Tuesday 30 November 2010

Education, Education, Education....

I subscribe to a weekly email update on various aspects activity at Holyrood, schools being one of those areas.

I have to say that it's quite depressing, because so far, in 3.5 years, the Education Newsletter has not heralded the building of one new school financed, or even part-financed, by the Scottish Parliament.

Despite the grand promises to match Labour's school-building programme "brick for brick" , the SNP administration has not managed to provide the cash for even one new school to be completed.

In the period 2002-2007, with Labour running both Holyrood and my local council area, the council built four new secondary schools and one new primaery school. Since then: nothing. Not one new brick on one new brick. It's a failure of epic and damaging proportions....

Today's list of "achievements", if you can bother or bear to read it, is headed by a poster competition! for St Andrew's day.

Which says it all about our SNP "government". No new schools. Oh no, we can't provide new schools, what do you think we are? A government?

But flags, oh yes, we've plenty of flags.....

Nick Clegg is off to Khazakstan

Nick Clegg is off to Kazakhstan this week to an OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) conference....

....(well that's what he says)....

image from PoliticsHome website

Thursday 25 November 2010

The Secret Tories

In the past the Conservative Party was known as the "nasty party", a fact acknowleged by the present Home secretary, Theresa May, among others.

With his talk of "National Wellbeing" and the soggy idea of "The Big Society", David Cameron has gained a lot of kudos for supposedly "de-toxifying" the Conservative Party's image. But it seems that the party's image resists detoxification, Mr Cameron has an ongoing battle and it hasn't actually been won yet.

Last week I pointed out that Lord Young had been sacked when he said that this was a "so-called" recession and that most people "never had it so good". Lord Young was sacked, not for what he said, but because he spoke a truth that many Tories feel in their bones and that David Cameron doesn't want you to hear.

Today, someone called Howard Flight, (who has apparently been a Tory MP and a Conservative Party Vice Chair, not that I had heard of him, but so what? and has now been made a peer by David Cameron), has said that government policy is encouraging the poor to breed too much. Again, Mr Flight is only saying what many Tories say in their own company, in their clubs and in private conversations. His crime is to say it in public and with a recording device in close proximity.

Mr Flight has previous. He was sacked as a Parliamentary candidate in 2005, but it seems that he is still held in high enough regard by David Cameron to be appointed to the House of Lords on the Tory ticket.

In my experience his opinions (and similar neandethal nonsense) are not uncommon among Tory supporters and representatives. David Cameron has tried to change (or more accurately disguise) that fact, but it seems that changing the "image" is a far cry from changing the reality of the nasty party.

That's the Tories secret..... 

David Cameron and Happiness, part the 201st.....

David Cameron is making another speech on "Happiness" as I write this. According to the Conservative Home website, he will say;
"If your goal in politics is to help make a better life for people - which mine is - and if you know, both in your gut and from a huge body of evidence, that prosperity alone can’t deliver a better life - which I do - then you have got to take practical steps to make sure government is properly focussed on our quality of life as well as economic growth, and that’s what we are doing."
What he won't say is...
"If your goal in politics is to help make a better life for people - which mine is - and if you know, both in your gut and from a huge body of evidence, that prosperity alone can’t deliver a better life - which I do - then I am taking practical steps to give away 95% of my wealth and move to a council house in Westminster, the better to understand the 99.9% of people I never actually mix with and to make sure government is properly focussed on our quality of life as well as economic growth, and that’s what I am doing."

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Look and learn from across the Irish Sea....

In the Commons yesterday George Osborne introduced a £10 billion loan to the Irish Government by saying that he had "told us so", and that he was finding the money for "a friend in need".

Not strictly true, Georgey boy....

In February 2006 the then Shadow Chancellor had an article in the Times under the heading 
"Look and learn from across the Irish Sea". 
In the article, in which looked longingly at the economic performance of our nearest neighbours, he asked adoringly; 
"What has caused this Irish miracle, and how can we in Britain emulate it?"
 Mr Osborne extolled the peformance of the Irish economy and applauded in particular the policy of extremely low corporation tax. 

Since then of course other things have happened, what Harold MacMillan called "events dear boy, events".

