Defamatory DD comment?

Liberty XXX

It was the great foreign secretary Austen Chamberlain who claimed that our diplomats in China had often heard the curse “may you live in an interesting age”. And what a cursed age it is for our nation’s political classes – as Liberty chief Shami Chakrabarti (and as blogger Sadie has it, “winsome khol-eyed heroine”) threatened to sue a Labour Minister for flippantly suggesting that she had used her feminine wiles to win over grizzled trained killer, David Davis.

Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy summarised the by-election dilemma for liberal-lefties - but with Labour joining the Lib Dems in ruling themselves out of the race, did it really matter? Shiraz Socialist believed so, and saw the situation as a microcosm of the “wider realignment in politics,” pitching those who see the law as a “guarantor of freedom” against those who regard it as a “giant behaviour regulator”.

In other news, NS political editor Martin Bright issued a clarion call for a real liberal to step forward and make the by-election worth running and Rachel North asked readers whether she should pound the streets for Davis. Recess Monkey was pre-occupied with the ethnic backgrounds of the freedom lovers cluttering DD’s website. That’s profiling, and it’s wrong.

Hamassive step forward?

The cross-community e-zine Bitter Lemons, which provides unparelled coverage of Middle Eastern politics, this week presented a fascinating range of perspectives on the Israel-Hamas ceasefire. Palestinian Ghassan Khatib reflected on what he regards as the folly of excluding Islamists from the dialogue of peace, and of continuing Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem. Summing up, he wrote:

“This is the only way to empower the peace camp in Palestine and reverse the trend of radicalization, thus creating an atmosphere conducive to reunifying the Palestinian territories under the leadership of that peace camp.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Yossi Alpher explained why it is crucial for his government to change the basis of its negotiation with Hamas.

Closer to home, analysis was on offer at Harry’s Place, where guest blogger ‘SO Muffin’ took a cool look at the situation, and reckoned that while the Holy Land’s future was not an intractable problem, matters may deteriorate into violence again before any breakthrough is achieved.

What have we learned this Week?

Many of us are glumly observing Euro 2008 from our sofas, cans of supermarket lager resting on our guts, deciding which teams we hate most - and cheering on whoever they happen to be playing.

But Commissioner Mandelson’s old adviser Benjamin “Oofy” Wegg-Prosser sees an upside. The erstwhile Downing Street web guru, now based in Moscow, tells us in his LiveJournal that he is enjoying the tournament “without being racked with nerves about England's next match”.

Across the Pond

Michelle Obama, wife of presidential hopeful Barack, is increasingly proving a source of obsession to media commentators and bloggers across the States. This week she thanked the First Lady for her comments defending Mrs O’s patriotism; sparking off a new wave of online chatter. Hat-wearing Californian Zachary Paul Sire longed for a feisty presidential consort, and wondered who would want a pacified Michelle, or a “Laura Bush 2.0 who whips up casseroles and touts abstinence in a haze of nicotine patch-induced ennui”.

Video of the Week

In these days of triangulation and Cameroon wet ascendancy, it’s good to take a trip down memory lane, to the days when Tories were Tories. Rowan Atkinson’s famous “I am a golfer” speech from Not The Nine O’Clock News contains language which now, as then, is likely to be considered offensive.

Quote of the Week

“She also pointed out that it was thanks to Tony Blair we were there at all (She's a LibDem). I clapped.”

Iain Dale on his sister Sheena’s speech at his civil partnership to partner John. All good wishes and every happiness to them both!

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496