Archive for May, 2011

Looking to 2014, not 1974: the case for spending limits

23/05/2011, 07:00:17 AM

by Rob Marchant

During the last two weeks, pieces by Uncut columnists Atul Hatwal and Peter Watt seem to have caused something of a controversy in Labour circles by suggesting that Labour keep to Tory spending limits. Peter’s piece was followed by a passionate defence of the current position by LabourList’s Mark Ferguson; not to mention a more wild-eyed, man-the-barricades-the-Tories-are-coming, ad hominem attack from Owen Smith.

So before making our minds up, perhaps we might take a cool, detached look at the case for change. The question of tax and spending limits is not new: indeed, it was raised on these pages back in March. However, given that spending is arguably the most critical question to answer before the next election and will quite possibly decide its outcome, it is important to construct the case clearly and calmly, brick by brick.

Historical evidence on beating incumbent governments: Since 1974, from the table below, no party has challenged an incumbent on a tax-raising platform, and won. In contrast, we challenged three times 1983-1992 on such a platform and lost each time.

UK changes of government after 1974

YearWinning ChallengerManifesto pledge
1979ToryPledged to cut taxes, although raised VAT and arguably did not carry out the pledge. Cut spending.
1997LabourPledged to keep to Tory spending limits for two years, and did. Pledged balanced budgets and no increase in income tax for 5 years, and kept them.
2010Tory (in coalition)Pledged not to raise NI and cut spending to reduce debt.

The tough questions: a. by 2014, why do we think that a political approach which hasn’t worked electorally in 40 years will work for us then? Especially when, in the political climate of the 1970s, people were demonstrably warmer to the idea of higher taxes in return for a larger public sector? And b., if it was felt necessary to do this in 1997 (growing economy) to get elected, why do we think raising taxes in 2011 (stagnating economy) a good idea? (more…)

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Monday News Review

23/05/2011, 06:45:47 AM

How many re-launches do you need?

David Cameron will today reaffirm his commitment to the institution of marriage and the importance to children of stable relationships. He will accuse the last, Labour government on focusing too much on ploughing money into children’s services, without appreciating that it is stable families who provide the prerequisite for a happy life in adult years. By supporting relationships – preferably within the context of a marriage – the Government will in future put families at the heart of policy making. The Prime Minister’s recommitment to the importance of marriage comes as he uses a major speech to attempt once again to define his crusade of the Big Society. – Daily Telegraph

Strong families are the foundation of a better Britain, David Cameron will say today in a fourth attempt to revive his Big Society project. The Prime Minister will return to the pro-family agenda he championed as leader of the Opposition, arguing that good parents teach their children about responsibility. In a major speech, Mr Cameron will say he is ‘pro-commitment’, adding: ‘I back marriage, and I think it’s a wonderfully precious institution.’ The Prime Minister’s speech is meant as a riposte to critics, including many in his own party, who say the Big Society vision is ill-defined and unworkable.  In his fourth attempt to relaunch the project, Mr Cameron will attempt to broaden its aims beyond encouraging more volunteering and charitable work. – Daily Mail

Following an admission by the minister responsible for running the big society project that the government had failed to explain it, the prime minister will say the initiative runs through all the government’s public service reforms. It also explains why he wants to build a “stronger society” with families at its heart. Cameron will say: “You learn about responsibility and how to live in harmony with others. Strong families are the foundation of a bigger, stronger society. This isn’t some romanticised fiction. It’s a fact. There’s a whole body of evidence that shows how a bad relationship between parents means a child is more likely to live in poverty, fail at school, end up in prison or be unemployed in later life.” Downing Street acknowledges that it has struggled to explain to voters the big society, the central theme of last year’s general election campaign. It is intended to devolve power and to foster a greater sense of responsibility by loosening the role of the state. – the Guardian

Ed warns of ‘a jilted generation’, whatever that is

A generation is growing up in Britain which is in danger of being unable to afford to buy their own homes until they are middle-aged, Ed Miliband is to warn. In a keynote speech at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Labour leader will accuse David Cameron of betraying the young – saying they are being forced to bear an unfair share of the Government’s cuts. He will dismiss the Prime Minister’s claim that the Government is taking drastic action to tackle the deficit in order to ensure that young people growing up now are not left to shoulder the debts of their parents. “The Jam generation” of politicians – like Mr Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne who grew up listening to the iconic band in the 1980s and now dominate government – is, he will say, in danger of creating the “jilted generation”. – Daily Mirror

