The daily catch-up: a word from our lizard overlord, while Ed goes to Washington (not Zagreb)

Half a dozen things you may have missed over the weekend
  • @johnrentoul

1. We have a visitor from the lower levels of the fourth dimension. The reptilian alien is to address Earthlings from an undisclosed location in central London. Yes, Tony Blair is giving the Philip Gould Lecture to Progress this morning.

Today is the 20th anniversary of Blair's election as Labour leader. I wrote for The Independent on Sunday about what has changed in those two decades and who is to blame.

2. Damian McBride, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, has an article in The Times (pay wall) saying Ed Miliband's trip to Washington today is a "waste of everyone's time":

"Forget Obama. Compare notes with Utah’s Gary Herbert on devolution to local government. Discuss education with New Mexico’s Susana Martínez. Talk to Matt Mead in Wyoming about the balance between tax and spending; ask Colorado’s John Hickenlooper the secret of getting elected when you’re seen as a bit 'weird'.

"Compared with his stopover in Washington or his studies at Harvard, a tour like that would show Mr Miliband what makes the real America tick, and he’d find a lot less interest in interventionist foreign policies than he’ll hear in Obama’s White House. He wouldn’t return with many images for Labour’s election broadcasts, but, more importantly, he might come back with some ideas for his manifesto."

3. Polling news: Stephen Fisher of Trinity College, Oxford, has written the fourth in a series of comments on my article about his election forecasts. He says that we should not give up on probability forecasting just because Germany beat Brazil 7-1:

"Giving up on probability typically leads people to one of two positions: feigned ignorance or artificial certainty. It is unreasonable to suggest we know absolutely nothing about the relative chances of different outcomes of the next election. But I think that is a preferable position to claiming to be sure that some particular outcome will occur. Similarly, we should not rule out or even describe as remote possibilities relatively common events (like either a Tory or Labour majority) so far from the election.

"Rather than giving up on probabilistic forecasting, we should instead take any forecast probabilities as indicative and be mindful of the limitations of forecasting methods.

"This implies that forecasting probabilities that are relatively evenly split over different events, while less exciting, are a priori more plausible than more extreme probabilities."

Meanwhile, ComRes for The Independent on Sunday found that 21% of voters think Ed Miliband is "likely to be prime minister"; 44% think he isn't. But they agree that a home team is more likely to win the World Cup under a Labour government (by 11% to 8%; 81% don't know).

4. I try to explain in The Independent on Sunday why the Chilcot Iraq Inquiry is taking so long. The civil service is trying to protect the confidentiality of future conversations between British prime ministers and American president – which is important and in the national interest, so that they can talk frankly. They are protecting Ed Miliband's conversations with Hillary Clinton, or possibly with Marco Rubio, not Blair's with President Bush, all of which Chilcot has seen.

In The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine, I have listed the Top 10 MPs Related to Other MPs. Did you know that Alistair Darling's great-uncle, Sir William Darling, had been the Scottish Unionist MP for another Edinburgh seat until 1957, when Alistair was three?

I also stood in for Guy Keleny in the Errors & Omissions slot on Saturday, pointing out some arbitrary rules of spelling (discreet and discrete) and style that are worth getting right because otherwise some readers will think less of us.

5. Picture of the week from Mike Clarke, who announces proudly: "I used my gym card for the first time today."


6. Finally, Chris Heaton-Harris once again takes the coveted sixth slot, with this:

"I’ve a mate who believes the cradle of civilisation is located in Zagreb. He’s a Croationist."