Clegg and Cameron: The Agenda for that 4pm 7th May phone call in full

This is the actual agenda which David Cameron had in front of him at Conservative HQ when he spoke to Nick Clegg for the first time after the election, at around 4pm on Friday May 7th:

POINTS FOR NICK CLEGG

– Note of appreciation for tone and content of his statement

-Wanted to reciprocate – hope you have recognised that in my statement

-Three aims for this conversation:

  • Discuss process for negotiations
  • Discuss team on each side [ours is GO, WH, OL, EL]: Yours?
  • Discuss timing [we would like to start this evening]]
  • Venue: Gus has offered 70 Whitehall, Admiralty House or Portcullis House. Your view?

How do I know this? Well, it is what popped up on screen during the excellent Nick Robinson documentary “Five Days that changed Britain” which is available on BBC iPlayer here.

The agenda was shown as part of a Conservative party video, showing what was on the screen in front of David Cameron during that conversation.

It’s amazing what you can do with a screenshot.

Other things which struck me about the programme were:

  • The big role played by Vince Cable and Menzies Campbell in talking to Gordon Brown to try to see if a Lab-Lib coalition could be formed. Because of their background of previous association with Brown in Scotland, Cable and Campbell at least ensured that such a possibility received a decent attempt.
  • The fact that Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson used an old wartime tunnel (built for Churchill) to evade the press in journeying from Number 10, Downing Street to the House of Commons to see Nick Clegg. Imagine them squeezing through this confined tunnel, passing pipes and ducts…It has a touch of pure theatre about it. I wonder if Peter Mandelson wore a black cloak? No doubt we’ll see this episode enacted in the film someone is planning!
  • After Brown resigned on the Monday, although he had removed a roadblock (himself), paradoxically his resignation left no real leadership for the Labour negotiation team. They seemed to be all over the place.
  • During the programme, Ed Balls poured out vitriol after vitriol about Nick Clegg. Balls came across as extremely bitter and, I would suggest, positively bitchy about Nick Clegg. Indeed, a moment for Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer to get their handbags out for. In contrast, Andrew Adonis was relatively restrained and Peter Mandelson was positively sanguine about the whole thing.
  • It is quite clear that David Cameron acted with extraordinary leadership and vision when he made his 7th May speech in Smith Square. He could have just fudged the whole thing and tried to form a minority government. But his “big, open and comprehensive” offer to the Liberal Democrats was in fact quite a leap in the dark which required great courage and clear sightedness on his part. I suspect that the prospect of Gordon Brown hobbling on in power must have concentrated his mind.
  • David Cameron also showed great leadership when he made his speech in front of the door of 10 Downing Street on Tuesday, 11th May when he reiterated that he aimed to form a full coaltion with the Liberal Democrats. At that stage, this was not at all clear. So again, he was taking a bit of bungee jump into a bank of fog. At that time, he wasn’t sure whether he would have to go back to the Queen in the morning to tell her he was going to form a minority givernment. Such is the power of the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive and Parliamentary party  (;-)) which had to meet late that evening to endorse the deal.
  • Gordon Brown forced the timing of the handover of government. Nick Clegg asked for more time but Brown insisted on going to the Palace on Tuesday at around 7pmish. In fairness, I think Gordon Brown was entitled to some dignity. Leaving under cover of darkness would have blighted his reputation for the rest of his life and, indeed, blighted his obituaries. I had previously assumed that the men in suits and tights (civil servants) had pushed the timing of the handover. But in fact, the programme made clear that HM Queen’s private secretary wanted to give Nick Clegg more time – and Nick Clegg wanted more time.

Dramatic video of woman who walks straight off a platform into the path of a train

I saw this on Fox 5 New York. It happened in Atlanta, Georgia a few weeks ago. Fortunately the woman was saved by the efforts of members of the public (including one, Samuel White, who climbed down on the rail to hoist her back up to the platform) and the train driver, Ayana Dunlop-Bell .

But the CCTV footage is quite incredible. The woman, Addie Norflett, who is “legally blind”, walks down the stairs and onto the platform and then just keeps walking…

Divert overseas aid budget to pay for Trident

If you want to erupt with outrage today, read this from Simon Heffer. Basically, he’s saying that the whole overseas aid budget should be cancelled and diverted instead to pay for Trident. In doing so, he highlights the outrage of right wing Tories at George Osborne’s demand to pay for Trident out of the defence budget.

So, the world will be a better place, and the UK will be more respected, if we abandon all attempts to help poor nations and, instead, spend money on an astronomically expensive nuclear weapon which will never be used. All because tinpot countries like North Korea are making noises.