Shrinking wages and higher debts will force today’s children to wait until their 40s before they can buy their first property, Ed Miliband will warn on Monday. Days before he marries Justine Thornton, the Labour leader will illustrate his fears for future generations by talking publicly for the first time about his children. Miliband’s speech at the Royal Festival Hall in London is designed to develop what he is calling a “national mission” to confront the government’s failings. He believes David Cameron is exacerbating problems such as shrinking or stagnant wages by making deficit reduction his main priority. “I am worried – and every parent should be worried – about what will happen to our children in the coming decades, about what the future holds for us, our children and our country, about what sort of place Britain will become.” – the Guardian

Alex’s big day

Oil revenues will be top of First Minister Alex Salmond’s agenda today when he meets Conservative Chancellor George Osborne as part of talks with UK ministers over the next 48 hours. Mr Salmond is set to present his list of demands to the Chancellor as well as Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, before meeting Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg tomorrow. He is to call for changes to the increase on oil revenues announced in the Budget to fund the fuel stabiliser. The £10 billion tax grab by Mr Osborne has, according to oil companies and the SNP, put 10,000 jobs in Scotland at risk with companies choosing to invest elsewhere. – the Scotsman

He will take time out after talks with Chancellor George Osborne to address the Foreign Press Association, before meeting Energy Secretary Chris Huhne this evening. Tomorrow he will have wide-ranging discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. A Government spokesman outlined the agenda: “The meetings are expected to cover a range of issues including: how the UK Government’s Scotland Bill legislation can be improved to strengthen the Scottish Parliament’s economic powers; Scotland’s £200 million Fossil Fuel Levy funds; electricity market reforms; and industry fears over the recent North Sea oil and gas tax hike and the Scottish Government’s alternative proposals which would protect exploration and development activity.” Mr Salmond said: “The priority of the new Scottish Government, for which we carry the overwhelming mandate of the Scottish people, is to ensure we strengthen the Parliament’s ability to build sustainable economic growth and create jobs and future prosperity from our nation’s great resources”. – Daily Herald

Gove’s ‘dog eat dog’ education plan

Restrictions on the expansion of the most popular state schools will be lifted, allowing them to take on more pupils, Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has disclosed. The move will mean that more parents will win places for children at their first choice of school, Mr Gove said. However, it is likely to increase the financial pressures on struggling schools because funding is determined by the number of pupils they have. The changes, which will apply to all state schools, will be outlined in a revised school admissions code to be published this summer. The Government suspects that local authorities sometimes prevent good schools from raising their intake because it becomes harder to sustain weaker schools when pupil numbers drop significantly. – Daily Telegraph

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Denham nicks it from Balls for goal of the month

22/05/2011, 06:50:50 PM

Denham overtakes Balls in last hour of voting to win by less than 2%

In a dramatic last gasp victory, John Denham overtook long time leader Ed Balls to win the shadow cabinet goal of the month. Denham received 36.5% of the votes cast compared to Balls on 34.6%.

Andy Burnham was third with 19.2% with John Healey on 5.8% and Douglas Alexander on 3.9%.

Since voting started on Friday, John Denham and Ed Balls were level pegging in the public vote until Balls opened up a narrow lead late on Saturday. Balls seemed set to hold on for victory only to be overhauled by John Denham in the last hour of the competition.

The closeness of the vote is in marked contrast to last month, where Ed Balls’ winning margin was over 40%.

Denham’s victory comes off the back of securing his first urgent question since the shadow cabinet was formed.

By moving quickly on the morning of 10th May and tabling the urgent question, John Denham was able to force David Willets back to the Commons to take the question. The resulting exchange meant Denham featured heavily in the night’s news bulletins and managed to pick-up May’s goal of the month.

Not bad for a morning’s work.

Over the past few months, John Denham’s performance has been something of an enigma. While clearly talented and blessed with a commanding baritone, ideal for the chamber, he has only sporadically demonstrated his ability.

In terms of work rate in the House of Commons, John Denham has barely broken a sweat. Before May, he had tabled a total of 11 written questions, asked nine oral questions and made 5 speeches at the despatch box. For the shadow secretary of state for Business, a department fraught with crisis, this is far from stellar performance.

But outside of Parliament, it’s a different story.

John Denham has issued a stream of press releases and comment on stories, securing media profile that makes him one of the most familiar shadow cabinet faces on our TV screens.

What made Denham’s goal of the month a cut above his previous work was the way it combined activity in the House of Commons with media coverage outside of parliament.

Putting down the urgent question not only held Willets to democratic account, it created a parliamentary occasion that broadcasters could use in their news packages.

This one-two of using parliament as the spring board for media coverage was a model of how to hold the government to account. If John Denham can repeat this in the coming weeks, Vince Cable will soon be back where he belongs – vying with the likes of Chris Huhne, Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Michael Gove for the title of cabinet gaffer.

Your winning moment:

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The Sunday Review: Liverpool FC’s 2010/2011 season

22/05/2011, 02:00:04 PM

by Anthony Painter

This was the year of lost owners, three managers and the end of history for Liverpool FC. And despite the tumult – nearly quite literally losing everything – it may have recaptured its soul. The story of Liverpool’s year offers deeper lessons that reach beyond the Shankly gates. Some of those lessons are even political. It’s definitely a story of our world and times.

Let’s start with Tom Hicks and George Gillett. And a basic point: there is no rational financial reason for anyone to own a football club. It’s pure vanity; the economics of mad men. So you have to be very rich for it to work in the long-term. Sure, it’s a growing market as the entertainment industries beyond film go global. But the costs are too high, the rewards too uncertain, and the loyal revenues only compensate to a limited extent for the high risk-low reward business model. You do it out of vanity in the main – you want to own people’s dreams and put yourself on a glamorous platform. Either that or you are a crazy gambler.

Little business sense means that if you are not super rich you have to borrow on unreasonable terms. And if you want to build a top side you have to borrow a lot. Hicks and Gillett weren’t super-rich. They borrowed on ridiculous terms. They couldn’t compete but, worst of all, they lied – to everyone including themselves. They were symbols of the age of capitalism we have just come through. Luckily, a quintessentially English establishment figure, Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways, came to Liverpool’s rescue and justice was done. Hicks and Gillett left with less than nothing. The swindlers were swindled.


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The week Uncut

22/05/2011, 10:30:46 AM

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

David Lammy offers his take on blue Labour

Dan Hodges PMQs sketch

Peter Watt thinks it’s time to accept the cuts

Sunder Katwala calls out Progress

Jim Murphy says it’s not time to give up the nuclear deterrent

Alex Hilton on Ken Clarke and rape

… and Atul Hatwal brings us the shadcab goal of the month

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Sunday News Review

22/05/2011, 09:22:41 AM

Tory right question Cameron’s risk taking on law and order

Senior Tories have raised concerns that the party is risking its reputation for being strong on law and order as the police unveiled plans for a summer campaign of protest against coalition cuts. Officers from more than 40 forces will put their case against the government’s cost-cutting and wider changes, at a meeting in parliamenton Monday, while the Police Federation, which represents the rank and file, has announced a national “day of action” in July aimed at derailing the current policies. David Davis, the Conservatives‘ former home affairs spokesman, expressed fears that the party was in danger of losing its reputation for being tough on crime and that public confidence was being dented by cuts to the police and justice systems combined with new liberal sentencing policies. After a week in which the justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, caused a storm over proposals to offer shorter sentences to rapists who confessed at an early stage, Davis said: “There is a serious risk that the Conservative party will lose its clear 20 to 30 point opinion poll leads [over Labour] on crime and immigration if it does not take a clearer stance on these issues.” – the Observer

How long can Huhne hold on?

Chris Huhne’s estranged wife is expected to tell police a female confidante of her husband also took points for him on her licence. Vicky Pryce, who will be interviewed by detectives this week, claims that Mr Huhne evaded points for speeding on more than one occasion. Miss Pryce, 57, has told friends that Mr Huhne not only persuaded her to take points for him – but that he also got another person to do the same on a separate occasion. A source said: “Vicky has been telling people she is not the only one to take points and that Chris had got someone else to do it before her. She has said she will do whatever is ‘necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ to help the police investigation and that means telling them everything she knows.” Mr Huhne, 56, will also be quizzed by police under caution in coming days as he battles to save his career. Mr Huhne, who strongly denies the allegations, faces jail if convicted of perverting the course of justice by getting his wife to take his penalty points. – the Telegraph

Pressure mounted on Chris Huhne last night with a flurry of fresh allegations over his penalty points saga, including the claim that he accepts that he may have been driving his car on the day it was clocked speeding eight years ago. The embattled Energy Secretary is expected to tell police he “cannot be sure” he was not behind the wheel when it was caught exceeding the speed limit in March 2003, according to a report in The Sunday Times. The paper quoted a member of Mr Huhne’s camp saying that he could not remember his movements on the day in question. The source added: “He hasn’t got a diary about whether he drove or not.” The concession follows weeks of flat denials that Mr Huhne pressurised his wife, Vicky Pryce, into accepting the three-point penalty so he could escape a driving ban. Observers pointed out that, if the minister is interviewed this week by police under caution, the “can’t remember” position would be more easily defensible in law if the case ever went to court. – the Independent

Clegg takes aim at NHS in attempt to bring party in line

The dispute within the coalition government over NHS reformshas intensified after Nick Clegg demanded the removal of another main part of the proposals designed to encourage competition and private sector involvement. The deputy prime minister has put himself on a collision course with the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, by proposing that a clause in the bill encouraging “any qualified provider” to take over services from the NHS should be radically rethought or dropped. Clegg told senior Liberal Democrats that he would scupper Lansley’s bill unless the Tories agreed to the new demand. He has already insisted on scrapping the requirement that Monitor, the NHS regulator, compels hospitals to compete with each other. He wants it to be replaced with a duty to promote collaboration. – the Guardian (more…)

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There’s no excuse. Ken Clarke should be sacked.

21/05/2011, 10:30:40 AM

by Dennis Kavanagh

It’s 1991. A young and charismatic Bill Clinton indicates that he will seek the nomination of the Democrat party for president; the Super Nintendo is launched; the first gulf war is in full swing and good old Lord Lane in the UK abolishes the “anachronistic and offensive” marital rape exemption in R v R.

Shocked? Don’t be. The current rape debate really is taking place in a country where you could quite lawfully rape your wife up until the invention of 16 bit gaming technology. While Bush Snr was threatening to bomb Sadaam back to the stone age, Fred Flinstone sexual values were in full swing over in Blighty. Little surprise, then, that the backdrop to the latest discussion over rape takes place in a country where around 60,000 women are raped every year – the majority by partners or men they know – and only a tiny fraction, around one in ten, report it to the police. Of these few cases, less than 7% result in conviction according to rape crises England and Wales.

Rape and offences of assault by penetration are in this unique position because they’re often difficult evidentially. They’re not taken seriously and a set of myths have grown up around rape that make securing convictions the exception rather than the rule.


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Saturday News Review

21/05/2011, 07:48:44 AM

No You Can’t – Clegg snubbed by Obama

The White House has turned down a request for Nick Clegg to have a one-to-one meeting with Barack Obama when he visits Britain this week. Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister tried to secure an audience and a photo opportunity with the President as part of his first state visit to Britain. Mr Obama is due to meet the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband for an hour at Buckingham Palace, so the Liberal Democrats had hoped that the White House would agree to a similar meeting with Mr Clegg. However government sources said the request has been turned down by Washington. It is understood they felt that as President it would not be appropriate for him to have a one-to-one meeting with a Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Clegg will meet Mr Obama – but at all times David Cameron will be in the room. – the Independent

New cases come forward in hacking investigation

Actor Jude Law and Labour MP Chris Bryant are now among the first people who will have their legal action against the News of the Worldover alleged phone hacking heard by the high court. The court also heard allegations that a senior News of the World executive, who was not named, had ordered private detective Glenn Mulcaire to hack into Jude Law’s phone. News Group Newspapers, the publisher of the News of the World, denied this was the case. The pair are the newest names to be included among five test cases chosen by high court judge Mr Justice Vos, also including former Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray, agent Sky Andrew and interior designer Kelly Hoppen… A secondary list of five claimants has also been drawn up in the event that further people drop out. They include comedian Steve Coogan, former footballer Paul Gascoigne, Max Clifford’s former assistant Nicola Phillips, ex-MP George Galloway and Mary-Ellen Field, former adviser to model Elle Macpherson. – the Guardian

Labour puts pressure on the government over equality

Labour MPs are attempting to set up a powerful parliamentary committee to vet government policy for discriminatory effects on women, claiming that the coalition has a “blind spot” when it comes to equal opportunities. Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, said the justice secretary Kenneth Clarke’s controversial comments on rape this week betrayed a lack of understanding of gender issues across the government, and that there needed to be a democratic institution to act as a safeguard for women’s rights. Cooper and Fiona Mactaggart, the shadow minister for women and equalities, will meet voluntary organisations to unveil the plans. The idea is attracting support from both sides of the house. It comes amid mounting concern about the impact of government policies on women, and a furious debate over some of the language used by senior Conservatives in recent weeks, not least the prime minister’s now infamous “Calm down dear” comment. – the Guardian

Huhne “can’t remember” night in question

Chris Huhne will tell police that he has no recollection of his movements on the night he was allegedly caught speeding, but he will insist to detectives that he did not ask his wife to take the penalty points on his behalf. The Energy Secretary will be questioned by detectives next week over allegations that he allowed Vicky Pryce to take the punishment after he was caught speeding while driving back from Stansted Airport on March 12 2003. But he will tell detectives that he has no memory of what he did on that day, despite the fact that official records show that he was in the European Parliament in Strasbourg until the afternoon and was likely to have taken a flight which landed at Stansted at 10.23pm that night. This weekend Mr Huhne is braced for further revelations from his estranged wife about the alleged speeding offence. Michael Fallon, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, said he should step aside if he is charged by police. – the Telegraph

MPs to debate privacy laws

MPs of all parties are set to force a Commons debate on super-injunctions amid universal complaints that the privacy rules are in chaos. They are being backed by Downing Street, which has warned that a privacy law has been effectively established through a series of court judgments. The move is being led by the former shadow home secretary, David Davis, who hopes to secure the debate next month. Mr Davis and other MPs yesterday condemned Lord Neuberger’s warning that reports of comments made in Parliament designed to break injunctions could still be in contempt of court. They warned Parliament needs to assert its authority over judges over the use of super-injunctions. The issue came to a head when the Liberal Democrat MP, John Hemming, disclosed Sir Fred Goodwin had taken out a super-injunction and a Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Stoneham, told peers that the RBS boss had been having an affair with a “senior colleague”. – the Independent

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All men are potential rapists

20/05/2011, 05:45:33 PM

by Alex Hilton

There has been a huge fuss over Ken Clarke’s suggestion that there are different levels of seriousness of rape. In calling for the justice secretary’s resignation over the issue, Ed Miliband was telling us that his interest in headline chasing came above getting to the root of rape.

Whether we like it or not, and the justice system recognised this in sentencing and in parole criteria throughout the last government, there are different levels of seriousness of rape. There are also different levels of seriousness in murder, manslaughter, burglary and a range of crimes.

To say this is not the same as suggesting that the “less” serious form of rape isn’t serious at all; simply that a crime that is serious can be made worse depending on the level of brutality.

Our society’s approach to rape is one of the clearest indications of the extent to which we still live in a patriarchy. Estimates of the number of women raped each year range from 47,000 to 85,000 but we have only a 6% conviction rate of those reported.

The media interest in false allegations of rape so excessively outweighs rape itself that there is a real movement to protect the anonymity of those accused. Yet in trial, despite reforms in recent years, there is no other crime where the victim’s victimhood is so comprehensively scrutinised and tested.


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It is not time to give up our nuclear deterrent

20/05/2011, 12:00:10 PM

by Jim Murphy

Where the Government does the right thing it is important that the Labour party supports them, especially over issues of national defence. That is why this week I made clear in parliament the shadow defence team’s support for the government’s announcement to proceed to the initial stages of Trident’s renewal.  Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent has been the cornerstone of our peace and security for over half a century and in today’s world, as long as there are other countries with such capability, it is right that the UK retains an independent nuclear deterrent.

Most of us believe in a world free of nuclear weapons and a multilateral process to achieve that. Others take a different and unilateralist view born from traditions such as faith, pacifism, political commitment or concerns about the costs. I respect all of those views, but take a different approach.

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty has three pillars – non proliferation, disarmament and the right to peacefully use civil nuclear power – which must provide the framework around our policy.  The greatest nuclear threats we face today come from unilateral proliferation, specifically from North Korea, who we know has a nuclear capability, and Iran, who we know has nuclear ambitions. The most robust response to these threats is for the UK to remain committed to the NPT and to be an active disarmer alongside our allies and other nuclear weapon states. (more…)

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