Archive for March, 2011

Tuesday News Review

29/03/2011, 06:22:25 AM

Libya summit in London

Around 40 different international delegations are meeting today in London for a conference on military action in Libya. David Cameron has said he hopes the meeting will ensure “maximum political and diplomatic unity” between nations.The meeting comes as a poll for the Independent finds seven out of ten voters fear Libya will turn into a drawn-out conflict like Iraq. There are also concerns over defence cuts affecting the mission, with the Telegraph reporting there may not be enough pilots to man RAF planes flying over Libya. President Obama last night said the USA had to act on Libya due to the “violence on a horrific scale”, but warned that US forces would not be bogged down trying to remove Colonel Gaddafi from power. – Politics Home

Refounding Labour

Members of the public will be given a formal role in the choice of Labour’s policies, candidates and future leaders under far-reaching reforms to be unveiled today. Ed Miliband will offer ordinary people the chance to become “registered supporters” free of charge without paying Labour’s £41-a-year subscription fee. He will also invite pressure groups such as “green” bodies and non-governmental organisations to become “registered bodies”. The aim of the “Refounding Labour” project is to combat the decline in membership, which has afflicted all political parties, and to transform Labour into an outward-looking party for the internet age. Labour sources deny that the real goal is to dilute the influence of the trade unions, who have half the votes at the party’s annual conference and a third of the votes in the electoral college which chooses the Labour leader. However, that could be one side-effect of the drive to broaden Labour’s base, since some of the voting power enjoyed by ordinary members and unions could be reduced to hand a share to the new registered supporters and bodies. – the Independent

Experienced police to be given the chop

More than 2,000 of the country’s most experienced police officers could be forced to retire by 2015 as forces try to cut costs, according to Labour. Although police officers cannot be made redundant, officers with 30 or more years’ experience can be made to retire early under existing regulations. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said it was “deeply worrying” 13 forces had decided to use them in some form. Ministers have said savings can be made without affecting front-line policing. Police budgets are being cut by 20% over the next four years, with a 4% cut in the first year and 5% the year after. But ministers insist these savings are achievable by cutting bureaucracy and more efficient use of resources, including forces sharing some back-office functions. Fully sworn police officers are servants of the Crown, not employees, so they cannot be made redundant under existing laws. However, forces are able to get permission to use a regulation known as A19 to make officers with 30 years’ experience or more retire early. – BBC (more…)

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Last week saw the beginning of a journey: from Red Ed to one nation prime minister

28/03/2011, 03:00:40 PM

by Michael Dugher

Political strategy, like Robert Burns’ best laid schemes of mice and men, can “oft go awry”. The thing that really tests prime ministers, governments and oppositions too is what Harold Macmillan once famously called “events”. A week ago, Ed Miliband convened a special meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party (PLP) to discuss that day’s vote on support for military action in Libya. Despite the Conservative and right-wing media’s ongoing efforts to caricature him as “Red Ed”, a prisoner of the left-wing trade unions, he spoke very firmly in favour of military action arguing that, despite the huge reservations and concerns that many in the PLP held, Labour and Britain must support the will of the international community as spelled out in the UN security council resolution. What is more, he carried the meeting. And he managed to unite MPs as diverse in their ideological perspective as Michael Meacher and John Spellar – a remarkable (if not unprecedented) achievement.

At the PLP meeting, Labour’s former shadow foreign secretary, Gerald Kaufman, warned Labour MPs of the need to get the party’s response to the Libya crisis right. No two set of international circumstances are the same. But as a member of the shadow cabinet at the time, Kaufman said that Libya was as big a political test for Labour as the Falklands had been in the early 1980s.  He reminded colleagues – many barely out of nappies at the time – that Labour’s response to the Falklands was “all over the shop”.  He said Labour put itself on the wrong side of the argument with the public, looked unpatriotic, and even allowed the Conservative government to get away with some disastrous defence decisions in the run up to the conflict. Kaufman argued that Libya was not the Falklands, but that there were lessons for Labour. He was right. (more…)

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“Same old Tories” doesn’t tell me much

28/03/2011, 11:25:49 AM

by Ray Filar

“Same old taxes, same old Tories”. Ed Miliband’s response to the chancellor’s “budget for growth” last week was characterised by an aggressive, knowing ennui. It was as if Miliband had cast himself as an aging prima donna reclining on a (red) velvet chaise-longue, warning her child away from an only seemingly reformed no-good suitor. “I know what they’re like, you know what they’re like”, he seemed to be saying. Don’t be fooled by “friendly” George’s marriage proposal, also known as his budget for “growth”. He’s still the same man who stole your money to buy a dead puppy as a present for your sister.

