Miliband is taking his cue from loser Kinnock, not winner Blair

The trouble with Kinnock, they will say, was that he was a Welsh windbag and that no one could see him as prime minister; and the trouble with Ed Miliband is that he is vaguely geeky and nerdy, and no one can see him as prime minister, and I suppose that may be true as far as it goes.

But this is about much more than image. The problem with Ed — and his similarity with Kinnock — is far more fundamental than that. Neil Kinnock didn’t lose because he was a Welsh windbag, but because he didn’t match the Tories in coming up with a language of opportunity and aspiration. He failed to equal Margaret Thatcher and, in the end, John Major, in providing a sense of how he, Kinnock, would unleash the talents of the British people and get the economy moving.

He was brilliant at sticking up for those who needed help — the elderly, the sick, the poor. But he never showed any real acknowledgment or understanding that we live in a broadly capitalist and free-market economy. At no stage did he seem to accept that it is always this money — the tax revenues – created by this capitalist system that allows us to finance all the social benefits and protections that government is able to disburse.

Neil Kinnock failed because he made his pitch to the Labour base — the unions, the public sector and all their clients; he had absolutely nothing to say about enterprise and ambition. The man who changed all that, and who understood how Labour could win was, of course, Tony Blair; and it was Blair who made a break so decisive with the legacy of Kinnock that they actually re-baptised the party, and called it “New Labour”; and the whole point of New Labour was that it straddled the divide.

You could, of course, vote for New Labour if you had a social conscience. But you could also vote for New Labour if you had a social conscience and you wanted to get rich. People felt under Blair that Labour was emotionally and psychologically reconciled to the realities of free-market economics. They looked at old Tony, with his zillionaire friends and his love of tennis and his ever-expanding property portfolio — and they thought: this man is not hostile to business.

They could see that he was in favour of wealth creation — and the problem with Ed Miliband is that he sends out absolutely no such signal because it is just not part of his political make-up. He can’t help it. He is the product of a world of north London intellectuals and grew up in a household where the words “free market” or “capitalism” were positively terms of abuse. His problem is not any supposed geekishness or nerdiness; his problem is entirely to do with substance, not style.

Under Ed Miliband, Labour has offered no explanation whatever of how it would like to inject more dynamism and growth into British capitalism. It has nothing to say about the everyday problems of business, about high tax and regulation; and as the election approaches it will pay an ever bigger price for its failure to offer any improvement in our relations with the EU in the form of a renegotiation, let alone a referendum.

Labour has nothing to say about Britain’s ability to compete in what David Cameron rightly says is the global race. Of course, we want a society where we care actively for the vulnerable; but the reason young people are not much turned on by Labour is that it is saying nothing exciting or hopeful, let alone about starting your own business or getting on in the world, and that is because in his heart Ed Miliband does not really view those prospects with excitement or hope.

They are not why he came into politics. He is there to curb the free market, not to celebrate what it can achieve. He has reduced Labour to its old role as a party of protest, complaint, and public-sector special interest groups.

That is not how Tony Blair won three elections. It is how Neil Kinnock lost twice.

The weather prophets should be chucked in the deep end

In Roman times, a swimming pool was a sign of taste, style and affluence, and in some of the biggest Romano-British villas you can see where Roman nobs frolicked and enjoyed the pleasures of water and nakedness. These days it would be fair to say that a swimming pool is a luxury – but not an unheard-of luxury. In the past 10 years there have been plenty of middle-class punters who have decided that they want a touch of Beverly Hills about their homes – and I know why they did it. They thought it would be nice for the kids and the grandchildren. They thought it might conceivably add to the value of their homes. In their secret hearts they hoped, forgivably, that it might provoke the envy of their neighbours.

But then there was an extra spur – the new and unanswerable imperative to find a way of keeping wet and cool. For more than 20 years now, we have been told that this country was going to get hotter and hotter and hotter, and that global warming was going to change our climate in a fundamental way. Do you remember that? We were told that Britain was going to have short, wet winters and long, roasting summers. It was going to be like 1976 all over again, with streakers at Lord’s and your Mr Whippy melting before you could even lick it, and Hyde Park scorched into a mini Kalahari.

