Sunday, 27 February 2011

Many a slip....

Last week I published this post, showing that an IPSOS/Mori poll revealed that the SNP had caught up with and passed Labour in voting intentions for Holyrood. 

Today there is a new YouGov poll of Scottish Parliamentary voting intentions, commissioned by the Scottish Greens. Topline figures are;

Constituency: CON 15%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%, SNP 32%
Regional: CON 15%, LAB 40%, LDEM 7%, SNP 26%, GRN 6%

Labour would get 59 seqats and be in a position to form a coalition with the Greens (according to some).

So. All is right with the world. Labour is back in a healthy lead, the SNP is languishing and the election is in the bag.

Not so, IMHO. The SNP has loads of money from Brian Souter and (I would predict) Tom Farmer, the religious lobby working for a Nationalist victory. Labour and all the other Scottish parties are struggling for cash.And, as Lord Ashcroft and the USA elections show, money buys votes.

There's a long way to go and many a slip to be encountered. If you ask me, the election will be close and getting out the vote will be the key to victory or defeat.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

SNP U-Turn on Education Cuts

SNP-led Renfrewshire Council has dropped its planned dilution of teaching staff. 

The local authority had planned to hire more than 100 part-time non-teaching staff to work with classes for 2.5 hours each week to cover such issues such as healthy lifestyle, citizenship, sport and culture. The proposal was designed to help save £1.1 million a year, with teacher numbers being cut  through redundancy and fewer supply teachers being used.

Last week at FMQs, Ian Gray challenged Alex Salmond to intervene to stop his party carrying out these  education cuts in Renfrewshire. Salmond responded with typical bombast and bullying bluster, shouting and bawling and waving his arms to such an extent that the Presiding Officer had to cut off his microphone.

But today, lo and behold, the policy has been dropped.

One up for Gray, I would say.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The BullShit Clarifies...

The BBC is reporting that PM Dave has written yet another article clarifying what he means by his Big Society (BS). And this time, there actually is some clarity, although not a lot of reassurance.
David Cameron says his vision for public services is an important part of his Big Society agenda
"David Cameron has promised to....end the state's monopoly over the public sector......the prime minister described his vision of "open public services"....and promised to release public services from the "grip of state control.....Mr Cameron added the initiative was was an important part of his Big Society agenda....The prime minister said he wanted an automatic right for private sector bodies to bid for public work, decision-making power to be given back to professionals, and people to have more control over the budget for the service they receive.... public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service.... there are some areas - like national security services or the judiciary - where this wouldn't make sense. But everywhere else should be open to real diversity....Cameron....insisted the state still had a crucial role to play in ensuring fair funding and access.The government hopes the plan will reduce bureaucracy, improve quality and save money....."
Let's interpret the PM's words.....

"an automatic right for private sector bodies to bid for public work"

= straightforward privatisation.

If any big international business can undercut the current provider, they can take the contract. And how would the undercut? By paying less and having fewer rights for the workers (that'd be the workers recently sacked from the local authority who were previously doing the work...). That's what happened in the '80s and that's what would happen again if this "plan" is ever put into action.

"...public services should be open to a range of providers competing to offer a better service...."

= cost cutting and quality reduction.

Contracting out has always, in the past, led to cheapest contracts being accepted and standards of quality falling. Think about it: we never had MRSA in our hospital wards until the Tories insisted in contracting out cleaning services. In recent years we have spent millions and had "cleaning task forces" and "emergency cleaning teams" in our hospitals to attempt to put that  situation (which should never have been allowed to happen in the first place) right.

"there are some areas - like national security services or the judiciary - where this wouldn't make sense."  

the police and the judges are generally Conservative, but don't worry lads, we'll protect your jobs.

There are actually lots of other services (see hopitals above) where it doesn't make sense either, but we have to keep the police and the justice system onside (ref. Miners Strike 1984) in case the oiks get uppity.

"Cameron....insisted the state still had a crucial role to play in ensuring fair funding and access." 

= we, you and me, the mugs, still pay....

You continue to pay, it's just that you no longer have any real democratic control over service delivery...

"reduce bureaucracy, improve quality and save money.....

= cut jobs, cut quality, cut taxes for those still able to pay them...