And what events. Banking collapses, industrial collapses, economic collapses and national bankruptcies. The world economy shaken and received ideas reversed and turned upside down.

In Ireland, where the problems were amongst the most severe, the neo-liberal recipe for national "success" had been most firmly followed, the neo-liberal curative medicine has been taken willingly and in giant doses. You want austerity? We'll give you austerity. You want welfare cuts and a smaller state? We'll give you all of that and more. Lower taxes and bigger cuts and faster cuts: we got 'em! Sound familiar? In fact it's all of the recipe that George Osborne and Vince Cable tell us we in the UK need to swallow as well.

Ireland has already taken the medicine, and where has it got them? Catastrophe is where it's got them. Disaster squared and cubed again. The worst possible outcome for a fledgeling tiger. It's teeth have been drawn and its roar has been silenced.

No wonder that George Osborne is willing to find £10 billion to help the Irish economy recover: if the Irish go under (assuming they're not under already), Osborne's policies will have failed and have been shown to have failed. Spectacularly.

So when you here Mr Osborne say the he "told you so", he didn't. And when he says he's lending the money to "a friend in need", take all of that with a pinch of salt.

George Osborne is wedded to the Irish and neo-liberal economic strategy, and its failure will be his failure. And, unfortunately if and when it comes (and let's hope it doesn't), it will be our failure too.

P.s. Liberal Conspiracy has a good post on how all the right wingers got Ireland wrong...

Monday 22 November 2010

Political choices....

Reports this morning that the UK Government is about to give Ireland a £7 billion loan. Fair enough, the Irish economy is in tatters, they need the money, it's only a loan and we'll get it back, (eventually) says George Osborne.

So why did he refuse a measly £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters? The company needed it, it was only a loan and we would get it back. In fact the country would benefit by having a company at the forefront of turbine manufacturing, a key export industry.

And why are our cuts in public spending to be so severe and so swift? If there is £7 billion to lend, there must be similar amounts to keep vital services going and people in jobs.

Politics is about choice. The real crime of theTorydems is that the consciously and deliberately choose to cut jobs and services when they could make other choices. Choices that would be better for the UK economy and the British people.


Saturday 20 November 2010

Lord Young sacked .... for what?

So Lord Young has been sacked...

...who cares? ...who even knew he had  a job?  I didn't...

Anyway, the fact of his sacking is less interesting than the reason for his sacking.

He was sacked because he told the truth, or at least a truth, one the Conservatives do not want exposed. Where George Osborne claims the recession is so deep that we were in danger of bankruptcy, our economy is as shaky as Greece or Ireland and that we have to destroy the public sector to survive, Lord Young believes that it's a "so-called recession" and that people have "never had it so good".

So, by Lord Young's analysis, it's not as desperate as George Osborne is saying, we do not have to cut so deep and so fast, and we do not have to attack public services with such enthusiasm in order to survive.....

Thta's not what the Tories want you to believe...

...so he has to go....

Thursday 18 November 2010

SNP Competence, an oxymoron....

I have been watching the BBC Scottish News dance around a report that the SNP has let the Scottish Parliament's powers to vary taxes slip away.... It was as if they couldn't believe the facts, or they couldn't believe that anyone could be so stupid and that they were unable to absorb the sheer importance of the story.

Seriously, the Nats who keep harping on about greater fiscal autonomy, who want Holyrood to handle more and more of our tax and spend powers, they "forgot" to renew the tax varying powers of the Scottish Parliament.




SNP Business Management in Action

What a bunch of fools. You can imagine the furore if a Labour administration had "forgotten" to renew one of the key powers of the devolved Parliament: heads must roll would be the least of it. "Perfidy" and "treason" would be called out from the highest hilltop.

Hat tip to Better Nation for the letter from Michael Moore to Alex Salmond telling him the sorry news....

"Dear Eck,
you cocked it up...


Creeping Coup D'Etat...

Or maybe not so much creeping as blatant.

David Cameron has just announced his House of Lords "reform": it consists of appointing 29 new Tory peers, 10 new Lib Dem peers and 15 new Labour peers. So the "fairness" agenda ensures that there are 3 times as many new coalition representatives in the Lords as opposition, making an already unbalanced situation even more advantageous to .... the coalition, of course.

