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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
It's Newslog, Nick Robinson's unique diary from the heart of the news. It's a two-way process though, so add your comments too.

Thursday 26 September

Party with pretensions
posted by Nick from Brighton | 1236BST | Add comment
So Charles Kennedy has claimed that British politics is up for grabs in a way it's not been for the past 100 years. I report this with some sadness as one of Mr Kennedy's saving graces is his lack of hyperbole.

But I find it hard to believe that he believes that this moment in political history is on a par with when he entered politics in the early 1980s as a member of the SDP.

In those days, his party reached more than 50% in the polls, seriously challenged Labour for second place in a general election, and was led by a series of experienced ex-ministers and household names.

I detect no mood here or in the Tory Party that a similar challenge is about to take place. There's no doubt, however, that Kennedy's style of quiet reasonableness and his entertaining mocking of the Tories is doing him no harm at all with those who are beginning to despair of the Tories waking up from their 10 year torpor.

Best gag of the speech was his suggestion that Lord Lucan had a higher profile than most of the shadow cabinet. He then paused and suggested that for all he knew, Lord Lucan might be in the shadow cabinet, which would be a safe place to hide.


Wednesday 25 September

Charles and the letter
posted by Nick | 1513BST | Add comment

Listen hard in Whitehall and you will hear the hissing as water is poured on to flames.

The government is desperately trying to extinguish another row between The Palace and ministers, fuelled by Her Majesty's Daily Mail.

If you're like me, the thought of a re-run of the "Black Rod-gate" story is probably enough to make you want to leave the country and simply take up ski-ing (as someone once said*).

But let me risk being singed in the furnace and tell you what I do know.

QUESTION: Do Prince Charles's letters annoy ministers?

ANSWER: Downing Street says how much it values them. But one Whitehall source I have spoken to said there's a groan when they arrive, and they are compared unfavourably with letters from other royals.

Ministers, I'm told, have no problem with a "private dialogue" when a royal has a "genuine interest" in a subject.

But too often Charles's letters are seen as "whimsy, are leaked to the papers, and you question what his direct interest is".

QUESTION: Who leaked the letters?

ANSWER: In short, I dunno. And I doubt we'll ever know. It's hard to see why the government would want a row with the royals now, and even harder to see why they would choose the Daily Mail - which they hate - as a vehicle for it.

However it's also hard to see how this serves Prince Charles's interests. The truth, as ever, is that it's probably someone lower down the food chain who thinks they are serving their master's interests or just loves causing trouble.

I fear this won't stop the papers being full of Whodunit articles and graphs.

QUESTION: Does it matter a damn?

ANSWER: In the short term, only in as much as it adds heat to the town V country row.

But in the long term it matters because these letters come not from the likes of you or me, but from our next monarch.

You never see me standing outside Buckingham Palace reporting on meetings between the prime minister and the monarch.

That's largely because we have no idea what the monarch's views are on the controversies of the day.

Whether Charles intended his letters to be private or not, the same won't be true if and when he becomes king.

PS: On Monday when I said that Chancellor Schroeder owed Tony Blair "big time", perhaps I was underestimating things, as Schroeder's hurried appearance at dinner in Downing Street last night testifies.

*Allegedly Prince Charles himself, at the thought of a ban on hunting


Tuesday 24 September

Gorgeous George's soundbite
posted by Nick | 1600BST | Add comment
One question now separates Tony Blair from his critics, the prime minister having already defeated or marginalised those who say there's no need to confront Iraq now.

The question is: Who decides whether Saddam Hussein is frustrating the will of the international community. Many MPs on all sides of the House of Commons fear that George Bush is set, come what may, on toppling Saddam by military force.

So the critics now cry that the UN and not the US must define, monitor and judge whether Saddam obstructs weapons inspections and therefore triggers military action.

They sense that the president also is only following the UN route as a tactic before returning to his pre-set unilateralist past. Once again Tony Blair's biggest problem is not with his own arguments but with a widespread lack of trust of George Bush.

That mis-trust was once again brilliantly captured in a demotic speech by George Galloway who taunted his New Labour colleagues by asking them how they had ended up supporting George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney in an argument - and opposing Al Gore, Nelson Mandela and Gerhard Schroeder.

He said in a phrase you are sure to hear on the news bulletins tonight that George Bush was "not a man we'd like to be at the wheel of a car travelling along a cliff edge as we sit in the back seat".


Monday 23 September

New Labour's self-protection?
posted by Nick | 1624BST | Add comment
Just before the government prefects assemble for the first time of their new term, the head has called in potential troublemakers to reassert discipline.

Within the past few minutes Clare Short has walked through the door of Number 10, a good hour before the Cabinet is due to meet. I asked her whether she would be making her views plain in Cabinet. She said with a smile: "I always do."

But I suspect in her meeting with Tony Blair he will be reminding her of the old rule of collective responsibility.

Jack Straw surprised the massed photographers and newsmen when he walked down Downing Street but failed to walk into Number 10. When I asked him where he was going, he said: "I'm off to educate the whips." (The chief whip's office is the next building down from Number 10.)

It's clear that although there are weighty matters of life and death being discussed today, New Labour has its eyes firmly on how to make sure that it is not also a victim of any confrontation with Saddam Hussein.


What's it to you, Tony?
posted by Nick | 1200BST | Add comment
Sighs of relief in Downing Street this morning at the news that Gerhard Schroeder has clung on to power in Germany.

Odd, you might think, given Schroeder's outspoken attack on "adventurism" - a term which apparently covers any confrontation with Iraq, whether with UN approval or without it.

Odder still given New Labour's contempt for his pandering to Germany's Old Labour forces.

And then there's the fact that Tony Blair has found leaders of the right - Aznar, Berlusconi, Chirac - rather more to his tastes than those of the left.

So why did the prime minister find time last week to rally to Schroeder's cause, giving a supportive interview that led the news in Germany on the eve of poll?

The answer I'm told lies in Europe, and the long-held British obsession with undermining the Franco-German axis. Schroeder, you see, is (according to my Foreign Office sources) loathed by Chirac.

No Love = No Axis = An Opening for Britain and Blair.

Besides, Schroeder now owes Blair big time. There was even a suggestion that the dossier on Iraq was delayed until after the Germans had voted, to spare Schroeder embarrassment. And now the newly re-elected chancellor can see "the evidence", and have a post-election excuse to move from hostility to sitting on the fence - just where Tony Blair wants him to be.

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