Thursday 24 March 2011

Osborne's Moody Swings...

George Osborne has now had three tries, in less than a year, at addressing the problems in the economy: the June  2010 emergency budget, the autumn statement and yesterday's full annual budget statement.

Whereas the economy that Osborne took over was clearly the legacy of Alasdair Darling and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor has scorned the efforts of his predecessors and progressively put his own stamp on the economic situation: the economy of today is George Osborne's, and no-one else's.

The economy that Osborne took over was going through a slow and halting recovery with some growth in activity and a slowing of unemployment. Osborne took control with the vow to concentrate on growth. But since he has been in charge growth has stalled and unemployment has increased. Osborne also used the fear of the UK losing its "AAA" rating from the credit agencies as a prime reason for "cut fast and deep" strategy. We were in danger of losing our AAA rating, Osborne warned, and that would severely hamper any recovery by making debt more expensive to service, said George, so we had to be ruthless..

It is therefore ironic in the extreme that both the main credit agencies, Moody's and Fitch, have chosen today to issue warnings about the forecasts for growth that accompany Osborne's budget.

Moody's is clear about the problem:
"Although the weaker economic growth prospects in 2011 and 2012 do not directly cast doubt on the UK's sovereign rating level, we believe that slower growth combined with weaker-than-expected fiscal consolidation could cause the UK's debt metrics to deteriorate to a point that would be inconsistent with a AAA rating," 

Yesterdays' budget was seen by commentators as being broadly neutral: in other words, there would be no noticeable stimulus to the economy and there were no identifiable measures that would provide that growth, and it came on the back of weakening economic figures and pessimistic forecasts.

Osborne told parliament on Wednesday that the UK economy would grow by 1.7% this year, and by 2.5% in 2012, predictions which are still more optimistic than the latest assessment from the OECD, which  predicted last week that the UK would expand by 1.5% during 2011, and 2.0% in 2012.

Fitch, a rival credit rating agency, has already warned that Osborne may have to impose further austerity measures if GDP growth is slower than expected, or if inflation continues to run much higher than official targets.

Standards & Poor, the third main ratings agency, made noises in May 2009 about reducing the UK's credit rating, much to George's approbation.

Wouldn't it be ironic if all of George's efforts to appease the markets were to result in the very rejection by the markets that he has been using as the excuse for his extreme cuts strategy in the first place...???

Sunday 20 March 2011

What you mean "legal" Kemo Sabay?

There's an old Mad Magazine* cartoon of The Lone Ranger and his trusty red indian sidekick Tonto surrounded by hostile natives. The caption reads as Tonto saying: "What you mean "we" Kemo Sabay?".

David Cameron is quoted over on Lord Ashdown's Politics Home blog as saying that the intervention in Lybia is "necessary, legal and right". The question is: what do you mean "legal" Mr Cameron?

There are so many moral and practical dilemmas in foreign intervention. What does "legal" mean in international law? What takes precedence? If an act is legal in your own national law, but "illegal" in international law, can you act anyway?  If an action is not in the interests of China or Russia and they veto it at the UN, the veto makes it "illegal" (apparently), but does that make it wrong? And if the action in Libya had been merely "necessary and right", but not "legal", should we not intervene? Surely if an action is "necessary and right", we should act to address the necessity and right the wrong, and not be hog-tied by the interests of China and Russia?

According to some (not all) opinion, the invasion of Iraq was "illegal", and deeply controversial, because it did not have UN backing. But by the same definition, the Kosovo intervention which raised no such controversy was also "illegal", but it has been deemed a qualified success. And the actions in Sierra Leone were just below the radar: nobody asked if they were legal or not, but they have been effective (so far) in stabilising that country.

On the other hand the long period on Tory non-intervention (some would say indifference) in the Bosnian crisis (before Tony Blair acted on the Kosovo events) was perfectly legal. And the blind eye that the international community turned on the horrific massacres in Rwanda was totally "legal" but, in my view, was immoral and wrong, as well as being immensely cowardly. In Bosnia and Croatia, thousands died "legally". In Rwanda a million and more ( and echoes of the crisis are still reverberating around the region), all of them murdered "legally" according to international law.

So what guide does "legality" give us in this vexed arena? Few would disagree that Gadafi is thug and a menace to his people and the world. But then so was Sadam. And Milosovic. And Taylor. And many others.

