weymouth, are showing Britain at its best. Despite all of the worries the organisational side has been close to perfect. Let's hope the final half of London 2012 is as good as the first.

Continue reading "Put Sir John Major in charge of a review of sports policy" »

2 Aug 2012 10:21:36

Wiggo wants bike helmets to be compulsory. Department of Transport says "no".

By Tim Montgomerie
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Cameron holds but doesn't wear his helmet

Cycle safety might be about to become a political hot potato.

Hours after Bradley Wiggins became the most medalled* Olympian in British history a less celebrated cyclist was killed when they went underneath the wheels of a shuttle bus, apparently transporting athletes from the village to events in Stratford Park. An issue that hasn't yet gained parliamentary traction might now do so after Mr Wiggins called for the wearing of cycle helmets to become compulsory. “Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue,” he said. “You can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.” He also urged cyclists to not use MP3 players or mobile phones when on the roads (image of Boris breaking both of Winggins' rules).

A spokesman for the Department of Transport issued this statement:

"We take the issue of cycle safety extremely seriously and are working to reduce the instances of deaths and serious injuries of cyclists on our roads. We encourage cyclists – especially children – to wear helmets to protect them if they have a crash. However, we believe this should remain a matter of individual choice rather than imposing additional rules which would be difficult to enforce. We also want to see more innovative measures being put in place to improve cycle safety.  That is why we have made it easier for councils to install Trixi mirrors to make cyclists more visible to drivers as well as announcing an additional £30 million for better cycle routes and facilties.  We have also committed £11 million per year for Bikeability training to help a new generation of cyclists gain the skills and knowledge they need to cycle on the roads.”

Continue reading "Wiggo wants bike helmets to be compulsory. Department of Transport says "no"." »

28 Jul 2012 12:59:45

Next time round, can we have Aidan Burley as part of the show, please?

By Paul Goodman
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Burley: Speaking for Britain?

One view of Danny Boyle's Olympics show is that it was Tony Blair's Millennium Dome Opening Ceremony revisited - or, as Aidan Burley put it, "leftie multi-cultural crap"...Welfare tribute next?...The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state!"  Unlike Mr Burley, most of those who saw it that way won't have been on Twitter - and, unlike him again, will thus not have been issuing a press release (which was what he managed to do, even if wasn't what he was trying to do).  But they will have been complaining to their friends, families and, perhaps above all, to themselves in similar terms.

"Snogging multi-racial couple...Bloody lesbian kiss from Brookside...Not Paul McCartney again...Can't bear that J.K.Rowling myself"...and so on: essentially, disapproval of more or less everything that's happened in Britain for the past half-century.  As a rule, you would have to be 50 or older to take this view - which is not to dismiss its prevalence automatically, since we are not "a young country" (as Mr Blair once claimed) but an ageing one.  So how many people really felt like this?  We would need opinion polls to give us an answer, but my guess is a very small minority - just as only a small minority want to see the NHS replaced by a different healthcare system.

As Mr Boyle's show reminded us, this isn't communist China.  So we must be free to criticise it if we please...

But since minorities are not always mistaken, the next - and a bigger - question raises its head: were they right or wrong?  This one of those questions that once raised can only be dismissed, since what is at stake here is not so much facts as taste, and de gustibus non est disputandum.  This applies even to Mr Boyle's NHS worship.  The facts show that the healthcare systems of other European countries deliver outcomes at least as good as the NHS.  But the English cling to the myth that our health system is a model for the world - perhaps less out of love for it than fear of what change might bring.  Ultimately, we're making a taste choice.

