Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
PMQs - The Verdict
You can bet there were many places Gordon Brown would rather be on his 57th birthday than in the chamber for prime minister's questions. There was little evidence of Brown letting his hair down - apart from cracking a joke about asking the prime minister of China about Wigan - but at least the leader of the Opposition took the time to wish him many happy returns. And, reflecting on some of the PM's disastrous early performances at the despatch box at noon on a Wednesday, it is hard not to conclude that he has got a lot better at the weekly joust.
Northern Rock And DNA Dominate PMQs
Given the Speaker's refusal to allow a Conservative request for a statement, it was perhaps unsurprising that David Cameron chose his opening salvo to be on the Crown Prosecution Service. The Government stands accused of inaction following a request from Dutch police to compare thousands of DNA profiles against the UK's own database - and possibly catch some serious criminals in the process.
Point-by-point: Question time
The main points from prime minister's questions on Wednesday, 20 February, from 1200 GMT:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown sent his condolences to the family of Corporal Damian Lawrence who was killed in Afghanistan. Answering a question from Labour MP Ann Begg, Mr Brown said all of the money lent to Northern Rock would be paid back. He said the government would only return the bank to private ownership when it could get the "best deal" for taxpayers.The Verdict
I am pushed for time today, so going to have to make it short and, hopefully, sweet...
The opening Labour planted spoiler question was there as is becoming the new Brown tactic – Brown got a dolly of a question on Northern Rock.
Cameron wisely steered clear of Northern Rock – wisely because Brown has nearly as much ammo to throw at the Tories on this one as they do at him. Also Brown would have been expecting it and easily prepared. Instead Cameron went for the “missing” Netherlands data disc, containing DNA profiles from crime scenes, sent to the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] in January last year, to be checked against the UK's database. Cameron won this encounter, but only used three questions up...
Clegg then stepped up, delivered a couple of good’uns: one on Northern Rock where he managed to discredit the government and Tories and one on energy prices. Good show from Clegg.
Brown gave a cheap shot about the Tories not asking about Northern Rock – which was a bit dumb considering Cameron had only asked three questions and it obvious what his next three would be about! And they were. Only Cameron decided to talk about Northern Rock’s Freedom of Information status.
I am not really sure where Cameron was going with this. At first I thought that maybe he knew something explosive and exciting and that he would drop the bombshell on Brown with the damage being so bad the Prime Minister would have had little opportunity but to resign there and then. Instead he had no insider information, no scandal, nothing at all. Just a bit sensationalist conspiracy theory about the government trying cover something up (though Dave had no idea what). It could have worked out, but to have a convincing conspiracy theory he should have at least had something up his sleeve about what Brown was trying to cover up.
Cameron, at this point, had blown it. Brown was batting away Cameron’s full tosses like Don Bradman might have seen my pathetic attempts at bowling had the extremely unlikely chance of him facing up to me on at the crease ever happened. Brown was in full throw and Cameron was going nowhere.
The real problem with the Northern Rock issue for the Tories is that ecomonics is Brown’s specialist subject – in fact I think it is his only subject. While they should be making good capital out of all this, Cameron is no match for Brown in a one on one dual.
It was a PMQs of two halves today, but with Brown finishing far the stronger I have to give him the points. In Cameron's defense, however, he will probably get in to the evening news with his questions on the DNA discs - so maybe I am being harsh but...
The Latest Poll – Bad News for the Tories
ICM has released its latest polling figures – the first pollster to do so in light of the nationalisation of Northern Rock – and it makes miserable reading for the Tories. They are unchanged on 37%, but Labour are actually up two points on 34%. ICM, it should be noted, have been the harshest on the Tory share of late, but the fact Labour has gone up post NR is a telling story in itself. All this ties in with the growing perception that the government have handled this latest episode of the Northern Rock debacle fairly well; and that their decision making has been far more sensible than the option that the Tories want to pursue.
