Archive for July, 2011

Sunday Review

31/07/2011, 01:30:31 PM

Revivial: the struggle for survival inside the Obama White House by Richard Wolffe – reviewed by Anthony Painter

The American constitution is a wonderful construct for a nation of reasonable men and women. The problem is that the political representatives who currently populate the nation’s capital are not, in the main, reasonable people. There is an exception to this- the president. But how can you lead as a reasonable man in a political system stacked with checks and balances which allow unreasonable people to obstruct reasonable endeavour?

The answer as Present Obama has discovered since new intake entered Congress in 2011- with Republican control of the House of Representatives- is with enormous difficulty. It is like attempting to lead while restrained in manacles. And despite extreme restraint it is the president who will be called to account for the political madness that is now engulfing Washington as the battle over raising the debt ceiling reaches its insane climax.

Birmingham born Richard Wolffe’s Revival: the struggle for survival inside the Obama White House is the second book about this presidency from the de facto official biographer of the Obama White House. Renegade: the making of a president was the first in a series in which there will surely be more to follow. At the centre of the latest book is a discussion about the revivalist (idealist) instincts of the president versus the survivalist (pragmatic) instincts. I’m not sure that it is much of a spoiler to say that Obama ends up as both. Survival is necessary but not sufficient in the making a great president.

Familiar personalities drift into the story during the early months of 2010 which is the period on which the book concentrates. Those who remain from the campaign such as David Axelrod or return such as David Plouffe tend to embody the president’s revivalist trait while the survivalists tend to be Washington insiders such as Rahm Emmanuel. The president’s first chief of staff gets a bit of a rough ride. One of his colleagues says of Emmanuel: “It’s all tactics and no strategy. That’s something the president feels very strongly he’s missing. How do I get from here to where I want to go?” We are never quite told where that destination is. (more…)

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The week Uncut

31/07/2011, 10:00:07 AM

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

Rachel Reeves on Osborne, bad excuses and growth (or lack of)

Patt McFadden on Norway, and what it means to be Labour

Atul Hatwal’s end of season review of the shadow cabinet championship

Peter Watt’s take on refounding Labour

Matt Cavanagh reports on the latest Tory attack on troop numbers

Tom Harris on the far right, the far left and jihadism

Kevin Meagher says Gideon is letting the side down

… and Dan Hodges abandons his post and goes to Lord’s

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Does Labour have the courage to stand up for the workers?

29/07/2011, 02:20:27 PM

by Tom Harris

Every elected Labour official has the same experience: hard-working constituents regale us with tales of how they receive no help from the state, whereas the plights of others, usually described as “immigrants” and almost always “unemployed” and “benefit claimants” receive the most attention.

The problem for my party is that such grievances have a dangerous amount of validity.

One parliamentary colleague describes how his father, having worked all his adult life, raised a family in their council house and never failed to pay his rent on time, was philosophical about the fact that his modest request for a new home, closer to relatives, would remain at the bottom of the priorities list. Why? Because he had worked all his adult life and never failed to pay his rent on time.

The government’s various panic-stricken maneuverings over council house tenures reveals that the multi-millionaire, privately educated members of the Cabinet (and I use none of those descriptions in a pejorative sense) are finding it just as hard to get a grip on this aspiration thing as many members of my own party.

The Tories and their Lib Dem partners seem to see council housing as a sign of failure, almost a punishment for not having worked hard enough at school. Their “solution” to the housing shortage is to force those living in such estates to bugger off as soon as they find a job and start to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In a sea of inept initiatives from this government, this is probably the most bonkers of them all: reserve council estates exclusively for those who can’t or won’t work, and remove all the successful, aspirational tenants, often against their will.

Where does that leave young people living in such estates? Where are the role models that teach them that hard work is rewarding? I’ll tell you where: nowhere near you, mate! (more…)

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Shadow cabinet league: End of season awards special

29/07/2011, 07:00:58 AM

by Atul Hatwal

School’s out for summer and after a roller-coaster July its time to look back on performances over the past parliamentary year.

And as is traditional at the end of the season it’s time for some prizes.

Uncut is proud to be awarding prizes in four categories – 2010/11 league champion, top media performer, top House performer and most improved all round performer.

In keeping with Uncut’s Corinthian traditions, it’s not the monetary value of the prize that counts, but the popular recognition.

