What swell parties they had, as Red Ed and power-potty Clegg wooed the faithful

Don’t you love a good knees-up! So praise be for Britain’s party political conferences, a last tango of lunacy to end the Silly Season, before it’s back to hurling brickbats across the cockpit of parliament.

Frankly, what all the fuss is about always beats me. Still, I suppose it gives the rank and file – a.k.a. the poor, bloody infantry – a chance to sound off, hobnob with like-minded diehards and have a snap taken with their heroes (frankly, I’d rather be photo’d next Genghis Khan than thuggish Ed Balls, Labour’s Shadow Finance Minister).

Boring events perhaps, but never a disappointment to those, like me – and probably most of the apathetic public – whose opinion of politicians can be found in one word, scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet and placed under something Fido deposited by the nearest tree.

Nevertheless, you have to hand it to them. Nobody since the Borgias does charades of unity, parades of pretentiousness, not to say a teensy-weensy smidgeon of back-stabbing, quite like our elected representatives at their annual, tribal thrashes.

TURNING LEFT: Miliband signals 'bring back socialism' at Labour's party conference

TURN HARD LEFT: Miliband signals ‘bring back socialism’ at Labour’s party conference

And I should know, because a tear of nostalgia wells up in the old eye when I recall party conferences I covered, particularly Labour shindigs at Blackpool in the 1970s.

We’d slip the barman of the Imperial Hotel a £5 note to deliver a crate of Moet to the service entrance, then get rat-legged on it at the end of Central Pier. Truly, a chorus of We’ll Keep The Red Flag Flying Here never sounded heartier than coming from a bunch of inebriated hacks, off their heads on vintage bubbly.

Meanwhile, in time-honoured tradition, the conflabs don’t vary: the leaderships preach to the converted and flag up what they pray will be headline-grabbing policies, few or any of which will ever fly (i.e. Liberal-Democrat leader, Nick Clegg’s pledge to axe student tuition fees).

For purely nepotistic gladness, these sideshows also keep my TV political correspondent mates in gainful employment. So the rain may cascade, but it doesn’t faze the BBC’s Nick Robinson’s one iota, as it ping-pongs off his bald pate, while Sky’s Adam Boulton looks on enviously.

In summary, then, it’s all a jolly good fiesta for the dwindling faithful, who leave reinvigorated, a crescendo of war-cries ringing in their ears…like then Liberal leader, David Steel’s immortal – if a tad premature – call, in 1981, to ‘go home and prepare for government.’

Pretty much the same message gushed forth from Clegg the other week in Glasgow, when he insisted coalition government was a fixture in the UK. This, he predicted, would be so even if Lib-Dem support was plummeting and now mainly reduced to woolly do-gooders, organic mangel-wurzel growers in the West Country and crusty Highland crofters, with unswerving fealty to any candidate sporting red hair.

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

CHANGING PARTNERS? Nick Clegg signals the Lib-Dems may swap coalition bedfellows to Labour

With the bookies offering 13/8 on a hung UK General Election in 2015, Clegg might be right. There is no telling what damage Euro-sceptic UKIP can inflict on the Tories or what a ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence next year does to Labour’s Westminster seats north of Hadrian’s Wall.

But what Clegg was most at pains to do was put clear, yellow water between his party and the Tories. Indulging in further political harlotry, he even hinted Labour’s Milibandits might make better bedfellows in government than Squire Cameron’s lot, a fact rammed home by Vince Cable, who rekindled his Coalition partners’ old tag of ‘the nasty party’.

The sainted Business Secretary twisted the dagger, adding the Tories indulged in ‘dog-whistle politics’, hence my earlier allusion to Fido (though, frankly, I hadn’t a clue what the he was banging on about, but imagine it was an insult all the same).

Three hundred miles away in Brighton, Ed Miliband set out to be a barrel of laughs by lampooning his geeky image. And, though Labour loyalists found it a hoot, the act was hardly material for a telly satire show audition.

Predictably, he reverted to Red Ed type, parroting the old Left mantra of ‘bring back socialism’. Then – having already stolen the Tories ‘One Nation’ clothes, as fashioned by Disraeli – he invoked the wisdom of another hard-Rightist, Ronnie Reagan, by posing the late US President’s rhetorical query, ‘Am I better off now than I was five years ago?’

