Monday 29 March 2010

Clear Blue Water...? or Policy U-Turn?

Until today, the Conservatives had made a great priority of the need for deep and quick cuts to the deficit, indeed they plan to cut more deeply and more quickly than many economists and the IMF think is wise. Now they have announced that they would only partially implement the proposed 1p NI increase. This is a traditional Tory tax-cutting move if not an open bribe, and the opposite of deficit cutting: it will increase any deficit calculation. So, whither cutting the deficit? Has the Tory strategy changed? Are we back in buying votes mode?

Tories are claiming that this produces "clear blue water" between the main parties. Now, I'm no economist, and  Faisal Islam has a good analysis on his blog, but it seems to me that Osborne has made, if not a U-Turn, at least a right-turn off the previously mapped out Tory highway.
The claim is being made that seven out of ten workers would be better off if Osborne's move is implemented, but that seems to ignore a number of factors.

1. The move will cost £5billion, and that money has to be found somewhere. The most likely target will be public sector jobs and wages. So, if you are a doctor or nurse or teacher and you find yourself out of work, or has your contract hours cut, or suffers a wage freeze, would you be "better off"? Probably not.

2. If the real need, as the Conservatives have told us constantly and insistently, is to cut the deficit deeply and quickly, then there will be adverse effects to the recovery. And if the recovery is delayed or goes into a "double dip", will seven out of ten be better off? Seems unlikely.

Another issue that Faisal Islam touches on is credibility: not just with the public, who will see this as a u-turn but still might buy the bribe, but with the markets. A lot of Tory confidence has been in the belief that the markets would welcome, or at least not oppose,  a Tory government. But if the Conservatives are so willing to abandon a long-held strategy for a few headlines and a tax bribe, what then? Will they be willing to give the Tories support, grudging or otherwise, now?

And if not, could Osborne's tax U-Turn be a turning point in the election, even before the campaign is under way?

Sunday 28 March 2010

The Real Question for Cameron

Just watched David Cameron meets undecided voters on the Politics Show.

It was interesting. Cameron was good, smooth and pausible, but he could not/did not answer at least half of the questions, preferring a "wait-and-see-we'll-tell-you-during-the-campaign", approach.

The transcript can be found at PoliticsHome

The most interesting question which I think could be asked of Cameron, but which no-one seems to want to ask is this: if he is so much in favour of social progressiveness and government intervention and green issues and relieving poverty and touchy-feely-we-feel-your-pain, why did David Cameron join the Thatcher Tory Party, which believed the exact opposite of all these things, in the first place?

Was he a nasty youth who is now a nice adult? Or is he still a nasty adult, but understands that he won't get elected if he admits it?

Friday 26 March 2010

Cuts Deeper than Thatcher..??

Much has been made of Alasdair Darling's statement that the cuts to come may have to be "deeper than the Thatcher cuts". Which sounds severe, except, as the graph below shows, public spending actually rose under Thatcher/Major, by about 1%/year on average, and only fell in three isolated years.

Good on Thatcher, some might say.

But on reflection there can hardly be a greater condemnation of the Thatcher /Major years. To have boasted, as Thatcher did constantly, about cutting the public spending "burden" and  then having failed to do so, is bad enough. But to have failed so badly to cut public spending while wasting the oil bonanza and igniting an unprecedented series of social catastrophes, is surely a condemnation of, not just Thatcher, but the whole Tory philosophy.

As well as the failed attempts to cut public spending, the Thatcher years were distinguished by rising crime, rising unemployment, rising poverty, violent industrial relations, rising social unrest, rising social division and recurring riots in our major towns and cities. Britain has never been so divided and so uneasy with itself as it was under Thatcher. She wasted the greatest natural boost that the UK GDP has ever been given, and yet she failed in her main aim of cutting Government spending.

What Thatcher's experience show is that unrestrained markets don't work in a modern democracy. Greed is not good. Me-first doesn't work. Individualism is no basis for a successful country or economy in the modern world. The core Conservative philosophy has failed, and Thatcher is the demonstration of that failure.

So when Darling says coming cuts may be deeper than Thatcher's, he is not saying much. But when he says he will do it while maintaining social cohesion and protecting essential public services, he says all there is to say about the difference between the Tory and Labour philosophies.

There is such a thing as society.

Thursday 25 March 2010

George Unravels: the Budget.

George Osborne has claimed that the budget has completely unravelled...


Given Osborne's dithering and weak performance as shadow chancellor over the last year, here's a quiz:

"The budget has completely unravelled":

"I have completely unravelled the budget":

"I have completely unravelled:"

- George Osborne.

Which of these statements do you think is most true?

Henry or Stan, who has the Bottom?

Just watched Osborne and Darling on BBC News24 and there is no doubt that Darling is the more impressive figure, by a factor of 10.

As well as looking typically weak and peeevish, Osborne shot himself in the foot by asking the rhetorical questions: "where is the energy, where is the vision, where is the competence?"

To which the smart answer is : obviously not with you George!

Watching the performance of the rivals was like watching a contest in trustworthiness between Henry Fonda and a Stan Laurel. Nothing against Stan Laurel, he's quite a pleasant fellow....

....but you wouldn't want him driving the bus...

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Darling's Balanced Budget, ... But the SNP Won't Like It.

Alasdair Darling has delivered his budget, and the Tories are baffled: they don't know whether to attack it as too generous or too stingy. And he outhought them by having the abolition of Stamp Duty for first time buyers on houses below £250,000 funded by a Stamp Duty rise on houses over £1million.

He also announced an agreement to reduce tax evasion between the UK and Belize, in what was seen as a sideswipe at the Tories and their Vice Chair, Lord Ashcroft.

