Tuesday 31 August 2010

Oh Joanna..!!!

One of the defining stories of the last year of Gordon Brown's Government was the spat between Joanna Lumley and the Government over the way ex-Ghurka soldiers were (or were not) permitted to settle in the UK.

The fragrant Ms Lumley comprehensively out-manouvred various Ministers and Government Departments and the Labour Government came out looking foolish and nasty and the villian of the piece.... David Cameron and other opposition figures made much of their sympathy with the Ghurkas and Joanna and said how thoroughly rotten we were to stop all of them migrating here forthwith.

Well here's a wee surprise: in a not-much-commented-upon article in the Observer at the weekend, Mark Townsend and Toby Helm reveal that "Gurkha regiment faces axe ........" It seems that the ConDems are looking at abolishing the Regiment Of Ghurkas altogether...

It seems that, now that they have permission to settle in the UK, the Tories don't really need them any more...

Thursday 26 August 2010

Asil Returns..

Asil Nadir, wanted businessman, fugitive and Tory Party donor has returned from 17 years exile in Cyprus to face the music...three months after a Tory government is re-elected..

Am I cynical to see a possible connection...?

Wednesday 25 August 2010

To Lose one Minister...

..is unfortunate. To lose two is careless...

Isn't it slightly weird  the way people you've never been aware of before suddenly become Government Ministers and start popping up on telly talking about things they obviously only learned by rote ten minutes before the programme started? But it's even more weird when these people you never heard of who are now Ministers, cock up so blatantly on their first outing that they get the sack and you never see them again...

The coalition has already lost David Laws, the "Orange Book" Lib Dem/Tory cross-breed finance minister. No sooner had he given a beaming first (and sadly for him last) press conference than the hook came out from the flies and off he went to MPs expenses purgatory. Oh well, cheerio then.

Tonight I believe we saw the next candidate for ejection: a certain Finanace Minister Mr Mark Hoban, who looked so flummoxed and out of his depth on Newsnight trying to explain why the budget is progressive to Emily Maitland. "As I sad Emily", he said, and then he said it again and again... he must have said it half a dozen times as he waved and drowned and went down for the third time still bubbling "As I said, glug, Emily, glug.....".

The sight of  a once-promising career sinking beneath the waves on its maiden voyage... ghastly and fascinating and a bit sad.

Still. Mustn't grumble. Another one bites the dust....

Tories in Budget Denial

The Guardian has a nice juxtaposition on its front page today...

And it's not just the Guardian, the Telegraph (Torygraph) has the same stories and photograph with almost the same headlines.... the question is: is it deliberate?

It's great that the PM has a new child, particularly given the family tragedy of the death of his young son, so it might seem churlish to add an "ah-but"....

But (nevertheless) the timing of this happy family event is a reminder that this Tory Government has launched a budget which damages British families, with what the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown to be a very regressive attack on the poorest families, who will lose much more in total and in proportion to their already very small incomes.

"The IFS said it had always been sceptical about Osborne's claim that the budget was "progressive" but added that this instant judgment had been reinforced by a study of proposed changes to housing benefit, disability allowances and tax credits due to come in between now and 2015".

"Passing judgment that is likely to make uncomfortable reading for the Liberal Democrats, the IFS concluded: "Once all of the benefit cuts are considered, the tax and benefit changes announced in the emergency budget are clearly regressive as, on average, they hit the poorest households more than those in the upper middle of the income distribution in cash, let alone percentage, terms".
In other words the poorest lose most in cash terms and in percentage terms. The richest lose a lot less.

Now, you and I might say "so far so Tory", and even "so what?". But the fact is that George Osborne stood in Parliament and said "My budget is a progressive budget. It will hit the poorest least". Now it transpires that the Treasury was being economical with the truth...by choosing to end its analysis at 2012 and by excluding some measures from the calculation, it has given the impression that there will be relatively progressive outcomes. But the budget regulates tax and spending until 2015. And after 2012 the effect on the poorest becomes much clearer.

Nick Clegg, in his defence of George Osborne, claimed that the budget had "fairness in its bones". But he was apparently lying through his teeth mistaken.

We know that Tories "in their bones", care little for the poor, but the Lib Dems have spent decades broadcasting their "caring" credentials. Now that the truth has been revealed, where does that leave the bleeding heart crocodile tears so-called caring Liberal Democrats? In a very uncomfortable place if my judgement is right.