To Cut or Not to Cut
The same poll has said that a significant number of people want to see some sort of tax cuts or sustained spending. The obvious thing for the Tories to do is promise tax cuts therefore you might think. But it is an absolute minefield for them and really sums up the difficulties the Tories face if they are ever to get a serious, general election winning lead over Labour. As soon as they start to promise tax cuts the first thing everyone thinks about is the NHS. Get the Tories on the NHS and they become the nasty party again. In fact, get them on tax cuts and they are easily painted as the nasty party again because everyone assumes cuts in key public services.
However, unless the Tories do something they are simply unelectable – as poll after poll, month after month has shown. They are going to have to be very clever in how they position any public spending policies or they will be taken to the cleaners. But Cameron and Osborne will sooner or later have to take a risk – when they do this very much depends on when an election is going to be called and how itchy the right of the party get about the Cameron leadership. If the right start to sense that they are on to another hiding with Cameron in charge, expect them to become more and more vocal and the Tories to become more and more un-electable. But, a 3% lead in the polls is simply not good enough for the Tories.
Dangerous times ahead
Forget Labour being “in between a Rock and a hard place” with their banking issues, long term it is the Tories who are firmly wedged between the rock and hard place – they are damned if do and they are damned if they don’t. I will be very interested to see what effect NR nationalisation has had on the other pollsters’ polls.
Have the Tories got their policy and tone right in their response to the nationalisation of Northern Rock? The jury is out. For understandable reasons, based on their desire for voters to see this as a cataclysmic event, they have turned up the rhetoric against Darling and Brown to quite abusive levels. However, there is a creeping sense that it is not working. Voters are entitled to ask: what on earth would the Tories do differently at this point? Cue Conservative mumbling about the Bank of England, not starting from here and private sector solutions.
From a rock to a hard place
At last, after four months of dithering, the UK government has finally decided to nationalize the failed bank, Northern Rock. To their credit, and as if to show how far they have grown from their Old Labour roots, they declare that this nationalization will be "temporary". But as the economist Milton Friedman once noted, "Nothing is more permanent than a temporary government programme".
Darling/Osborne Fiscal Policy Meets The Smurfs
Yesterday, the TPA's Corin Taylor picked him up on one point he made, which was that cutting spending growth below Labour's planned 2.1% pa would be to "head off onto the margins of the political debate," chasing a target that "would be lower than anything Margaret Thatcher achieved during the economic turbulence she faced in her first parliament". Corin sets out the history of real public spending growth for the last 35 years so we can see the whole picture. He argues that although spending did indeed grow by more than 2.1% pa during Thatcher's first parliament (2.3% pa to be precise), it was an extraordinarily turbulent time. Over her whole period in office she got spending growth down to 1.5% pa, even taking account of the higher growth in the early years.
Northern Rock: History Will Vindicate Darling
So says Hopi Sen here. LOL agree 100% with all three predictions.
1. Northern Rock will be a money spinner;
2. Natasha will have time limited effect on Five;
3. Gordon will edge PMQs tomorrow.
Five are going to be on an upward swing anyway because of factors other than the lovely NK so it may be a little difficult to analyse the out turn.
Don't worry Darling
David Cameron is calling for his head, the City has lost confidence and the bookies are offering 5/2 that he will be gone from the Treasury by the end of the year. Yet, I suspect that Alistair Darling has more job security than most. Darling was a temporary appointment; no one believes that Brown will keep him in post after the next election which explains why some young Brownites were so keen on an early election. But to move Darling before polling day would be a huge risk. First of all, it would call into question Brown’s judgement in appointing him in the first place. Second, it would add considerably to the feeling that this is a government on its last legs. Finally, there is no guarantee that Darling would go quietly.
Cuba after Castro
Stay in one of the five star hotels, and Cuba is a fabulous place for a holiday. Sit down by that swimming pool and bask in the Caribbean sunshine, light up a cigar from beyond the wilder shores of Freudian symbolism and knock back cocktails blended from the finest rum on earth. And if it’s nightlife you want, there’s hot jazz and salsa clubs that stay open until four am. That’s on the weeknights. Convertible pesos only, of course.