The Tories don't like it.

And one other thing is sure: the SNP won't like it either.

Now, you may ask, why would I say that: what in particular will the SNP not like?

The answer is: I don't know, but I'm sure the won't like's in their genes... they're the SNP...they just won't like it.

Mark my words....
 David Cameron claims that he has changed his party, particularly on social issues like homosexual rights. This interview for the Gay Times website shows that a) he is lying, or b) he is not really in control of his party.

Last year, all Tory MEPs abstained on a vote against a Lithunian "section 28" dsigned to limit homosexual freedoms. When asked about the vote Cameron waffles, changes his mind, fluffs his lines and asks to stop the interview. He eventually claims that he knew nothing about the vote and then offers the excuse that his MEPs do not take part in votes about the internal matters of other countries. This is shown not to be true when Conservative MEPs later table a bill on press freedom in Italy, a clear interference in the internal affairs of another country. A Channel 4 report is shown here, watch it....

...and make up your own mind.

The suspicion has always lingered that the change that Cameron brought about in the social attitudes of his party was no more than skin (or press release) deep, and that the "nasty party" instinct still lurks deep in the heart of many Conservative MPs and MEPs.  This interview offers strong evidence to support that suspicion.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Council House Sales Thirty Years On

Peter King at Conservative Home, has a laudatory article on the sale of council houses thirty years after it was implemented. He thinks it was great idea. I beg to differ

The provision of low-cost social housing was one of the triumphs of the post-war political consensus, supported by both left and right. I know, I benefitted , and so did millions of others. I was born in an 18th century terraced house which was cramped, damp and had outside toilets. Within 6 months we had moved to a new post-war prefab, not perfect but, my mother tells me, a thousand times better than what we had. The old slums were cleared away and hundreds of decent homes built in their place. This policy was initiated by Labour and enthusiastically taken up by the Churchill Government of 1951 and succeeding Tory administrations .

Mrs Thatcher decided that this socially beneficial policy, taking people from slums and unsuitable and insecure privately rented housess, and putting them in warm, clean and well appointed homes, was a plot to keep council tenants voting Labour. I suppose the thought that you can have a policy which is a good thing in and of itself was beyond her moral frontier.

On CH, Peter King says "I would suggest that this has been the most successful piece of social policy since the Second World War."

A little aside, Isn't it funny how, when Labour does these things it's "social engineering", but with the Tories it somehow becomes "social policy"......


Mrs Thacher's decision to sell off council houses was a piece of social engineering designed to encourage council house tenants to vote Tory. And the observations on the conservativehome website - that it would have been pefect if only the money could have been recycled to building more social housing - completely misunderstands its purpose. It was never meant to provide houses for those who needed them, it was designed to break up Labour wards and get Tory votes. And it succeeded.

One result is that more people own their homes.

Another result is that more people have been homeless over the past 30 years, and more families now live in unsuitable rented accommodation than is necessary in an advanced democracy.

On balance it has been an  malignant policy with the outcomes including a few winners, more losers and a nastier, less caring, society.

But then Mrs Thatcher didn't believe that there was any such thing as society, so what more could we expect from her or her party?

Monday 22 March 2010

Michael Gove... Union Militant!!!

Last week David Cameron taunted Gordon Brown: cross union picket lines, why don't you...

Mr Cameron was enthusiastically supported by Michael Gove, the Aberdonian with the Oxford accent and now Shadow Education Spokesman......

But anti-union Gove's militant past is revealed at People blog,  as a striker in the infamous P&J dispute.

picture by Donald Stewart

And not just a striker, but a prominent figure in the action....

Interesting how someone who was involved in that bitter and historic clash of workers and management could end up as a Tory union basher...


...Mr Gove is reported to be quite rich now, if being a mere millionaire is considered rich beside Dave and George and Zac and all the other multi-millionares in Dave's list......

Friday 19 March 2010

Tories Attack the BBC (via the Sun)

Today's Sun has an online article  (no idea if it is in the printed paper) claiming that the BBC is biased against the Tories. Among the many accusations were claims that;
"The Sun's analysis" showed Labour politicians on Question Time were allowed to speak for a full minute longer than Tory counterparts.

On March 11 ex-Labour minister Caroline Flint got SIX minutes more than Tory Justine Greenings.

And on February 18 Labour veteran Roy Hattersley spoke for nearly three minutes longer than Tory Rory Stewart.

Last week bosses tried to make Mr Cameron look a laughing stock by putting out footage of him checking his hair in the wind before making a serious statement on Northern Ireland. Party chiefs complained.

A POLL on The One Show ignored issues with Gordon Brown to ask only, Is David Cameron too much of a toff to be PM? (the BBC later apologised).

Then last Sunday BBC2's Basil Brush Show featured nasty "Dave" - complete with blue rosette. He beat nice Rosie, with a purple rosette, by promising free ice cream but was arrested because it was out of date.

Last night the BBC admitted the One Show slot was "not as good as it should have been".

But a spokeswoman insisted: "The notion that the BBC is biased in is palpably not true. Our news coverage scrutinises all parties with rigour and impartiality."
So is it true?

Even allowing that the "Sun's analysis" on Question Time speaking allowances is accurate, it would not be surprising if Government spokesmen took longer to respond. They are usually defending attacks from at least two hostile guests (a Tory and a Lib Dem), plus the "celebrity guest" could be a Tory as well (two weeks ago Carol Voderman was openly Tory). So it is not unreasonable that a Labour representative would get time to address the various attacks, from two or three other guests, on their position.