Should we have to wait for the UN, which provides extremely unreliable and unpredictable leadership on many of the world's problems, which bends to the will of the world's largest dictatorships, to give us the moral permission to do things that are "necessary and right"?

* could my memory be playing tricks....

Saturday 19 March 2011

Biased BBC..... the call we frequently hear from the SNP and Tories.... A lot of lefties cry our  Conservative friends, wet liberals preparing for a Marxist state..... you often get the impression that many Tories would like to see the back of BBC News and Current affairs... they ask too many pointed question, dont'ye know...

...Scottish establishment Labour stooges, cry the Nats. They're out to do us down at every opportunity and puff up Labour. It'a cosy unionist cabal....

I wonder what the Tartan Tories and the real McCoy would have said if their spring conferences were barred from live broadcast by the BBC? Would Eck speak only to the faithful? Would he heck! Would  Dave travel all the way from Kensington to speak to the yokels if Live TV wasn't on offer. Yoiks to the oiks! he would cry, I'm orff!

Seriously, this is a strange decision by the BBC in Scotland. The excuse (that Labour's autumn conference was covered live) is weak. There wasn't an election campaign on in the autumn but there is now.

I knw that the BBC is committed to "balance", but to cover all the conferernces live, except for Labour, is an extraordinary decision and hardly balanced by any sane definition.

I can just hear Annabel and Eck phoning in their protests to the Controller Scotland: "Not fair my man. Hardly balanced and democratic.. we insist that Labour gets equal treatment with us...".

The Polls Narrow...or do they?

The Herald reports a new ICM Poll for Scotland in which the gap between Labour and the SNP narrows, but with Labour still ahead. An ICM Poll shows Labour on 39% for the constituency vote with the SNP on 35%, and Labour 37%, SNP 34% for the list vote.
"The ICM poll of more than 1000 voters was commissioned by the SNP and shows the Nationalists just four points behind Labour’s 39% in the constituency vote and three behind Labour’s 37% for the list vote."
The Tories are at 12% and 13% for the constituency and list votes – while the Liberal Democrats are struggling on 10% and 9%. The Greens scored 4% and others 7% on the regional vote.

The poll would have Labour on 57 seats, with the SNP on 46.

According to the Herald, in another poll, conducted by YouGov, Labour were on 41% for the constituency vote, the SNP 38%, Conservatives 10%, LibDems 6% and others 5%. I can't find this poll online...UPDATE. Found it thanks to Lallands Peat Worrier.

Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the poll as showing that the SNP were performing better than the actual 2007 election result. But at this time in the 2007 campaign both ICM and YouGov had the SNP ahead by about 5 points in both the constituency and regional votes. Labour in 2011 is well ahead of its 2007 election result and also ahead of the polls at this stage of the campaign. 

The poll was matched by a council by-election in Renfrewshire which saw Labour take the seat from SNP
Labour increased its share of the vote by 17 points. Labours Roy Glen won 49.3% of the first-preference votes, compared to the SNPs 32%.As a result, Labour is now the largest party on Renfrewshire Council (18 seats for Labour, 16 for the SNP).

So opinion polls versus real votes...this stage in 2007 versus today's polls...are the polls narrowing or are they not?

As I said when the previous exclusively Scottish Polls were announced,  it's still all to play for and getting out the vote is crucial. That's still the case.....

Thursday 17 March 2011

Give us the chance....

In 2007 the SNP's pitch was "give us a chance to show that we can govern properly...".

The question is: having been given the chance, have they taken it or have they blown it?

Alex Salmond would claim that they have taken the chance with both hands. The SNP decided to take on the challenge of minority government. They would, they pledgd, be different from other parties in government. They would deliver, and in delivering, they would show that they could be entrusted with power, and indpendence could and would bring a better Scotland.

Have they delivered? Well, they have and they haven't. And where they haven't they have they have made the excuse that they're only a minority, and the other parties have blocked their actions...stymied their policies.

So how do we judge? The obvious place to start is the 2007 campaign and Manifesto. What was the campaign fought on? What were they key pledges that the SNP made to get elected?

There were a number of major issues that the nats gathered votes on. One was the unpopularity of the Labour/LibDem coalition that preceded them. Another was the unpopularity of Labour in London and the prevalent anti-Iraq war sentiment.

