Archive for October, 2010

Friday News Review

29/10/2010, 08:34:17 AM

Boris and Cameron at war, again

The two biggest beasts in the Tory jungle clashed yesterday over their own spending cuts. War broke out after Boris Johnson warned David Cameron he would not tolerate “Kosovo-style social cleansing” caused by axing housing benefits. The London mayor said: “The last thing we want is the less well-off pushed out to the suburbs. “I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together. We will not see and we will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. “On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.” The extraordinarily provocative remarks echo the horrific “ethnic cleansing” of thousands of Albanians in the Balkan wars of the 90s. And they sent the Prime Minister – Mr Johnson’s old rival from Eton and Oxford – into a fury. – The Mirror

Boris Johnson provoked fury in Downing Street yesterday as he warned that Coalition reforms of housing benefit would lead to a ‘Kosovo-style social cleansing’ of the poor from city centres. The Tory London Mayor tore into ministers’ plans to cap housing benefit payments at £400 a week, insisting he would ‘emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together’. ‘What we will not see and we will not accept [is] any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.  On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots,’ he declared on radio in the morning. – The Daily Mail

Make no mistake about it, Boris Johnson’s rhetorical assault on the coalition’s housing benefit plan is a direct challenge to David Cameron’s authority. The two best-known Conservatives in the country are now involved in a battle that only one of them can win. Boris told BBC London this morning: “What we will not see and we will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. “On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.” What is infuriating the Tory machine is not only Boris’s criticisms, but the language that he is used—which makes Labour’s talk of social cleansing sound positively moderate. The mayor has clearly decided that he needs to be seen to be standing up for Londoners on this issue. I also suspect that he might have decided that there will have to be concessions to appease the Lib Dems and that he wants to be in a position to take credit for them. – The Spectator


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Caption contest – Eric Pickles freedom of information special

28/10/2010, 03:06:19 PM

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Tom Watson writes to Eric Pickles over FoI refusal

28/10/2010, 01:27:07 PM

If you can’t see the viewer below the plain text version is here.

TomW Pickles

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Tom Watson writes to Eric Pickles over FoI refusal

28/10/2010, 01:25:57 PM

Tom Watson MP

House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP

Secretary of State

Communities and Local Government

Eland House

Bressenden Place



28 October 2010

Dear Eric,

I refer to the story reported this morning on Labour Uncut and in the Local Government Chronicle about your refusal to comply with an extremely straightforward freedom of information request.


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Labour’s secret weapon: an angry army of SDNVs

28/10/2010, 11:00:52 AM

by Kevin Meagher

WE’VE all been there. You are out canvassing. You pass by that council estate or block of flats because hardly anyone there bothers to vote and precious few are even registered. Yet these are the same people to crowd the local MP’s surgery. Who rely on public services. The welfare state. The sort who benefit most from a Labour government.

But the arithmetic of politics is hard. If you don’t vote, you don’t count. And he who shouts loudest wins. That is why the poor are usually ignored. They do not pipe up. And there is not enough electoral mileage in putting their concerns centre stage.

But might this government’s attack on the welfare state have the perverse effect of politicising people at the bottom of the pile? After all, they are the ones losing out the most with regressive budgets, tabloid witch-hunts and their restoration as the undeserving poor. (more…)

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Eric Pickles the ‘transparency champion’ refuses FoI request

28/10/2010, 07:59:59 AM

Eric Pickles talks about transparency. A lot. In fact it is one of his departments ‘watchwords’. He has been hailed as a transparency champion by the taxpayers’ alliance, and his efforts to make local government more transparent have gained support from some unlikely places.

But it seems Big E has one rule for councils and another for himself.

The Local Government Chronicle reports today that DCLG officials have refused to answer a freedom of  information request about whether Mr Pickles took legal advice in the in the wake of adversely critical comments about the electoral commission chair, Jenny Watson. Ministers declined to renew her position as a board member of the audit commission in September.

A senior DCLG ‘source’ was quoted in The Times earlier this year saying that Jenny Watson had “built her career on incompetence”, “milked the taxpayer” and was “not fit for the role”. The Local Government Chronicle reports that following the publication of the comments Pickles sought internal legal advice as to whether the comments could be considered defamatory and whether there were grounds for legal action.

A source close to the department said that DCLG’s lawyers gave Pickles advice that the comments (which LGC says did not come from a departmental official or a press officer) could be considered defamatory. Pickles then allegedly sought external legal advice.

Pickles has previously talked about the vital importance of transparency, and stated that it is key to allowing the public to hold politicians to account saying:

People should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their hard earned cash is being spent and decisions made on their behalf. They can only do that effectively if they have the information they need at their fingertips.

But it appears the rules don’t apply to the man himself. DCLG officials have refused to answer the FoI, saying that they are “unable to either confirm nor deny” that it holds the information requested. However, guidance from the information commissioner on FoI requests says that departments have a duty to confirm or deny whether the information requested is held.

His department’s refusal stands in contrast with Pickles’ own campaign for transparency, in which he’s said:

Being open about how taxpayers’ money is spent will push central and local government into rooting out waste and duplication. That’s why we’re throwing open the shutters and bringing the full glare of the public’s eye onto spending. This new transparent era means a new way of thinking for councils but I’m showing them it’s possible by publishing more of my department’s spending online.

Come on, Eric. We thought this was the new transparent era? What have you got to hide? Who made the comments? And how much did legal advice about this gaffe cost the taxpayer?

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Thursday News Review

28/10/2010, 07:59:36 AM


MPs ask each other: “How’s Ed Miliband doing?” “Better than we expected,” says a worldly Tory. “So far I’ve not heard a single moan about him, though there is no Blair-like adoration either,” admits one Labour ex-minister. “He’s not doing spectacularly, but he’s certainly holding his own,” reports a nationalist. It could have been a bad moment for the new Labour leader. One month into the job, he faced his third session of PMQs with an advisory memo from party HQ (“mocking humour is particularly useful here“) leaked to the Times to embarrass him. Up to that point Miliband hadn’t actually read it properly, but privately told colleagues later that it was rather good. He duly held his own again against David Cameron, focusing on one policy theme (housing benefit cuts) and showing sufficient brevity and spontaneity – real or contrived – to persuade sceptical Labour colleagues they picked the right brother after all. Most think Miliband has won two out of three PMQs so far – not last week’s on the economy. Polished performer though he is, Cameron has sounded a bit rattled. Miliband’s voice still lacks weight. – The Guardian

Ed Miliband decided to preach to the converted at Prime Minister’s Questions today. He asked about housing benefit. And he won the debating-society points. He had better jokes, an old line about why he asks the questions (“the clue’s in the title”) and won on the substance. David Cameron replied to repeated questions about whether it was right to cut housing benefit by 10 per cent for people who have been out of work for a year by saying that it was fair to limit housing benefit claims to £20,000 a year. – The Independent


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The government has made a shameful start on asylum

27/10/2010, 02:00:18 PM

by Susanna Bellino

On the day of the spending review, an optimistic refugee council set its Facebook status thus:

“Not much mention of asylum in today’s spending review, except that the home office is to save £500m by cutting IT and building costs, but will invest more in asylum casework. Could this be good news?!”

Sorry to burst your bubble, refugee council, but probably not.

The UK has had an ambiguous relationship with asylum seekers, to say the least. On the one hand, we like to appear liberal and sympathetic to their plight and the existence of such organisations as asylum aid and the refugee council demonstrate this. But on the other hand, headlines in the Daily Mail (Up to 80,000 bogus asylum seekers granted “amnesty” and Somali asylum seeker family given £2m house… after complaining 5-bed London home was “in poor area”) suggest that we are a nation that prefers to acquire its morals from right-wing tabloids rather than the universal declaration of human rights.

And despite the pre-coalition Liberal Democrats stance as the ‘fair’ party, things aren’t likely to change. The government has already been accused of deserting its promise to end the detention of children in immigration centres – a change that would have signaled one of the Lib Dem’s few influences on policy and demonstrated that the government was at last sympathetic to the cause of asylum seekers.


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Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies

27/10/2010, 09:48:06 AM

by Tom Watson

They’re re-running Boys from the Blackstuff on the BBC. We all remember Yosser Hughes, who struggles to keep his children while unemployment erodes his mental health. And we tell ourselves that this is drama and not real life. And we tell ourselves that it is history. We know what unemployment did to a generation whose skills no longer matched the demands of the market.

But that was then. Those of us from Nick Clegg’s generation (he’s one day older than me) remember kids who left school assuming that work didn’t apply to them. There were no jobs for them to do.

Nick Clegg was 16 years old in 1983. I move in unusual circles but I’ve hardly met a 43 year old who’s a Tory. Even the toffs remember how bad it was in the formative years of their adolescence. Not Clegg though; he’s being “morally challenged” but still propping them up. I don’t know what he was doing in 1983, but he wasn’t living in the same England as me. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

27/10/2010, 08:12:34 AM

Tories and Lib Dems face backlash over housing benefit cap

A planned housing benefit cap could hit London hard and the MPs are alarmed that they will suffer from the fallout. It has been estimated that some 200,000 people could be forced to move out of London because they would no longer be able to afford their rents if housing benefit is capped. Labour accused Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, of “sociologically cleansing” poorer citizens out of London through the policy, which was announced last week as part of the spending review. A dozen London Tory MPs met to decide to push Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, for an exemption or the imposition of a higher cap than the £400-a-week one currently planned. But there appears little chance of a concession according to senior Government sources. – The Telegraph

Nick Clegg reacted with fury yesterday to accusations that ministers were “sociologically cleansing” the poor out of parts of London with planned cuts to housing benefit payments. A visibly angry Deputy Prime Minister told Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow minister for constitutional reform, that his comments were “outrageous” and “deeply offensive to people who have witnessed ethnic cleansing”. Last night Mr Bryant said he stood by his remarks on the Coalition’s plans to cap housing benefit at around £400 a week for a house rented in the private sector. Critics say this will force up to 80,000 families out of London and other major metropolitan areas because they will no longer be able to afford their homes. “Personally I prefer to live in cities which are not ghettos,” he added. – The Independent

The government may have to amend its plans for a cap on housing benefit payouts, the BBC has learned. The proposed cap could force people out of cities where rent is higher, some MPs and charities have argued. But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said people living in areas that many working families could not afford should not expect to be subsidised. A Whitehall source said the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was listening to MPs’ concerns. The coalition’s plans include capping housing benefit at around £400-a-week for a four-bedroom home, and cutting the benefit for anyone on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year by 10%. – BBC

Flagship Tory Council spends more than saves

It was billed as Britain’s first “easyCouncil”, a flagship for the government’s town hall spending cuts and a model of no-frills prudence. But it has emerged that the London borough of Barnet is spending more trying to find efficiencies than it is actually saving. The Conservative-controlled north London council has committed to spending £1.5m this financial year on a much-hyped reform programme to help close a yawning budget gap, but it is on course to recoup just £1.4m in savings in the year.The programme is budgeted to deliver savings of £13m a year by 2014, about a third of the total cuts planned by the council. It had been projected to save £3m by the end of the financial year, but Lynne Hillan, council leader, has now admitted the savings will be less than half of that. News of the shortfall emerges days after Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, named Barnet as a pilot for the government’s “community budget” system to hand councils control of all spending in their area free of conditions from Whitehall. – The Guardian

Questions over licence fee deal

The shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, has demanded an urgent parliamentary inquiry into the BBC licence fee settlement following thehastily negotiated deal agreed with the government last week. Lewis has written to John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, asking him to hold an investigation into the six-year deal. His request follows the agreement last week between the government and the corporation that will see the BBC licence fee frozen at £145.50 for six years until 2017. The settlement was announced by George Osborne in last week’s comprehensive spending review. Lewis wants ministers and BBC executives to give evidence to MPs about how the deal was reached and answer questions about its implications for the corporation’s services. He described the settlement as a “dodgy deal” in parliament this week. – The Guardian

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