So the Big Society isn't really Bull Shit. Dave wasn't being vague because he wasn't clear about his own ideas, he was being evasive, because he knew fine well the real implications of the Big Society (BS). This version of the BS is revealed as a return to Thatcherite privatisation, job cutting, the run down of services and the weakening of local democracy.

It's a Thatcherite dream and it's coming to a school or a hospital or care home near you. Let's hope it's not the one your kids go to or your elderly relatives are in....

Friday, 18 February 2011

I'll cut the NHS, not the deficit...

The most famous poster from last year's election campaign was this...

"We can't go on like this, I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS"
In many interviews since then, Cameron has insisted that his government will protect front-line NHS services.

And Cameron's old Etonian mate, the A-list promoted Zac Gldsmith, promised to resign if his local hospital had to cut front-line services.
Today a number of hospital trusts have announced that they are cutting front line NHS jobs.

But, surprise surprise, Zac Goldsmith has backed the Kingston Hospital cuts. He said: "Hospitals around the country are having to find savings, and ours is no different."

Kingston hospital - visited by David Cameron during the election campaign with a promise that its maternity unit would not be closed - is to lose 500 jobs. The news comes as Unison secretary Dave Prentis condemned a further 500 job losses at St George's Hospital in South London as a "devastating blow".

Health minister Simon Burns said: "We are protecting the NHS with investment which Labour opposes. But this doesn't mean that the NHS can't become more efficient."

So "I'll cut the deficit not the NHS", and "I'll resign if my local hospital has to cut front line staff", becomes....

"We are protecting the NHS....".

And the band played believe it if you like...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Meet the Precariat.

I posted this showed Tory MP John Glen attacking his own consituents, working people who had difficulty making ends meet and therefore had to live off food parcels from local charities. According to Mr Glen, his constituents were "chaotic" and, by implication, undeserving.

Today I came across this video and article on the guardian website. It's by John Harris and John Domokos and it puts real flesh on the idea of how anyone can be in work, earning the minimum wage or slightly above, and still be achingly poor.

It introduces (to me at least) the idea of a section of society who might be termed "the precariat", i.e. people who live on a precarious balance between working poverty and absolute destitution, and who seem unable to find a way out of their predicament, no matter how they try or what avenues they explore.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Tory MP attacks working poor in his constituency....

Channel 4 News had a report on working poverty. They visited Salisbury. Amid scenes of people who were in paid employment, but who had to rely on food handouts from charities, the local Tory MP, John Glen, showed how out of touch he is by claiming that thse who are in waged poverty are to blame for their own position and that they were living a "chaotic lifestyle".

You can see it here,

...the MP comes in about 5 and half minutes in.

The Holyrood Gap Narrows

There's an interesting Ipsos/Mori poll today, commissioned for the Times, which has the SNP catching up, and on some measueres, passing Labour in Scotland.

Resurgent SNP take narrow poll lead as Holyrood election draws closer.

The headline suggests that the SNP is ahead, but the figures are a bit more complicated than that.
"With the Holyrood election now under three months away, the latest poll from Ipsos MORI reveals a significant reversal in fortunes for the two main parties, with the SNP now holding a slight advantage, having been 10 points behind Labour in November 2010. Among those certain to vote on May 5th, the SNP’s share of the vote now stands at 37%, up by 6 percentage points since November 2010. In the same period, Labour’s share of the vote has fallen by 5 percentage points and is currently at 36%, while the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats are largely unchanged at 13% and 10% respectively. This is first time since February 2010 that an Ipsos MORI poll has shown a lead for the governing SNP."
The figures quoted are from those who say they are certain to vote. But if you take all respondents, Labour is on 38% and the SNP 36%.

Even so, to close a ten point gap in three months is a remarkable result. The question is: is this an outlier, a rogue poll, or does it really reflect the voting intentions of the Scottish electorate? Unfortunately there are not nearly as many exclusively Scottish polls as there used to be, so we'll just have to wait for the next one...

In the meantime, the SNP will take heart and Labour will take the lesson that complacency won't win the election. If this poll is an accurate reflection getting the vote out is going to be key....

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

79% of Republicans think Obama not legitimate President...

Sometimes you despair for democracy, civilisation, logic, common sense and, in particular, the USA. 

A poll by an American polling orgnisation, Public Policy Polling, shows that, of the registered Republicans who can vote in next year's primaries, a breathtaking 51% believe that Obama was not born in the USA. Another 28% "don't know", which is the logical equivalent of questioning his legitimacy to be President. That makes an unbelievable 79% of registered Republicans who doubt the legitimacy of the President.

How stupid do you have to be to be a Republican? Given the support that Republicans have given to religious creationists and Sarah Palin, it seems that the Republicans are the party of illogic and non-reason.

How  can such a level of paranoid idiocy have got hold of the Republican party, one of only two parties that can realistically hope to provide government for the USA? They are ahead in the polls, control the Senate and are dictating economic policy to a weakened Democratic administration. How can the greatest deocracy on the planet hope for sensible goverence from such a group of evidence-denying morons? And what sort of society is the USA, which gives such a level lof support to such perverse, idiotic and outlandish opinions?

Francis Maude stumbles on how much volunteering he does....

Francis Maude is the Cabinet "face" of the Big Society (BS) the Tory plan to have us all volunteering to run public services for free. This audio of Eddie Mair asking Mr Maude how much volunteering he dates is from last summer, but still relevant as Dave continues to relaunch his pet BS project.....

And funny, of course.....

Monday, 14 February 2011


I have just watched David Cameron try to "relaunch" the "Big Society" (again...). I listened as closely as I could to the PMs words, but still it did not form any shape in my mind. It still comes across as a silly amporphous "let's all hold hands and help each other" non-sense. And, that being the case, it is anathema to what we know of Tory philosophy and politics in action. Mrs Thatcher put it most succinctly....."there is no such thing as society".

Which begs the question: if Tories believe that there is no such thing as society, how can they convince us to believe that there is such a thing as a "Big Society"?

The Guardians's Steve Bell has a v. funny take on it here...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Francis Maude gets booed on QT

Just watched an interesting moment on BBC Question Time. On a question about "The Big Society", Francis Maude went into the usual spiel about how Labour left all that bebt...

....hardly were the words out of his mouth when a huge BOO! went up from the audience!

It's here ......and it's astonishing.

It's not so long since the same sentence would have got a cheer or at least a clap.

Are people getting sick of it already....?

Bad news for the coalition. Good news for those of us that want the government to have a sensible economic strategy based on the facts and not on blaming someone else for their own decisions....

From those who have not....

I have commented before on the hidden (although becoming increasingly revealed) Thatcherite nature of David Cameron's Conservative Party, in its tendency cut without mercy and to take from the poor to give to the rich.

Last night I watched Mark Easton's BBC news item on the way council allocations have been calculated. It showed how poorer council areas get bigger cuts and richer council areas get smaller cuts, the specific examples being Hackney, an inner city council, which gets £210.19 per head cut from its allocation and Wokengham, a leafy suburb, that gets £2.86 per head cuts.

Now you might think that this is not justice: why should rich people get more money to deal with their (smaller) problems than poor people get to deal with their (presumably bigger and more persistent) problems?

According to Eric Pickles, the Local Government Minister, giving richer people more money is actually "fairer" because Hackney has, in the past, been getting a greater allocation (to deal with local poverty), so wealthy Wokingham needs to "catch up"!

So, one big difference with the '80s is that Dave is smarter than Maggie in his use of rhetoric: his taking from the rich and giving to the rich is all in the name of fairness!!!

It's a twisted logic I have to say, although it is prefigured in the saying: those who have, more shall be given; and  from those who have not, what little they have will be taken away.....

I had always thought that this was an underlying foundation of Conservative philosophy. I have to say, this is the first time I have heard it expressed so openly as policy and admitted so brazenly. 

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Lord Oakshott, a political obituary

Hear lies Lord Oakshott
Himself in the foot
and the
Coalition in the gut.

Watch the pipsqueak Danny Alexander deliver the coup de gras on Channel 4 News.

Point of Order Mr Speaker...

Today at PMQs, David Cameron denied that the money for the Sure Start programme had been cut. The denial was puzzling because the point has been made on numerous occassions that Sure Start is being cut. It's not a matter of any controversy, in fact Sure Start is in danger of being decimated and Tories seem happy about that.

Even so, David Cameron said the programme had not been cut. He even insisted in coming back with another denial after Miliband persisted in the accusation.

Tonight Andy Burnham, believing that the PM had got his facts wrong, attempted to raise a point of order with the Speaker, John Bercow, asking that the PM be censured for misleading the House. The Speaker refused, but could he be as wrong as Cameron?

Channel 4's factcheck website has looked at Miliband's accusation, Cameron's denial and the facts of the matter, and comes up with the verdict  

"Cameron misled the House of Commons".

"Cathy Newman's Verdict

David Cameron slipped up today by confusing the Sure Start budget with the broader early intervention grant. On that, FactCheck believes he misled the Commons.

But he was also less clear than he should have been by omitting to mention that this year’s early intervention grant has been cut by 11 per cent – choosing to focus instead on the very small increase in next year’s figures.
And that’s even before we get into the fact that none of the money in the early intervention grant has to be spent on Sure Start.

Councils have been given a free hand to close as many centres as they wish. The Prime Minister may find himself having to clarify all this before too long."

Seems clear enough. David Cameron displayed his usual detached attitude to fact and evidence. He tried to win the argument by presenting fiction as fact, and he has been found out.

I see an abject Prime Ministerial apology approaching.....

We're all in this together (part the 97th)

The Guardian has a very nice story today about how the Tory Party is funded. Essentially, they get their money from the City of London: 51% of their money to be precise.

A cynic might ask: how can they Tory Party be expected to be firm with the banks and hedge funds when the party gets most of its money from banks and hedge funds...?

A cynic would have a point, as the reaction to yesterday's piffling £0.8bn levy showed. "The banks are livid", reports the BBC. Aye, that'll be right. Lividly laughing up their sleeves, more like.

On a related issue: the relationship of the Tory Government with big business and how big business refuses to be taxed, there was an interesting exchanges at Treasury Questions yesterday. From Tory MP David Davis;
There is a lot of public disquiet about alleged enormous sweetheart deals done with major public companies-Vodafone and others-in the last five years. Three or four months ago, I tabled a question asking how many of these deals had been done, costing more than £100 million at a time. The answer I received was that the information requested was "not readily available" and could be provided "only at disproportionate cost". I received a similar blocking answer this morning. When is the Minister going to tell the House what HMRC has been up to? 
To which the Minister replied;
"The National Audit Office has investigated and examined that as a matter of course. There is no question of sweetheart deals. The reality is that HMRC is seeking to recover as much tax as is due. That is what it has done in a number of cases. I am not going to comment on individual cases. That is a matter of confidentiality; I do not get to see the details. None the less, I think wild allegations have been made against HMRC, for which there is little or no evidence."
So. There are no sweetheart deals and anyway it's all secret and confidential so even if there were, I wouldn't tell you. Very open government....

Let's paint the picture:

CompanyX tries to dodge £3bn of tax liabilities. The revenue calls them in....

"Ah", says CompanyX, "We're admitting nothing of course, but we've made it very difficult for you to find out how we did it. On the other hand, we don't want a prolonged investigation or bad publicity, so let's agree we'll pay £0.5bn?... No?... £0.8bn then. That ok? ... Good. Of course this all has to be secret, or next time we'll just hide the money completely and you'll be baffled. Nice doing business with you...".

Meanwhile, all over the country care centres, charitable institutions and libraries close.

And the Conservatives mantra in these impoverished times? "We're all in this together"...  It's enough to make you weep.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Big Society Brass Neck....

Last Thursday I blogged about Lord Wei, the Tories' "Big Society Tsar", and his pressing need to give up voluntarily working for The Big Society and earn some dosh to put food on the table. The ironic humour inherent in the situation was side-splitting.

Now the same Lord Wei has posted on his blog that public sector workers should go part time... to support The Big Society....!
"The second action local authorities can take is to have a serious look at their core costs – not just the salaries of middle management and their CEOs but also what hours they do. One of the major surprises of the recession in the private sector has been how low unemployment has been given the severity of the downturn. One reason is because many firms invited staff to go part time."

Translated: why are local authority workers so selfish? Why do they need full-time work? Why don't they (unlike me) go part-time to help me meet my targets....?

Really, the twists in this story are enough to furnish a whole series of  Tales of the Unexpected...  

The Big Society is about volunteering at a local level but the man who runs The Big Society can't afford to work part-time to support The Big Society, so he demands that everybody else should work part-time to support......The Big Society!!!

Truly, you couldn't make it up. But then, you don't have to if the Tories are making the rules....

Friday, 4 February 2011

Can Glasgow Host Question Time?

The Herald reports that Ed Havard, the editor of the BBC's Question Time programme, has quit over the proposal to move the production of the show to Glasgow.

The show's host, David Dimbleby has been reported in the past as being unhappy with the move. Today the Guardian says he is "furious" at losing the "brilliant" editor, who was apparently hand-picked by Dimbleby to do the job.

Mr Havard is free to work in any city that he wants and which will have him, but TBH, I have not been over-impressed by QT in recent years. It seems that the reppeated appearence of "controversial" contributors such as the historian David Starkey (the so-called rudest man in England) has been programme policy. The result is more controversy and more attention given to the programme at the cost (IMO) of a higher level of debate.Since the editor makes the choice of contributor, I would doubt his acclaimed "brilliance".

In any case, I can see no reson why Glasgow cannot produce the show as well as London: the programme travels all over the UK, the production centre is, or at least should be, irrelevant.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Big Society -v- The Real World

Lord Wei, David Cameron's "Big Sociey Tsar", has had to reduce the time he gives to the voluntary work of encouraging other people to take up voluntary work through the Big Society to return to real work. He can't afford all the voluntary work involved in the Big society and needs to earn a living (through the usual Tory toil of more directorships etc.)....

Really. You couldn't make it up....


It's worse than I thought....

It now turns out that Phillip Blond admitted that the idea was in trouble in the Sun. And Liverpool's 'Big Society' champion, Phil Redmond told the Local Government Chronicle that the project had made little progress over the last six months become “subsumed” by the cuts agenda. Now Joe Anderson, the leader of Liverpool City Council, has written to Dave withdrawing from the project, saying that government cuts have threatened the future of many local volunteer groups and he can no longer support the initiative.

Was there ever a more woolly, ill-thought-out, meaningless statement of personal or political philosophy than Dave's foolish championing of "The Big Society"?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Nobel Winner says UK Austerity "Disastrous"

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel winning economist ..

..has hit out at the austerity hysteria affecting European economies.

Criticising the "excessive austerity" that seems fashionable in Europe, he says;
"...There’s this disastrous policy that even in the countries that don’t need to have austerity...such as the U.K., ....are going for much more excessive austerity than they need ......We are already seeing around Europe the consequences of this austerity. The clear implication is that growth will be slower...."
Pointing out the effects of austerity in Ireland and Greece he says....
"While both those nations had “no choice” but to tighten fiscal policy, measures adopted by some other countries such as the U.K. aren’t justified...... Britain, where the economy contracted in the fourth quarter, is already seeing the fallout....".
Stiglitz, who is a highly respected and influential practicing economist and comentator, contrasts the position in Europe and the USA, where austerity is less fashionable and growth seems to be more established.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The BMJ has an interesting article by John Appleby, Chief Economist of The King's Fund, on Tory lies in the NHS debate: specifically the Tory claim that England has twice as many deaths from heart disease than France.

The attendant graph shows that in 2006 this was true but that the trend in England is sharply down and on current trends, England will perform better than France on that statistic as early as next year.

The Tories also forget to mention that  France has the lowest rate of heart failure in Europe and that France spends 11.2% of GDP on health, while in the UK it is 8.7%, and that the Conservatives plan  to cut funding, not increase it. 

In other words, under Labour this illness was addressed and is being solved, the NHS in England is at least as efficient and effective as its French counterpart, and the Tories' changes will do nothing to help: indeed there is nothing to suggest that they will not, in fact, make matters worse....

Mr Appleby also questions the analysis of statistics on mortality and survival rates, and claims that they are not as bad in comparison with European statistics as some people claim.

Worth a read
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has produced a paper entitled;

"Why did growth slow in the second half of 2010?"

And they don't blame the snow! (well not entirely).

By their analysis it was...

Not a weakness in the global economy. 

Not the banks imposing tougher lending conditions. 

Not a strengthening exchange rate.

Not higher interest rates.

Higher oil and food prices played a part.

What did change dramatically during 2010 was fiscal policy.

Osborne's cuts led to a decline in consumer and business confidence

Turning confidence around now is going to prove very difficult. 

And rising inflation has also raised the spectre of an early increase in interest rates

The need for action (on growth) is all the more apparent now....

So Osborne's cuts and the lack of a plan for growth are the real resons for the drop in GDP. Unfortunately we will have to wait 'til the March budget to see how the Chancellor plans to address these matters....