They said we were never going to have snow again, and that we should prepare for southern England to turn gradually into a Mediterranean world. There were going to be olive groves in the Weald of Kent, and the whole place was going to be so generally broiling in summer that no one would be able to move between noon and 4pm, after which people would come out to play boules and sip pastis, to the whine of a mandolin, in the dusty square that had once been a village green.

That’s what they said: the BBC, and all the respectable meteorologists – and I reckon there were tens of thousands of people who took these prophecies entirely seriously. Omigod, they said to themselves, we are all going to fry. The only answer was to build a source of permanent refreshment – and so they did. They saved up, and they remortgaged, and they got in the diggers. They moved huge cuboids of earth and used them to create curious berms at the bottom of the garden, and then they lined these trenches with tiles (jolly expensive) or with a kind of blue plastic sheeting (virtually indistinguishable and much cheaper) and then they filled these holes with thousands of gallons of water that circulated endlessly by an unintelligible process known only to the people who had installed it but who seemed unfortunately to have gone bust.

They fought gallantly but in vain against the green slime, and to understand the balance of chemicals that the pool required; and they watched baffled as it oscillated – now choking with vegetation, now a glorified sheep dip of eye-stinging acid. Year after year they summoned up their courage, choked back their nausea and fished out the dead mice and the pallid corpses of worms bleached white by the chlorine. They sieved for leaves; they flipped out bugs with their hands; and all the while they were comforted with the thought that it was a sound investment.

They imagined the poolside parties they would have when the warming really kicked in: the barbecues; the bikinis; the pina coladas. They saw themselves on their lilos talking to their brokers on their mobile phones or getting up early on a glorious summer day and diving in unclothed when no one else was around. They thought they were doing the sensible thing and getting ready for a Californian lifestyle – and they were fools! Fools who believed that the global warming soothsayers really meant what they said or that they had a clue what the weather would be in the next 10 years.

I hope I don’t need to tell you that we have not experienced a Mediterranean climate – not since they started to tell us to expect it. On the contrary, we have had some pretty long and miserable winters – including the last one, in which I saw snow settle in London on four separate occasions – and our summer is at risk of becoming a bit of a farce. As I write these words, I am looking out yet again at lowering grey clouds, in what should be the peachiest time of year – and now these so-called weather forecasters and climate change buffs have the unbelievable effrontery to announce that they got it all wrong. They now think that we won’t have 10 years of blistering summer heat; on the contrary, it is apparently going to be 10 years of cold and wet.

It is outrageous. Think of all those honest hard-working folk who have sunk their resources into a pool, only to find they use it only a couple of times a summer, and even then the wind-chill is so bad that the swimmers get goosebumps as soon as they emerge. I am generally against the compensation culture, but in my mind’s eye I see a class action: aggrieved English pool-owners against the global warming prophets and the erroneous meteorologists who have, frankly, been taking the piscine.

The Tories will never triumph with five chairmen at the helm

Some of this applies to Andrew Feldman, whose sole qualification to work at (let alone chair) Conservative HQ appears to be that he played tennis with the Prime Minister while both men were undergraduates at Brasenose College, Oxford, in the Eighties. However, the party co-chairman is not just a crony. He is also a key link between the Prime Minister and Conservative Party donors (I would imagine his fingers are all over the knighthood awarded to Sir Michael Hintze, a hedge-fund manager who has given more than £1.5 million, for “services to the arts” in this week’s birthday honours).

Recently Andrew Feldman was accused of calling Tory activists “swivel-eyed loons”. He has denied doing so, unconvincingly. I have no doubt, having consulted relevant sources, that the remarks made were actually his. It comes as no surprise that a Tory party chairman whose real constituency is not the Tory membership but wealthy donors should have expressed such sentiments.

But he is the least of Mr Shapps’s numerous problems. The Tory chairman also has to cope with George Osborne. Though officially Chancellor of the Exchequer, in practice Mr Osborne spends a great deal of his time overseeing Tory politics, attending many of the relevant meetings. The lurking presence of the Chancellor is the main reason why Mr Shapps has no authority.

Mr Osborne’s main channel of influence is through Stephen Gilbert, the prime minister’s political secretary. Mr Gilbert (seen internally as a far more important figure than Grant Shapps) is also, in effect, head of campaigns at Central Office. It is conceivable that Mr Gilbert might do one of these jobs well. It can be said with certainty that he does both badly.