Handy, since this being a blog, these are virtual prizes and not worth a penny.

(more…)

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Friday News Review

29/07/2011, 06:24:12 AM

“A new low”

The News of the World hacked a phone belonging to Sarah Payne’s mother – which was given to her by then editor Rebekah Brooks, it was claimed yesterday. Scotland Yard have told Sara – mother of the eight-year-old schoolgirl murdered by Roy Whiting – that the mobile may have been targeted by the newspaper. They said they had found evidence suggesting she was hacked by News of the World ­investigator Glenn Mulcaire. Friends of Sara Payne said that she is “absolutely ­devastated and deeply ­disappointed” at the news. The newspaper – and particularly Rebekah Brooks – had championed Sara’s campaign for Sarah’s Law. Sara even wrote a column for the paper’s final edition, calling their staff “my good and trusted friends”. Labour MP Tom Watson said: “This is a new low. The last edition of the News of the World made great play of the paper’s ­relationship with the Payne family. Brooks talked about it at the committee inquiry. Now this. I have nothing but contempt for the people that did this.” -  Daily Mirror

I want you back

Labour MP Tom Watson said he would also call for ex-News of the World editor Colin Myler and the paper’s ex-legal manager Tom Crone to answer questions. Mr Murdoch told MPs he had not been “aware” of an email suggesting hacking went wider than a “rogue” NoW reporter. Mr Myler and Mr Crone have both disputed this. Mr Murdoch later said he “stands by his testimony” to the committee. Mr Watson told BBC Two’s Newsnight programme he would make the recall requests to the committee on Friday “so that we can get to the bottom of this, find the facts and Parliament can then move on and let the police do their inquiry”. The committee is due to hold an internal meeting, which will be closed to the public, on Friday morning. – BBC News

Lord Leveson sets out inquiry plans

The man appointed to lead the judicial inquiry into phone hacking and press standards last night warned newspapers not to “close ranks” but help him expose the “depth” of journalistic malpractice. In his first public comments since being appointed, Lord Justice Leveson said he intended to call “waves” of witnesses including journalists, politicians and policemen starting in autumn. He also warned that the expansion of the terms of reference of his inquiry had been so broadened that he might not be able to complete the first part of the inquiry within the planned timescale of a year. Lord Justice Leveson met for the first time formally with the other members of his inquiry panel yesterday and read a statement outlining the procedures and time-scale for the first section of the inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. The second section of the inquiry will look at the specific phone-hacking allegations that arose in the wake of the scandal at the News of the World but will only begin once police investigations have been completed. A series of seminars will be held in October looking at law, media ethics and the practice and pressures of investigative journalism for broadsheet and tabloid newspapers. – the Independent

“Die or go private”

NHS managers are deliberately delaying operations in the hope patients will either die or go private in a ‘callous’ attempt to save money, it was claimed yesterday.  Health service trusts are ‘likely to impose greater pain and inconvenience’ by making those in need of care wait longer than necessary for surgery, an official report found. By making patients wait sometimes for as long as four months, it is hoped they will remove themselves from lists ‘either by dying or by paying for their own treatment’.  The claims are outlined in a report by the Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP), an independent watchdog that advises the NHS.  With NHS bosses having to make £20billion of savings by 2014, the organisation discovered damning evidence that managers are imposing minimum waiting times and ‘excessively constraining’ patients’ rights to choose where to have routine operations, such as hip replacements. – Daily Mail

Shapps in housing U-turn

The government has revised instructions to the social housing regulator to explicitly state that flexible tenancies should normally last a minimum of five years. Under an updated draft direction on tenure social landlords will be required to set out any circumstances in which they will offer tenancies of less than five years in their tenancy policies. The previous version of the draft direction stated that two-year tenancies, which are the shortest that will be permitted under the Localism Bill, should only be used in exceptional circumstances. It did not state what these circumstances would be, or that five-years would otherwise be the minimum. Before the directions to the regulator were published housing minister Grant Shapps had told MPs that five years would be the norm. The omission of this statement from the draft directions when they were first published in July prompted Labour MP Nick Raynsford to accuse him of ‘a disgraceful breach of his own promise’ and call for him to explain his actions to parliament. – Inside Housing

An Autum of discontent?