The policies that dominated the campaign (at least the policies that I remember) were the NHS and the unpopularity of the Kerr/Kerr changes (which they sold as saving local A&Es and other local hospitals), the abolition of Student Debt, the abolition of "the hated Council Tax", the replacement of "the hated PPP" with a Scottish Futures Trust, class size policy, the promise of 1000 "new" police on the street and the promise to match Labour's school building policy "brick for brick".

On the NHS the SNP kept its promise and abandoned the Kerr/Kerr changes. Whether that was wise is not known, but it was delivery and Nicola Sturgeon has improved her reputation. And the 1000 police looks as if it will be delivered, although the peak numbers will quickly shrink in the next year, so it will bea promise met, but not for long.

But of all the other big promises, they have not delivered on most. They didn't abolish student debt as it turned out that they hadn't done the sums and it was far too expensive. They froze the Council Tax, but didn't abolish it, because their replacement policy of a Local Income Tax was not thought out properly and was never credible. They didn't replace PPP because their replacement policy of  a Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) was never properly thought out and was never credible. The class size policy was not delivered because it was never properly thought out and not credible. And the promise to match Labour's school bulding programme "brick for brick" was never met because they wouldn't use PPP and the SFT (see above) was never a credible replacement.

What all of this shows is that the SNP gained protest votes from the unpopularity of its opponents. And also from unpopular policies which it promised to replace, but largely did not. These were, by and large, "policies" which it used to get votes, but which were never going to work, because they were no more than a line in the Manifesto: "You don't like PPP? Neither do we. You want a Scottish Futures Trust? All right, we've got one here, on the back of this fag packet. Sure, it'll work... trust me, I'm a politician...".

There is one way that I can see to make some sort of judgement. The SNP has a page on its website showing all of its achievenements, and Labour has a page detailing what it calls the SNP's "100 broken promises.

Compare and contrast what the SNP claims as achievements with what Labour claims as broken promises. The decision is yours: do the achievements outweigh the broken promises? Did the SNP take its chance to show it could govern....?

I know what I think, but the lists give you the chance to make up your own mind....

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Could this be significant?

Labour has held a pretty steady lead for the last few months on the YouGov daily poll. The lead has fluctuated between 4% and 6%, recently moving to 6%-8%.

But last week there were two days when the Labour lead stood at 11%. Todays poll puts the figures at 45% Labour, 35% Conservative, Lib Dem 9%, giving Labour a 10% lead.It's the first time there has been a sustained consistent 10%+ gap between the two big parties since last year's election.

The Government's approval rating is at -29%.

Allied with the recent Europe-wide poll showing that the UK was the country with least support for big economic cuts, this is bad news for the coalition. When oppositions start to do this wel in polls, governments start changing tack. Look for policy u-turns and cracks in the coalition.

SNP Delusion..

....or should that be lies?

 There have been two SNP party political broadcastss in the last two weeks. One is an all-women presentation and another features a "what has the SNP ever done for us" skit based on the Monty Python  "what have the Romans ever done for us" scene from The Life of Brian. In both of these broadcasts the claim is made that the SNP has built 330 new schools in the last four years.

Common sense tells us that cannot be true: in my own area, after having built five new schools between 2003 and 2007, there have been no schools built in the last four years.... Surely, if hundreds of schools were being built, we would have been allocated at least one... and surely if hundreds of new schools were being built we would not have the employment problems in construction that we do have?

From 2001-2007 Labour (and Lib Dems) at Holyrood provided matching funds to councils to build schools. Holyrood supplied 60% of capital costs of these projects, with councils raising the other 40% usually (I cannot swear for all of them) using PPP.

Under that dispensation, hundreds of schools were built and contracts for signed to design and build new schools .

In the 2007 manifesto Labour promised to build 100 more schools using the same mechanism. The SNP opposed PPP, but promised to match Labour's programme "brick for brick" using the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT). SFT is a proposed new mechanism that the SNP would create for funding and managing large capital projects. It is necessary because the SNP hates PPP, and refuses to use it to fund and manage new contracts.

However the SFT never materialised. There is no new funding mechansim for large capital projects. It never really existed other than an empty manifesto promise. So three years pass and, as the SNP refuses to use PPP and they have no SFT, no matching funds are available from Holyrood and therefore no new schools are commissioned from Holyrood. None. Not one. In all of Scotland.

Any schools "completed" since 2007 already had authorisation and/or funding and/or contracts in place before the SNP came to power, or some may be financed by councils out of their own capital funds. But none are due to the SNP at Holyrood.