It could be also that the Labour representative has more to say, and is a better speaker, that is certainly the case with Caroline Flint/Justine Greenings.

As for Roy Hattersley speaking for three minutes longer than Rory Stewart: well, I've heard of Roy Hattersley....

The other claims may or may not be trivial, but I'm grateful to the Sun for bringing the Basil Brush story to my notice: I think it's priceless, if  a little naughty. But does it outweigh the Sun's relentless daily attacks on Labour and its corresponding and unstinting support for the Tories? I think not...

The truth is the Sun has pledged its support to the Tories for this election and in return the Tories have promised, if elected, to weaken the BBC and let Murdoch take large chunks of the corporation's TV and online business.

It's not a secret, the Tories have already said they would abolish the BBC Trust, they have threatened the licence fee and have made other veiled threats against the BBC.

I find it interesting that the Conservatives oppose the BBC, the NHS and the Trades Unions: all the organisations that ordinary Britons love and support and depend upon. They pretend to be patriotic but they attack those institutions which make Britain the country it is and which serve the majority of UK citizens.
As for the Sun: if it wasn't for the effect of its poisonous influence on public life in the UK nothing would be more pleasurable than to ignore it completely. But if the Tories win the upcoming election, the Sun will  want to extract its pound of flesh. Heaven help social cohesion and public discourse then.

Thursday 18 March 2010

What did Hague Know, as Ashcroft Silences Panorama?

Yesterday David Cameron used all six of his PMQs questions on challenging Gordon Brown to cross picket lines. It was a pretty transparent attempt to take the spotlight off the Ashcroft affair, the sub theme being: Trades Unions are bad thing, Labour's relations with trades Unions are the real problem and Ashcroft is just a side show.

But today's Independent carries a rather sinister story about a Panorama programme which is being kept off the air by Ashcroft's lawyers.

Now, if the real problem is the Trades Union, why would te Tories be so sensitive about a news report on Ashcroft that they resort to heavy handed banning of free reporting of the facts?

Meanwhile reports are emerging that William Hague may have known all along that Ashcroft had made a secret agreement not to pay full UK taxes.

Surely now the pressure must be put on to help the BBC get show on the air. It will not do that the real truth, whether hostile to Ashcroft and the Tories or not, emerges after the election

PS 16.50 Thursday 18th Mar

The bubble has burst.

Polly Toynbee explains here that

Lord Ashcroft's peerage was awarded on the basis that he would become a full UK taxpayer, relinquishing his "non-dom" status and providing Inland Revenue with proof that he was both UK resident and domiciled, according to explosive new evidence released by the government to parliament. 
The relevant letters are here and they show the obvious expectations of the Cabinet Office and William Hague that Ashcroft would be a "permanent resident" of the UK, and how that was changed, and how Hague's promise that Ashcroft would pay taxes in the UK to the tune of "tens of millions", never came to pass.

This has the potential to be an election loser for the Tories. Hague has a lot to explain, as has Ashcroft and Cameron. Namely: why was the original promise of "permanent residence" changed?  whose decision was it? when did Hague know? when did Cameron know? who else in the Conservative Party knew and when? why did they keep it secret? were they wholly honest when questioned on Ashcroft's status over the years?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Does David Cameron Really Want an end to the BA Strike?

Today David Cameron used all six of his questions at PMQs to try to get Gordon Brown to encurage workers to break the BA strike, all the while emphasising the links between the Labour Party and the Trades Unions. I presume that he was doing this to try to counteract the effects of the Ashcroft affair, and to make the link: Trades Unions = bad, therefore Trades Union funding = bad, therefore Labour Party = bad.

I think he is wrong. It is not necessary to be in favour of the strike to have some sympathy for the workers having to face wage cuts and reductions in their employment standards.

The trades Unions do not have the power they once had, and they are not the bogeyman of yesteryear. Whereas fewer people belong to TUs, the recent behaviour of the Unions has not been such as to frighten the horses. In an era of unsteady employment prospects, even people who are not TU members can still see the usefulness of having an organisation to work for you and to act in your interests in relation to employers who are often much richer and more powerful than any individual worker.

I believe that the effect of Cameron's stance will be negative for the Conservatives, as they are seen to be trying to make the strike worse and to be anti-worker. Attacking the Unions in this way might shore up support among the core vote, but the public are not so partisan and Cameron looks too partisan on this front.

Unless, of course, his private polls are returning figures worse (for him) than the published polls, in which case he may feel the need to put out a few dog-whistles to the faithful.

Overall, I think he is wrong to go so strongly on this issue.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Where has Georgey gone boys, where has Georgey gone?

Politics Home carries two statements from Ken Clark on the economy, here and here

The usual stuff. Read it if you wish, but for me the important point is this: why Clark and not Osborne?

We know Georgey boy is unimpressive and even seen as weak by the City and the voters. Is Dave about to ditch his oldest political friend, the Oik as he is affectionately known in posh Tory circles, and put Euro-friendly Clarke back in the limelight?

Odds on Clark as Chancellor if Dave gets a majority... shortening..?

Monday 15 March 2010

Dave -v- Sir Trevor: a Heavyweight Contest

I have been given an exclusive transcript of the programme on David Cameron, with interviews with Sir Trevor MacDonald, which went out on ITV last night.

Sir T. "Now Mr Cameron. You're a jolly nice fellow, aren't you?"

Dave "I am. Yes."

Sir T. "And you have a pretty wife, don't you."

Dave " Yes I do. I'm very lucky".

Sir T. "Indeed you are."

Dave "Yes. I am very fortunate indeed "

Sir T. "OK That's the pleasantries over. Let's not beat about the bush, I have to put some tough questions to you..."