Yes, it was dodgy
The long-awaited release of an early draft of the British government's Iraq dossier has produced a smoking gun
The selfishness of the Council Tax non payers
Let's get one thing straight immediately. I don't like the Council Tax and I want to see it replaced by a fairer system based on people's ability to pay. What else would you expect from a Liberal Democrat.But I do object strongly to people who deliberately refuse to pay their council tax in order to "make a point". I say this in relation to a gentleman in Norfolk who is now being sent to prison for 34 days because he has again refused to pay his council tax.
Ken Clarke rejects English Parliament
Former Chancellor Ken Clarke, Chairman of David Cameron's Democracy task force, gave evidence to the Commons' Justice Select Committee yesterday. The Committee is taking evidence on the impact of devolution. Within his evidence he said that...
Should we have more politics on TV?
Jon Bright (London, OK): Mark Bell of CentreForum has an interesting piece in CiF today asking the above question. I had a rather ingrained resistance to the idea, but he might have turned me round. The case against, which he deconstructs, runs as follows: Here in the UK, political parties are banned from advertising on television or radio - with the exception of occasional five-minute party political broadcasts. The logic is seemingly that political advertising encourages negative attacks, reduces politics to soundbites and superficiality, and increases the political influence of the corporations and vested interests whose money would be needed to fund such advertising.
Council Tax pensioner jailed
Meet Mr Richard Fitzmaurice, a 76-year-old pensioner who has devoted his life to his country, who served 22 years as a soldier in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, and who yesterday was handcuffed and led away to prison for non-payment of his council tax. The humiliation of handcuffs was a bizarre decision for someone has never threatened anyone or exhibited any signs of resistance to his fate. He was there, he said, ‘on a matter of principle’, because ‘the way old age pensioners are being treated is shameful’.
Only three Daves from ICM in the Guardian
The poll that caught me by surprise. My apologies for not getting a thread up earlier but the latest Guardian ICM poll has taken me by surprise - I wasn’t expecting it until next Tuesday which would have followed the paper’s normal pattern. Also the fieldwork took place at the end of the half term week in many places when a lot of people are away. Pollsters tend to avoid such periods because they have thrown up odd results in the past. The shares are with changes on the last ICM poll CON 37% (nc): LAB 34% (+2): LD21% (nc). So good for Labour and the Lib Dems but disappointing for the Tories.
67% tell ICM that their taxes are too high
The Guardian suggests that voters prefer "continued spending at the next election over tax cuts" by 51% to 36%. We'll need to look at the exact question ICM asked but that seems a pretty useless finding if that was the question asked. What really would be interesting would be to identify voters' reactions to pledges of specific promises of, say, a reduction in council tax, paid for by slower growth in spending.
Tories 3 points ahead in latest ICM poll
ICM’s monthly poll for the Guardian has topline figures of CON 37%, LAB 34%, LDEM 21%. The changes from the last ICM poll are Labour up 2, with the other two parties unchanged. The poll was conducted between the 15th and 17th of February. The poll continues the pattern we’ve seen since September last year of Labour doing comparatively better compared to the Conservatives in ICM polls done for the Guardian than in polls done for other clients. As I said when I first commented on this apparent pattern, I can find no obvious explanation for it, but as the months go past the patten seems to be consistent.
Yesterday came the news that Fidel Castro is standing down as leader of Cuba. It was swiftly followed up by a statement from Mr Liberty and Democracy himself, George Bush, saying that he wants a democratic transition to come over the small island. Now, I am not just about to defend Castro or his regime nor am I going to criticise it. The focus here is with George Bush and it goes right to root of why the popularity of Americans has suffered so badly in past few years.
In defence of the US
First thing first however, I am not a US basher. If I had a choice between the US and any other of the emerging super powers running the world it is a no contest for me. The lazy, stereotype myths that Americans are dumb are extremely ill-founded. The US could teach Britain a thing or two about many areas of politics and standards. I am sure that in twenty years time, or however long it is before the BRIC countries start to really have an impact on world affairs, all those ill-informed righteous bigots will be longing for the day when a true democracy had the base of power. However, there is a good reason why the US has got a growing band of haters and critics and it is best exemplified by the situation in Cuba.
