News and curiosities from the Prospect editorial teamby Prospect / August 27, 2009 / Leave a comment
The poverty of party conference season
Labour’s embattled troops head down to Brighton at the end of September for what’s likely to be their final party conference in government. By all accounts it’ll be a sparse affair, as the lobbyists and hacks flock instead to see Cameron & co at their pre-election victory jamboree in Manchester one week later. The conferences are a valuable money-spinner for cash-strapped parties, and Labour will be especially badly hit as attendance falls. Moreover, an unlikely new foe has emerged to spoil their fundraising fun still further: cabinet secretary, Gus O’Donnell.
Last year there was a stink over the pots of public money that ended up in party coffers via the conferences, funnelled in as government quangos (or “non-departmental public bodies,” NDPBs) coughed up for pricey exhibition stands or sponsored swanky parties. Labour’s regional development agencies were particular offenders, splashing out upwards of £250,000. So in January O’Donnell fired off a private letter to Whitehall bosses, stating that “there will be no good reason for NDPBs to attend party conference in the majority of cases” and that any quango seeking to disobey the new diktat would need explicit written permission. With “premium complete stands” at Labour’s jamboree currently on sale for £12,750 a pop, expect a few empty spots by the seaside this September.
William Hague and the blue-eyed Bosnian
This August saw some hard-hitting rhetoric from the usually silent shadow foreign secretary William Hague on the danger of the Balkans being “slowly pulled apart” by new ethnic tensions. What explains so habitually restrained a statesman’s newly authoritative tone? Likely it’s the influence of Arminka Helic, Hague’s blue-eyed Bosnian Muslim émigré chief of staff, who some feel exerts rather too much influence on Hague’s public pronouncements. Case in point: in 2006, Hague rashly questioned whether the “bombardment of Hezbollah will result in military success for Israel”—much to the chagrin of Cameroon hawks—and it was Helic who took the flack. Further tension simmers in the background, with both Michael Gove and George Osborne reportedly keen on a harder edge to Tory thinking on the outside world, and defence spokesman Liam Fox endlessly demanding more money for the military. With open warfare likely in a future Tory government, should Helic issue another warning, this time about a political alliance slowly pulling itself apart rather closer to home?
Felix the cat joins an economics spat