The presumption Miliband and his speechwriters are making is that we do know what the Conservatives are like; that we will easily remember what they’re like if we cast our collective minds back to 1997 when they were last in government (or when they last proposed to us, depending on how long this analogy can be dragged out). This message was clearest during one of the speech’s defining moments, in which, against a supportive background of taunts and cheers from buoyed-up Labour ministers, Miliband described Osborne as embodying the “hubris and arrogance of the early 1990s, the same broken promises…he’s Norman Lamont with an iPod”. (more…)

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You can’t trust the nuclear industry, and we don’t need them

28/03/2011, 07:00:02 AM

by Sally Bercow

The nuclear emergency at Fukushima, which is still unfolding, has thrust nuclear power back in the spotlight. Many people have jumped on the renascent anti-nuclear bandwagon (welcome, Angela Merkel) and, quite rightly, nuclear safety assessments are now underway in many countries, not least our own (the government’s chief nuclear adviser will deliver a report in September).

While recognising that it’s foolhardily “off message” for a wannabe Labour politician, I confess I have long been against nuclear power. And not because it’s got the “scary” word “nuclear” in it (a patronising, cheap shot the pro-nuclear lobby often resort to making). Indeed, I know that, statistically speaking, nuclear power is pretty safe, despite the catastrophies of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Actually, for the record, although I’m unequivocally anti nuclear power, when it comes to defence I’m certainly no unilateralist (Britain needs to maintain some form of nuclear deterrent – albeit not the absurdly expensive and over-the-top Trident system).

The reason I’m against nuclear power is two-fold. First, I don’t trust the industry and second (and far less subjectively), I believe that it’s a tremendously expensive distraction – preventing us from realising the enormous potential of renewable energy. (more…)

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Monday News Review

28/03/2011, 06:30:40 AM

Huhne attacks Warsi over AV

Cabinet tensions over the electoral reform referendum burst into the open last night after a senior Liberal Democrat minister challenged the Conservative Party chairman to disown the “scaremongering” and “gutter politics” of the “no” campaign. Chris Huhne tore into its claim – reinforced in an advertising campaign – that a “yes” result in the poll on 5 May over replacing the first-past-the-post system with the alternative vote (AV) would cost Britain £250m. He targeted his anger at his Tory Cabinet colleague, Baroness Warsi, in a bluntly worded letter that exposed the growing strains between the Coalition partners on the issue. Mr Huhne challenged her, as the Tory chairman and a patron of the “no” campaign, to pull the plug on its “scaremongering and misleading” publicity. He attacked the £250m claim, which has been backed by the message that the money could be used to treat sick babies or buy body armour for soldiers, as the “politics of the gutter”. Mr Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, wrote: “When David Cameron launched his ‘no’ campaign, he said this should not be a source of tension between us or risk breaking the Coalition. It won’t, if your ‘no’ camp now withdraws these disgraceful advertisements and campaigns on facts not fears, substance not smears.” – the Independent

Cable confirms 50p tax to go

The business secretary, Vince Cable, has confirmed the 50p rate on tax will be abolished – and revealed the government would consider bringing in a ‘mansions tax’ to ensure the wealthiest pay their way. The chancellor, George Osborne, ordered a review of tax on top earners in the budget last week, restating that the 50p rate on those who earn above £150,000 was only temporary, and triggering speculation that the rate could be wound down as soon as 2013. Cable in two interviews raised the issue of the rate and alternatives to it. The move would leave the government exposed to accusations that it is softening taxes for the rich, amid intense public anxiety about the fairness of the cuts. The business secretary’s intervention comes just a day after up to 500,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate against the government’s economic plans. Labour pointed out that the coalition would be reducing the tax for the richest while forcing the poorest to lose the largest proportion of their pay packets through the VAT hike. – the Guardian (more…)

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The Sunday Review: “In Retrospect”, by Bob McNamara

27/03/2011, 03:11:13 PM

by Anthony Painter

“We must recognise that the consequences of large-scale military operations…are inherently difficult to predict and control. Therefore, they must be avoided, excepting only when our nation’s security is clearly and directly threatened”.

Strange as it may seem, I have never been a fan of the political memoir. They are invariably poorly written, historical distortions that lack any sort of reflection and are instead an exercise in settling scores and re-justification. They are aimed at cementing the author’s “place in history” rather than helping a nation to reflect on its history and improve itself in the process. They always fail in this objective. There is one noble exception: Bob McNamara’s In Retrospect: the tragedy and lessons of Vietnam.

The former secretary of defense – with personal responsibility for escalating the Vietnam war under both Presidents Kennedy and Johnson – could have fallen back on the domino theory or some such to defend his actions. Instead, right up front, he is brutally honest:

“We were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why”.

Two things made me re-read In Retrospect. First, the launch of military action in Libya. Remember that Vietnam started as a smallish operation with 16,000 military “advisers” to train the South Vietnamese to defend themselves and ended with 543,400 troops in Vietnam by 1973. These things can acquire a deadly logic all of their own. Second, Tony Blair’s piece in the Wall Street Journal expanding an aggressive view of the role of the west in North Africa and the Middle East- failing to heed McNamara’s warnings. (more…)

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Sunday News Review

27/03/2011, 06:59:24 AM

The day after the march before

Did Mr Miliband mess up? In a way, he had wretched luck. The main trade union march was strikingly peaceful. There were small children and babies in prams, and lots of marchers sitting down having picnics. The marchers were overwhelmingly public sector workers, and in real terms that meant the park was crammed with health visitors, nurses, teachers, college lecturers, tax inspectors and council town hall staff. Compared to the angry entitlement brigade I had met the previous day at Labour’s People’s Policy Forum in Nottingham, the TUC marchers were reasonable people. I made a point of asking scores of marchers whether they thought the cuts should be scrapped full stop, or whether they thought some cuts were inevitable. A big majority took the latter view: these were Keynesians not flat-earthers in the main. All were friendly and happy to talk. Mr Miliband was also unlucky because the number of violent protestors was, by all accounts, small. A few hundred people vandalised branches of high street stores and banks they accuse of avoiding taxes, staged an occupation of Fortnum & Mason, the venerable Piccadilly grocers, and attacked police officers with flares and fireworks. He also repeated his honesty of Friday, telling the rally that: “I believe there is a need for difficult choices and some cuts”, though this earned him boos. But, that said, his ill-luck was also entirely predictable. Two days before the march, I found websites rallying protestors to launch physical attacks on shops in Oxford Street on Saturday, after about 10 seconds of Googling. – the Economist

It was the timing that Labour’s high command had been dreading. At the very moment their party leader began his speech at the anti-cuts rally in Hyde Park, anarchists wearing masks and waving red flags began attacking shops and banks in Oxford Street. For several minutes, live television pictures of the violence were accompanied by words from Ed Miliband. The speech could not have been further away in tone from the actions of the mindless minority. Nevertheless, the warning privately expressed by some in Labour’s high command that Mr Miliband should not be anywhere near Saturday’s events appeared to have been vindicated. The juxtaposition overshadowed the central point of Mr Miliband’s speech – an attempt to turn David Cameron’s Big Society against the Prime Minister. – the Telegraph

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was briefly heckled by an anti-paedophile demonstrator as he joined the march at Embankment. The man had to be pushed away by stewards after squaring up to Mr Balls as he stopped to speak to reporters. Mr Balls said: “It’s really important that people from all political parties, trade unions, managers, private sector, public sector and parents from up and down the country say these cuts are too deep and too fast. Employment is going up, people are saying there are less police offices, less teaching assistants.  There needs to be a better way, a fairer alternative. We don’t want to go back to the 1980s, which Cameron talks about as being a good era. It was an era of strikes and confrontation. Labour is saying there has to be a fairer alternative.” Mr Balls said Labour leader Ed Miliband, due to speak in Hyde Park, had wanted to join the march but had been told not to on police advice. – the Mirror

Clegg’s calamities continue

The Deputy Prime Minister has commissioned a complete rethink of Lib Dem strategy amid rumblings about his stewardship at the highest level. Insiders say senior party figures including Chris Huhne, a former leadership contender, have been jockeying for position behind the scenes. Rumours about Mr Clegg’s leadership have emerged after mounting discontent among party members in the country who are furious at the direction the party has been taking in government. Rank and file activists, who are more left wing than Mr Clegg, reject many of the more right wing policies adopted by their leader since he entered into coalition with the Tories. Mr Huhne, who ran Mr Clegg close in the last Lib Dem leadership election, has told colleagues privately that he would be interested in leading his party in the future. The rebranding exercise due to get under way next month will involve a total rethink of the party’s direction and could even include changing the name and logo, It is also feared the Lib Dems could lose up to 500 council seats in the local elections, further destabilising Mr Clegg. The Lib Dem leadership rules state that a leader can be removed by a vote of no confidence passed by a majority of MPs or by a statement calling on him to go submitted by 75 local constituency parties. – the Telegraph (more…)

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Enough of the big state, what about the big government?

26/03/2011, 01:00:02 PM

by Dan Johnson

It has been a long held the aim of Conservatives – and now it seems the aim of this Conservative-led coalition government – to roll back the size of the state. We should face this argument head on and argue that we should roll back the size of the government.

The House of Commons will be reduced at the next election to just 600 seats, but the size of the government has been steadily rising since time immemorial. Labour should be fighting to ensure a real balance in Parliament, and that the payroll vote doesn’t make rebellions against the government a non-event.

Charles Walker, a Tory MP, put down an amendment last year which would have seen the number of ministers fall to 87 from the current number of 95. Labour supported this amendment and was joined in the lobby by the usual Tory rebels who have (quite commendably) consistently argued for a House with more independence from the executive. We must accept that, on this issue, the likes of Chope, Bone and Carswell are right. (more…)

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The week Uncut

26/03/2011, 10:30:52 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Tom Watson decided to back Cameron… and then changed his mind

Dan Hodges says Libya is not Cameron’s first war, it’s Blair’s last

Sally Bercow predicted the usual Tory fare on budget day

Atul Hatwal reveals how the fuel stabiliser will hike household energy bills

Peter Watt asks: where’s the social care in the health and social care bill?

Rob Marchant doesn’t want Ed to march for the alternative

Jonathan Todd thinks Miliband can own the future in a way Cameron can’t

…and in this weeks Half a minute Harris, Tom backed Theresa May on student visas

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Saturday News Review

26/03/2011, 06:30:06 AM

All roads lead to London

More than a quarter of a million protesters against public sector cuts are expected to flood central London today in the biggest political demonstration for nearly a decade. Police sources, normally cautious about estimating numbers, said last night they were braced for up to 300,000 people to join the march – far higher than previous forecasts from TUC organisers. More than 800 coaches and at least 10 trains have been chartered to bring people to the capital from as far afield as Cornwall and Inverness. The Metropolitan police, under fire for their use of kettling in previous protests, said “a small but significant minority” plan to hijack the march to stage violent attacks. Organisers, however, insist it will be a peaceful family event. Union members are expected be joined by a broad coalition, from pensioners to doctors, families and first-time protesters to football supporters and anarchists. Ed Miliband said the government was dragging the country back to the “rotten” 1980s. Labour is calling today’s event the “march of the mainstream”. The opposition leader will address the rally – his biggest audience ever – in Hyde Park to set out Labour’s alternative to the cuts, accusing the government of fomenting the “politics of division” not seen since Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s. His remarks are reinforced by a Guardian/ICM poll that shows the public divided over the cuts. Of 1,014 people questioned this week, 35% believe the cuts go too far, 28% say they strike the right balance and 29% say they don’t go far enough; 8% don’t know. Two other polls put the balance more strongly against cuts. A YouGov survey for Unison found that 56% believe the cuts are too harsh and a ComRes poll for ITV showed that two-thirds think the government should reconsider its planned spending cuts programme. Just one in five disagree with that view. The TUC organisers of the event said they had organised a family-friendly demonstration with brass, jazz and Bollywood bands. But with unofficial feeder marches, sit-down protests and a takeover of Trafalgar Square planned, there was increasing nervousness that acts of peaceful civil disobedience could lead to stand-offs with police and outbursts of violence. – the Guardian (more…)

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