Archive for December, 2010

Tuesday News Review

28/12/2010, 08:42:48 AM

Party reform

Ed Miliband is to distance Labour from its trade union paymasters by diluting the party’s financial dependence on them and reducing their role in electing the party leader. Labour has proposed introducing a ceiling on donations to any political party which could be as low as £500, The Independent has learnt. The move could break the long-running deadlock between the parties on agreeing a new system of financing politics. Previous attempts to halt big donations have failed, partly because Labour was reluctant to give up its multimillion-pound gifts from the unions. But Mr Miliband is ready to gamble on Labour attracting thousands of small donations from individual supporters as part of a drive to take “big money” out of politics. He also wants to change Labour’s culture by allowing the public a vote when the party chooses its leader. He plans to give 25 per cent of the votes to non-party members who register as Labour supporters. MPs, trade unionists and party members would also each have a quarter of the votes in Labour’s electoral college. At present, MPs, union and party members each have a third of those votes. – The Independent

Gove put back in his box

The proportion of poor teenagers who go to university has been rising at a far higher rate than that of their better-off classmates, a statistical analysis by Labour shows. Between 2005 and 2007 the number of pupils receiving free school meals – a standard measure of poverty – who went to university jumped by 18% compared to a rise of 9% among pupils not entitled to free school meals. Some 10,060 pupils on free school meals started university in 2005. By 2007, the figure had risen to 11,905. Liz Kendall, the Labour MP for Leicester West, obtained the figures from answers to parliamentary questions. Statisticians originally matched data from the National Pupil Database to figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency for 19-year-olds at university. The figures for 2007 are the latest available. Kendall said the figures hit back at a claim made by the education secretary, Michael Gove, in the Commons last month. Gove told MPs that “social mobility went backwards under Labour.” Kendall said the figures showed that during the last parliament the number of children from the poorest families who went to university “increased at a much faster rate than those not on free school meals.” – The Guardian

Policy popularity contest

The government is to follow the lead of The X Factor television programme and allow the public to decide on legislation to be put before MPs. In an attempt to reduce what is seen as a disconnection between the public and parliament, ministers will ensure that the most popular petition on the government website will be drafted as a bill. It is also planning to guarantee that petitions which reach a fixed level of support – most likely 100,000 signatures – will be guaranteed a Commons debate. Ministerial sources acknowledge that the proposals have the potential to cause headaches for the coalition because populist causes célèbres – such as a return of capital punishment or withdrawal from the European Union – could come top of the list. – The Guardian (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The unholy alliance that made multiculturalism a dirty word

27/12/2010, 07:00:01 AM

by Atul Hatwal

In the Observer two weeks ago, Anushka Asthana posed an interesting question, “why did multiculturalism become a dirty word”?

Anushka’s article describes her personal experience. It gives a pointed example of how multiculturalism works. But, eloquent as the piece is, it doesn’t address her question.

When looking for answers, there can be a tendency to over-intellectualise. To retreat into a discussion of Britishness and think tank generalities about society. This misses the point.

Multiculturalism has become a dirty word because of the specific actions of individuals. To be more precise – one leading man and an unwitting supporting cast of so-called community leaders.

Top billing goes to Trevor Phillips, former chair of the commission for racial equality and current chief executive of the equality and human rights commission. In 2004 he made a deliberate calculation: to reposition himself as a New Labour-type race relations tsar. Someone to do for equalities what the best man at his wedding, Peter Mandelson, had done for Labour. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Monday News Review

27/12/2010, 06:55:44 AM

Support for Tories and Lib Dems drops

Support for Britain’s first peacetime coalition in 70 years has fallen dramatically since David Cameron and Nick Clegg launched the government in the Downing Street rose garden last May, according to the latest Guardian/ICM poll. The poll finds that after six months of Conservative-LibDem rule just 43% think coalition government was the right decision for Britain while 47% now disagree. In May, in answer to a slightly differently worded question, 59% backed the coalition while 32% disagreed with the decision to form it. Rising Labour support has cut into the government’s popularity. Other results from the poll, published earlier this month, put Labour support at a three-year high of 39%. Lib Dem support was at a five-year low of 13%. The Conservatives were on 37%, up one point from November. – The Guardian

Trouble in paradise

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have ordered his MPs to embrace their Coalition partners amid fears that strains between the two sides could begin to undermine the Government. Last week, a number of ministers were embarrassed after making highly critical remarks about the Tories to reporters from The Daily Telegraph posing as constituents. With both sides said to be bruised by the row, John Redwood, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, rejected angrily suggestions that the role of the Liberal Democrats in government was to “bridle the instincts” of the Conservatives. He accused the party’s MPs of seeking to claim the credit for policies which the Tories had also campaigned for, such as cutting income tax for the low paid, channelling funding to poorer pupils and restoring civil liberties. – The Telegraph