Leaders of teachers, nurses, civil servants, firefighters and other public sector workers claimed they were being “frogmarched” into co-ordinated strike action after the Treasury took the surprise step of setting out in detail how much individuals will have to pay in contributions to their pension schemes from next April. The overall cost of £1.2bn is broadly as expected, but senior union sources said “we had no warning of this co-ordinated announcement for each scheme, or that it would be leaked to the Telegraph and the Sun laced with the usual rhetoric about ‘gold-plated pensions‘.” Union leaders said they were convinced some ministers, including Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and health secretary Andrew Lansley, remain committed to a negotiated settlement before the new regime is introduced next April, but they questioned whether Treasury ministers were only interested in cash savings. Unison leader Dave Prentis accused Alexander of “crude and naive tactics”, urging ministers to “stop treating these talks like some kind of playground game”. – the Guardian

Tories outspend Labour

The Conservative Party spent £15 million more than Labour last year, according to official figures. The Tories spent £49,205,000 during 2010, including on the general election campaign, while Labour spent £33,840,000, the Electoral Commission said. As the independent party funding watchdog published the financial accounts of the main political parties, the British National Party (BNP) and Christian Party were warned they could face substantial fines for failing to submit their accounts on time. The figures show that the Conservative Party received income of £43,143,000, suffering an overall loss over 2010, while Labour received £36,270,000. And the Liberal Democrats spent £9,973,077 over the year, with an income of £9,637,354. – Huffington Post

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There is not a single place in the British isles that is more purely English than Lord’s cricket ground

28/07/2011, 12:00:21 PM

by Dan Hodges

On Monday I failed the cricket test. I fought it. Tried to wrap myself in a warm cloak of English patriotism, but I couldn’t. Sachin Tendulkar tore it from shoulders.

We are constantly lectured that we must make a stark choice. Cold, multicultural separatism. Or dull and oppressive social conformity.

But no one told the 28,000 people who crammed into Lord’s to watch the climax of the hundredth test match between England and India. Just getting into the ground produced a sense of elation. We 28,000 were the fortunate few. Outside, the queues that had begun forming at 2.00 am snaked for almost a mile. To be part of a cricket match. A supposedly dying pastime, a sport naïvely out of touch with the tensions and demands of modern society.

Some queued for their share of history; the Little Master’s last jog down the pavilion steps. Some in the hope of witnessing England reclaim ascendancy of the game they introduced  to the world, then relinquished. Others to see India, now the best team on the planet, turn back the would-be usurpers.

But it didn’t really matter. No passports were required. No one here would be asked to pledge allegiance to faith, or flag.

There is not a single place in the British isles that is more purely English than Lord’s cricket ground. In fact it is not a place, but an ethos. Fair play. Grace under pressure. Healthy competition. Individual  excellence. Collective brilliance. Those politicians who seek to define Englishness would do well to put down their speeches about “British jobs for British workers” and “muscular liberalism” and take a quiet stroll through the Long Room.

Not that Lords has always been welcoming. Far from being a level playing field, the pitch slopes alarmingly from left to right. The members who sit on the old pavilion, and have finally deigned to admit women to their ranks, have been known to obscure the ball as it leaves the bowlers hand, making it difficult for a new or inexperienced  batsman to defend himself.

(more…)

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Refounding labour: reinventing the wheel

28/07/2011, 07:00:13 AM

by Peter Watt

So the refounding Labour consultation is done. According to the Labour party website there were:

•    3,255 individual submissions
•    20,354 hits on refounding Labour websites
•    66 regional events across the country led by our national and region offices
•    184 party submissions
•    36 submissions from groups or affiliates

It seemed a well-run process with much enthusiasm from many members and some great leadership being shown by some of the more active members of the NEC. There has been a strong sense that the party needed change and there was plenty of energy shown by hundreds of members determined to play their part in delivering it. So far so good.