Speaking minus notes for an hour, Miliband’s gave a polished performance, even if it was littered with doctrinaire slogans, harking back to Labour’s glory days of Harold Wilson and Sunny Jim Callaghan, but notably bypassing mention of Tony Blair, even Gordon Brown.

However, to Red Ed’s credit, for the first time he appeared somewhat statesmanlike – anything less would be nigh on impossible – as he actually fleshed out some real policies (‘real’ being a relative word, since, if he ever comes to power, delivering on them maybe be a bridge too far to cross).

At least we now know two planks of any future Labour government platform: death to the contentious ‘Bedroom Tax’, the complexities of which I won’t inflict on non-Brits, and a 20-month freeze on energy prices.

The latter is designed to resonate with Middle England – ‘Conservatory Buyers’, who’ve now replaced Worcester Woman and Mondeo Man as the pollsters’ label for target voters.

This threat of statist intervention, however, immediately spooked the energy sector, multi-national conglomerates, who could easily switch priorities to expanding their portfolios elsewhere, leaving Britain quite literally powerless.

Undoubtedly, energy prices are high – they are throughout most of Europe – largely due to Russian and Middle Eastern suppliers shamelessly rigging the wholesale market.

Costs are also high due to carbon taxes imposed on consumers by Britain’s first Energy & Climate Change Minister…one Ed Miliband.

So what have the first, two party conferences told us?

The Lib-Dems will get into the sack with anyone offering them the pillow of a continued share of power – all in the noble cause of the ‘national interest’, of course – and it’s back to the future with Labour, once again red in tooth and claw.

So bring on the Tories, who kick off their frivolities in Manchester today.

Politicians, eh? You can’t live without them, but I bet you’d like to try.

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Obama’s ‘mini’ strike will make no difference to the bloody mayhem that’s the Middle East

Back in the 1970s, Britain’s then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson – whose tweedy, pipe-smoking image hid a razor-sharp intellect and wit – famously quipped, ‘A week is a long time in politics.’

But, never in any previous seven days, has there been such a flurry of monumental follies to equal what has been witnessed on both sides of the Atlantic this past week.

First, the dithering peacenik, Barack Obama, bowed to persuasion by Britain’s leader, David Cameron and France’s Francois Hollande, discovered some spleen and announced, yes, he’d teach the bloodthirsty butcher of Damascus, Bashar Assad, a short, sharp lesson for gassing over 1,400 of his own people.

For his part, Cameron then rushed to recall Parliament for MPs to rubber-stamp approval for the UK to support the American intervention in the Syrian bloodbath…only to narrowly lose the vote, thanks to the 11th hour back-stabbing of Red Ed’s Milibandits (plus a cluster of government rebels and no-show ministers). Result: abject humiliation for the PM.

‘The British aren’t coming!’ screamed the New York Post, as US Secretary of State, John Kerry, praised France as ‘our oldest ally’, clearly afflicted by amnesia and forgetting how the French were rubbished as ‘cheese-eating, surrender monkeys’ for failing to turn up for the Iraq War.

MIXED MESSAGES: Having made up his mind to strike Syrian, Obama is now asking Congress

MIXED MESSAGES: Having ‘made up his mind’ to strike Syrian, Obama is now asking Congress

It got worse – or better, depending on your viewpoint – when Obama took to the podium in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday to outline his moral, humanitarian imperative to stop tyrants resorting to chemical weapons…only to announce he, too – a la Cameron – would consult Congress about slapping down Assad.

What the President failed to clarify is what he’d do if US lawmakers copycatted their British counterparts and voted ‘No’ to the proposed ‘limited’ missile strikes, intended to remind all barbaric despots the civilised world won’t tolerate the gassing of innocents.

So what message was Obama trying to send?

As his ‘coalition of the willing’ fails to find traction, did he feel in need of Congressional assurance to engage in an act of war? Or was he seeking to get himself off the self-inflicted hook after drawing ‘red lines’ in the Syrian sand a year ago, with off-script remarks to reporters about a future intervention in Syria, should Assad get even naughtier?