In 2010 Holyrood says councils can put 14 secondary and 21 primary schools (approximately, I don't have the exact figures to hand) in their capital plans. That's a total of 30 odd schools for all of Scotland. The matching funding will only be 50% and will not include extraneuos items such as new road formation, school crossings etc that were typically included in the previous allocations.

In December 2010 councils which had been planning to start a school got a letter from the SNP administration saying that the money would no longer be in their capital budget, but instead would be allocated from revenues. And, btw, you have to use PPP to design, build and maintain them!!!!

Councils are still not clear what the switch means, what impact it will have on design and build timetables etc.

The result is that only one (that I know of) schoool has been started with Holyrood money  authorised by the SNP administration (remember brick for brick?). And none will be completed before the May 2011 elections.

The question is: were the 330 schools that the SNP claim to have "completed" (weasel word) since 2007 all authorised before the SNP came to power?  I.e. did the prevous administration authorise the schools, authorise the funding and the contract mechanism, have the project in place and started or ready to go before the SNP stopped all new PPP contracts?  It seems likley that this is that case.

It is clear that none of the 330 schools that have been "completed" since 2007 have been due to anything the SNP at Holyrood did. There was no matching funding from Holyrood between 2007 and 2010, how can there have been new build?

The SNP might say that their claiming to have "completed" these schools is sort-of true. Some of them have been getting built while the SNP has been in Holyrod, but in claiming the credit for "building" these schools, it becomes, in my opinion, a direct lie.

Of course I  might be barking up the wrong tree. Maybe the SNP has built 330 schools since 2007. Maybe the evidence is just not clear and they're too shy to put it into the public domain. Who knows?

So if anyone out there  has a list of these projects, their timeline and funding, then maybe they could send it, or point us to the source. Then we could get to the bottom of the mystery of the mysterious "330 new schools completed" claim. That'd be nice.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Labour ahead in Scottish polls.

The Press Association is reporting a poll in the Scottish Mail on Sunday by a group called Scottish Progressive Opinion (of whom I have to confess, I have never heard).

Of those certain to vote, 43% backed Labour in the constituency vote, with  37% for the SNP, 11% Tory and 5% LibDem, Scottish Socialist 2% and Greens 1%.

In the list vote, Labour polled 44%, with the SNP on 37%, Conservatives 11%, Liberal Democrats 4%,.

The results mean Labour would end up with 63 seats - up by 17. The SNP would have 49 seats, the Lib Dems would  be reduced from the current 16 down to five and the Tories would lose five seats - leaving them with 12 MSPs.

These figure compare with  a YouGov poll on 27th Feb which had;

Constituency: CON 15%, LAB 41%, LDEM 8%, SNP 32%

Regional: CON 15%, LAB 40%, LDEM 7%, SNP 26%, GRN 6%

Giving Labour would get 59 seats.

And an Ipsos/Mori poll of a month ago, which had the figures at 36% SNP, 35% Labour, giving the SNP a narrow lead at Holyrood.

The SNP has had it's conference this weekend. Maybe we will see some surge of support for them and their promises from this.

In any case, the polls are close enough to ensure that neither party will become complacent. As I said before and I say again: it's all about getting out the vote.

Thursday 10 March 2011

We're all in this together....Scottish Version

Those who have read my profile on this blog will know that one of my great regrets is the fact that the SNP has split the progressive vote in Scotland. I know a number of nationalist activists and voters who are good people, well intentioned and generally left leaning in their politics, but they have swallowed whole the idea that all of our problems are caused by being part of the UK and if Scotland was "independent", all of our problems would be solved. Magically. Over night.

The result is that we, people who should be on the same side in delivering better solutions to the people of our country, are wasting most of our political energy in fighting each other. It's most frustrating.

I was reminded of this attitude when a blogger called McGonagall expressed a similar view from a nationalist perspective here. Then I came across a much better argued post by Stuart Winton on Planet Politics. This led me to a post by Lallands Peat Worrier, one of the more cerebral bloggers (at least he uses long words) who is, I believe, of the nationalist persuasion.