So do they really care? It's my belief that, if this revelation from the IFS does not prompt defections of the Liberal Democrats MPs to Labour, we can consign the "caring Lib Dems" to the dustbin of betrayal and broken promises.

For the last few weeks the Tories have been throwing out the accusation that Labour is in "deficit denial". It looks like they are now in "budget denial"...

Thursday 19 August 2010

Same old Same old...

On the Spectator blog, Peter Hoskins has a short piece on what he sees as the key dividing line in this Parliament.

Put briefly, he sees the attack on universal benefits by the coalition as a defining issue betwen the ConDems and Labour. The difference is in how the parties see a....
"....distinction between a "residual welfare state that is just for the poor, which is the Tory position," and a "more inclusive welfare state" that encompasses the middle classes. ..... the former goes against "all the evidence of maintaining public support [for the welfare state]"
The benefits in question are Child Benefit, State Pensions, the Winter Fuel Allowance and other benefits which are paid to everyone without any means testing. 

Hoskins seems to think that this is something new and distinct, and that the battle over these benefits is a 21st century ideological divide. But we have been here before. In a sense the political war over state benefits which raged throughout the 20th century, culminating in the battle of Thatcherism and the desired "size of the state" was fought on this very ground. The idea that public services should be privatised and that the rich could pay for better services than the rest of us is an extension of the argument over whether benefits are paid universally by the state, or indeed paid at all.

The Tories have always been emotionally attached to the workshop: it's cheap, it keeps the poor out of sight so that "decent" middle class folk aren't troubled by their presence, while preventing actual starvation (which might cause a conscience twinge or two). Out of sight out of mind and not too costly, ta very much is the policy. "Undeserving poor" is the sentiment.

Labour prefers a measure of universality because that's what brings us all together. If all benefits are paid to a smaller and smaller section of society which is defined as "the poor", then some of the glue that holds us together is lost. We become even more fragmented and differentiated between "them", the undeserving poor, and "us", who pay for their undeserving lives. Charles Dickens would recognise the landscape.

So Hoskins is wrong. It's not a new dividing line, it's the same old dividing line between those who think that social cohesion is something that governments should pursue and encourage and those who think, in the words of Thatcher herself that " ...there is no such thing as society...". 

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Duff Degrees and Social Mobility

Nick Clegg made a speech today in which he identifies "social mobility" as a problem that he and his new Tory friends want to address.

Speaking as someone from a large working class family (father a labourer) and who earned good money for a few years, was self employed, owns his own house and has kids who went to university and are now "professionals", I do not disparage anyone's ambition to better themselves.   

But I just cannot believe that the Conservatives are serious in their strictures about "social mobility", given that, if "social mobility" is to mean anything then, when poor people go "up the ladder", someone from the middle classes has to "go down the ladder". Any policy which leads to the deliberate impoverishment of the "hard working middle class", will not be popular with that particular class. And they are, after all, the Tories natural constituency. "Vote for us and we'll make you poorer" isn't a credible election slogan.

It strikes me that many Tories are also fond of saying that too many people go to university nowadays….it’s too easy, it devalues the worth of a degree, where are all the plumbers and mechanics to come from, eh, can’t get the help nowadays…..

....You have to sympathise.

Well, I’ve got a proposal to address both problems: it goes like this....

First we reduce the number of university places, thus automatically improving the quality of university education (won’t it?).

Then the clever bit…..we make it a rule that if the parents earn in the bottom 30% in terms of wealth and/or income, their children get first dibs at the top universities (assuming they have the intelligence), and then all the other university places until the universities are all full of the children of the lower orders. In this way highly paid professions such as the law, journalism, the media, consultancy, politics, advertising, top civil service jobs and so on, would much more open to young adults from lower earning families

Conversely, if the parents earn in the top 70% or are in the top 70% of wealth holders, then the children get redirected (we can call it “advised" to soften the blow) into apprenticeships or shop-work or bus driving. Tories rejoice, the shortage of plumbers and joiners is solved in a few years.... now we can get the help!

Voila! Two birds with one stone! No more duff university degrees with too many no-hopers clogging up the system, and real social mobility in half a generation!


Tuesday 17 August 2010

A Shakespearian Tragedy.....

As William Shakspeare noted, the evil that men do live after, the good is oft interred with their bones.....

The hatred of Tony Blair is an interesting phenomenon, and his fall in public esteem is, to some people, a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. The current controversy over his donation to the Royal British Legion is a case in point.

Blair is hated for Iraq and to some degree for Afghanistan, which are seen as evidence of his criminality. He did good work in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, saving lives and returning these countries to a level of political stability, but that seems to be ignored by those who hate him so much.