Dave "That's all right Sir Trevor, I would expect nothing less".

Sir T. puts on his sternest look... "You would make a very good PM, wouldn't you?"

Dave "Ahem..."

Sir T. looks even more stern if that's possible..."No need to be modest. You would make a very good PM, wouldn't you?".

Dave " Well, y'know. Modesty... people of Britain ..voters...not for me to say...".

Sir T. "Now now. There's modesty and there's false modesty...what do you say?".

Dave "You're right of course. But pure modesty stops me from saying it outright.... so thanks for raising the matter...".

Sir T. "Well, Prime Minister.."

Dave "Not yet, of course. We don't want to jump the gun..".

Sir T "Of course not Pri.. sorry Mr Cameron....and of course you're tough as well".

Dave "Well some say..."

Sir T. "As tough as Brown anyway....".

Sam butts in " Tougher. Way way tougher. He leaves his underpants on the floor everynight. Just throws them down.... like that...."

Sir T. "That tough. Gosh..... And of course he's the perfect husband...".

Sam "Not pefect. He throws his underpants on the floor. Every night...".

Sit T. "But apart from that..."

Sam "Well yes, apart from that, he is perfect..".

Sam smiles at Dave. Dave smiles at Sam. Sir Trevor looks on benevolently...


Adverts for soft soap....and other fluffy products..

It carries on in this challenging manner for a seemingly endless time..

If anyone wants copy of the full transcript, you only have to ask...

..or cut and paste and repeat the above a number of times.....

Saturday 13 March 2010

No more Non-elected Non-doms as Labour plan an all elected House of Lords

"An all-elected House of Lords"... how sweet that sounds to any true democrat. Well, it may just be on the way.

The Telegraph website is reporting that Jack Straw is ready to place his plans before Parliament. Three years ago the Lords rejected an all elected second house, despite the Commons supprting it.

The favourite for the new name would be likely to be The Senate.
The remaining 92 hereditary peers – the relic of a deal done under Tony Blair's premiership in 1999 – would also be swept away under the proposed reforms.
Mr Straw's plans go further than the tentative reforms sketched out in his 2008 white paper – which said the new-look chamber should have between 400 and 450 members and be either 100 per cent or 80 per cent elected.
Three years ago the Commons voted by a majority of 113 to reform the upper house to an all-elected chamber – but that move was blocked by the House of Lords itself, which voted for a fully appointed assembly.
 I have to say it's a great idea: non-elected non-doms have had it their own way for too long.

Friday 12 March 2010

Tory Generals... the Politicisation of the British Military

Vernon Bagdanor Professor of Government at Oxford University and a Fellow of Brasenose College is David Cameron's old tutor. He is one of Britain's foremost constitutional experts and has written extensively on political and constitutional issues.

Professor Bogdanor has an article on Times Online warning against the creeping politicisation of the military.

In the wake of Gordon Brown's appearance before the Chilcott Inquiry, he points out that, if our troops have the wrong equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan, then the generals must shoulder their share of any blame.

He also decries the increasing identification of recently retired, and even serving, generals as Tories.
General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, who has chaired the Conservative Party’s Way Forward Defence Study, said this week that the plight of British forces was “dire”.
General Sir Richard Dannatt made outspoken criticisms of defence policy during his tenure as head of the Army. In May 2009 he declared that the defence budget was “unbalanced” and “heavily skewed” towards high-tech expensive equipment irrelevant to the conflict in Afghanistan. Shortly after he left the Army, in August 2009, it was announced that he would become a Conservative peer with the possibility of a ministerial post in a Conservative government.
The UK has very strong tradition of military political neutrality. Not so long ago the names of the Chiefs of Staff and other senior military personnel were unknown to the public. Now they are adopting increasingly prominent public positions and, worse, becoming politically active, even while still in uniform.

I find this development worrying: the separation of military and political power has always been a great strength of the British way of working. In countries where the military take too close an interest in politics, the stability of the state can be undermined. Even the USA, which has a strong democratic culture, there is a strong sympathy for campaigning generals which would not be considered in the UK.

Of course generals must be strong characters and express their views robustly. But, for the health of the state, it should be behind closed doors and seperate from political partisanship.

It's not surprising that many military men have a political position, or even that they are (small or large c) conservatives. It is, to say the least, disappointing and even concerning, that a number of them feel compelled to adopt overtly party political stances: it is not in the interests of the forces or of the country.

Tories Question Parliamentary Scrutiny

Next Left looks at the decision by three Tory MPs not to partake in the Parliamentary Administraion Scrutiny Committee (PASC) to investigate the peerage awarded to Lord Ashcroft in 2000. It looks like a politically motivated move by the Tory MPs, and Next Left certainly makes that case IMO.

I have other concerns about it. In any organisation, the conduct of scrutiny has to be scrupulously impartial, and the current PASC chairman Tony Wright has gained a reputation as someone who does not do party politics within his committee. As Next Left shows, under Wright, PASC has produced a number of decisions that challenge the Labour Government.

But what happens if PASC decides there is something wrong with the Ashcroft peerage, and the Tories, having boycotted the committee, refuse to accept the finding?  Will other MPs be tempted to treat the committee as a party-political football? In particular, what happens if the Tories then win the election and form the next government, with a Tory Chair of PASC: will Labour and other opposition MPs feel constrained to keep politics out of the PASC in future? Surely the temptation would  be, having seen the Conservatives (in you opinion) make party politics with the committee, to do exactly the same yourself?

I think it is a bad decision by the Conservatives. Whatever the short-term result, it will have regrettable effects on the workings of PASC in the long run, particularly if the Tories win the election in (May?).