Stuart Winton eleoquently makes the point that nationalists tend to see independence as an aim in itself, with no clear picture of what will follow, what the problems of transition will be, how they will be addressed and how independence will make a better society. LPW uses language which I find interesting. He asks:
"Some might well suggest that SNP claims that we're for Scotland lacks ideological definition. Surely the vital question is, what sort of Scotland are we for?"
Which is where I find a real difference in my approach. If I was posing the question it would be;
"Surely the vital question is, what sort of society do we want to deliver for our people? And what is the best way to do that within existing resources and within a reasonable time frame"
The real difference in emphasis here is not on the type of society we wish to deliver, (I don't think that there is much difference beween the society I would wish to see and the society your average SNP voter would wish to see), it's on the fundamental thinking used as expressed in the language used.

I find it interesting to look at how nationalists frame every question around the concept of "Scotland". What they mean by "Scotland" is never defined. "Independence for Scotland" "A better Scotland" and too often, I'm afraid, their opponenets are "traitors to Scotland". Whereas I would rather that politics concentrated on the people. "A Scotland which is better for the people to live in" is for me a much better objective of politics than vague ideas about an undefined concept. After all what is "Scotland"? It's a plastic concept, it means different things to different people. Its very vagueness is a strength for those who wish to emotionalise debate and shrink from argument and evidence, never mind hard decisions.

I would rather work for the people, a simple and recognisable entity. And I would rather work for them now. When you do that, it becomes much clearer: no need to wait for "independence" before we deliver Utopia. Indeed no need for any Utopia. We can work together, in the here and now, to deliver real solutions in the real world. Of course it won't be perfect, but neither will "independence", if it ever comes. But at least we will be working now, and addressing real problems now. We might fail or be only partially successful, but at least we will do it now, not in some unspecified period of time, after god knows what sequence of events, or the costs of those events.

And we will do it for ourselves and our people, not for some undefinable entity called "Scotland" which means anything, everything or nothing, depending on how you feel at any particular time.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Tory Military Cuts. Media Silence. As for the Chiefs of Staff...

Sherlock Holmes* famously identified "the dog that didn't bark" as the key clue in the solution of one of his more puzzling cases. Dogs bark when dogs are expected to bark, and when they don't bark, you must look for a reason. So it is with that other pack, the media pack, which raises a clamour when a big story breaks or there is a signifcant development in a major news story......they just love the scent of blood, and oh! how they bark when they smell it!

Except, there is a very big news story which has been going on for months now but the media pack hasn't so much as growled. That story is the neutering of the UK's defence capability and it has hardly raised a ripple.

Jim Murphy reacts to the latest cuts Tory here, but you don't have to take the latest cuts into account to see that the Tory Party is effectively dismantling the British military machine.

What interests me is the question: what if it was the Labour Party that was decommissioning ships, ordering aircraft carriers with no planes on them while, at the same time, sending newly built planes costing £millions each, to the knackers yard before they have even flown a test flight? If it was the Labour Party that was destroying our ability to rescue our own citizens from dangerous countries and sending in half-arsed James Bond-style missions to Lybia to be captured by peasants with pitchforks, meanwhile sending P45s to soldiers srerving in Iraq and Afghanistan, what would the media be saying then?

You don't really have to ask, do you? The media would be exploding. Think of the Mail or the Express, and the unholy righteousness they would unleash on any Labour minister making even a tenth of the Tory cuts to the army, the navy and the air force. The Sun! What hyperbolic headlines would they invent to vilify the cowardly pinkoes who are betraying "our boys"?

Whitehall itself would be like a war zone, with unhappy politicians ducking and diving to avoid the missiles launched by the Tory press.

But it's not been like that. Yes, the cuts have been reported, and the numbers are a matter of record, but the fury, the indignation, the outright outrage at the extent and depth of the damage being done to the countries defences: where is that? Where are the stentorian editorials and the hysterical headlines? Where is the sound, where is the fury?

It seems the right wing media is quite content to give the Tories an easy ride on this one, (which should be no surprise, really), but there are other silent dogs......

.....the military chiefs.

In the dying days of the Labour Government you couldn't open a newspaper or watch the TV news without being blinded by the light gleaming off a row of chest medals as one or other of the chiefs of staff or senior generals railed against Labour's crimes. Not enough helicopters, the wrong armour, ill fitting boots, radios that didn't work. All serious matters, and the more so if you're the one with pinching boots in a scorching desert or the squaddie withstanding enemy fire while trying to radio for a rescue helicopter.  But aircraft carriers with no planes on them!!! Come on! And newly built aircraft scrapped before they can take flight!! And perfectly serviceable and much needed boats sold off to the Argentinian and Australian navies at a fraction of their real value. In the annals of defence cuts these are the cuts to beat the band (the bands are being cut as well of course).