The stinking hypocrisy
The call for the US to have democracy installed in Cuba absolutely stinks of hypocrisy. This is the country that has a small corner of Cuba solely used for the imprisonment of hundreds of inmates for as long as they want without trial. They don’t do this in their own country because it is against their constitution and against International law. The very poor standards and lack of human rights that the US criticises Cuba for having are the very same poor standards and lack of human rights that the US is taking full advantage of for their own means. Who the hell is George Bush to tell Cuba what political avenue to pursue when it is, de facto, practicing exactly what it is preaching against and much worse?
Take the case of Omar Khadr, a 15 year old boy. Now I don’t know what this guy has or hasn’t done and quite frankly I don’t care – it is up to a court to decide. However under US and International law he is a minor and should be tried in a juvenile court. But as the US is using Cuba as its base to torture and hold suspected terrorist subjects, it can do whatever the hell it likes. Thus, Khadr will be tried without any specialist juvenile judge, despite the trial focusing on his actions and words between the ages of ten (the age he is alleged to have been forced to join al-Qaeda) and 15. He is treated as an adult prisoner of war, interned with adults while he faces trial. This could not happen in America, but can and does in Cuba. Then there are the stories of water-boarding and other torture methods, poor living conditions; and remember not one of these men have been found guilty of anything nor are they likely to stand trial at the type of court that the US would demand for its own citizens and for other countries to adopt.
Hope for the future
Until America practices what it preaches, what position is in to tell other nations to adopt certain standards? I am all for the standards that they do preach, but they are so ill-equipped to be preaching right now. This is a George Bush issue currently, let’s hope that a McCain, Clinton or Obama clamps down on this desperate hypocrisy and makes the US a nation that has the integrity as well as the compulsion that the world will want to follow.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
Darling surely has to go
It was always said during the Blair years that the worst job in politics would be Chancellor under Gordon Brown. After ten years in total control of the Treasury, there would be no way that Brown would tolerate a mighty Chancellor - let alone one of near equal status. Darling, when he began, was touted as being essentially a safe, dull pair of hands. Having risen without a trace through cabinet, Darling would be unexciting but competent. His talent for keeping his departments out of the news was just what Brown wanted.
Getting there slowly
The government has finally done what it should have done months ago with Northern Rock; but many questions remain
Hague set to replace Osborne
He may be a smug git but give Vince Cable his due, not only has he demolished the Tories almost amateurish proposals for Northern Rock, he's almost certainly ended George Osborne's tenure as Shadow Chancellor. Osborne has never before looked so out of his depth as he did today. Cable's comment that the Shadow Chancellor was in danger of castrating himself as he straddled both sides of the fence summed up the incoherent strategy adopted by the Shadow Treasury team ever since the Northern Rock crisis began.
The Government is right on Northern Rock
And tremendously courageous, in my view. In this day and age, even much of the left, including myself, is decidedly dodgy about nationalisation. My brand of social ownership and democratic control is a decentralist one; though if government didn't have a role this would be little more than foolish economism. I still think however that the role of the state is not to own resources, but to secure ownership and distribution of those resources across society.
Northern Rock and the case for extending social ownership
£25bn here and £25bn there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. It has been absolutely apparent for at least five months that nationalisation represents the only realistic means of safeguarding the astonishing sums of taxpayer cash shovelled into Northern Rock to rescue the bank from the consequences of managerial incompetence. Finally Alistair Darling has gotten the message. The erstwhile bearded Trot himself has brought the UK’s number five mortgage lender within the ambit of proletarian property relations. Only another 199 of the top 200 monopolies to go and Britain becomes a workers’ state, comrade.
In defence of Darling
Remember, the Northern Rock crisis was not caused by the government. In light of that, the chancellor has done a pretty good job
Has anybody thought about Scotland?
One can only revel in the disarray experienced by the "colleagues" as they struggle to come to terms with the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo. Continually vaunting its unity, whenever a crisis emerges, the EU somehow always fails to step up to the plate, each nation state adopting its own position until a formula is found to paper over the cracks and give some uneasy semblance of common purpose.