One of the functions of the political secretary (one done well by Jonathan Hill, now Leader of the Lords, during the Major premiership, or Sally Morgan for Tony Blair) is to establish a passage between the prime minister and the parliamentary party. At times this is close to a full-time job. Unfortunately Stephen Gilbert can only devote a small amount to this because of his other responsibilities, one of the main reasons for the catastrophic disconnection between David Cameron and his Tory MPs.

The campaigning situation is yet worse. Back-bench MPs complain about poor briefing and lack of strategic direction, a problem that was glaringly obvious during the Eastleigh by-election, when it was never clear who was in charge. The hapless Mr Shapps could do nothing about this shambles, even if he wanted to, because while he occupies high office he is not permitted to exercise real power.

There is also Lynton Crosby, recently appointed political strategist to the Prime Minister. There are conflicting views of Mr Crosby, but almost everyone agrees that he gives focused and tough advice. However he is at the moment part-time, which means that nobody reports to him and he is not part of the command structure.

To sum up: Conservative organisation is a mess of special agendas, secret influence, and back-channels of communication. Contempt for traditional party structures is complete, meaning that conflicting messages and operational incompetence have become the hallmark of the Tory machine. One MP told me so many people carried out the role of chairman that “if one of them won’t do what I want, I go and ask another”. As a result the superb work which is being carried out by many ministers is hardly recognised, while the relationship between Downing Street and Tory back-benchers and activists is the worst I can remember.

The underlying responsibility for this shambles must lie at the door of David Cameron. From the very start he and (in particular) George Osborne have shown a point-blank refusal to relinquish control of party organisation, which explains why no Tory chairman has been able to make a mark. It is very hard to see how the 2015 general election could be won in these circumstances.

There is a very obvious solution, but it would require courage. Mr Cameron could bring in a heavyweight politician – his own Patten or Thorneycroft – with the vision and substance to shape his own election-winning machine. Such a character would, however, have to be given overall control. He or she could not be second-guessed by Downing Street.

There are three candidates: William Hague, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Mr Hague, I am told, shudders at the thought of returning to the boredom, squalor and anxiety of domestic politics. Mr Gove cannot be spared from education. It is hard to think of any modern Conservative better suited for the job than Mr Johnson. Popular with the public, loved by the party, he has reinvented the rules of political discourse since becoming Mayor of London.

So far he has been kept at arm’s length by the Tory leadership, who feel envious and threatened by the Mayor’s charm and ease. The most intelligent reaction is to tie Mr Johnson in – by making his fortunes dependent on those of Mr Cameron. Both men come, after all, from the same stable: socially and economically liberal, defiantly optimistic. There is an inevitability that, over time, Mr Johnson would use his position to mount a challenge for the leadership. But the immediate task is to win the general election, and Mr Johnson is the only Conservative with the proven capacity to do just that.

William Hague: It would be wrong to rule out arming Syrian rebels

“This has now been going on for nearly two-and-a-half years. We really shouldn’t be in the business of ruling out any options.

“There are no palatable options, I want to be clear with the whole country about that.”

David Cameron faces growing political opposition at home amid suggestions that he is in favour of joining the Americans in helping to assist rebels. He has been warned that he could be defeated in the Commons if he tries to win a parliamentary agreement for Britain to arm the rebels.

Mr Cameron clashed with the Russian president at a Downing Street press conference on Sunday.

Asked by reporters whether he had “blood on his hands” for arming the Assad regime, Mr Putin said that his nation had acted in accordance with international law by delivering arms to the Syrian government.

He added: “I believe you will not deny the fact that one should hardly back those who kill their enemies and eat their organs – all that is filmed. Do you want to support these people? Do you want to supply arms to these people?”

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also cautioned Mr Cameron against arming the Free Syrian Army, saying that if it were a good idea, Britain would have done it already. The former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, said he feared any such assistance would lead Britain into further intervention, while the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, urged Mr Cameron to “tread very warily”.

In a round of TV interviews at Lough Erne, Mr Cameron said: “Let’s be clear – I am as worried as anybody else about elements of the Syrian opposition, who are extremists, who support terrorism and who are a great danger to our world.