This comes on top of the coaliton's plans to redefine the Westminster constituency boundaries to make sure that inner cities (Labour constituencies) have less say than rural (Tory and Lib Dem constituencies except Danny Alexander's and Charles Kennedy's and the Isle of Wight...).

Call me paranoid, but it looks suspiciously like the Tories are conducting a quiet overthrow of the constitution and the Lib Dem Lap Dogs are keeping their barking very quiet indeed....

a fierce Lib Dem  Lap-Dog Defends the British Constiution.

Given these numbers, the coalition will walk all of its contentious legislation through the Lords: there will be no chance of any real scrutiny or oversight. And, if all goes according to plan, after the next general election, they will never be challenged in Westminster again...

I'm not a great fan of Bills of Rights or written constitutions, but this situation cries out for some mechanism to challenge this blatant gerrymandering and to stop it in its tracks if possible.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

We're all in this together....aye right

I read this article by Kevin McKenna in the paper version of the Observer on Sunday and meant to blog on it. It might be a bit late now, but I'm glad it was still available online.

It makes a point too often overlooked today and that is that the working class people of the UK are the backbone of the country. They man our industry and fight our battles and they don't dodge taxes or evade their responsibility like so many so-called aristocrsats and "captains of industry", not to mention bankers.

Particularly liked the last sentence.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

The Greatest Gift That I Possess....

Happiness: what is it and can we get it?

In 1989, when he was acquitted of a charge of tax evasion, it was found that the comedian Ken Dodd (who had a minor hit in 1964 with a saccharine-sweet song "Happiness" ), had never actually paid the kids who played his "diddymen" on stage and that he had suitcases full of banknotes under his bed. We can be reasonably sure what would or does make Mr Dodd happy.

Now to the present and political: our current Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to have ordered an investigation into the levels of national happinesss, presumably so that he can better shape national policy in future...

Ken Dodd (or is it David Cameron?) seeks the Font of Happiness

One of the problems for the investigation of something as nebulous as "happiness" is to find a workable definition and to identify what it is that makes the people and societies "happy".

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, of the many studies that have been done, from Professor Richard Layard's various studies into depression and wellbeing which were supported by the last Labour Government to The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, the clear answer is: not Free Markets or Neo Liberal Economics, which must be a disappointment for the party which believes so strongly in markets, and the freer the better.

The bulk of the evidence, in study after study, shows that, after a certain level, accumulations of wealth and belongings brings no measurable increase in wellbeing to individuals or to societies. This is in direct opposition to the Tory faith in the individual's right to make as much money as possible with no questions asked, and the Tory insistence that "there is no such thing as society".

In fact The Spirit Level has compelling evidence that the more equal a society is, the higher levels of wellbeing are measured in that society.

David Cameron is welcome to his investigation, and to ponder the results when they come. I doubt very much that they will recommend more expansions of "free" markets or the lauding of individualism to the detriment of common cause.

Just where that leaves Conservative Party policy or philosophy is another matter....

Saturday 13 November 2010

I didnae mean it.....

Every Lib Dem candidate at the general election signed a written pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees. It has now emerged that they knew well in advance that they didn't mean  it. At least, the Lib Dem leadership never meant it.

Watch Katy Razzle on channel 4 news fillet the Lib Dems position.

How uneasy does Clegg look in this clip?

He's holding the pledge like it was a disease encrusted bandage.

Yeeughh!.... his body language says.

No wonder...

BTW, the Lib Dems aren't the only ones that have changed their position. When tuition fees were being introduced, Ken Clarke said...
 "It is the ordinary student from the ordinary family who just fails to qualify for that help who will carry the burden of tens of thousands of pounds-worth of debt in the first years after they graduate. Does he seriously expect that that will have no effect at all on the willingness of such people to go in for the more expensive courses in higher education?"
I wonder what he thinks now that the fees have been tripled......

Friday 12 November 2010

What is an Orange Book Lib Dem?

Students at the demo on Wednesday could be heard shouting "Nick Clegg we know you, you're a blank-blank* Tory too!". Certainly, Mr Clegg looks very comfortable in the coalition. He looks, sounds and dressses like his Tory counterparts and  appears to feel no embarassment at the policies he now has to implement and defend.