Thursday 11 March 2010

Should Samantha run?

Conservative Home is reporting that Samantha Cameron will be actively involved in the Tory campaign. David Cameron is reported as saying that;
Britain should "get ready" and prepare to see "a lot more" of his wife, Samantha, on the campaign trail during the general election.

TBH, I'm not sure if it's a good idea to have spouses prominently involved in campaigning. It's difficult to see how they add value. They cannot talk policy and they cannot campaign openly. All they can be is "not be a disaster". The best PM spouses have been Mary Wilson, Dennis Thatcher and Norma Major (until she too got involved in campaigning). The only way that a spouse can add value is by not subtracting it by doing something silly or going off message.

 If I was Dave, I would use her sparingly if at all, (same goes for Sarah Brown). The potential for trouble far outweighs the potential for gain.

File under: more trouble than it's worth...

The Character Thing.....

Conventional wisdom has so far been that the election will be a battle between the "popular" Dave, with his easy personality and communications skill, but light on policys, versus "unpopular" Gordon, with his lack of personal skills, but with experience and ability, plus policy advantage. That may be changing.

Yesterday, during a rowdy PMQs, the character question, while not exactly dominant, made its public debut as a battlefield embraced by both sides. The interesting thing is that Gordon Brown raised the character issue and he seemed to relish the battle it implies. The question is: what is the calculation behind Gordon Brown's change of tactics and is it wise for him to get into a beauty contest with Dave?

It seems to me that Brown reckons that he can win the battle of policy: the majority of economists, the IMF and the British people seem to buy his/Alasdair Darling's recipe for economic recovery and to reject George Osborne's. Given that the Tories are still ahead in the polls, the battle has to be carried to them, to take them on, on what the regard as their strengths.

And it's not such a gamble as it might have been six months ago. In that time, the Tories have swung this way and that on a number of policy and presentation issues. This is of course important for policy, but it also shows that Cameron is not on top of his agenda or his shadow spokesmen. George Osborne is also a weak link: he's not impressive personally and his policies are not clear or clearly expressed. Today Politics Home is reporting that the City would prefer Osborne's deputy, Ken Clark as Chancellor. Other Tory shadows have made gaffes and outright mistakes. Andrew Lansdley was supposedly untouchable as Health Spokesman until he suggested that health records should be transferred to Google. Chris Grayling was rebuked by the head of UK Statistics after sending dodgy crime statistics to Tory PPCs for use in the election campaign. And of course even Ken Clark is liable to shoot off at the mouth, and he is a euro-enthusiast, which is not popular in the modern Tory party.

Gordon has also benefitted from the sheer nastiness of some of the attacks on him, notably from the Sun and from Tory Generals. This has had the effect of getting more people "on his side" out of sympathy at the injustice of the attacks and the strength of Conservative bile directed at him. He has also worked at lightening his public persona and delivery and improving public perceptions of his personality. And the sheer doggedness of his determination in pursuing economic solutions, leading international opinion and opposing the forces that attack him, has induced a kind of respect for his strength and determination, qualities that are not negligible in the current climate.

So, in attacking on all sides, policy, presentation and personality, GB is challenging Cameron to fight on all fronts as well. And given that the Tory machine doesn't seem to be as well geared as it should be with all the cash they have spent on it, or as they boasted it would be, and that policy is a battle they do not want, there may indeed be profit for Brown in the strategy.

With the persistent Tory lead he has to do something, and forcing your opponents to change their tactics can be a profitable move for any successful general.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Statistics and Damned Lies

A month ago Chris Grayling, the Tories crime spokesman, was rebuked by Sir Michael Scholar, chair of the UK Statistics Authority for misusing crime figures to attempt to show that violent crime has risen.

Not deterred, Grayling is back today claiming again that violent crime is on the rise, this time with the use of House of Commons Statistics. These, he says show a 44% rise in violent crime since Labour came to power.

The full numbers have not yet been released by the Tories, so we have to take it on trust.

But Sir Michaels Scholar has written to Grayling again. Apparently Grayling has been seeking assurances that if  issues more statistics, Sir Michael will not intervene again. Sir Michael gives no such assurance..... as the letter below shows;

Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar KCB
Chris Grayling MP
House of Commons
8 March 2010

Dear Mr Grayling


Thank you for your letter of 5 March.
I am very grateful for your assurance that you are keen to use the available statistics correctly. The UK Statistics Authority, for its part, is keen to help as much as it can.
You asked me to confirm that there will be no further intervention from the Authority if you make public the views expressed in your letter, based, as you record them to be, on advice from the House of Commons Library. I am afraid that it will not be possible for the Authority to give advance clearance to your, or anyone else’s, future statements on this subject – or indeed on any other. In assessing whether statistics are being used properly, and not in a misleading way, much depends on the accuracy of the language which is used, the context, and the inferences which are drawn from the statistics. On some issues – including violent crime – there are several series of statistics which attempt to measure the same phenomenon using different methodologies, and which can sometimes produce results which appear to point in different directions. In such cases, the selective quotation of one without regard to the other could prove misleading, and a balanced presentation of an inevitably complex case would refer to all available statistics, and the uncertainties and ambiguities which they sometimes reveal. The Home Office’s statistical publications document these issues.
This brings to me to the particular case of violent crime statistics. I am glad to learn that you have now sought and been given guidance on these statistics from the House of Commons Library. The adjustment you record them as having suggested to you in relation to the police recorded statistics certainly provides a more accurate comparison than can be made through the unqualified use of published numbers a decade apart, without regard to the definitional changes which have taken place during that time. But a more balanced commentary on national trends in violent crime would, in the view of the Authority, also make reference to the estimates given in the British Crime Survey, which in our view provide a more reliable measure of the national trend over time. All this was set out in the Authority’s Note which I attached to my letter to you of 4 February.
Finally, I am afraid I cannot allow your assertion to go unchallenged that you used no statistics in your BBC radio interview. The transcript available to me (and attached) records you as saying: “If you go into depths of the figures you’ll find a 98% increase in serious violent crime which was almost unaffected by any changes at all”.
I hope you will find my comments helpful as you consider how in future to present the statistics on violent crime. The Authority will not comment on the use of official statistics unless we judge it clearly necessary – as we did when I wrote to you on 4 February – to do so in order to prevent damage to trust in official statistics.
Yours sincerely
Sir Michael Scholar KCB
The key bit that I note is;
a more balanced commentary on national trends in violent crime would, in the view of the Authority, also make reference to the estimates given in the British Crime Survey, which in our view provide a more reliable measure of the national trend over time. All this was set out in the Authority’s Note which I attached to my letter to you of 4 February.
 So Sir Michael thinks the BCS is a more reliable measure of the national trend....

And Chris Grayling, Tory MP, who has already been rebuked for misusing statistics on the same subject, disagrees..

Who would you believe...?

Monday 8 March 2010

"Tory Madrasa" Belies Tory Change

Has David Cameron really changed his party? There is a lot of evidence to the contrary, the latest being the revelation by the Guardian that Conservative Chairman Eric Pickles has addressed the "Young Britons' Foundation", described by its own founder as a Tory "Madrasa"

The Guardian reports that;
One leaders of the foundation has described the NHS as "the biggest waste of money in the UK", claimed global warming is "a scam" and suggested that the waterboarding of prisoners can be justified.

At least 11 prospective Tory candidates, an estimated seven of whom have a reasonable chance of winning their seats, have been delegates or speakers at training conferences run by the Young Britons' Foundation, which claims to have trained 2,500 Conservative party activists.

The YBF chief executive, Donal Blaney, who runs the courses on media training and policy, has called for environmental protesters who trespass to be "shot down" by the police and that Britain should have a US-style liberal firearms policy. In an article on his own website, entitled Scrap the NHS, not just targets, he wrote: "Would it not now be better to say that the NHS – in its current incarnation – is finished?"
Blaney has described the YBF as "a Conservative madrasa" that radicalises young Tories. Programmes have included trips to meet neo-conservative groups in the US and to a shooting range in Virginia to fire submachine guns and assault rifles.As well as Conservative party chairman, Eric Pickles the shadow defence secretary, Liam Fox,also  spoke at the annual YBF parliamentary rally at the House of Commons.
David Cameron makes much of his party's new found enthusiasm for the NHS, but the attitudes of this organisation, which is used to train and motivate his Parliamentary candidates, gives a lie to that conversion.

Cameron also says that his party has changed, that it has become more "progressive", but the actions of his supporters and senior MPs such as Fox and Pickles raise serious questions against that claim. The Guardian says that calls to Pickles to get some explanation of his reason for attending the "Madrasa", were not returned, but surely some explanation is required from a party chairman attending such a controversial event.

Friday 5 March 2010

Question Time and What to Make of it

It's Make Up Your Mind Time....

In recent years I have not been a great fan of Question Time.

For a start, I frequently go for a pint with some old friends on a Thursday, so I miss it a lot of the time. But when I have seen it, there's been a sort of pent up hatred of politics and politicians, a knee jerk cynicism and  urge to blame that cuts across any reasoned position that the panel might want to take. Perhaps understandable given the events of the last few years with expenses scandals and unpopular wars and recessions. And of course, this emotional-spasm-personal-grudge approach to the issues favours the likes of the Tories and UKIP. It suits them to whip up fear and loathing and keep the focus off their policies, such as they are.

But my wife loves it and when I'm at home it is usually on. So last night I sat down to watch it, but with no real enthusiasm. I was pleasantly surprised. The programme was broadcast from London, and it was actually quite balanced. 

The panel was Boris Johnson (Tory), Carol Voderman (who is quite openly Tory too), Will Self (novelist), Shirley Williams and Andrew Adonis. Even with two Tories and Will Self, who is quite a contrarian and entertaining with it, the audience wasn't led astray, they stuck to the real politics. In fact I would say that the audience was the star of the show.

Boris was trying his old charmimg fool schtick, but it's running a bit thin, and the fool noticeably outweighed the charmer. As for Carol Voderman, not a lot you can say with the libel laws as they are.

Andrew Adonis and Shirley Williams were measured and sensible, and David Dimbleby was revealed as a Buller! Just like Bo and Dave, waddyaknow....?

And there were no knee-jerk anti-government or anti-politics cheers. The audience seemed thoughtful and were certainly not baying for blood. On the Aschroft affair and the Bulger case they were, if anything, more measured than the panel, certainly more measured and intelligent than Carol Voderman.

As I say, the audience was the star: they asked good questions and made good comments and responses, without showing too clearly thieir own political inclinations. The over-all impresion I got was of the public weighing the options and making up its collective mind.

Ten weeks to go and all to play for.... Looking at the polls even three months ago, whodda thunk it?

Thursday 4 March 2010

Lord Sleaze of Belize.....who can that be?

The Ashcroft affair appears to "have legs" as they say in Westminster. Today Labour MP Dennis McShane  referred to Ashcroft as "Lord Sleaze of Belize", a name that might just stick.

The Electoral Commission investigation into donations to the Conservatives from his Bearwood companies has said the donations were legal. Even so, the Commission is not absolutely happy with aspects of the investigation. The Commission....
....expressed strong frustrations at its inability to compel either the Tories or Ashcroft to give evidence in person and the fact that it could not order Bearwood to release any private documents. It reveals that Tory officials refused invitations to attend any meetings on a voluntary basis....
see more at the Guardian

As for Ashcroft's non dom status, his promises, whether he kept them to the letter and the spirit, whether he kept his friend and patron William Hague informed of the truth, who in the Tory hierarchy new what and when...... it all begins to have a life of its own.

Now the Public Administration Committee has announced an investigation into the affair, so more questions to come, and it will all drag on....

Is one man worth the hastle? Even if he has given £5million, can the Tory Party take the constant drip of revalations about his honesty, their honesty, their stupididty in believing him and defending him?

The way it stands, if the Tories win a significant proportion of the targeted marginal seats that Ashcroft's money and tactics have been working on, there will be questions about the integrity of the election process in these constituencies.

Ashcroft seems to be a singular type of guy, the type you don't cross. But his influence on the  upcoming election has already been malign. Why do the Tories still cling to him and protect him?

He should be asked to resign as Tory Vice Chair immediately, and from the House of Lords, before he does more damage to the Tory Party and, more importantly, to the electoral process in the UK.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

An Unpatriotic Post: Ten Reasons Not to Vote Conservative

Yesterday David Cameron as good as said that not voting Tory was "unpatriotic". Needless to say, this is the biggest load of **** ever. I know it. You know it. Maybe even Dave knows it. But it set me thinking: if "patriotism" is the best reason for voting Conservative, what would be the arguments against? What are the reasons for voting "unpatriotically" as Dave would have it. So I have put together, quickly and off the top of my head, as it were, ten good reasons, as I see it, for voting against Dave's definition of patriotism.

I welcome feedback, and if you have other reasons (I'm sure they exist) for not supporting Dave, let me know and I might even add to the list. 

Ten Reasons not to vote Tory
The Tories do not understand the economy. The last time the Conservatives were in power they destroyed the British economy. Even more, they wasted the oil bonanza which could and should have sheltered the UK from the worst effects of the 80s economic storms, and could have provided the basis for a stronger and much better funded public infrastructure. Instead it all ended in ignominy on Black Wednesday. They have made the wrong moves at every turn in the current banking crisis and recession, and their plans for early cuts are the exactly what we do not need if we are to see the recession over and growth restored with minimum pain. If George Osborne had been at the Treasury this last two years, it would have been a disaster. If he gets the reins of power, he can still do much damage, see point 2, below..
They have the wrong tactics for the Recession. Public spending is vital in keeping the economy afloat until growth is strong enough to take on its own momentum, and government can step back. But the Tory philosophy is instinctively against public investment and government intervention, even in the most extreme circumstances. Cutting deeply and quickly, as the Tories want, will produce a much greater risk of the “double dip” recession that everybody fears. And George Osborne’s tactic of talking down the strength of the economy and publicly doubting our AAA rating is dangerous, and likely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Conservatives do not understand or like the NHS. David Cameron was converted to the cause of the NHS because of the chronic illness of his son. While this is perhaps understandable on a personal level, it shows that Cameron has the typical Tory lack of imagination and empathy to put himself in the shoes of the majority. The rest of us know that the NHS is the jewel in our crown. We have no need of personal crisis to convert us to support of the most humane, and most important, institution in the UK. The Tories promise to protect NHS spending, but in Tory demonology the NHS is a Stalinist hangover from previous times: they will look for every opportunity to fragment, privatise and commercialise.
They will destroy the BBC. They are already committed to abolishing the BBC charter. They see the publicly owned corporation as an illegitimate competitor in what they see as a purely commercial TV and Media business. And they make no secret of their belief that the BBC is a left wing conspiracy against their own particular political philosophy, so it’s ripe to have its wings clipped... see point 5 below.
They are in Murdoch’s pocket. With the Sun’s switch to supporting the Conservatives, they are in hock to the Murdoch empire and constrained to deliver what Murdoch wants, or else. This is one reason they attack the BBC: so that Murdoch’s TV and web aspirations can be promoted in the interests of the Murdoch empire, not the UK population or UK institutions. Murdoch already exerts a malign influence on British public life. Imagine the effect of a Tory government which “owes” young James Murdoch: do we really need Fox News as a dominant force in UK public life? Isn’t the Sun and the dominance of the newspaper sector bad enough without a confident and expansionist News International running rampant, with the approval of a weak Tory administration?
Lord Ashcroft. Election law aims at limiting spending so that parties cannot buy an election. Ashcroft’s tactic of spending outwith restricted times and spending heavily on marginal constituencies, over a number of years, is designed to evade the consequences of the law: it is specifically designed to buy the election. His equivocation on tax and residence status over the last ten years is just the signifier to his character: it’s the attempt to buy the election that really shows the moral and ethical stamp of Ashton and his Tory party.
Public sector investment. As I say above, the Conservatives are allergic to investing in public services. Even with the oil money of the 80s and 90s, they let our hospitals and schools decline, and our teachers and nurses and doctors got fewer in numbers and poorer in wealth and income. If the Conservatives can be so grudging with our public services when they have the oil wealth to play with, how much stingier will they be in the depths of an international recession? If I was a public sector worker I would be fearful of the Tories getting their hands on my future.
Policy light, gaffe prone. The last year has seen a series of policy statements, many of which have subsequently had to be withdrawn or redrafted. The most comical was Andrew Lansley’s  policy of having all of our medical records available on Google, a data security nightmare if ever there was.   A few well-placed questions on Newsnight put paid to that ill-thought-out fiasco.  Then David Cameron reverses and reverses again the party’s position on tax benefits for married couples. Then a pledge to introduce 45,000 hospital single rooms is dropped. Then Chris Grayling  claims that Labour had presided over a big rise in violent crime. Sir Michael Scholar, the UK Statistics Authority chairman, says that Grayling is wrong and his use of the figures was 'likely to mislead the public'. More trouble with statistics, when they misplace a decimal point, claiming that 54% of girls in poorer areas have had a pregnancy by the age of 18. The true figure was 5.4%.
They don’t have the right people for the job. The controversy over Gordon Brown’s temper and alleged bullying has rebounded on the Tories for a simple reason: if character is the issue, then the spotlight shines on the characters of the top Tories. And it shows that they are weak. Apart from the double standard that David Cameron's spin doctor who was found guilty by a tribunal of bullying a colleague when he was editor of the News of the World, Cameron himself is a typical upper class and privileged Conservative. The leadership is his of right, not by any real strength of character or experience, and he wobble under pressure. George Osborne is just weak. He fails to impress, either on a personal level or on his grasp of economics. Andrew Lansley was supposed to be “untouchable”, until he foolishly suggested that your medical records should be held on Google!  Ken Clark can add up, but he is being kept in the background because he is a Europhile and liable to speak his mind on that and other topics. Off the top of my head I cannot conjure up any other prominent Tory politicians, which says a lot for their public profile.
They’re still the same old Tories. The Lord Ashcroft controversy shows a party that is not open and transparent, which keeps its secrets close to its chest and which is contemptuous of election law and democracy itself. Nicholas Winterton Tory MP, gives his opinion of the rest of us when he opines that  passengers in standard class train carriages are a “totally different type of people” . He cannot mix with them for the noise and smell, and must travel first-class or not at all. David Cameron’s rallying cry that it is our “patriotic duty” to vote Tory is a sign that the old knee-jerk, illiberal and inward-looking Tory party is still alive and well in hearts of its supporters.

Monday 1 March 2010

Vote for ME!

In his closing speech to the Conservative's spring confrerence, David Cameron made the astonishing statement that it was our patriotic duty to vote Tory*.

Charon QC has, very helpfully, come up wth this poster that the Tories could use....

Seriously, what are they thinking of at SMERSH HQ? Blunder follow blunder, (see this from the Guardian). The last Tory leader to equate the state with their very own person was Maggie Thatcher. I thought the Tories wanted to forget her?

*Anyway, Alex Salmond tells me it's my patriotic duty to vote SNP. Is it any wonder that I get a little confused sometimes?

Lord Ashcroft Speaks (or writes actually)

Lord Ashcroft, Tory vice-chair and bankroller, has made a statement about his tax and residence status.

It all appears, if not innocent, then at least legal. Ashcroft is a non-dom, the rules allow non-dom contrubutions, so that's all right then.

But wait a minute, isn't the second part of the equation just as important as the first? There are rules governing election spending. These were designed so that no one party could, through an excess of riches, buy the Westminster election. But isn't that exactly what the Conservatives have been up to for the last three years? By spending Ashcrofts money (or his companies' money) in selected target marginal seats, the Tories have been effectively buying the election because, by definition, the marginals are more likely to change hands with any change in votng intentions. Increase that likelihood and you increase the number of Conservative seats.

Weekend polls show the gap between Labour and Tory narrowing. But if Ashcroft and his party can effectively "buy" the marginal seats, then the will of the electorate can be underminded and ignored.    
The statement in its entirety:
1st March 2020
A Statement From Lord Ashcroft

I am making this statement in advance of the release by the Cabinet Office of limited
information  about  the award  of my  peerage  and  of  the  undertakings  I  gave  at  the

While I value my privacy, I do not want my affairs to distract from the general election
campaign.    I have  therefore decided  to release a copy of  the  letter which  I wrote  to
William Hague, and to expand on what actually happened.

As  the  letter shows,  the undertakings  I gave were confirmed  in a memorandum  to
William  Hague  dated  23rd  March  2000.    These  were  to  "take  up  permanent
residence  in  the UK again" by  the end of  that year.   The other commitment  in  the
memorandum was to resign as Belize's permanent representative to the UN, which I
did a week later.

In  subsequent  dialogue  with  the  Government,  it  was  officially  confirmed  that  the
interpretation  in  the  first undertaking of  the words "permanent  residence" was  to be
that of "a long term resident" of  the UK.    I  agreed  to  this  and  finally  took  up my  seat  in  the House  of  Lords  in October  2000.    Throughout  the  last  ten  years,  I  have  been  declaring  all  my  UK income to HM Revenue.

My  precise  tax  status  therefore  is  that  of  a  “non-dom".    Two  of  Labour's  biggest
donors  - Lord Paul  (recently made a privy councillor by  the Prime Minister) and Sir
Ronald Cohen, both long-term residents of the UK, are also "non-doms".

As for the future, while the non-dom status will continue for many people in business
or public life, David Cameron has said that anyone sitting in the legislature - Lords or
Commons - must be treated as resident and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.  I
agree with this change and expect to be sitting in the House of Lords for many years
to come.

You have to wonder: is this the whole story? What does "declaring all my income to HM Revenue", actually mean? Has Ashcroft been paying UK taxes on his income? Should he have been? And if he has, what was all the fuss about? What about David Cameron and the succession of senior Tories who failed to tell us the tax status of the Noble Lord: why didn't they know, or tell us, if it was as innocent as the good Lord Ashcroft now says it was?

I really wonder if this issue is as dead as the Conservatives would now wish....