The only certainty – and even that’s not a given – is nothing will happen immediately, because representatives and senators won’t be back on duty until September 9 and Obama must journey to Russia this week to attend the G20 Summit.

So the President, whose default setting is to stay out of any fray, has made up his mind…well, sort of.

Meanwhile, a grouchy United Nation’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, blathered about how only the Security Council (SC) can rule on Syrian intervention, insisting diplomacy is the one sure-fire way to end the bloody, internecine conflict that’s already claimed 100,000 lives, not to say created over a million refugees.

DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA: The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon insists on jaw-jaw, not war-war to sort out Syria

DIPLOMATIC DILEMMA: The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon says jaw-jaw, not war-war can sort out Syria

What La-La Land nonsense! The UN couldn’t stymie a storm in a teacup; it’s an utter irrelevance; a meaningless, neutered, toothless, clawless, clueless pussycat on the world stage and the SC’s five permanent members will split 2/3 – Russia and China voting ‘No’; the US, Britain and France ‘Yes’ – on any move to chastise Assad.

All Ban can do is wave the eventual report of his arms inspectors to Syria, which will indicate if and how gassings took place – but, specifically, without pointing a finger of culpability at either the tyrannical regime or the rag-tag rebels.

One wonders, then, was the inspectors’ journey really necessary, because, according to Kerry, there is irrefutable intelligence to prove Assad opened up his bio-arsenal and used it lethally more than once.

Ah, I hear you say, we travelled the ‘intelligence’ route before to justify the invasion of Iraq. And memories are still raw over the now discredited ‘dirty dossier’ showing Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which proved – how should I put it subtly – a tad overegged.

That legacy clearly gave British MPs the jitters and reflected the UK public’s apathy over the dog’s dinner that is the Middle East (and, no doubt, the same applies to war-weary Americans).

However, it did not justify Miliband double-crossing Cameron by forcing the Prime Minister to redraft a ballsy resolution with a document so wishy-washy it was puerile in intent, then foisting his own, nit-picking motion on the House of Commons that said pretty much the same thing.

Unsurprisingly, both failed to pass muster. And, though Labour is temporarily all smiles, it demonstrated the Left fiddled with political point-scoring while Syria burned and Miliband can never again be trusted to claim the moral high ground.

Cameron’s mistakes were dual-fold: he didn’t need to act in such haste by recalling parliament four days before it was scheduled to reconvene; and he failed to do his arithmetic on the expected votes tally.

Plus, he was being over-democratic by giving MPs the final say on whether Britain joined the US initiative, since a British PM can claim the ‘Royal Prerogative’ and act unilaterally when military action is considered urgent.

The net result of the folly of the UK’s Lib-Con government and the Labour Party’s cynical crowing is the country has sacrificed its claim to be ‘Great’ and now is relegated to simply ‘Britain’.

On the other side of the Pond, Obama risks a similar humbling by asking Congress’s consent.

SYRIA'S SUFFERING: Victims of gassing add to the 100,000 death toll

SYRIA’S SUFFERING: Victims of ghastly gassing add to the 100,000 death toll

Joe and Joanna Public across the West have little appetite for more military adventures, however miniscule, and nobody has a real clue about the dog’s dinner-cum-moral maze that is the Middle East.

Egypt is a basket case; Iraq a quagmire of hatred; a return to Taliban rule is predicted in Afghanistan when coalition troops finally retreat; Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry is nearly certain to succeed, such is the West’s incompetence in dealing with the mad mullah’s deceit; Lebanon is on the edge of implosion; and Jordan’s monarchy could fall at the slightest push.

Israel, meanwhile, sits it out on the sidelines, uncomfortably aware that Assad’s backers in Tehran desperately want to draw it into war, as do the Al-Qaeda headbangers in the rebels’ ranks.

And, set against this powder-keg backdrop, the US and nationalist Russia square up, rekindling memories of the Cold War.

If ever there’s a ‘lose-lose’ scenario the Middle East is it.

And – with or without Obama’s intervention, however strategically surgical it is – matters are only going to get worse before sanity prevails in the region, if, indeed, it ever does.