And then last week saw the publication of “refounding Labour to win” the summary report of all of the submissions. There was a brief bit of “excitement”, as some people seemed worried that a document was published so soon after the close of the consultation. This was a clear indication to some of the new generation that not every submission could have been properly reviewed. A rat was smelt and, in order to check if indeed an injustice had been perpetrated, some demanded that Ed Miliband publish all of the submissions. In a dramatic moment (not) during the one of the twitter “ask Ed” sessions, Ed conceded and agreed to publish. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

28/07/2011, 06:22:29 AM

Hague’s Libyan gamble

Mr Hague, the foreign secretary, who on Wednesday expelled the remaining staff of the Libyan embassy as Britain granted political recognition to the country’s opposition, said that the democratic gains made during the six-month series of revolutions risk being for naught thanks to sectarian violence and struggling economies. “We mustn’t expect each country to be neatly done in six months. It’s not a computer game that comes to an end when you get bored,” he said in an interview with The Times. He said the future of Egypt would decide the extent to which democracy would flow across the region, calling it “the single most important piece of the jigsaw in the whole Arab Spring”. Mr Hague spoke amid increasingly frantic diplomatic moves five months into a bombing campaign against the Libyan dictatorship. The foreign secretary said Britain could free up frozen funds for the Libyan opposition. – Daily Telegraph

The foreign secretary’s decision is a significant boost for the rebels’ Benghazi-based national transitional council, which is viewed by Britain, as of today, as the “sole governmental authority” in Libya. By taking this action, Britain has come into line with the US, France, Italy and other Nato allies, which had already declared the NTC to be the de facto government of Libya. As a matter of longstanding policy, Britain recognises states, not governments. But in effect London has now “de-recognised” the Gaddafi regime and its representatives in the UK. In doing so, it has further delegitimised the remaining authority of Gaddafi and those around him and has invited the NTC to send a representative – in essence an ambassador – to London. He claimed the move had support from Arab League and African Union countries – many of which, however, continue to deal with Gaddafi’s government. – the Guardian

Huhne file is handed to the prosecutors

Police probing allegations Cabinet minister Chris Huhne made his wife take his speeding points have passed their findings to prosecutors. Lib Dem Energy Secretary Mr Huhne would be forced to quit if the Crown Prosecution Service decides to put him on trial. The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer will take the final ­decision on the case, after it has been considered by lawyers. Essex police launched the inquiry in May after the allegations surfaced following a newspaper interview with his estranged wife Mrs Pryce. He and Mrs Pryce could both be jailed if they are convicted of perverting the course of justice. – Daily Mirror

Chris Huhne’s future as a Cabinet minister could be determined within weeks after police passed a file to prosecutors yesterday about an alleged speeding offence. Pressure is mounting on the Energy Secretary amid suggestions the Prime Minister may already be considering a possible successor. Mr Huhne faces political oblivion if he is formally accused of perverting the course of justice by allowing his wife to take speeding penalty points for him. Yesterday Downing Street was forced to deny David Cameron and Nick Clegg had already held talks on a mini-reshuffle that will take place if Mr Huhne is forced to resign. However, there is growing speculation the well-regarded LibDem business minister Ed Davey, who is close to Mr Clegg, would be parachuted into the Cabinet to replace the Energy Secretary. – Daily Mail

Ed nose day

Good news for Justine, wife of Ed Miliband. Quieter nights are in prospect in the Miliband family home after the Labour leader underwent a successful operation on his nose to correct a breathing problem. As symptoms of sleep apnoea – aggravated in his case by a deviated septum – include heavy snoring and restlessness, the person most likely to notice the difference is Mr Miliband’s new wife, Justine. The hour-long NHS procedure took place at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in central London. A Labour source denied suggestions that part of the intention of the operation was to make him sound less “bunged-up”. He said: “I’ve spoken to him since the operation and his voice sounds exactly the same.” – the Independent

An expectant cluster of doctors, of both the medical and spinning variety, gathered around a bedside in Grays Inn Road, London, to await an event that could determine the outcome of the next general election. It was Ed nose day at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear hospital. The Labour leader’s spin doctors continued to blather on about how obstructive sleep apnoea is a respiratory condition, leading the throat to repeatedly narrow or close during sleep. But everyone knew that all this medical detail was spin doctor obfuscation. In reality, the hour-long operation was a giant gamble. No one knew whether when he awoke the sound of Miliband’s voice would be transformed. Would the new Bold Ed of recent weeks, willing to tear down the Murdoch empire, be given a voice to match – a lustrous blend of Laurence Olivier, Barry White and Kathleen Turner? Those who have spoken to Miliband (no audio is yet available) say he sounds the same. – the Guardian

