Thursday 30 September 2010

Let them eat promises...

The coalition promised that their cuts would be "progressive" and that the poorest "would be protected". Various Lib Dems have been trumpeting how the managed to soften the Tory stance and get the cuts to be more humane, less vicious...

A survey from Age UK finds evidence to dispute this rosy scenario......
"In cash terms, the poorest over-75s will lose an average of £2,030 worth of services by 2014-15 – which works out at a third (33.7%) of their household income.
Things don't look much better for the 65-74 age group either - they will miss out on £1,870 worth of services by 2014-15; just under a third (29%) of their net income.

Taken across the whole society, the research for Age UK shows that there will be serious losses for all households, but particularly for younger families with children and for older pensioners. "
Nobody I know ever actually believed that George Osborne's cuts would be so sensitively targetted and that the Conservatives would suddenly find a deep well of compassion for the poor in their traditionally hard souls.
These findings (and other figures published recently by the IFS)  show how right we were.
The big and unanswered question is, as ever, about the Lib Dems and how can they find it in their supposedly "liberal" conscience to go along with the Osborne cuts and the effect they will undoutedly have on the poorest people in our country?

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Tory splits.....

While the media gets itself all in a tiz over whether David Miliband will work with his brother, a real story is going almost unreported. The Torygraph is alone in highlighting the spilts within the coalition on defence spending. It has a front page story based on a leak from the MoD which reveals a fundamental split in the Conservative approach to defence cuts.

According to a letter from Defence Minister Liam Fox to David Cameron, the proposed cuts in the defence programme are:
““financially and intellectually virtually impossible” at a time of war."
He warns of the political damage that the cuts will do to the Tory party and the coalition;
“Frankly, this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a “super CSR” (comprehensive spending review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us...."
There has been a slew of opinion polls telling us that the public "supports" the coalition's spending cuts as necessary in tough financial times, and no doubt there is some truth in that. But this episode shows that even Tory Ministers, who would be presumed to be in favour of the cuts in principle, have grave reservations when the practical effects of the cuts hit nearer to home.

In this case Liam Fox, whose entire career has cast him as a hawk in terms of government spending, suddenly finds that he cannot take the decisions which are the logicical outcome of the his political beliefs and his fiscal position. As with Fox, so with every other spending department, and even more so with the public.

Everyone can agree that "something must be done". That's the easy bit. But when that "something" is a cut in your own wages or benefits, or your local school or hospital or even worse, it results in you losing your job, then the public will have exactly the same reaction as Dr Fox. They most assuredly will not like it and they will not be slow to let their feeling be known.

Cut the other guy is a good idea. I can live with that. Cut me and mine, and y'know Dave, I'm not so sure about that.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Need a speechwriter, Ed?

Been away in Aviemore for a few days, during which time the Labour Party has revealed a spanking new leader.

I can exclusively reveal here that I voted for Ed........

......Balls, that is. But EM was my second choice and it was Ed Balls' second preferences that got the other Ed over the 50% line... so I think I can take some credit...

Anyway, whether Ed is "red" or not has been a theme of the chatterers for the last few days...

Well, if "red" means preferring to cut services as little as possible, and maybe taxing a little more, in the current climate, then I hope he is.

And if he is looking for intellectual justification from a heavyweight economist for such a position then he needs look no further than Paul Krugman in the NY Times. This piece is particularly elegant.

After writing that the Great Depression was ended by the spending needed to finance WW2, Krugman found himself accused of advocating war. This is his riposte. It's short, to the point, drily funny, dismissive of his opponents and extemely well written.

Memo to ED: get this guy on your speech writing team. He's seriously good.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Lunatics, asylum etc....

Last night on Newsnight there was a discussion on religion. In the course of the debate, Baroness Warnock said that a theocratic government was her greatest nightmare (it's at nine minutes in on the broadcast). Jeremy Paxmen was dismissive: surely we are far beyond that possibility now, he insisted, in this modern, reasonable and logically bound society. And it has to be said that the idea of priests and religious ideas controlling our lives in the 21st century does seem a little far-fetched.

