Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pasties and party funding

All attacks rebound in some way. Sometimes, they blow up in your face and other times, your shoes just get splashed a bit.

Today, Labour had a good time looking terribly 'in touch' in front of their supporters, and a bit smarmy in front of everyone else. The Tories look slightly off their game at the moment, but they still didn't need to work too hard in partly unpicking Ed's 'prolier than thou' credentials.

Still, it was bad day for the Tories and a not bad one for Labour, when all things are taken into account. It could have been a lot better though.

A union could have orchestrated a better stunt. A non-Labour affiliated one could have really gone to town on this one. Or any union's money could have hired the right celeb to take the piss out of Cameron all day long.

This has been in the Tory playbook for as long as anyone can remember. Deniable outriders make the attack before the front benchers turn up with a subtle and statesmanlike coup de grĂ¢ce. A lot of the attacks Labour would like to make are out of bounds for two reasons: that they can rebound on the people who make them, and because they compromise future policy positions. Not a problem that the Tories have ever had with Taxpayer's Alliance attacks on Labour.

This is why party funding matters less than it seems. Labour and the big unions can help each other more if they start doing it informally.

This is an argument that's unlikely to find favour with Labour and senior trades unionists for all of the wrong reasons.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is Ken a tax-dodger? Is Boris a hi-jacker? Is mayoral politics annoying?

I hate the concept of 'elected mayors', or at least, I hate elected mayors in way they're intended to fit in with the wider settlement in the UK. I suspect a growing band of Londoners will come to share this view over the next few weeks.

Already, everyone is in pointscoring mode, and anyone beyond Planet Politics who doesn't conclude that 'all politicos are utter wankers' is probably in the sizeable quartile of the population who have previously tuned politics out all together.

Anyway. Back to the shrillness of it all. Personally, I'm really no fan of Ken Livingstone. He's my party's candidate, and he's the kind of devisive figure that smokes out dissenters from within the party's ranks.

For instance, anti-Ken Labour people are happy to give a following wind to this Tory attack-blog idea that he's some kind of tax-dodger or hypocrite.

It's not a fair line of attack. He's not fiddling his taxes or living high on the hog. He's a political obsessive - if he wasn't paying HMRC, he'd be spending the money in other ways to get himself elected in a climate where political funding is hard to get.

As a Labour supporter, if I were to find that a candidate - any candidate - wasn't managing their finances efficiently and couldn't finance their campaign properly as a result, I'd be very unhappy about it.

In addition, given Ken's circumstances as a self-employed individual who pays staff and who almost certainly drags is wife's elbow-grease into his campaign whenever he can, there isn't a single accountant anywhere in the country who would even let him arrange his finances any other way. Anything else would result in him over-paying taxes for the sake of appearances.

If Ken were salting the money away in some tax haven or buying himself a mansion, this would be a fair line of attack - but if not, it looks to me like opportunism.

I don't suppose we've heard even a fraction of the shrill opportunist attacks that we're going to hear on Ken over the next few weeks.

But Boris isn't going unscathed either. Today, a range of Labour people have got their knickers in a twist about how Boris has 'hijacked' ... er .... his own Twitter account. Sorry - that should read "his own TAXPAYER FUNDED account!!?!??!?!!!"

Boris was @mayoroflondon and he is now @borisjohnson. The former has been converted to the latter now he is in 'election purdah' period.

Here's a likely example of the dialogue that took place a few years ago between Boris and a civil servant a few years ago now:

CC: "Mr Mayor, it's in our job description to encourage you to interact with the public a bit more. Now I know that this is a bit of the job description that most civil servants ignore, at the very least, but I've got a time-and-motion person from Capita standing behind me to make sure that I tick everything on my list off. So why don't you .... er .... set up a Twitter account?"

BJ: "Gosh, I say! What a jolly good idea. What is a 'Twitter' by the way?"

CC: "It's a social networking tool (Boris looks blank) ... on the Internet (Boris looks blank) .... on your computer (Boris looks blank) .... the tellybox on your desk that you watched that Thai lady .... you know ... with the ping-pong balls?"

BJ: "Ah! I remember that. Have her sent to my room! What were we talking about again?"

(This goes on for some time). We return an hour later and the conversation is still progressing.

BJ: "This Twitter thing is a jolly good idea of mine. So shall I call it @borisjohnson or @mayoroflondon?"

CC: "Well there are all sorts of silly rules about what you can and can't say. Best if you let us have the passwords so we can step in when ... er ... IF you ever say anything a bit problematic.... about the Chinese Ambassador's wife and ping-pong balls, for instance. So let's stick with @mayoroflondon - and we'll set up a few feeds so that some tweets are automated...."

BJ: "What's a tweet again?" (this goes on for some time). We return an hour later and the conversation is still progressing.

BJ: "OK. I fully understand this now. Ping-pong .... computer .... internet .... Twitter .... can do it from my phone .... shouldn't do it from my phone .... can't pass comment on Frau Bundeskanzlerin's appearance... so how much will this cost the jolly old taxpayer then?"

CC: "Not much. Well, technically, not anything. Of course we signed some PFI deal with Accenture that means that we've got to send a couple of staff on a Social Media Risk Awareness Course at £800 per head. And we've got to then commission some written guidance from them (£6,000). And we've got a similar arrangement with BT that means we've got to  make the account match our corporate house style (don't ask - an arrangement with Wolff Olins). So it'll probably look like about £25k if we get the wrong sort of FOI requests in. But it doesn't really cost anything."

BJ: "Ticketty boo!. And just to prove I've been listening, I'll need some 'followers', right? Do we have an obligation to pay Serco to drum them up for me?"

CC: "Er.... no Mr Mayor. If you can't get a couple of hundred thousand followers on twitter for nothing, then I doubt if anyone can."

BJ: "And I can say anything I jolly well please?"

CC: "Er.... no Mr Mayor. Accenture will draw up a lengthy list of things you can't say" 

BJ: "What? Can't I even have a pop at old Ken once the election starts?"

CC: "Er.... yes Mr Mayor. But at that point, you're on your own. And you'd probably better set up a new account as @borisjohnson"

BJ: "But Ken will be doing this as well between now and then. His lot will have thousands of followers by the time the election has been announced - he's got nothing better to do, and I'll be at a standing start. That isn't fair."

CC: "Well maybe the sensible thing is to re-name your account as @borisjohnson when the purdah period starts. Technically the rules say that you can't use publically funded assets for political advantage, but the account won't be paid for by the public sector. 

And anyway, I suspect that giving you a twitter account without any restrictions on what you can say is technically the opposite of giving you a political advantage.... and it's not really an electioneering tool in itself. Tories don't really use Twitter much anyway...."

BJ: "What's a hashtag again? I say, I appear to being 'followed' by a charming Russian lady who has no followers herself. This looks promising...."

And so on. Get the picture? Ken's not a tax dodger. Boris hasn't hi-jacked anything. And this is going to be a very long month or so.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Paid links

Here's an odd one. Someone is offering me $25 to put a link to a commercial service in an old post. The way they're asking me to do it is not even really an endorsement of the thing I'm linking to and I doubt that the post concerned will get many visits, apart from search-engine crawlers.

Has anyone else had a request like this? It looks like free money to me. WDYT?