‘Patchy’ results expected from Lansley’s reforms

A “complacent” Department of Health will face an annual £10bn shortfall unless it speeds up efficiency savings across the NHS and considers cuts to social care and cancer research charities, according to a secret Whitehall report leaked to the Guardian. The damning report warns that ministers will face an “unpalatable trade-off” between longer waiting times or a massive increase in the NHS budget unless dramatic savings are found. It also warns that the central reform proposed by health secretary Andrew Lansley – to devolve 80% of the NHS budget to GPs – could have “patchy” results. The findings are outlined in a blunt letter to Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, from the Independent Challenge Group, which was set up at the time of the budget in June to question Whitehall thinking. – The Guardian

The letter, sent to Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, questioned whether efficiency savings from quality, innovation, productivity and prevention (QIPP) would be achieved. It also raised concerns about the cost of the switchover to the government’s flagship policy of GP commissioning. The letter said: “Taken together, the NHS could therefore face a significant budget shortfall by the end of the SP [spending] period. “The NHS typically deals with such shortfalls by limiting treatments, leading to increased waiting times. “The government will be faced with a choice between dealing with the fallout from increased waiting times or increasing the DH’s budget, perhaps by as much as £10bn per year.” – BBC

Axing of free books is ‘gross cultural vandalism’

Philip Pullman, the children’s writer and author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and Sir Andrew Motion, the former poet laureate, are among a number of figures in the arts’ world to condemn the Government’s decision to withdraw funding from the Bookstart scheme. The charity, which has run since 1992 and been Government-funded since 2004, was told a week before Christmas that it would lose its entire £13 million grant in England. Booktrust, which runs Bookstart and whose co-founder Wendy Cooling was awarded the MBE in 2008 for services to children’s literacy, provides a pack of books to parents when their babies are born, and more books as they get older. Describing the cuts as “wanton destruction,” Mr Pullman said that ministers were guilty of: “…sheer stupid vandalism, like smashing Champagne bottles as a drunken undergraduate”. He went on: “If you miss the first years of a child’s development, nothing can clear it up. It’s gone. It won’t happen. A whole generation will lose out. “Bookstart is one of the most imaginative and generous schemes ever conceived.” – The Telegraph

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Even Santa is not what you think

26/12/2010, 01:00:35 PM

by Ian Silvera

Christmas is a holiday dedicated to a mythical event in the middle-east. Not Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, but the birth of Jesus of Nazareth our Lord Saviour and the main idol of the Christian religion.

The exchange of Christmas cards, cheap alcohol, mistletoe, nativity scenes and awkward reunions with unknown older relatives are mandatory throughout the festive period. I am a cultural Christian over Christmas. A champagne atheist. That is, I take part in the Christmas celebrations even though I know that the religious side of proceedings is nonsense.

Christmas is an uneasy mix of cultural events, religious and pseudo-religious beliefs. The use of an evergreen coniferous tree as a festive ornament originates from pre-Christian Europe. The Norse pagans were probably the first to use a Christmas tree this way. There is a debate over the specifics of its origin: the worshiping of oak trees complemented the pagans’ beliefs, which centred on worshipping nature. With the advent of winter, the pagans believed that dark spirits would enter the forests in Europe. In order to combat these magical forces they used mistletoe and holly to ward off the spirits. Moreover, during the winter solstice, when winter is at its darkest, the pagans would make sacrifices to their god Jul, which became Yule. And now the pagan god has a piece of confectionary named after him. And they brought evergreen trees into their houses, in an attempt to promote good spirits. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Boxing Day News Review

26/12/2010, 09:27:38 AM

Decision on Bookstart “repugnant, foolish and pointlessly destructive”

Leading writers today rounded on the government for its “repugnant, foolish and pointlessly destructive” decision to axe all funding for a free book scheme that benefits 3.3 million youngsters a year. Children’s author Philip Pullman attacked the move as an “unforgivable disgrace”, while the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion described the cut as “an act of gross cultural vandalism”. These uncompromising views were echoed by Viv Bird, chief executive of the Booktrust charity, who said she was “astounded and appalled” when told all government support for their work was going to be scrapped. “There was no dialogue. It was completely devastating,” she said. – The Observer