Continue reading "Next time round, can we have Aidan Burley as part of the show, please?" »

28 Jul 2012 09:47:29

On the money --- Jeremy Hunt's decision to double ceremony budget was vindicated by last night's magical spectacle

By Tim Montgomerie
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I was very fortunate to be at last night's opening ceremony. It was an occasion I will never forget. The Olympic ring(s) emerging from that industrialised stage; the rural scenes; the Red Arrows; the performance of great hymns and Shakespeare; the powerful portrayal of Jamaicans arriving in Britain on the Windrush boat; the sequence with the Queen and Bond; the sight of Beckham powering down the Thames; the roar that greeted Team GB; the beautiful Union Flag fluttering at the heart of the stadium; the humour of Rowan Atkinson; the celebration of our great entertainments industry, of the principles of the NHS and of some of our great innovators. It was a magical, unforgettable occasion watched by a billion people. If the media write-ups are accurate then the world was wowed too.

Continue reading "On the money --- Jeremy Hunt's decision to double ceremony budget was vindicated by last night's magical spectacle" »

27 Jul 2012 07:43:53

Boris's Olympics speech - a vivid demonstration of his unquenchable appeal

By Paul Goodman
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As the Olympics prepare to begin, and as Fleet Street shifts instantaneously from uniform criticism to uniform praise, let's pause for a moment and consider Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, in the light both of his history to date and his speech yesterday at the Olympic clock countdown (if "speech" is the right word for what might better be described as a brief rant).

On one level, this is a man who was sacked by the Times for inventing a quote, dismissed by Michael Howard from the Conservative front bench after not telling the truth about his private life, kept at arms' length by David Cameron and only taken up by the Cameron/Osborne duopoly as the Tory Mayoral candidate after other candidates had turned them down.  In short, he was disparaged by the political establishment as a clown even after he left full-time journalism and entered Parliament.

But just look at him above, cheered maniacally by a seething crowd.  No other politician in Britain would have won anything close to such a reception; many of them would have booed offstage.  I have written before about Boris on this site at length, but his appeal can be summed up in five words: authenticity, and zest for life.  The authenticity is unusual, but not unique: Anne Widdecombe, John Prescott and Nadine Dorries have it.  What is unique to him is that particular zest for life - his aversion to pessimism in all its forms.

Continue reading "Boris's Olympics speech - a vivid demonstration of his unquenchable appeal" »

24 Jul 2012 12:50:57

Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks charged in connection with phone hacking

By Peter Hoskin
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CoulsonThe Crown Prosecution Service has today announced that eight of the thirteen people arrested as part of the Operation Weeting investigation into phone hacking will be charged — among them Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks. The details can be found in this formal statement here, but here are the passages relating to the two people who, between them, will capture all the headlines:

All, with the exception of Glenn Mulcaire, will be charged with conspiring to intercept communications without lawful authority, from 3rd October 2000 to 9th August 2006. The communications in question are the voicemail messages of well-known people and/or those associated with them. There is a schedule containing the names of over 600 people whom the prosecution will say are the victims of this offence.

In addition, each will face a number of further charges of conspiracy unlawfully to intercept communications, as follows:

Continue reading "Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks charged in connection with phone hacking" »

15 Jul 2012 16:34:13

Philip Hammond says troops were "always intended" to be part of the Olympic security operation

By Matthew Barrett
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HAMMOND PHILIPThe Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond, appeared on Sky News earlier today. When asked about the Olympic security situation, he said the 3,500 troops apparently deployed to make up for a gap in security contractors' capabilities were part of an armed forces "contribution" which was always intended to exist:

"There was always intended to be a significant armed forces contribution to the security operation around the Olympics. What’s happened over the last few days is we’ve made a decision to bring some of what was being held as a contingency... and deploy it to support G4S, work alongside G4S recognising that the company has now said that they think it unlikely they can guarantee the full numbers of venue security guards they were contracted to deliver."

The Secretary of State denied that the deployment was in response to an increased threat:

"This is not a response to any sense of an increased threat, it is simply recognising that G4S has had difficulties with the scheduling and mobilisation of its workforce and that it is better to err on the side of caution, deploy and additional 3,500 troops and then we can be sure that we will have sufficient manpower in place to do the venue guarding task whether or not G4S solve those problems or do not solve them over the next few days."

Continue reading "Philip Hammond says troops were "always intended" to be part of the Olympic security operation" »