“The question is what do we do about it? My argument is that we shouldn’t accept that the only alternative to Assad is terrorism and violence.

“We should be on the side of Syrians who want a democratic and peaceful future for their country and one without the man who is currently using chemical weapons against them.

“What we can try and do here at the G8 is have further pressure for the peace conference and the transition that is needed to bring this conflict to an end.”

The Prime Minister added: “We haven’t made a decision to give any arms to the Syrian opposition but what we do need to do is bring about this peace conference and this transition, so that people in Syria can have a government that represents them, rather than a government that’s trying to butcher them.

“What we are doing right now is helping the official Syrian opposition – people who have signed up to democracy and human rights, who want that sort of future for Syria.

“We are advising them, helping them and we are assisting them – and we should.

“President Assad wants us to think that the only alternative to him is extremism and violence. Yet there are millions of people in Syria who want a peaceful and democratic future. We should be on their side.”

Clip courtesy of Today on BBC Radio 4, the full interview is available to listen to on the BBC’s iPlayer.

We’ve left it too late to save Syria – this conflict can never be won

Odious, twisted, hate-filled thugs; arrogant and inadequate creeps, intoxicated by the pathetic illusion of power that comes with guns; poisoned by a perversion of religion into a contempt for all norms of civilised behaviour.

They are fighting not for freedom but for a terrifying Islamic state in which they would have the whip hand — and yet there is no dodging or fudging the matter: these are among the Syrian rebels who are hoping now to benefit from the flow of Western arms.

How is it supposed to work? How are we meant to furnish machine guns and anti-tank weapons to one set of opposition forces, without them ending up in the hands of men like the al-Qaeda-affiliated thugs who executed a child for telling a joke? The answer is that we have no means of preventing such a disaster, any more than we can control what kind of “government” the rebels — if they were successful — would form in Damascus.

What is happening in Syria is one of the greatest human and cultural catastrophes of our age. For two years the mortar rounds have been pulverising the cradle of civilisation. When I think of the happy days I have spent roaming the souk of Aleppo or the Umayyad mosque of Damascus, I am filled with grief, and I hear such awful tales of destruction that I almost dread to go back. The dead are said to number 93,000 just in the past two years. But what else could we possibly have done?

Perhaps if we had piled in with the rebels at the beginning, it might have been possible to topple Bashar al-Assad and his nightmare regime. Perhaps we could have installed some sort of pluralist and democratic government, before the Syrian opposition became contaminated with jihadis.

You only have to raise that option to see that it was never on the cards — not after Iraq. We know what happens when you topple the regime of a Ba’athist strongman. You expose the fault lines of a state that was invented, in 1916, by the British colonial office, and you unleash an unbearable cycle of sectarian violence.

No one was going for a military option in 2011, certainly not the White House. With dozens of people being murdered every day in Iraq, no one was calling for us to repeat the experiment. So we sat back, without a strategy, hoping vaguely for the best — and now we have the worst of all worlds. The Assad regime has suffered all kinds of defeat and humiliation, but it has not yet lost.

Indeed, it has just recaptured the strategically important town of Qusayr, with the help of Hizbollah. We are now on the verge of a disastrous escalation, in which Syria becomes the centre of a regional if not a global power struggle.

On one side we have the rebels, including al-Qaeda, and they seem to have support — to a greater or lesser degree — from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the European Union and an assortment of extraordinarily unpleasant fundamentalist preachers who are very keen on establishing an Islamic state.

On the other side we have the Assad regime, and they have the support of Lebanon’s Hizbollah militia, Iran and Russia, which has always regarded Syria as part of the Russian sphere of influence. Both sides are now symmetrically raising the stakes. The EU has decided to lift the arms embargo that has been in place since May 2011; the Iranians are now threatening to send in 4,000 troops.

Surely to goodness it is time to recognise that no one can win this conflict, because it has become at least partly a religious conflict, between Sunni and Shia. No one can win that conflict because it is almost beyond reason. It is an argument about the protocol that surrounded the succession of the Prophet Mohammed — in the seventh century AD! One side or the other might technically “win”, and impose a government over the whole country. But unless that government has the approval of both Sunnis and Shias, we are doomed to sectarian violence and reprisals forever.