It is impossible to know what return the state might be getting on its investment in Booktrust. The system hasn’t been running long enough to tell whether the beneficiaries are more literate than they otherwise might have been, or whether they have more vivid imaginations, or whether they love books more. Only a minister inspired by Thomas Gradgrind, the crudely utilitarian headmaster in Dickens’s Hard Times, would attempt such a calculation. In fact, the decision to axe Bookstart over Christmas suggests education secretary Michael Gove gets his inspiration from a different Dickens character… Free books for children? Humbug! – The Observer

Tories and Lib Dems attempt to paper over cracks

A senior Conservative minister has become the first member of the government to back proposals to field coalition candidates at the next general election.His comments to The Sunday Telegraph came as both parties began a battle to bolster the coalition in the wake of a week of damaging revelations made by Vince Cable and other Lib Dem ministers to undercover reporters. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister, signalled his “irritation” over remarks made by his party colleagues, several of whom hit out both personally at Tory ministers and politically at Conservative-inspired policies, including removing child benefit from higher earners. Amid efforts to mend broken fences, the minister, often seen as one of a tight inner-circle of “Cameroons”, went further than any member of the government yet has in endorsing joint candidates. He said: “I’m sure you can find plenty of Tories who would say similar things to what the Lib Dems have been saying. People say this is a sign that things are falling apart, but the amazing thing is how well the Coalition has worked together. – Sunday Telegraph

With tricky political challenges ahead – the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election on 13 January; votes on control orders, the scrapping of which was a Lib Dem priority; the local and Scottish and Welsh elections; the referendum on the alternative vote in May – do they make a merit of creative tension and disagreement from now on, because it is impossible to cover up, or do they seek to put a lid on it? Clegg, who wants Lib Dems to “own the coalition” and not endlessly list their own victories and “trophies”, clearly believes they must do the latter. Paul Goodman, a former Tory frontbencher now working for the ConservativeHome website, agrees: “I think that with the modern media, trying to have a public conversation would lead to endless reports about splits and it would become impossible.” But many in Clegg’s party disagree. The coalition’s real difficulty is that even on the issue of how to manage their own division, they are split. – The Observer

Jeremy Hunt’s links with Murdoch

Labour MP Tom Watson said: “It seems unprecedented that such a high level and legally significant meeting would not have civil servants present taking notes. I will be asking the chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee to ask Jeremy Hunt to explain himself to us as soon as possible”. Mr Hunt also attended a dinner hosted by News Corp on May 20, within weeks of coming into office, with his aide Adam Smith. Labour has questioned whether Mr Hunt’s relationship with News Corp and BSkyB made him a “fit and proper person” to take over Vince Cable’s powers to approve the £8billion bid which was made on June 10. – The Telegraph

Tories in Europe “nutty”

Jeremy Browne described some of the Conservatives’ partners in the European Parliament as “nutty”. He said foreign diplomats were delighted that the Lib Dems had ensured the Government was “far more amenable and civilised” towards the European Union than a Tory administration. The disclosures are made on the fourth and final day of The Daily Telegraph investigation into the true feelings of senior Lib Dems towards the Coalition. Speaking to an undercover reporter posing as a supporter in his Taunton Deane constituency, Mr Browne, who is regarded as being on the Right wing of his party, disclosed that he and colleagues had been engaged in a struggle to persuade the Tories to relax a planned cap on immigration. – The Telegraph

Tories U-turn on hunt vote

The Government is to shelve a promised vote on repealing the ban on foxhunting until 2012 at the earliest, in a move likely to dismay countryside campaigners as they attempt to set out for Boxing Day meetings. David Cameron, a self-confessed “country boy”, has condemned the 2005 ban on hunting with dogs as a “mistake” which intruded into part of rural life “where the criminal law shouldn’t go”. However, the Conservative election pledge to hold a free vote on repeal “early” after polling day has been abandoned, senior officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs admitted on Friday. With major reforms of the health, education, and welfare systems being piloted through Parliament, no vote is expected in 2011. “There are many greater priorities facing the Government at the moment,” said Jim Paice, the Agriculture Minister. – The Independent

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

The Santa subterfuge: the greatest conspiracy of all

25/12/2010, 01:47:27 AM

by Kris Masgai

We were both stood on his desk Blu-tacking paper chains to the air conditioning ducts when he said it: “We’re not going to tell Ben there’s a Father Christmas”.

He and his wife have talked it over. They both believe that it is wrong to lie, wrong to mislead your children, wrong to say “do as I say, not as I do”. And the upshot is that Father Christmas will be sacrificed to integrity. “How”, he reasoned, “can we expect him to learn right from wrong if we don’t tell him the truth”?