Brilliant.

Labour reveals its true nature – hypocritical, disingenuous and tribal

I have to admit it. There have been a few times in my life when this thought has crossed my mind: “Why don’t I join the Labour party?”

The last time this thought occurred to me, for example, was in 1989. I have since had a team of scientists measuring the duration of that thought. Using measurement systems normally used to measure flashes of light which are so brief that they are invisible to the naked eye, they have recorded that thought in 1989 as being of 0.0000000000000000000000000000101 nanoseconds in duration.

But, I have to say, the behaviour of the Labour party this week in relation to voting reform, answers that question “Why don’t I join the Labour party?” once and for all.

Basically, the Labour party are an historic reaction to the power of the Conservative party. They are nonetheless valid for that. But basically, they are tribal. They work, corporately, to keep as much power in their hands as possible.

It has not always been thus. As Martin Kettle points out in an excellent article, the Chartists are at the heart of Labour’s history. One of the Chartists’ key demands was the equalisation of constituency sizes, a measure which Labour now opposes.

Jack Straw is quite incredible. He is so small minded he can only see Labour’s advantage and then deploys his lawyer’s skills to find an argument to defend that advantage. I don’t think he’s dishonest. I am sure he’s persuaded himself that his cause is just. But it isn’t.

This week he has repeated that he sees the equalisation of constituency sizes as “the worst kind of gerrymandering the world”. But the opposite is the case. The current situation is unfair and the equalisation needs to happen to correct it. Martin Kettle elegantly shoots Jack Straw’s fox on this one:

Be clear, therefore, that Labour is not trying to protect fairness from those who would destroy it but to perpetuate an unfairness from which Labour itself benefits. Inequality of constituencies is not the only source of bias in the electoral system – but it is certainly one of them. For the past five parliaments it has been biased towards Labour. No amount of red herrings about the danger of reducing the number of MPs, or the inappropriateness of including more than one major change in the same bill, should be permitted to distract from the essential propriety of correcting that bias. To claim this bill should be opposed because it is partisan is not just opportunism, it is an Orwellian inversion of the truth.

Elsewhere, Mark Thompson brilliantly uses a Gatling gun to destroy the other skulk of foxes put forward by Labour to defend the indefensible.

This must be one of the most disgraceful week’s in Labour’s long history.

High luxury portaloos for Clinton wedding

The New York Times reports that all suppliers to the Chelsea Clinton wedding have signed confidentiality agreements. So, despite tramping around all the shops and businesses in Rhinebeck, New Jersey (close to the location of the wedding), the Times’ intrepid reporters couldn’t get a squeak out of any of those business owners who are supplying anything to the wedding.

But that hasn’t stopped celebrity chin-waggers like those on Fox 5, a local New York station (which, from my viewing seems quite a good station, with none of the dodginess of its more famous sister station, Fox News) from breathlessly putting figures on some of the items involved:

  • $200 for each place setting. Yes – place setting.
  • $500,000 for the flowers.
  • $600,000 for the “tents” (Marquees)
  • $15,000 for the Portaloos

…And apparently the whole shebang is costing over £3 million or $4.6 million.

It was the portaloos that particularly caught my attention. They are not just any old portaloos. FameCrawler describes them very well:

The super fancy schmancy porta-potties! When having such a big event at a place with limited loos, bringing in extra toilets is a necessity. And you wouldn’t want Oprah having to hold her nose while climbing into one of the smelly classic plastic boxes. Instead the family is reportedly renting several of these very high end, top of the line portable toilets, featuring flushing porcelin toliets and urinals, china sinks with both cold and hot running water. They also have heating and cooling systems, faux marble walls and a stereo sound system.  How much do these cost to rent? TMZ estimated it at about 15 grand. And coincidentally, you can rent these from Dave’s Septic Service where it’s aptly named the Presidential Series Luxury Restroom Trailer. Presidential indeed!

Interesting US place names

I always had a laugh when I saw “Poughkeepsie” on the TV weather map. Of course, it is highly tempting to pronounce it “Poohkeepsie” but it is actually pronounce “PUH KIP SEE” – apparently.

Schenectady is another good one – also in New York state. It’s pronounced “Skinny Atlas”, believe it or not.

But my favourite is Throgs Neck Bridge. It’s quite a beautiful bridge in Queens – here’s a photo from the Metropolitan Transport Authority’s site:

Gulf oil spill – has over-hype led to actual economic damage?