Meanwhile our (presumably Tory) defence chiefs sit back and say damn' all. They can swallow anything, endure any humiliation, fire any number of Tommies and Jack Tars, take anything the government can throw at them. As long as it's a Tory government.

* Sherlock Holmes is of course a fictitious character...... I know that.... the incident of the dog that didn't bark is from Silver Blaze, a short story published in The Memiors of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Monday 7 March 2011

SNP Demands Councils use PPP

I have been having a few comments published on the Universality of Cheese website. The subject being how wonderful the SNP has been for the people of Scotland.

I raised the question of why no new schools had been commissioned by Holyrood during most of the SNP's reign, but got the usual blank looks from the nat contributors. So I have decided to post a simple narrative.

Here it is;

Before they got elected, the SNP attacked PPP relentlessly making much of the costs of PPP contracts.

The SNP promised that, if elected, that they would abolish PPP.

The SNP said that, if they were in power, PPP would be replaced by a Scottish Futures Trust.

The SNP said that the Scottish Futures Trust would be a new method of financing capital projects such as schools.

The SNP also said it would use the Scottish Futures Trust to match Labour's school building programme "brick for brick".

The SNP gathered lots of protest votes against PPP. They also gathered votes on the promise to build many new schools (as Labour had done), matching Labour's school building programme "brick for brick".

When the SNP took power, it stopped all new school funding from Holyrood because it refused to use the hated PPP to fund new schools. The SNP wanted the new finnacing mecahnism, the SFT, to provide the funding mechanism for the programme to match Labour's school building programme "brick for brick".

Unfortunately, after 3 years of faffing around, the SFT was still not defined. It had no substance and no shape. It was a blob of fantasy: nobody knew what it was, what it meant, how it would be funded, how it would work.... It transired that, although the SNP had promised the SFT in its manifesto, nobody in the SNP had actually thought out how the SFT woud work! And all the effort over three desparate years had produced nothing. It was a mess.

In 2010 the Education Minister was sacked and a new one appointed. Some money was, at last, released from Holyrood funds to councils to help build schools (the SNP administration provided 50% matched funding rather than the 60% that Labour had, but it was something...).

14 new secondary schools were identified for the whole of Scotland. For comparison, 3 new secondaries were built in my own council area between 2003  and 2007, so 14 for the whole of Scotland was pretty miserable. Still it was something......

Meanwhile an organisation called the Scottish Futures Trust was established. It had no money in any "trust" nor any method of generating money. It was not a method of financing new projects. It was, in fact, that old chestnut, "free" money from pooling purchasing efforts and standardising requirements. It was, to be frank, two men and a Microsoft Project software package. Tried before, failed before.

Although, to give the so-called Scottish Futures Trust its due, it is Scottish....

Then it emerged that a condition of getting access to the funding from Holyrood was that SNP MInisters were insisting that a PPP method of funding had to be used to finance and run the new schoools projects.

So. The whole sorry saga..... the SNP builds PPP into some sort of ogre, getting protest votes on the basis that the SNP will scrap the hated PPP. Then, in power, SNP refuses for idealogical reasons to use PPP to fund new projects. Then the SNP fails to produce the promised Scottish Futres Trust, or any other financing mechanism for capital projects. Then , in desparation, the SNP ressurrects PPP and insists that councils use it!

Incompetence. Ideaological rigidity. Ignorance. And straightforward lies.

And the upshot is: no new government funded schools in 4 years.

A complete and utter fiasco and disgrace.

Sunday 6 March 2011

The Wisdom of the ages.....

I don't know how long I have been reading William Keegan in the Observer and the Guardian: all my life, it seems, and he never fails to hit the mark. Keegan is an economist who understands that economics is nothing without social, historical and political context, a thinker who views events from a wide perspective. He also has a phenomenal memory for precedent and example. When you read Keegan you don't just get the dry statistics of GDP and GNP and OECD, or judgement of current situations in isolation. You get a lesson in economic history, political precedent and personal anecdote. All of it highly relevant.

Today he has an article in the Observer which revisits the economics of 1952, revives the ancient ghost of "Butskellism", and makes acute comparisons between the situation then and the current policies of George Osborne. In doing so it highlights the eternal and important differences between Labour and the Tories which too many people dismiss and deflect.

Listing Gaitskells' criticisms of the then Tory Party's economic policy, he notes;
"1. Breach of [electoral] promise. 2. Pandering to vested interests. 3. Reactionary social policy. 4. Gross incompetence and muddle."

As Keegan comments "plus ca change..." The list is the same as Ed Balls has been levelling at the Cameron government and its Lib Dem poodles.

I won't plagerise any more of Keegan's article. It stands for itself and you should read it here...

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Another Tory Myth Bites the Dust

In recent years there's been  a lot of comment about the apparent lack of social mobility, and whether the demise of grammar schools has closed a route to an upward trajectory for working class children.

There's an interesting story in the Guardian today covering some research done at the universities of Oxford and Bath Spa. The researchers used data from the National Child Development Survey, which has tracked thousands of adults now aged 53, since they were born. One conclusion was that Grammar schools had no real impact on socal mobility for working class children. The few working class few kids that benefit is outweighed by the number that lose out from going to secondary modern schools.

So another right wing myth is scorched. There has been no disadvantage from the Comprehensives, and the reintroduction of selection would in all probablity have a detrimental effect on those who lose out, and would have no compensating beneficial effect on social mobility.

Mervyn King blames the banks....

Almost every time you see PMQs or any other ministerial statement, you hear the "it's all Labour's fault" Tory mantra. According to the ToryDems, the financial crisis was all Labour's fault and the cuts are all Labour's fault.

Until now I have suspected that Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, had quietly endorsed that view and backed up his Tory masters in their repititions.

But, in today's Guardian, King blames the problem squarely on the financial sector. In the article, King;
"...told the Treasury select committee that the billions spent bailing out the banks and the need for public spending cuts were the fault of the financial services sector."

"...King has repeatedly pointed the finger at the City since the crisis erupted in 2007, but this was the first time he blamed bankers for the coalition's spending cuts."

The Governor also remarked that;
"The price of this financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it," he said. "Now is the period when the cost is being paid, I'm surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has."
So the next time we hear a ToryDem minister assert that it's all Labour's fault, we should immediately point him to the Governor's evidence.

It was the bankers wot done it and the public should be revolting....

interesting piece by Ben Chu at the Indy

NHS Privatisation....

Just after the New Year, at PMQs, Ed Miliband asked David Cameron about the 18 week waiting time for an operation within the NHS in England. Cameron could not give figures because, as the Tories promised, the target had been dropped. "Targets are evil and we don't need them" being the libertarian Tory mantra. The problem being, if there's no target, no commitment can be made. The patient is left at the mercy of the system, and if it delivers, well and good. If it doesn't deliver, there is no comeback.

Today, amid warnings that patients could have to wait longer for treatment, the head of the NHS in England, Sir David Nicholson, has written to all staff asking for "vigilence" in delivering the commitment. It seems, as was predictable, the moment the Tory Government removed the need to report on the target, it was quietly ignored by Health Trusts.

So if you are waiting for an operation and you think it will be delivered within a stated time, think again. You no longer have any guarantee that it will be.

An even more disturbing story is in the Guardian. To quote;
"...The government's health service reforms could lead to GP practices being partially floated on the stock market, it has emerged...... GP consortiums will begin to control £80bn of NHS funds to commission healthcare from 2013.... in documents obtained by Channel 4 News and passed to the Guardian, one private health firm, IHP, proposes that the commissioning budget for patients be handed over to a private company in which family doctors would own a 20% stake..."

This goes far beyond any "marketisation" of services or purchasing: it is the outright privatisation of NHS services. If you GP's loyalty is to the stock market, how can he also answer to you?

It has been much commented on that Andrew Lansley's "reforms" to the NHS were not in the Tory manifesto nor in the coalition agreement. In fact the promise was that there would be "no top down reorganisation" of the Health Service.

So there you have it: when the Tories carry out their promises, the NHS suffers and when they do something that was never in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate, the NHS suffers.

And when the NHS suffers, the public suffers, sometimes literally.

As ever: we expect this level of lies and treachery from the Conservatives, but where are the Lib dems in all of this?  Why are they silent? Why do they vote for these real cuts to the National Health service, and where is their conscience?

ps. EtonMess has a revealing graph showing that the NHS is good value for money and performs well against international competition and a reasonable cost.

The worst Health Service is the most privatised, i.e. the USA.