But how far fetched? In the USA it seems that it is impossible to get elected to any political office if you are not a church-going Christian. There is a constant battle between the religious right and defenders of the constitutional requirement to separate religion and the state. These arguments are currently taking place over the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools. The Christians insist that the Bible has the force of fact, that it is in effect a science primer. As the Bible is literally true, in their opinion, and it says that all creation happened in a few days 6000 years ago, then the scientific fact of evolution just cannot be true, and must not be taught to American children.

The pro-religion lobby is primarily reflected in an anti-science mindset, a deeply held belief that fundamental Christian beliefs are not based on evidence or logic, and that a scientific insistence on evidence is anathema to a life of faith.

All of which impinges on politics. President Obama is not popular and the Democrats are looking at losses in the upcoming Senate elections in the USA. Which makes it all the more alarming that the Guardian is reporting that 48% of Republican candidates do not believe that man-made climate change is happening. That's almost half of senior Republican politicians who deny the science (or who calculate that denying the science is a necessity if they want to get elected).

Now, it's a long way from right-wing American politicians embracing (however honestly) Christian fundamentalist positions, and the establishment of a theocratic state. And we must remember that the USA has a constitutional separation of church and state. But recent history does not indicate that religious influence on US politics is weakening. If anything, religious issues are impinginmg more on public consciousness and politics than at any time in the last 40 years.

You may say that's just America. But we know that the USA has influence on what happens in the UK and elsewhere: there was a US Tea-Party rally in London this week in an effort to transpose these ideas to UK politics and with a right-wing coalition in power, the conditions are more favourable than for many years for these ideas to take root. And of course the rise of fundamentalist Islam is also a UK and global phenomenon driven (in part at least) by a religious motivation and the desire to impose backward looking religious norms in all areas that Islam can have an influence.

So, is a theocratic government a nightmare we need to worry about? On balance, probably not, but it's not a question we would even have thought to ask, even 5 years ago....

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Has James got his Application in Already?

Sir Michael Lyons is to step down as the head of the BBC Trust, the body that oversees the the BBC's operations and ensures its independence from government.

Given the Culture Minister's well known antipathy to the BBC, and the ConDem government's closeness to the Murdoch empire, not to mention its barely concealed desire to neuter the BBC, break it into pieces and let Murdoch pick up the profitable bits, is this the perferct job opportunity for James Murdoch...?

Thursday 9 September 2010

What can it mean?

This has just appeared on the Sky News website.

It reports that Tom Watson MP has asked  for Rupert Murdoch to appear before a Commons Select Committee to be questioned on claims of 'phone hacking by the News Of The World, a Murdoch newspaper.

That's interesting enough, but the tone of the article is revealing: it contains quotes such as...
"(Andy Coulson) was the brains behind the investigations department - how can he say he had no idea about how it works?"
and another source is quoted ..
"Coulson would certainly be well aware that the practice was pretty widespread."
Murdoch controls both Sky News and the NoW, so the question must be: is the Murdoch empire preparing to sacrifice Coulson to save big-boss Murdoch the ignominy of appearing before, and being asked embarassing questions by, the Standards Committee of the House of Commons?

I would not be surprised. Watch this space....

P.S. Friday 10th Sept, 10.15.

This from the Guardian. By Christopher Montgomerie who from his profile seems to be a prominent Conservative.
Christpher Montgomerie was a previous director of Friends of the Union, and ran A Better Choice, the campaign to keep Tory members enfranchised in leadership elections
All in all, pretty scathing of Coulson and the Murdoch empire, and of the supine attitude of Parliament before thr power of the yellow press.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Irony of ironies...