Ed’s talking b**ls if he thinks hitting OAPs is a vote-winner

There are two golden rules in British politics…convinced the public that the National Health Service is always a national treasure and don’t start a punch-up with pensioners.

So far, however star-crossed the UK’s Coalition government is, somehow it has managed to avoid the unpardonable sins of upsetting either apple-cart, despite David Cameron doing more U-turns than a motorist with a demented sat-nav system.

The Prime Minister may be accident-prone and finding Downing Street a morass of quicksand, but he’s doing a fair impression of minimising harm to the money pit that is the NHS and not trying to squeeze the last pips from OAPs.

Low inflation, meagre interest rates on savings and rising utility prices are taxing the elderly enough already, so reducing or axing their universal benefits – winter fuel allowance, non-requisite TV licences for the over-75s and free bus travel – would be electoral suicide.

The brouhaha over Chancellor Osborne’s wheeze to make retirees pay the first £120,000 of care-home costs was quickly rumbled and instantly reduced to £75K. There’s been a similar reversal, too, over private pension drawn-down schemes, which the Inland Revenue skimmed by 20% two years ago, only to reinstate the cut this January.

Besides, as leader of a party whose dwindling membership is mainly composed of over-60s stalwarts, Cameron and Co – the Lib-Dems, too, even if they won’t countenance a reduction in Inheritance Tax – know the value and psyche of the Blue Rinse Brigade.

Come election day, pensioners are more conditioned to vote than any other demographic group and Tory-minded volunteers can be relied on to stuff envelopes full of manifesto bumf, knock on doors and put up posters in their chintz-curtained windows.

In contrast, Labour, which can’t seem to decide whether it’s Old or New, is displaying all the symptoms of a political lemming under geeky Ed Miliband’s stewardship by deliberately targeting the wrinklies and crinklies.

TWO EDS BETTER THAN ONE? Miliband and Balls plot to hit the elderly

TWO EDS BETTER THAN ONE? Miliband and Balls plot to hit the elderly

Red Ed, who says he won’t reverse Coalition cuts to Child Benefit, recently backed his wannabe Chancellor Ed Balls’ plan to exclude rich pensioners from receiving the £200 winter fuel grant and stop their gratis bus-hopping (if, indeed, they ever do so).

Balls said, ‘When we introduced the winter allowance we introduced it universally in a different circumstance. It’s tougher times now. I think it’s fair to say that we shouldn’t pay it to the richest five per cent [but] keep it for everyone else.’

And on free TV licences worth £145, he noted rather ominously, ‘I think you have to be pragmatic about that one to be honest.’

In the cold glare of financial reality, removing the winter fuel subsidy to fatter-cat pensioners would net about £100M, manifestly less by axing the telly grant. Together, they’d hardly make a dent in the country’s debt.

It’s therefore fair to assume that the man who assisted Gordon Brown in the biggest, barmiest government spending spree in history – one that has contributed exponentially to the UK’s dire financial plight – is telling Darby and Joan that Labour has them in its crosshairs.

And once the breach has been made by means-testing universal benefits, rarely can it be reversed. So, if a sliding scale of disentitlement is introduced, who’s to say it won’t slither downwards to trap not just five per cent, but 10, 15 or 20 per cent?

Bizarrely, this might appease a few over-loaded old timers, who can manage very nicely, thank you, by private means without being encumbered with state largesse and they’re insisting on making maximum fuss about not receiving it.

So let me state, unequivocally, that I have no gripe with fatter cats, of whatever vintage, giving away money (though, ironically, those who’ve tried to return their pensions to the Treasury have been told where to stick the moolah, because they can’t do that).

By all means lavish what you don’t need on your favourite kith and kin, charity or bookmaker.

However, these aren’t privileges you’re undermining, but universal benefits all are entitled to receive by law. And, if you’ve been fortunate to be a high earner, you’ve paid your fair share of income tax and national insurance to justify a small return in your dotage.

I know it sounds ridiculous that multi-millionaires, like Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Bruce Forsyth, should receive pensions+benefits, but that’s how the system was designed and should remain.

If you don’t like it, vote Labour, because Ed Balls will be delighted to grant your wish.