The madness of the Steve Hilton

Mr Hilton also suggested to Mr Cameron that he simply ignore European labour regulations on temporary workers, to the alarm of the most senior civil servant in Downing Street. “Steve asked why the PM had to obey the law,” said one Whitehall insider. “Jeremy [Heywood, Mr Cameron's permanent secretary] had to explain that if David Cameron breaks the law he could be put in prison.” Mr Hilton, who often walks around the Prime Minister’s office without shoes, is an increasingly influential figure who often suggests seemingly crazy ideas in an attempt to spark creative debate. According to a report in the Financial Times, Mr Hilton also recommended sacking hundreds of Government press offices and replacing them with a blog for each Whitehall department. The newspaper quoted a source close to Mr Hilton suggesting that he thought that maternity leave rights were “the biggest obstacle to woman finding work. Steve also wanted to suspend all consumer rights legislation for nine months to see what would happen,” the source added. “Some of his ideas are great but a lot of time is spent at an official level trying to deconstruct his maddest thoughts.” – Daily Telegraph

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The blank sheet of paper that must go on and on

27/07/2011, 12:00:54 PM

by Jonathan Todd

It is acknowledged that people do not join the Labour party simply to deliver leaflets or attend uninspiring meetings. This tends to go along with support for giving members more say on policy. But parties are vehicles of change, not forums for mass therapy. Party debate is a means to the end of building the world that Labour exists to create.

As our policy review continues, it’s worth reflecting on the “built to last” exercise undertaken by David Cameron after becoming the Tory leader. His government’s programme now appears anything but. His health policy is fudged, his police promises are broken, his public service reforms are rehashed and events have rapidly exposed his defence policy.

The biggest global economic crisis since the 1930s has left almost four in ten voters able to say: “I can’t imagine I’ll ever have the money I want to meet my needs.” Notwithstanding the conflation of wants and needs in this statement, this indicts Cameron’s ability to generate any feel good factor.

Running through many of the government’s failings is a refusal or inability to acknowledge the reality of Britain’s place in the world. They will not place the economic crisis of recent years in its proper global context for fear of distorting their framing of these events as entirely Labour’s fault (and the enduring strength of this frame is one of the government’s trump cards). They will not adapt their defence review to events that the foreign secretary has compared with the fall of the Berlin wall. They will not engage in a meaningful debate about the future of our continent because they are bored by Brussels, contemptuous of Athens and scared of Bill Cash. They will not concede that the UK’s position within global labour markets makes nonsense of their commitment to reduce annual immigration to the UK from “hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands”. This will, as all realities do, catch up with them. (more…)

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Harsh but fair: the jettisoning of George

27/07/2011, 07:42:01 AM

The Plan A-Team denied by Gods and Princes

by Kevin Meagher

Last week we were speculating about the political longevity of the occupant of 10 Downing Street. How long could the prime minister survive, waist-deep, as he was in Murdochery?

A week is indeed a long time in politics. Cameron, for now, has clambered free from the mire, replaced by his neighbour, confidante and closest political soulmate, the chancellor of the exchequer.

Who is having a bad day. It seems our damnable economy refuses to behave as he expected, growing at an anaemic 0.2 per cent since April. As he gallantly goes about trying to reduce our budget deficit, the dratted thing goes and increases by 46 billion quid due to a lack of growth in the economy. This infernal, dismal science.

But just as jockeys ride horses and publicans pull pints, chancellors are expected to keep the economy motoring. Unfortunately for George Osborne, things are not going to plan. He currently resembles one of those expensive continental footballers whose reputation precedes them and of whom plenty of goals are not unreasonably expected.

Except  that the boy wonder can’t seem to hit the back of the net. We’ve been patient: he has now presided over the economy for four consecutive quarters. He hit the crossbar late last year when growth ran to a giddy 0.5%, but it fell back by exactly the same amount the very next quarter.

Ah, that was down to snow on the pitch, argued George. This time, the Japanese earthquake, bank holidays and the royal wedding have blocked his attempts on goal. God and a prince of the realm making one half of an effective shot-stopping back four. Nothing to do with George’s wayward aim, you understand.

But hold on. What’s this? The prime minister is secretly urging an economic Plan B. His private secretary Jeremy Heywood is said to have been dispatched to the Treasury to read them “the riot act”, commanding our dawdling mandarins to shake a leg and get the economy moving. Has Osborne been Lansley-ed? Is the prime minister taking charge of economic policy?

(more…)

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