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity:  these are the reported words of the 15th Century Dominican Friar, Savanorloa, as he urged his followers to hurl the riches of Florence on his Bonfires of the Vanities. Savanorola was thhe head of a millenial religious movement which set out to destroy all of the "corrupt" beauty of the Italian Renaissance.

All through the Eighties I was convinced that Margaret Thatcher was our very own Savanorola, determined to destroy all the great achievements of 20th century Britain: the NHS, poverty relief, state education, social services, public services, the BBC and all of the great unifying institutions that support greater equality and democracy. It seemed that Thatcher viewed tax-funded health carec and universal education in the same light as the dark friar viewed beautiful art, fancy clothes, mirrors and other accoutrements of a decent life.

Thatcher ultimately failed, not for want of trying. Although she "sold off the family silver" and privatised many industries, the NHS, the BBC and universal benefits and, more importantly, the British sense of fairness and the understanding that the state must provide where the private sector will not, survived her malevolence.

The Labour government from 1997 to 2010 reversed many of the failures of Thatcher: poverty (which had tripled under Thatcher) was halved, schools and hospitals were repaired and new buildings built, public sector wages were raised to acceptable levels.

Now we have the coalition of Tories and Lib Dems (particularly the Orange Bookers), who want to resume Thatcher's work and are determined to succeed where she failed. There can be no other explanation for the depth and speed of the LibCon cuts.

Are cuts necessary after the bankers' depression? Of course they are. But the scale of George Osborne's cuts are driven as much by ideology as economic necessity. He and Nick Clegg want to "reduce the size of the state", meaning they want to privatise much that the government now delivers and share the rest with voluntary and not-for-profit organisations. As far as it is defined, this is the basis of David Cameron's "big society".

But the irony of ironies is that the cutting of budgets at UK, regional and local authority level will result in the opposite of the "big society". Voluntury organisations and other local groups are the first victims of the cuts that have already been enacted. Any cursory review of local authority budgets will reveal that many arms length organisations are having their funds cut and their operations curtailed as local authorities and health boards tighten their belts and withdraw funding and concentrate instead on the delivery of "core services".

The LibCon cuts are ideological, designed to reduce the state and decimate public services and the public sector. But this means that,  even by its own standards, the extreme cutting of services by the coalition will fail, because cutting deeply and speedily now will starve the "big society" of the services of the very groups that Cameron and Osborne tell us will take up the slack as the state withdraws.  

Wednesday 1 September 2010

The Spirit Level

I am currently reading a book which, I believe, contains important truths about politics and society and which presents the evidence to support those truths. It is called "The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better", by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

The book has a simple, but politically explosive, theme: that greater inequality is the cause of many modern problems and, by logicical implication, that greater equality can be the solution to many of the problems of western societies.

Each perceived problem (the growth of crime, violence, education failure, generational unemployment..etc), is charted against measures of economic inequality in western countries. A remarkable co-relation is shown in almost every case: the more unequal societies have more crime, violence, social problems, and the more equal societes display fewer of these ills.

It seems a simple enough truth, and it certainly chimes with the more "socialist" instincts of those on what used to be called the left of politics that (in broad terms),  "poverty causes crime". But the authors, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, have gathered such a wealth of information and marshalled it so well, that the argument becomes almost irrefutable.

Which is not to say that some right wing commentators have not tried to rubbish the findings. You can understand why: for the last thirty years public policy has been based on letting wealth rip and the hope that some of it would trickle down to the poor. And to an extent that has happened. But the result has been a more fragmented and "unhappier" society. If the nostrums implied in The Spirit Level were to be adopted by our politicians the resultant policies would be a thousand miles from base Thatcherism or even the New Labour project. And the right doesn't like that idea.

The Spirit Level shows why this may be the case and, more importantly, it points to political solutions which must target the growing inequality, and reduce it, because by doing so, we will reduce the problems that ail us.

My advice: if you are intetrested in politics and improving sociey, this book is a must-read. Buy it. Now!