On Tuesday, the front page of the New York Times showed a series of map graphics of the Gulf oil spill, under the title “Gulf surface oil is vanishing fast; Concerns stay”. (it is typical of the NYT, bless them, to have a headline which is so well balanced and contains a semi-colon).

Those graphics are available as an excellent time-phased online tool which shows the impact of the spill since it started.

What was remarkable about the NYT maps is that, as of now, the sea surface oil in the gulf is minimal. Just a few small, light patches on the map.

Hot on the heels of the NYT article comes another one in Time by Michael Grunwald. This one goes even further, as indicated by its headline: “The BP oil spill: Has environmental damage been exaggerated?”:

The Deepwater Horizon explosion was an awful tragedy for the 11 workers who died on the rig, and it’s no leak; it’s the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It’s also inflicting serious economic and psychological damage on coastal communities that depend on tourism, fishing and drilling. But so far — while it’s important to acknowledge that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an underwater event that took place just three months ago — it does not seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage. “The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared,” says geochemist Jacqueline Michel, a federal contractor who is coordinating shoreline assessments in Louisiana. (See pictures of the Gulf oil spill.)

Yes, the spill killed birds — but so far, less than 1% of the number killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 21 years ago. Yes, we’ve heard horror stories about oiled dolphins — but so far, wildlife-response teams have collected only three visibly oiled carcasses of mammals. Yes, the spill prompted harsh restrictions on fishing and shrimping, but so far, the region’s fish and shrimp have tested clean, and the restrictions are gradually being lifted. And yes, scientists have warned that the oil could accelerate the destruction of Louisiana’s disintegrating coastal marshes — a real slow-motion ecological calamity — but so far, assessment teams have found only about 350 acres of oiled marshes, when Louisiana was already losing about 15,000 acres of wetlands every year.

So far, so good. Interestingly, I saw suggestions on US TV last week that the scare stories and wall-to-wall coverage has scared people off visiting the gulf area – unnecessarily. The evidence which is emerging would suggest that the biggest battle to recover the Gulf’s economy may well be to convince people to visit there again and eat the shrimps etc. again.

So who’s responsible for the apparent over-hyping of the disaster? Some blame Obama, and that is certainly an undertone of the Time article. But the cause may be more prosaic or hum-drum than that.

It may all go back to BP’s live streaming  of he oil gushing out. There was nothing more attractive for TV producers than to start a news bulletin with the live feed showing oil gushing out nine to the dozen. It looked very dramatic, they could label it “live” and it didn’t cost them anything.

You can give all sorts of arguments for BP’s showing of the live stream. It was all very democratic and open. But, at the end of the day, it was a daft business decision to wash their dirty linen so fully and publicly. The dramatic live footage may have led to over-hype of the spill, which in turn may have an actual impact of the Gulf economy.

I sympathise with Tony Hayward. He seems a straight enough fellow and certainly did BP a considerable service by acting as a lightning rod in the first few months of the spill. Presumably, as a reward for that, he isn’t actually leaving BP. He’s being sent to Siberia.

Someone in BP has a sense of humour.

US States change law to avoid Al Gore 2000 situation

In many ways this is quite an extraordinary development. When you consider how the states of the US have fought over the years to keep their independence within the union, it is remarkable that Massachusetts has passed this law, following Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington.

The law will mean that the state’s electoral votes would be assigned to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote – regardless of whom Massachusetts voters preferred. So, a situation such as Al Gore in 2000 (when he had about a million more votes cast in his favour than George Bush, but still lost) would be averted if – and it’s a big “if” – enough states pass similar laws. The law in Massachusetts will only take effect if states holding at least 270 total electoral votes – the number required for winning the presidency – adopt similar laws.

Still, it is a refreshing step forward for democracy in the US – so well done to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington. You never know, there might be a “red state” following suit sooner or later!

A pig's carcass being attacked with a sword – US Cable TV summed up

It was somewhat of a shock. I was watching telly with the family. There were 2000 channels available on our cable TV. (I think there were anyway. That’s what the counter said. We managed to get up to about 43 before giving up through sheer boredom.)

As I flicked through, we were assailed by the image of a man attacking a pig’s carcass with a sword. I kid you not. It was quite a traumatic vision for a family. I quickly flicked onto the next channel.

It turns out that said porcine carcass splitting was part of Spike TV’s “Deadliest Warrior” series.

To understand this peculiar programme, it is helpful to refer to Charlie Brooker who, on Channel 4’s “You have been watching” royally took the Michael out of “Deadliest Warrior”. Specifically, much Brit merriment was had over the match-up of the I.R.A versus the Taliban in an urban car park: