Archive for April, 2011

Wednesday News Review

27/04/2011, 06:55:48 AM

GDP figures due today

George Osborne hopes to claim the economy is on the right track when official figures are expected to show the economy has returned to modest growth in the first quarter of this year after suffering a surprise severe contraction in the last quarter of 2010. Economists have struggled to reach a consensus on the likely growth figure after the shock decline of 0.5% at the end of last year, blamed on the severely cold December weather. City economists are more pessimistic than the government’s fiscal watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, which predicted a recovery of 0.8% to leave the economy in positive territory over the last six months. The investment bank JP Morgan expects growth of only 0.2% for the first quarter of 2011, while Citi predicts 0.5% and Goldman Sachs 0.6%. Angela Eagle, the shadow Treasury secretary, said: “Our economy should not just be making up all the lost ground from the end of last year but growing strongly on top of that. We will need to compare growth over the last six months with growth of 1.8% over the previous six months.” – the Guardian

Balls: Salmond’s plans “totally crackers”

Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, has stepped up Labour’s attacks on Alex Salmond’s economic arguments for independence by arguing they show the SNP leader is unfit for power. Mr Balls said it was “baffling” that someone who has made such inaccurate pronouncements about the economy over the last four years could be trusted to be in charge of Scotland. Reeling off a list of examples during a Holyrood election campaign stop, he called the notion of fiscal autonomy for Scotland “barmy” and Mr Salmond’s support for adopting the euro “totally crackers”. The SNP’s plans for Scotland to have its own financial regulation, interest rates and exchange rate would have been a “total and utter catastrophe” during the recent recession, he concluded. Mr Balls’ intervention will be seen as an attempt by Labour in London to salvage Iain Gray’s faltering campaign. Party leader Ed Miliband is also expected to join Mr Gray later this week. – the Telegraph

Plan for failure, MPs tell health department

MPs are demanding that the government urgently put in place plans to ensure vital health services continue if a hospital or other provider goes bust under its NHS reforms. In a report published on Wednesday, the public accounts committee says the proposals for the NHS do not include details of what will happen if providers fail in the new market model of healthcare provision. Members of the committee dismissed claims by the most senior civil servant in the Department of Health, Una O’Brien, that the government was “not planning for failure”, and condemned the lack of contingency planning, suggesting that the proposals now pose an intolerable risk to value for money and quality of services. Richard Bacon, the Conservative MP for South Norfolk, said: “In any organisation as large and complex as the NHS, things can and do go wrong, and the Department of Health has yet to establish a robust framework for dealing with failure in the system. The department must not only understand the danger of either a provider or a commissioner going ‘belly up’, but also toughen up its contingency plans, drawing upon strong, effective and clear chains of governance and accountability throughout the new NHS model.” – the Guardian (more…)

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A snap election is no longer unthinkable – but it won’t happen

26/04/2011, 03:10:58 PM

by Sunder Katwala

An election this year is no longer unthinkable, writes Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley. ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie, influential champion of the Tory netroots, advises Cameron to prepare his troops. Perhaps the prime minister’s most unlikely adviser, Tom Watson, was ahead of the game.

Except that it won’t happen. (Just as economists have successfully predicted six of the last three recessions, commentators and bloggers promoting snap elections should have to declare their previous kite-flying efforts).

The most prominent objection so far is the difficulty of Mr Coalition Cameron engineering the destruction of his own government without the public seeing that he has acted in entirely bad faith. This would be Paxman’s dream “why should anybody believe a word you say” election, so brazenly have both governing parties done things which they promised not to. The prime minister who legislates for fixed term Parliaments and then runs to the country would put the seal on the most cynical interpretations of the new politics.

Perhaps a breakdown of collective responsibility and backbench rumblings will create gridlock, unless the LibDems do not simply pipe down again after May 5th. The LibDem grassroots are mobilising to seek to fillet the NHS Bill that their MPs voted for at second reading. But most Conservatives, while grumbling about the excessive influence of their junior partners, would be secretly relieved if a cosmetic pause comes closer to a full stop on reforms which the public finds incomprehensible. ‘Save Andrew Lansley’  is probably not a battle cry to win an electoral mandate.

But there is a better objection still. David Cameron hasn’t got the votes.

The Liberal Democrats certainly don’t want to face the voters anytime soon. They could lose their role in government and more than half of their MPs, probably including all of their women.

All the prime minister making that threat would have to lose is Downing Street and his political career.

The blindspot of much of the political class lies in consistently over-estimating David Cameron. He certainly looks the part as PM. He performs the public role with grace. But his record as party leader is as much about failure as success. His own side put him into TV debates to ‘seal the deal’ in 2010. He didn’t. But the assumption that he would was shared by his opponents, helping to explain why Labour didn’t prepare properly for the hung Parliament, and the LibDems made the pledge to students which would have served them well had the Tories won a small majority.

Yet everybody is doing the same thing again.

It has become a staple assumption that, had Cameron formed a minority government, he would then have swept to victory at the time of his choosing. If it was a sure thing, why didn’t it happen – and why was there so little Tory pressure to attempt it? It was because the risk was too great.
Historically, when the parties have gone back and asked the voters the same question after a hung Parliament, they have been given the same answer as the first time around. Had Cameron tried it, I have suggested before that David Miliband might now be Prime Minister.

A Tory election campaign this year would be rather less plausible than last Autumn. Ultimately, they would fall back on running against Gordon Brown and the government’s inheritance from Labour. Since that didn’t work well enough for the Tories to win when Gordon Brown was the alternative candidate, there is little reason to think the voters would find it more plausible now.

It is true that Labour is still rebuilding. If Ed Miliband’s party is more popular than Labour was at the last election – as, with 2 million LibDem voters having switched to Labour, it undoubtedly is – it is difficult to see how Cameron’s gamble could pay off.

If it didn’t come off, he’s Ted Heath, and surely on the way out. (more…)

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Knowing me knowing… John Healey

26/04/2011, 01:00:38 PM

In the first of a new series on Uncut, shadow health secretary, John Healey, takes the hot seat

What was the last film you saw in the cinema?

The Social Network.

What was the last piece of music you bought?

Pork pie: the best thing about being British

Adele, 21.

What is the best thing about being British?

Pork pies and HP sauce.

Describe David Cameron in three words

Out of touch.

What is your favourite meal to cook yourself?

Steak and chips.

Is it wrong to hate Tories?

No – but it’s their values and views that matter most.

In a film of your life, who would play you?

Starring Nicholas Cage as John Healey

Nicholas Cage – he’s prepared to play unlikely characters.

Which current non-Labour MP do you most admire and why?

Andrew Tyrie – always intelligent and independent-minded.

Do you believe that the message of socialism alleviating inequality will be heard in our lifetime?

It must – it’s our mission.

What is your most irrational fear?

Losing our child.

If any, what instruments can you play?

None – above all, I’d love to be able to sing. (more…)

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The Tories have got tax right: they’ve just got marriage wrong

26/04/2011, 07:00:13 AM

by Peter Watt

My youngest sister just got married in South Africa. About 30 of our large family went for a holiday of a lifetime to celebrate the big event. We had an incredible time and it made me think once again about the importance and influence of our family. We provide each other with friendship, informal social care, safety, emotional support, counselling, nurturing, parenting and parenting advice, financial support and of course a sense of belonging. Of course, we aren’t alone in this. The family has to be one of the most important influences on everyone’s life.

It is for this reason that “supporting families” is something that all political parties claim as central to their social policy. At the last election, the Tories emphasised their flagship policy of recognising marriage in the tax system.

Rightly, Labour argued that this was not only simplistic but also discriminated against families that do not include a married couple. But we lost the election. And the budget saw the Tories take their first small steps in implementing their approach. There is no doubt that over the coming years they will continue to use the tax system to aggressively demonstrate their intent.


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Tuesday News Review

26/04/2011, 06:55:03 AM

Mandelson and Johnson urge Labour to vote Yes

Two Labour grandees have accused the coalition of hijacking the AV debate to air its “petty tensions” and cynically turn it into a bitter row between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, after a series of high-profile clashes between ministers over next week’s referendum. Alan Johnson, the former home secretary, told the Guardian that the debate was “bigger than the Liberal Democrats” and appealed to Labour voters to back the alternative vote, claiming that a vote against reform was in effect a vote for the Conservatives. Lord Mandelson, the former cabinet minister, claimed the prime minister had adopted a high profile role in the no campaign to divert attention away from a debate about AV. The cabinet will meet for the first time after the Easter recess on Tuesday, with coalition relations at a new low. – the Guardian

David Cameron is today accused of cynically turning the referendum campaign on the voting system into a bitter row between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to head off a Yes vote. In his first intervention in the AV referendum, Lord Mandelson, the former Labour cabinet minister, claimed that the Prime Minister had adopted a high-profile role in the No campaign in order to divert media and public attention away from a debate about the alternative vote (AV). In an interview with The Independent, Lord Mandelson warned Labour figures who are backing the No camp that their actions could condemn the party to years in the electoral wilderness. He appealed to Labour supporters to vote Yes in next week’s referendum to damage the Tories and undermine Mr Cameron’s position. – the Independent

After AV, will the Lord’s be the next Coalition issue?

Like all of God’s earthly creation, the House of Lords is imperfect.  Its powers, its composition and its legitimacy have all come in for severe criticism over the years, from different parts of the political spectrum.  There have been several major reports, a Joint Committee and numerous votes in Parliament in recent years.  The result has been a lot of disagreement, and no change. It has now been reported that — as prefigured in the Coalition Agreement — the Government will publish a Bill at the end of May to bring in an 80% elected Upper Chamber of 500 or so using Proportional Representation.  “Senators” would apparently be elected in thirds every five years. People will differ over the merits of this and other possible models.  The question is, should an elected House of Lords be a priority right now?  To answer it, what we need are non-partisan arguments, arguments that ignore party politics and just look at the merits of the issue in the current context. From this viewpoint the answer is pretty clearly No.  – Conservative Home

Conservative whips under fire from newbies

For years they have been feared and loathed in equal measure, rumoured to have the ability to reduce errant MPs to tears and submission with a flick through their “little black book”. But now the fabled Conservative whips – who provided the inspiration for the murderous Francis Urquhart in The House of Cards – are facing a rebellion they are finding hard to control: the modern world. They are under attack from their new MPs who make up almost half the parliamentary party and cannot understand for need for the cast-iron discipline and subservience to the whips’ office that their predecessors took for granted. Most have had jobs in the “real world” as bankers, doctors and accountants and believe the whips should be keener on “career development” than career control. But what has caused the most ire among the new backbenchers is the whips’ policy of using “overwhelming force” to ensure they never lose a parliamentary vote. – the Independent

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The No to AV campaign is too unpleasant to support, even if you wanted to

25/04/2011, 07:30:52 PM

by Conrad Landin

In the forthcoming referendum, voters will consider contrasting factors when deciding where to place their crosses.

Some will vote on the merits of the alternative vote system, others on the basis of a long-term quest for proportional representation, for a third group, perhaps “basest of the three”, outlook on the current government will doubtless play a role.

Though there remains the under-discussed likelihood that Nick Clegg would use any Yes outcome to serenade a vindication of the coalition deal between his party and the Conservatives. And vindication it would be – this was, after all, the deal which saw every promise bar electoral reform sacrificed.

But despite my strong feelings on the issue, I can’t bring myself to join the campaign against the reform.

Figures in the Yes camp have suggested that their opponents come from a political spectrum narrower even than the Conservative party. With Labour heavyweights such as Ronnie Campbell and John Prescott weighing in with their endorsements of the campaign, we can see that this is far from the case. Yet there is something about the campaign’s tactics which makes one question whether the critics have it right. (more…)

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What America really thinks of William and Kate

25/04/2011, 03:30:54 PM

by Jonathan Todd


“I know America to be a forward thinking country because otherwise why would you have let that retard and cowboy fella be president for eight years? We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go, because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors”.

With such jokes, Russell Brand, as host of the MTV awards, initiated what is becoming an Anglo-American tradition: the cheeky Brit at a major American award ceremony. Ricky Gervais followed up at the Golden Globes this year. These comedians aren’t short of lines ripping George W Bush, but what assurance can we have that the British head of state can be trusted with a pair of scissors? Or even know what scissors are?

We can, of course, have no such guarantee. Birth right determines our head of state, irrespective of their abilities with scissors or other qualities. In contrast, the commander-in-chief is subject to the most gruelling of recruitment procedures. This fundamental difference between our monarchy and their republic convinces me that no matter what wise cracks Brand may make and how many William and Kate themed souvenirs American tourists may buy, ultimately, Americans are laughing at us. The idea of Donald Trump being president is preposterous, but selecting our head of state by birth is infinitely more so. (more…)

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Three kinds of leader in the age of the insurgent

25/04/2011, 12:00:58 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like bad luck, musketeers and Neopolitan ice cream, our political leaders come in threes. Consolidators, new brooms and insurgents; a trio of broad headings that sums up the different approaches to party leadership -Tory, Labour and Liberal alike.

First, we have consolidators. They are elected to lead divided parties, offering a familiar, reassuring presence, often at a moment of peril and self-doubt. They provide a small “c” conservative choice for parties turning in from the world. Michael Foot, Iain Duncan-Smith and Ming Campbell fall into this category. Their election is often a mark of intellectual defensiveness for their party, sometimes at the fag end of a period in office. Douglas-Home, Callaghan, and Gordon Brown also fit this bill.

Consolidators are kept on a short leash by their party; sometimes only too willingly. Their guiding belief is “hold what we have”, which really means that the party believes it is right, regardless of what the electorate has decided. Although never leader, this is Tony Benn quipping that Labour’s disastrous 1983 election result was “eight and a half million votes for socialism”. (more…)

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Come and help Leicester South deliver Britain’s verdict on Cameron and Clegg

25/04/2011, 07:51:20 AM

By Jon Ashworth

With the working-class council estates of Eyres Monsell and Saffron Lane, diverse communities closer to the city centre, traditionally Tory wards on the outskirts and liberal-leaning voters in the areas around the university, Leicester South really is a microcosm of Britain.

Its politics have mirrored the country’s, too. The seat has changed hands no fewer than five times since the seventies. It’s been represented by MPs from all three major parties over the last twenty years with the Lib Dems winning the 2004 by-election.

And when it goes to the polls in the by-election on 5 May it will have the opportunity to speak for Britain again.

The decision by Sir Peter Soulsby, the area’s respected and hard-working MP for the last six years, to stand down to contest the election for the city’s first directly elected Mayor has given local voters the chance to cast the nation’s verdict on a raft of the Conservative-led government’s unpopular policies.

Over the last two weeks, both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have traveled to Leicester and stood on the very spot outside De Montfort University at which Nick Clegg chose to pledge his opposition to tuition fees.

“It was here a year ago that he made his promise he would be the voice of young people,” the Labour leader told a crowd of young people inside. “The full gravity of the betrayal has today become clearer. Today we learn that 70% of universities are going to charge £9,000 tuition fees”.


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Monday News Review

25/04/2011, 06:49:56 AM

Another day, another dose of staged AV campaigning anger

A Liberal Democrat cabinet minister has widened an increasingly damaging rift inside the coalition by warning that the prime minister and other senior Conservatives could face legal action over the manner in which they have campaigned for a no vote in next week’s referendum on a change to the voting system. Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem energy secretary, admitted for the first time that the campaign against the alternative vote by senior Conservatives will make the coalition government “more difficult” to manage in the aftermath of the 5 May referendum. Huhne said the claims made by David Cameron, George Osborne and other Tories undermined their credibility. He is concerned about two claims made by the Conservatives – that a move to AV will need new counting machines, and so cost as much as £250m, and that it will favour extremist parties. He said: “If they don’t come clean on this, I am sure the law courts will.” – the Guardian

To say senior Liberal Democrats are desperate to secure a Yes vote for AV would be an understatement. With less than two weeks to go to the referendum on electoral reform, they have cranked up their rhetoric to fever pitch. Paddy Ashdown has condemned the campaign of those opposed to the Alternative Vote as ‘stinking’. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne launched a tirade of abuse against Chancellor George Osborne for pointing out that AV would be costly and complicated to implement. And Business Secretary Vince Cable has melodramatically portrayed the referendum battle as a fight between the ‘progressive majority’ and the atavistic forces of Conservatism. Yesterday it was Nick Clegg’s turn to whip up the hysteria, with a rambling diatribe against our traditional first-past-the-post voting system, and anyone with the temerity to believe it works. – the Daily Mail


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