Since the election I've heard the label of  "Orange Book" Lib Dems applied to Mr Clegg and some of his fellow coalition enthusiasts. But I was not clear as to what exactly an "Orange Book" Lib Dem might be, although I knew that the Orange Book had been published a few years ago and I suspected it might give some clues to Mr Clegg's political philosophy.  I asked a couple of Lib Dem acquaintances, but they seemed reluctant to discuss or explain what it entails.

It seems that to find the answer, and the cut of Mr Clegg's jib, we have to go back to the history of the Liberal Party, before they adopted the name "Liberal" and were still known as "Whigs". One defining attribute of the mid 19th century Whigs was a commitment to laisses-faire economics, i.e. a belief that markets know best and faith in what Adam Smith called the "hidden hand". This faith led Lord John Russell to become one of the most hated men in Irish history when his Whig administration left the solution of the potato famine to the workings of the "hidden hand", Wikipedia records...
"The new Lord John Russell Whig administration, influenced by their laissez-faire belief that the market would provide the food needed but at the same time ignoring the food exports to England, then halted government food and relief works, leaving many hundreds of thousands of people without any work, money or food."
In other words, in the belief that the markets were supreme and would somehow provide the food that the potato blight had destroyed, the Whigs withdrew government support to the starving population. In modern Tory language, they should "get on their bikes" and find some work... or potatos.

It's what you and I might recognise as a Thatcherite position, but it is in fact a classically Liberal position and it was reached a hundred and fifty years before Margaret Thatcher took power. In the 20th century the Liberals (as the Whigs had become) were squeezed from right and left by the Tories and Labour and they quietly buried their devotion to free markets orthodoxy and posed as a soft left-of-centre party. It was the Conservative Margaret Thatcher who revived liberal economics and turned the Conservatives into a free market party. The Liberals, seeing their legacy revived but rustled by the Tories, stayed on the vague left ground that they had inhabited for the previous 50 years.

Then came Nick Clegg and his cohort, and their determination to revive traditional liberal economic values, as they saw it. The Orange Book is a series of essays by prominent Lib Dems including Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and David Laws. In it they argue for the return to the values of Lord John Russell, and indeed Margaret Thatcher.

So there you have it. Nick Clegg and his closest allies are indeed blank blank* Tories, in the sense of the Thatcherites who converted the Tories to free market economics. There's no difference on economic policy between the Orange Book Lib Dems and the Thatcherite Tories.

Another way to look at: the protesters of 20 years ago could just as truthfully have chanted "Margaret Thatcher we know you, you're a blank blank* Liberal too"....

*they didn't actually chant the words blank blank, you understand....

Thursday 11 November 2010

Window breaking hooligans....

Our Dear Leader has been in China selling aero engines, lecturing on Democracy and sending disapproving messages back to the window-breaking hooligans who left the student protests to attack Tory HQ yesterday.

Following the PM's lead, Tory HQ, Tory MPs and the Tory press have all united to condemn the window-breakers. And rightly so. Breaking windows is not a laughing matter, it is criminal damage and should be punished...

Meanwhile a certain Jim Pickard of the Financial Times has dug up a tale of window-breaking hooligans of two decades ago, to wit the Bullingdon Bullies of Oxford, one of whom was, allegedly, the future PM and husband of the delicious SamCam.

When approached for a quote, Tory HQ was less talkative on these particular Eton educated window-breaking hooligans... wonder why?

Read the "delicious" details here...

Monday 8 November 2010

Cap in hand....

Margaret Thatcher famously observed that "it's a funny old world...", (not that the lady exhibited a noticeable sense of humour)...

Bear with me on this one...

I used to work for a large manufacturing company. We manufactured most of our own parts and shipped them between manufacturing plants for final assembly, all in-house. Then, about thirty years ago, we started "outsourcing" sub-assemblies to local suppliers to build, for inclusion in the final product. Gradually we moved to subcontracting major assemblies and finally full products. But we no longer used UK suppliers but Eastern European and then Asian companies. Now that manufacturing plant is closed. All of the product is made and assembled in the Far East, mainly China. You can buy it the shops, it has the same name and the same logo and the same image, but it's no longer made in the Britain. 