The Sierra Leone actions arose under the cover story of a British force which was sent in to evacuate European civilians but it was in fact a covert operation to bolster a passisve UN intervention which was producing no real results. The British project escalated until it became a peacekeeping exercise and eventually the civil war was ended and some stabiity returned to a troubled country. Blair, to his credit, supported the military on the ground throughout the operation.

Kosovo was Blair's baby: he persuaded Bill clinton to back an intervention even although the UN Security Council was not in favour and the Russians played their veto against interference in their so-called "sphere of influence". The result is well known: the Balkans at peace and war criminals indicted.

The invasion of Afghanistan was made inevitable by the Taliban Government first harbouring Al Quaeda and training murderers, and then refusing to stop training murderers and turn Bin Laden over after his people killed thousands on 9/11. It is not well remembered that George W Bush did not react immediately, instead indulging in three weeks of negotiation with the Afghan Government before finally losing patience and ordering military action. The Afghan campaign might not have been as successful as some said it would, but it difficult, even with hindsight, to see what could have been done differently. The "west" had no alternative other than to do nothing and wait for more atrocities and if you re a democratically elected leader, that's no alternative at all.

What I find interesting is the suggestion that Blair almost certainly was influenced by Rwanda, where the failure to act cost at least a million lives. Blair, as leader of the opposition, watched while the international community did nothing and a country was destroyed and a population annihilated. He saw what happened, was disgusted and depressed, and became convinced that interventionism would have been better than hopeless and helpless hand-wringing in the face of brutal genocide.

Whether the Iraqi intervention was "legal" or not is an unresolved matter. If it was illegal, so was Kosovo and Sierra Leone. And of course, and ironically, the hapless standing by doing nothing in Rwanda while a million were slaughterd was perfectly "legal".

Moral absolutes, politics and the facts on the ground make for a funny old world.

IMO those who could have done something in Rwanda but did nothing are as culpable for their inaction as Blair is for anything he did. Funny how nobody hates them.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Placing the blame....

Baroness Warsi has this blog blaming the upcoming cuts on "Labour wastefulness". There's a negative advert which sells the product....

An there's a blog which puts the accusations in print. What there is not is any mention of the banking failures or the global economic global crisis which resulted. There's no mention of the measures that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling took to save the banks, without which the effects on the UK and even world economy might have been absolutely catastrophic. There's no mention of the Quantative Easing that has softened the effects on industry, employment and growth. Apparently these events, which have dominated the news for the last two years and which were the stuff of politics and the 2010 election, never actually happened. Or if they did, Baroness warsi didn't see them. According to her, what happened was...
From wasting £12 billion on an NHS computer system that didn’t work to kitting out regional fire offices with £6,000 luxury coffee-making machines, Labour showed complete contempt for taxpayers’ money up and down this country.

It seems that Warsi thinks, in a economy of £trilllions and over 13 years, the cuts that George Osborne is so keen to implement were caused by some IT projects and the purchase of coffe machines!

There is also no mention of the fact that Labour had plans to address the crisis, with cuts/tax increases of £73 billions over 5 years.These would have been painful enough, but the ConDem coaltion plans £114 billions of cuts/tax increases and they are to be introduced more quickly. Nor is there any mention that the extra £40 billions is a straight ideological choice by the ConDems to reduce the size of the state to a level that Margaret Thatcher could only dream of.

Let's not hide from the fact that Labour was in government at the time of the banking failure and that any actions they took are open to criticism. Maybe they could have done some things differently. After all no government can get everything right, and the 2008 crisis was unprecedented in scope and potential for economic damage.

And badly managed IT projects are a fact of life, unfortunately.

The traditional method of gauging the truth of any political pronouncement is to judge whether the person is a "fool or a knave". If Baroness Warsi really believes that ..
The cuts to come are Labour’s cuts.
..and that the global economic and banking crisis never happened, then she is a fool.

If, on the other hand, she is perfectly aware of the global context of the crisis and the real reasons for the coming cuts, and she continues to insist that they are all Labour's fault, then she is a knave.

Monday 9 August 2010

Vince scratches his head.....

Vince Cable at the Department for Business must be a puzzled man this morning. Manufacturing is booming (relatively), but it is not yet delivering the export-led recovery that the Treasury is relying on to get us out of trouble.

I posted this on June 24th, questioning the ConDem Government's reliance on a predicted export boom to drag us out of the recession. It includes a link to a Newsnight piece by Paul Mason showing Treasury models predicting an export boom. Of course, if there is not an incease in exports, then the economy will not improve as much as predicted and a "double dip" recession, or a very slow recovery becomes inevitable, with dire results for Treasury income and the recovery plan, not to mention jobs and incomes.

There's a fascinating piece in today's Guardian by Phillip Inman, puzzling over why the relative success of manufacturing during the recession has not resulted in increased exports.
"Last month, manufacturers were especially gloomy about export orders. The purchasing managers index (PMI), an important monthly snapshot of manufacturing activity, collapsed to an 11-month low of 50.8. Manufacturers found buyers at home for their goods, but attempts to sell abroad failed to gain traction"
George Osborne based his confidence on an export led recovery on the performance of Canada in recovering from a recession in the '90s. The Canadians concentrated on boosting exports and their economy grew quickly.

But at the time Canada's biggest export market, the USA, was in the middle of a boom, and capable of absorbing its neighbours manufacturing exports. As we speak, the European economy languishes and the US economy trembles on the brink of a double dip. UK manufacturing can be as healthy as it wants, but if our main markets are not growing, it is difficult to see where an export boom is coming from.

No wonder Vince scratches his head....

Thursday 5 August 2010

I blame the teachers...

Dave puts his foot in it again... today claiming that Iran has a nuclear weapon....


So in the last week our Prime Minister has shown that he doesn't know when the Yanks came in to the 2nd World War, and that he thinks that GB was the junior partner and now he thinks countries that don't have nuclear weapons do have them.....

I don't know about you, but that strikes me as a dangerous level of ignorance for a person in such a powerful position.

I blame the school he went to.... Windsor North Gasworks was it? He should order Michael Gove to send in the inspectors to ensure a decent level of historical accuracy is taught....

Tuesday 3 August 2010

it's YOUR fault... aye you

David Cameron has announced the end of secure tenancies for council tenants. It seems the Tories blame council tenants for any housing shortage, and if you are fortunate enough to have a council house then you better prepare to give it up! 
Hey Grannie, you might have been our tenant for 50 years, but it's time to get out.....
love David xxx
Charming, and oh so Tory.

And it's another broken Tory promise. During the election campaign, David Cameron denied that he would target secure council tenancies.

Now he says that's exactly what he will do...

Thatcher Mk2

Francis Maude MP has an interview in the Guardian in which he says some interesting things, among which is this quote;
".... one of the things that Lady Thatcher regretted was not pushing ahead vigorously enough, and quickly enough, in terms of reform......Similarly, the Blair government did not just waste its first 100 days, it wasted its first five years. By contrast, we have prepared very carefully. This was work that I was leading in opposition....Clearly, we had thought a lot more about how we would do it, so we were well equipped to hit the ground running."
 So all the stuff about the economic situation being much worse than they had anticipated and therefore the need for much more draconian cuts is pure fiction. According to Maude, the Tories had..
"...prepared very carefully.." and "...were well equipped to hit the ground running...".
In other words, the cuts were well prepared before the election, they are idealogically driven and they had been planned in some detail (by the Tories at least) before they saw the books.

And it explains why the Tories are rushing through so many bills in such a hurry: they think that, with the election over and the summer holidays in full swing, the public is  not looking, and that their more radical policies can be slid under the radar before people start taking an interest in politics again.

The corollary of this is that policies which are rushed through without sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny frequently end up poorly drafted and ineffective. The mess that Michael Grove has made of the Education reforms is evidence that this might be happening now. And the plans to give GPs control of NHS budgets seems to be set fair for a repeat. 

Maude also denies that the radical NHS changes, including abandoning primary care trusts and giving Health budgets to local GPs, should have caught the electorate by surprise. 
"There had been a lot of work thinking through the health reforms, such as GP commissioning. It was all there. People should have read the words in the manifesto."
But a quick glance at the Health section of the Tory Manifesto shows that no such policy was spelled out in that document.

Maude was a minister in the Thatcher administration and he clearly has ambitions to implement many of the Thatcherite policies that the lady failed to enact. Among these is the privatisation of Education and Health.

These aims are alarming enough in themselves, and the fact that they were never in any manifesto is a scandal. But the greatest danger is that the haste with which they are being rammed through will mean the worst of all worlds, with badly drafted and poorly scrutinised attempts at privatisation failing in the midst of a double dip recession, with chaos in service delivery and the resultant public unrest....

Welcome, children, to the 1980s .......