Why the Archbishop got it wrong
Whether Rowan Williams is a good man or a bad man; an intellectual or an academic; a highly sensitive soul or a machinating demagogue or whether or not he deserved the tabloid-led backlash is irrelevent to the position that he took when he delivered his speech, Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective.
What are Cameron's Conservatives for?
Gordon Brown stood for the leadership of the Labour party on a platform that argued that the renewal that was undertaken in order to gain power needed to be repeated if Labour was to keep power. The fact is that by successfully occupying the centre ground, by modernising and reaching out beyond its own activists Labour ended up turning the Tories into a replica of what it used to be itself – a party with a narrow base, a party obsessed about the wrong things and a party seen as old fashioned and out of touch.
What are TfL hiding?
Last week Mike Smithson broke the story of a BPC investigation into an Ipsos MORI poll carried out for Ken Livingstone. In the Evening Standard today Andrew Gilligan picks up Mike’s story and has got some comment from John Curtice and Ben Page of MORI. The story begins back in December with this press release from the Mayor’s office, claiming to show that a poll for Transport for London showed two thirds of respondents were in favour of the new emmissions based congestion charge.
Monday, 18 February 2008
Northern Rock, up to now, has not seemed to have caused any serious damage to the government. Even this weekend’s polls only put the Tories on a nine point – which may sound like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things is nothing that would be seriously worrying those behind the door at No.10. However, today’s news that the bank will be nationalised could well be a tipping point.
The decision to nationalise the bank in itself is not a major disaster – it was always the most likely and sensible option given the run of events. However, the way this debacle has been handled is starting to become a major, major embarrassment. The accusations of the Brown government “dithering” have never been more appropriate. It seems, and it is only a perception, but it does seem that the Treasury not only is dithering and wavering on what to do, but it has no conviction in what it is doing. One minute we are definitely going to have a nationalised bank, the next Branson will definitely buy it, then we wake up to a sort of temporary nationalisation that might well become permanent.
Perceptions have been damaged
I suspect the long term financial impacts of all this are not going to be nearly as bad as many of the more vocal right wing commentators would have us believe. We’re not all just about to be £25bn out of pocket. However, the question is still not so much whether this will cost the tax payer, but how much it will cost the taxpayer. It won’t be £25bn, but we will pay. Much worse however, is the perceptions that are being formed over all this.
Firstly there are the voters. Almost no –one from either side of the political spectrum is giving praise for the way Darling has handled all this. There has to be some sort of impact on the polls after all this, even if only temporary. If the Tories cannot make big gains out of this, then I’m not sure they ever will –and I mean in to double figure leads across the polls. If this does happen, there will be a very precariously balanced axe hanging over Darling’s head. If he goes, the Tories will be able to move on to phase two of the Cameron mission. They are currently at a stage where people are willing to accept them; the next phase is where there actually start to listen. If the government really do make things any worse over this, then people really start to listen to the Tories – the only phase after that is voting them back in to power. A long way, but these next few weeks could well be giant steps for them.
Secondly, it is the overseas perceptions. What must the traders and investors in New York be thinking about all this? Probably quite pleased actually – just when London looked liked it might succeed in becoming the number one financial centre on planet earth, it gets its pants pulled down by a goon of chancellor in front of the whole world. The damage is done on this one – it is now just a question of how bad the damage will be. For a country that has put all its eggs in to industries such as banking and moved completely away from manufacturing, this could well be disastrous. Again, it’s too early to tell, but just how bad are the impacts going to be on all of us? Iain Dale has some cuttings from the world press and they do not make good reading.
Sack him or back him?
Things continue to go from bad to worse for the government – I just do not know how much more it can take before the polls start to really reflect the mess they are in. If they do, it will be very hard for them to turn things round. Brown now faces a very difficult decision: does he back Darling or sack him? Backing him may prove to be one step too far for the electorate; on the other hand, sacking him may well fan the flames. Whatever he chooses, it is a critical decision.