Which brings me to the point....

Amid much fanfare, our Prime Minister David Cameron has flown to China on a "trade mission". His objective is to get China to favour us poor Brits by spending some of the giant surpluses (surpluses that they make from manufacturing our products), with us. Anything to offset our giant trade deficit with that country.

China will listen gracefully, and they might drop us a few crumbs. But Chinese politicians and officials have no real need to help us in any way. They've got our manufacturing, (which our own companies exported to China in pursuit of profits and what-the-hell to their UK workforce) and, with a population of 1.2 billion people, they have the capacity to provide their own services ta-very-much.

Now. What would have happened if western companies had insisted on keeping jobs in the west? And with it the technology and associated jobs? Who would be visiting whom?Who would be begging for a few crumbs from the rich man's table?

Maggie didn't get much right, but it certainly is a funny old world...

Sunday 7 November 2010

A Big Boy Did An' Ran Awey...

Why do the Lib Dems get all the dirty assignments? .. Silly question. A more pertinent enquiry would be: why do the Lib Dems accept all the dirty assignments? Do they like them? Are they so keen to serve their Tory "friends" that they volunteer... Me Sir, me Sir, oh please Sir...!

Anyway. I watched Danny Alexander on the Politics Show earlier today. He had been put up to defend the latest workfare scheme from the ToryDems. The new system means that work previously done by criminal on Community Service will, in future, be done by unemployed people... or else their benefits will be cut.

It's an American scheme which has been bought by Iain Duncan Smith and it shows all the humanity for which American social policy is renowned.....no wonder the ToryDems have adopted it as their own.

I only watched the beginning of the interview (better things to do....neuter the cat, count the autumn leaves falling on the patio...), but Danny's defence became clear very quickly. It was Labour's fault. By not bringing in a workfare system before now, Labour was condemning "these people" to ... something nasty, something Danny didn't actully describe or identify, but nasty just the same. And it was all Labour's fault. Did you get that? Labour did it, it's their fault...

We've grown used to every coalition minister parroting the mantra that the recession is the fault of the last Labour government. They've rehearsed it and, by gum, if there's a microphone in the vicinity, they're going to say it, loud and clear. Did the bankers play any part? A banker? What's that? No, it was the last Labour government that made the UK mirror Greece...

Now it seems that "Labour did it and ran a way" is becoming the all purpose excuse for any policy that might be a tad unpopular. So when unemployment goes through the roof, or your grannie gets her home help cut, or the council is forced to cut the number of teachers or social workers, or the police melt away from your street, the cry will go up from ToryDem ministers:

"It was Labour wot done it. It's our policy, but it's their fault....".

Got it?

Thursday 4 November 2010

Housing Benefit: is it already happening..?

MJ (the Management Journal of Local Authority Business) has an interesting story about the effects of the cuts to housing benfit. It seems that there may already be a movement of homeless familes away from more expensive boroughs.

Claire Kober, leader of Haringey council, says that they have already seen a rise in vulnerable families and children, with some families subject to child protection orders arriving in temporary accommodation from other areas.

She says;
"decent advice is advising people to anticipate the changes, and that's why we are starting to see some of the increase...the net flow is unprecedented..." 
No doubt council leaders in Westminster and Chelsea will be rubbing their hands...

It's interesting....

..how people think.

Or, to be more accurate, how different people think differently about the same issue. An example is prison and if/how it "works". The UK has more of its people in prison than any other comparable country except the USA. Right wing Tories see this as evidence that there is more criminality in the UK and call for even more people in even more prisons, whereas more "liberal" Tories (and others) see it as a problem that we jail "too many" people and look to find ways to reduce the prison population. Same situation, same evidence, different views on what is important.