This is not the moment to send more arms. This is the moment for a total ceasefire, an end to the madness. It is time for the US, Russia, the EU, Turkey, Iran, Saudi and all the players to convene an intergovernmental conference to try to halt the carnage. We can’t use Syria as an arena for geopolitical point-scoring or muscle-flexing, and we won’t get a ceasefire by pressing weapons into the hands of maniacs.

The proud moment when I realised I was worth hacking

Shock horror! Hold the front page. It turns out the internet is a gigantic snooperama, a sinister governmental periscope inside your most personal electronic possession – by which THEY can keep a watch on YOU. Even now there are men in dark glasses in Langley, Virginia, whose task is to track the websites you visit, chortling with incredulous laughter. Out in Beijing, there are special agents building your psychological profile from the stuff you like to buy from Ocado. It’s a global conspiracy to invade your privacy, my friends.

It seems that the big US internet companies have been helping the American security services with a Big Brother-type probe called Prism; and the suggestion now is that UK spooks may somehow have been using the results. Everyone is getting understandably worked up. The champions of liberty are in full cry, and in principle I am with them all the way. An Englishman’s laptop is his castle, and all that kind of thing.

My only question is: what on earth did you expect? I have never trusted the security of the internet, or emails, or indeed texts – because it was obvious from the very dawn of what was once called the information superhighway that any data you sent to some server or database or gizmo could no longer be in any sense private. It was no longer shared between you and one recipient. It was stored in the memory of some vast global intermediary. It was out there, in the ether, just waiting to be hacked or lost or stolen or accidentally blurted to your enemies. That is why I have always rather assumed that any email I send should be drafted as if for public consumption, and that all kinds of people could be reading it – should they wish so to fritter their lives – as soon as I pressed “send”.

One night, a few years ago, I was working very late in China, when a hilarious warning sign came up on my screen informing me – I have forgotten the exact words – that “other users” were on my machine. I felt very proud. Someone thought I was worth hacking! I am afraid I just forged on with whatever I was doing, and it may be that the moles are still there in the innards of my laptop, secretly relaying useless information to their masters. Maybe the only way to get rid of them is to take out the hard drive and melt it down, rather as Arnie kills the Terminator. But then I will need a new machine, and that, too, will be immediately vulnerable to infestation.

The whole point about the internet is that everything is, as they say, everywhere; and that makes it hard for anything to be properly private. I see that Larry Page, the CEO of Google, claims it is “completely false” to say that his company gives away information about your internet activity. Pull the other one, Larry. If that is the case, how come all users of your Gmail email accounts get those advertisements pinged at them – ads triggered by words in the very CONTENT of the emails themselves? I don’t give a monkey’s whether it is a machine or a person: someone out there is monitoring my thoughts, as reflected in my emails, and that someone is trying to sell me stuff on the basis of what they have gleaned from my PRIVATE BLOOMING CONVERSATIONS!

I think if I were Shami Chakrabarti, or my old chum David Davis, I might get thoroughly aerated at this point; and I have some sympathy with their general position. But then I am afraid I also have sympathy with our security services, and their very powerful need to use the internet to catch the bad guys – the terrorists, the jihadis, the child porn creeps. There is a trade-off between freedom and security, as Barack Obama rightly says; between the citizen’s right to total internet privacy, and the duty of the state to protect us all from harm.

The question is where you draw the line, and how you enforce it; and in the meantime, I have two suggestions for those libertarians who have been scandalised by the revelations from America. The first is to look at the bestseller lists, and the amazing success of a sweet little book called Letters to Lupin – the gin-sodden epistles of Home Counties racing buff Roger Mortimer to his wayward son.

People adore this book because it evokes those men who fought in the war – Dear Bill characters whose conversation involved dirty jokes, the state of the lawn, the soundness of horses, what the dog had done on the carpet and the general insanity of their wives and other female relatives. They remind us of a generation now fading, capable of stiff upper lip but also of expressing great love and devotion; and they remind us of how that love was expressed. The letter was an event in itself. It wasn’t just a piece of information pinged into your inbox. It was a lovely hodge-podge of gossip and news and jokes, an art-form that needs to be revived, and so all those who want to beat the internet snoops – just get out the old Basildon Bond, suck the end of your biro, assemble your thoughts carefully and do as our grandparents did.

Failing that, there is clearly a massive business opportunity for a British tech company. Look at all these US tech giants: I don’t need to name them – you know who I mean. They don’t pay their fair share of tax; they collaborate with US snoopers; they are altogether too big and powerful. They have had a lot of paint chipped off them lately. We in Britain have produced all sorts of technological breakthroughs – indeed, Tim Berners-Lee actually came up with the World Wide Web. But we have not yet produced a giant on the American scale – and now the gap yawns for a British internet provider that somehow roots out the terrorists and the child molesters, and yet allows the blameless punter to send an email in complete security. We want a British Google that cracks the freedom vs security conundrum. Come on, you Tech City brainboxes, it can’t be that hard!

A project that stands tall with Everest? Look under your feet

The Hillary Step is so congested that they are thinking of installing a ladder. In fact, there are so many octogenarians climbing Everest to raise money for the church roof that they might as well fit one of those chair-lifts you see in colour supplements.

As a monument to derring-do, Everest no longer qualifies; so what does that leave? We have plumbed the sea; we have probed the darkest recesses of the rainforest; we have circumnavigated the globe – even now there are probably gap yah students criss-crossing the oceans blindfolded in a pedalo to raise money for some good cause or other.

Perhaps we should make sure a Briton is on the next trip to Mars (and perhaps we could all club together to sponsor Ed Balls). Or instead, perhaps we should concentrate on the amazing things we are already doing, and that we hardly even notice – things right under our feet.

Last week I went to see the Crossrail excavations at Canary Wharf, four years after we had officially got them going, and I remembered how fragile the project had seemed. There was a time when we had to fight for Crossrail, when senior cabinet ministers were denouncing it as a mad plan to build a pointless trench across London. It was an easy way to save £16 billion, they said. Axe it now, they said, and no one will even miss it.

Well, thank heavens we didn’t listen to that guff. Crossrail’s tunnel is now a giant and growing fact, that will revolutionise east-west transit in the greatest city on earth, pinging you from Heathrow to the City in about half an hour. Its fast air-conditioned network will run from Maidenhead in the west to Shenfield in the east.

Crossrail will increase London’s rail capacity by about 10 per cent, and generate an estimated £42 billion worth of growth across the country. Even in its construction phase, Crossrail is good for the whole of Britain. Of its 1,600 contracts, 62 per cent have gone to firms outside London – more than half of them small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There are bridges from Shropshire, cranes from Derbyshire, grouting from Coventry, piling from Oldham, lifts from Preston and vast quantities of lubrication from Bournemouth.

The project is responsible for about 55,000 jobs across the country, and it would have been utter insanity to cancel it – not just because of the jobs it creates, but because it is essential if we are to cope with the demands on our transport network.

London will have a million more people in the next 10 years, and without Crossrail the Central line would become so packed and overheated that it would not be fit, under EU rules, for the transport of live animals. It is a vivid and powerful lesson in the vital importance of investing in transport infrastructure, and of driving on ruthlessly with essential schemes: the

Tube upgrades, new river crossings, Crossrail Two, and others. They are not just good for London, but for the whole of Britain.

And yet none of these Crossrail statistics do justice to what is being achieved. When Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, and I went into the new station box at Canary Wharf, I felt a sense of primeval awe, like a Neanderthal stumbling into the gloom of Lascaux. It is akin to a gigantic subterranean cathedral several times the size of Chartres. The boring machine is like a colossal steel-toothed remora or lamprey, grinding her way through the clay.

I stood beneath her jaws, and fingered some of that thick black Bournemouth lube, and they told me how the machine had driven with such accuracy that when she entered the station box she was only 5mm off target. This is the biggest engineering project in Europe, an amazing advertisement for British construction; and when you look at it you wonder why we are sometimes so prone to self-doubt.

When the next coronation rolls round, we won’t need a new mountain to climb. We’ll have the joy and excitement of Crossrail Two, as she chomps her way from Hackney to Chelsea; and unlike climbing Everest, the scheme will be of practical benefit to all.

In the meantime, we need a proper name for Crossrail, the vast new line on London’s underground network – and who better to give her name to that line than someone who has served her country so unfailingly and well for 60 years?