Ben is not quite a year old, so he won’t be asking Father Christmas questions this year. But as soon as he does, his parents say they will “not confirm the existence of Santa Claus”.

There was uproar in the office.

Ours is a big team in a big open plan space. We like a good argument. Ideally one that lasts for the best part of a day, fanned by new people arriving and lobbed-in, googled “facts”. Everyone has an opinion. But, for the first time in living memory, we were all – but one – unanimous. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Oldham by-election: how furious will the Tory right be if the Lib Dems come third?

24/12/2010, 02:00:20 PM

Mike Smithson over at PoliticalBetting asks this morning, “why are Labour talking down the Tories in Oldham East & Saddleworth”? His contention is that Labour must be bonkers to downplay the Tories’ chances.

His thinking is: a) Labour will win, unless blues switch to yellows; b) the blues think so, and are therefore lining up behind the yellows; c) the reds must be stupid to encourage more blues to give up hope.

He quotes Iain Wright, Hartlepool MP and by-election gaffer, talking down the Tories – essentially to say, “what’s this guy doing? This strategy is mental”.

Now Mike knows more about betting markets than most. But something doesn’t smell right.

Iain Wright is not a fool. Yes he’s got a twinkle in his eye and boyish looks – but under that cheeky chappy persona is an experienced politician who won a brutal by-election himself.

At the last election, Oldham East and Saddleworth became an old school three way marginal. The Lib Dems a shade over a hundred votes behind Labour with the Tories in a not so distant 3rd place. With the national trend seeing the Lib Dems falling to pieces, in some polls down as low as single figures, why do we assume their vote will hold up in Oldham? More importantly: how were the Conservatives convinced that it was the Liberal rather than Conservative candidate they should throw their weight behind?

On the ground, the Liberals, and their disgustingly smug candidate appear to be tanking, big time – and the by-election looks to be coming down to an old fashioned punch up between Labour and Conservative. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

A reckoning for the second rate: the Lib Dems are simply not qualified to govern

24/12/2010, 07:00:10 AM

by Dan Hodges

In his classic work Fever Pitch, the book that finally enabled middle class supporters to emerge from the football closet, Nick Hornby devotes a whole chapter to a single player, Gus Caesar.

Caesar’s place in literary history was secured in the eighty third minute of the 1988 League Cup final between Arsenal and Luton. With his side 2-1 up, the England under-21 defender chased down an innocuous ball in his own penalty area. Then something strange happened.

Some say he was distracted by a Luton striker who had moved goal side of him. Others that his studs became caught in the Wembley turf. Whatever the reason, with the option of sliding a pass to a colleague, or launching the ball to safety, he chose to do neither. Gus Caesar simply fell over. A melée ensued, in which Luton scrambled an equaliser. They went on to snatch a late winner and raise the trophy. Caesar was swiftly transferred, never playing in the top flight of football again. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Friday News Review

24/12/2010, 06:59:42 AM

Browne caught out, but Teather plays a straight bat

Jeremy Browne described some of the Conservatives’ partners in the European Parliament as “nutty”. He said foreign diplomats were delighted that the Lib Dems had ensured the Government was “far more amenable and civilised” towards the European Union than a Tory administration. The disclosures are made on the fourth and final day of The Daily Telegraph investigation into the true feelings of senior Lib Dems towards the Coalition. Speaking to an undercover reporter posing as a supporter in his Taunton Deane constituency, Mr Browne, who is regarded as being on the Right wing of his party, disclosed that he and colleagues had been engaged in a struggle to persuade the Tories to relax a planned cap on immigration. “The Tories had a very harsh, in my view, immigration policy,” he said. “That’s not to say I think that there shouldn’t be, you know, a level of immigration which can’t be assimilated in society – I’m not in favour of letting rip and letting everyone in – I think we need to have a proper, functioning policy. But the Conservative one I thought was driven by quite a lot of uncharitable instincts. I think, with the involvement of the Lib Dems plus the more liberal-minded Tories, we’ll end up with a policy which is more enlightened.” Asked about Mr Cameron’s decision to ally his party with some far-Right parties in eastern Europe, he said: “They [the parties] are quite nutty and that’s an embarrassment to them.” – Telegraph

She said that some Conservatives were finding Coalition politics “very painful indeed”, but added: “Most of them are finding it a relief. They are not having to pander to their own Right-wing, they are having to pander to our Left-wing.” Miss Teather was the only one of the 10 ministers visited by this newspaper whose private views largely reflected her public comments. “I think Michael Gove is deeply relieved to be in Coalition, because it meant that we got an extra slug of money for schools and that was work that I did with Nick Clegg behind the scenes,” she said. “We had an absolute fight to get that extra money into schools, and he would never have had that if he had just been a Secretary of State in a Conservative government.” – Telegraph

