Village People: Hit for six

By Andy McSmith
Saturday 05 March 2011 01:00

One of the most important skills of the political spin-doctors is managing expectations.

On Thursday, Liberal Democrat spinners were going about the Westminster Village saying they were gloomily expecting to come fourth in the Barnsley Central by-election, which was interpreted as meaning the Liberal Democrats knew they were doomed to come third but wanted that result written up as their having done better than expected.

Nobody foresaw that they would drop from second to sixth place. It now looks as if a massacre is in the offing at the local elections on 5 May. But the Liberal Democrats haven't completely lost their sense of humour. At least one was heard in the Village drolly claiming: "We always said it was a six-horse race."

No welcome for BNP

The BNP may think they can gloat because, like almost everyone else, they beat the Liberal Democrats in Barnsley, but they aren't having much luck finding financial backers in Wales. Their website says their target is to raise £100,000 to run a candidate for the Welsh Assembly, of which so far they have raised £20.

Papered over

David Cameron promised to lead "the first genuinely post-bureaucratic government in the world." I am not altogether clear what a "post-bureaucratic government" is, but one thing I suppose it would do is enact fewer laws. But that old war horse Sir Geoffrey Howe offered this little gem in a speech in the Lords this week. When the Labour government under Clement Attlee passed 2,288 pages of legislation in one year it set a British record which remained unsurpassed until 1989, when the Thatcher government's activities filled 2,581 pages. Even that has been trumped by the Cameron-led Coalition, which has 2,771 pages of legislation grinding through the system. This "post-bureaucratic" malarkey certainly creates a lot of paperwork.

If you go down to the...

The handbook issued in advance of the Conservative Spring Conference in Cardiff this weekend reveals that the sponsors include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This body monitors how timber is produced for sale and awards certificates if it is done in an environmentally friendly way. The scheme is voluntary. Many private timber merchants do not bother with it. The largest producer of FSC-certified timber, by far, is the Forestry Commission. No surprise then at alarm at the FSC when newspapers carried rumours last October that the Government was planning to flog the Forestry Commission to private firms. "Should the speculation prove accurate, we would be very concerned that this could be a backward step for the state of English woodlands," they warned. How fortunate that the axe was applied to Caroline Spelman's plans, because they could have cost the Tory party a valuable sponsor.

Eastern voices

There was a cry of despair from Hillary Clinton this week over the way the Voice of America radio station is being supplanted worldwide by Al Jazeera, Russia Today, and China Central Television. She might have added that the BBC is also being forced to retrench by an unsympathetic government. The BBC World Service is having to abandon large parts of the world just to cut £28m a year off the Foreign Office budget.

The Tory MP Andrew Tyrie has written to William Hague with a simple solution: transfer responsibility for the World Service to DfiD, whose budget is protected. Last week, the Labour MP Denis MacShane wrote in support. But don't expect anything to happen. It is not the commercial interests of Rupert Murdoch at stake here.

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