The Housing Benefit changes are another case in point. Ed Howker at the Spectator has an interesting article on these changes. To be fair to Ed and the house publication of the frothing right, it's not an unthinking endorsement of Osborne's tactics. He makes some searching criticisms of the policy and shows some interesting graphs produced by a Cambridge academic which show some real and damaging likely outcomes of the changes. By the estimates provided, between, 70,000 and 135,000 families may be evicted due to the policy. Ed thinks that this is not a good situation and you and I might agree, it is a disgrace that families can be thrown out on the streets in such a cavalier fashion.That would seem to be self evident to any right thinking individual. Ed, however, has his own reasons for regretting the predicted policy outcomes, and it's not the humanitarian morality that you might imaging. Ed states his reasons baldly:
"....the sheer number of vulnerable people cast out of their homes is, I suggest, a significant political liability for the Government." 
"...Ministers will find it very difficult to answer questions from those forced to move into temporary accommodation when they start telling their stories on Question Time..."
According to Mr Howker, throwing thousands of families on the street or into B&B accommodation, far from their established homes, friends and relatives, schools and schoolmates, doctors surgeries and social contacts, isn't (as you and I might believe) a moral or social outrage. Oh no it's ".... a significant political liability for the Government".

It's a matter of PR, that's all. How do they explain away city pavements blocked with the meagre belongings of discarded citizens? How do they address Question Time when the people concerned get in front of the TV cameras? What a dilemma the poor Tory MP or junior minister has when confronted with such troublesome matters.

You have to have some sympathy for the poor souls. Especially those with homes in the more expensive London boroughs: they might actually have to clamber over the debris of an evicted neighbour to get to their front door some summer night, (Oops sorry! Did I break your ukelele?), and all that after a hard day at the office: have a heart!

As I said: it's funny how different people see the same thing differently....

Monday 1 November 2010

Aye but, what is it!!!???***

On the ConservativeHome website someone called Oberon Houston has (yet another) go at explaining what the Big Society is and how it will work.

This must be the websites twentieth attempt to explain why the "big Society" is a good thing. So far they have had little success. Sad to relate, Mr Houston's "explanation" leaves the reader as bamboozled as any of the previous atempted "clarifications". It turns out that the bold Oberon has no more ability to explain what the elusive policy is about than any previous Tory interlocuter.

One of his prescriptions is that;
"...What it means is saying that central government won't decide what your kids' education will be, where they go to school, or what they learn (within prescribed requirements). Or which hospital you go to for treatment, your GP - the one you chose - will send you to the treatment centre which has the best provision and the best expected outcomes for you...."
But Michael Gove has comprehensively sunk the idea that "...central government won't decide what your kids' education will be...".   His so-called "free" schools will report directly to the Department for Education, i.e. more centralisation, not less, will be the result of the one policy which the coalition has enacted so far. So when Houston writes
"..Imagine all public services, still paid for by the state, but accountable to the people they serve instead of faceless politicians and bureaucrats in London. "...
...he has to explain how the Big Society aligns with Gove's insistence that his new part-private schools report directly to him and his "faceless bureaucrats in London"... What's that about? How does reporting to Westminster mean that "..... central government won't decide what your kids' education will be... "?

If Tory Ministers insist on policies which contradict David Cameron's big idea, and David Cameron let's them implement these policies, how is anyone to judge, let alone act on, what the "Big Society" really means?"

Needless to say, ConservativeHome has no reasoned explanation of this, very apparent, conflict.

In my analysis the Big Society has three possible meanings;
1. It is pure PR, and given that its creator has had only one "real" job (if you can call PR Officer for a  TV company a real job), that would be a reasonable assumption.
2. It is no more than currently happens when local councils work with charites and other groups to find economical ways and means of delivering effective services. In which case, it is no more than the long established Labour commitment to the cohesiveness and interdependence of government, local government and wider society, and owes a lot more to existing methods of achieving that cohesiveness than any supposedly new and fresh thinking. Not that it's a bad idea for that: partnership working is obviously key to the efficient and effective delivery of high quality services and the Tories stealing Labour's clothes is all right by me as long as it results in better services to the public (not that I think the Conservatives are motivated to deliver better public services).
3. It is a smokescreen for disguising the impact of the Osborne cuts, and a method of misdirecting attention away from the ideological nature of the cuts and the Tory Party's primary aim of cutting public services to the bone for ideological, not economic, reasons. In which case it's just a lie and a cynical lie at that: it will achieve nothing for the people of Britain.
There is, of course, possibility 4, and that is that the "Big Society" is a load of ill-thought-out meaningless tosh and should not have been made so much of by David Cameron, and he should drop it now before it becomes even more embarrassing to him and his party.