Cable strikes back

Vince Cable today broke his silence to speak of how a sting by undercover reporters had caused “great damage” to the confidential relationship between MPs and constituents. The Business Secretary said the Daily Telegraph’s tactics had “completely undermined” the work of local MPs and he would need to be “more guarded” in the future. Dr Cable said today: “I feel quite angry and strongly about this, I’ve had constituency surgeries now for 13 years every week, that’s well over 600. Thousands and thousands of constituents have been to see me, often on very difficult and highly confidential issues which have been respected by me and by them. Then somebody who isn’t a constituent falsifies their name and address and comes in with a hidden microphone – it completely undermines the whole basis on which you operate as a local MP.” – Richmond and Twickenham Times

End of the line for ‘firebrand’ Sheridan

Tommy Sheridan was told to go home and prepare for jail after being found guilty of perjury yesterday. The former Scottish Socialist Party leader was convicted of lying under oath five times during his 2006 defamation victory against the News of the World. Judge Lord Bracadale told him: “You have been convicted of the serious offence of perjury and must return to court expecting to begin a prison sentence.” But ex-MSP Sheridan, 46, will be free to spend Christmas with wife Gail and his five-year-old daughter Gabrielle after being bailed until sentencing on January 26. Senior legal sources expect him to be jailed for around five years. The working class hero’s fall from grace was complete at 3.45pm yesterday at the end of the dramatic 12-week-trial – Scotland’s longest ever perjury case. Surrounded by Gail, his mother Alice, 72, and other family members, Sheridan was greeted by applause from supporters in the foyer of the High Court in Glasgow. – Daily Record

The trial of Tommy Sheridan cast new light on the News of the World’s use of private detectives who have been convicted of illegal phone hacking and “blagging” confidential data. Sheridan’s attempt to highlight the practice saw Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s chief media adviser and former editor of the NoW, appear in court. Coulson, thought to be the first NoW senior executive to be questioned on oath in a criminal trial about the affair, repeatedly denied having any knowledge of illegal activity by his staff. The high court in Glasgow heard that Sheridan’s name, home address and personal mobile details appeared twice in the notebooks of Glenn Mulcaire, a NoW freelance investigator convicted of illegally accessing private phone messages of the royal household and other public figures for the tabloid in 2007. The two sets of notes, believed to date to 2004 when the NoW’s first investigation into Sheridan’s alleged adultery was at its peak, could suggest Mulcaire was twice ordered to hack Sheridan’s mobile phone or pass on his private pin code to NoW reporters. – Guardian

Lib Dem Council Leader in video gaffe

Many council leaders are happy to appear in front of television cameras to talk about their work but most would baulk at flexing their acting muscles while belting out a version of the Lou Reed song Perfect Day. Sheffield Council boss Paul Scriven appeared to have no such concerns, however, when he agreed to star in a video which features him arriving at a luxury hotel and extolling the virtues of its staff and the services they can offer. The production, which appeared on the internet yesterday was, according to Councillor Scriven, supposed to be a private training video for Sheffield’s four-star Mercure St Paul’s Hotel, and was never intended for public consumption. But the scenes which show him arriving in a taxi with his tie askew and shirt untucked, and a sequence in which he serenades staff before drinking a pink cocktail, have led to ridicule and questions over his political judgement. Yesterday, members of Sheffield Council’s Labour group said it was “difficult to understand” why Coun Scriven had decided to act in the video and claimed that the performance was “not what the people of Sheffield would expect.” – Yorkshire Post

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Osborne is right (but not on economics)

23/12/2010, 06:00:45 PM

by Rob Marchant

Tory economic policy is wrong headed, dogmatic and bad for the country. This argument is well-made by economic commentators including Paul Krugman and Martin Wolf (paywall). But it may be necessary to admit to something that pains us. We may have misjudged George Osborne as a politician. He seemed to plausibly fit the stereotype of Tory boy, that delightful creation of Harry Enfield’s, or his stupider brother (must be something about that hair). But it must be recognised that this is lazy thinking. He is not stupid.

On the contrary, recent evidence seems to show he is rather intelligent, despite carrying out policies that the readers of Labour Uncut are unlikely to believe in. If you do not feel we have anything to learn from our political enemies, you can happily stop reading here. For those open-minded souls who are prepared to accept they do not have all the answers on political strategy, not policy I stress – but political strategy, read on. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon