Archive for July, 2011

Wednesday News Review

27/07/2011, 06:33:33 AM

Murdoch received classified defence briefings

The extraordinary access that Cabinet ministers granted Rupert Murdoch and his children was revealed for the first time yesterday, with more than two dozen private meetings between the family and senior members of the Government in the 15 months since David Cameron entered Downing Street. In total, Cabinet ministers have had private meetings with Murdoch executives more than 60 times and, if social events such as receptions at party conferences are included, the figure is at least 107. On two occasions, James Murdoch and former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks were given confidential defence briefings on Afghanistan and Britain’s strategic defence review by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. A further briefing was held with Ms Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and the Sunday Times editor John Witherow. – the Independent

Boy George has his head in the sand

Deluded Chancellor George Osborne yesterday hailed nine months of economic stagnation as “positive news” for Britain. Yet the Chancellor insisted: “The positive news is that the British economy is continuing to grow and is creating jobs. And it is positive news too at a time of real international instability that we are a safe haven in the storm.” A series of lame excuses – including the Japanese tsunami, the Royal Wedding and April’s hot weather – were also trotted out to justify the lacklustre economic performance. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls branded Mr Osborne “breathtakingly complacent” and accused him of being “in total denial”. Mr Balls, who challenged the Chancellor to a televised debate, added: “Families, pensioners and businesses can feel that tax rises and spending cuts which go too far and too fast are hurting, but it’s clear that they aren’t working.” New figures showed Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the nation’s wealth, rose by 0.2% in the past three months. That is just half of what the Government’s independent economic watchdog had predicted. – Daily Mirror

Today’s figures of 0.2 per cent GDP growth show the UK’s climb out of recession to be uncertain and sluggish. It seems the Home Office could not have timed worse the release of a damning newreport from the home affairs committee on the consequences of the changes to student visas. It’s official: these changes are set to cost the economy £3.4 billion; a disconcerting revelation for the embattled George Osborne who also has to monitor the euro-crisis and the fiscal turmoil in Greece. The over-arching message from today’s report is that the government needs to seriously consider the growing challenges of the UK’s economy and the impact of restricting foreign students on income generated by research and innovation in higher education – issues which it thinks have not yet been properly considered. The UK’s economy is bolstered by the funding stream of overseas students, an industry “worth up to £40 billion” and provides a direct contribution of “up to £12.5 billion” annually to revenue. There is no denying the government faces some considerable challenges in reforming the current immigration system and trying to balance an economy in freefall. – Left Foot Forward

Even Boris wants a growth plan

The London mayor, Boris Johnson, has called for a “manifesto for growth” to generate jobs and keep the economy moving as figures revealed that the UK economy had grown by only 0.2% in the past three months. Johnson said measures to “stimulate consumption” were also needed, along with more investment to create jobs and drive the economy forward. The Conservative mayor reiterated his support for scrapping the 50p rate of tax and as the “right direction” to get faster economic recovery. The comments came as Johnson hosted a London radio show for an hour in place of the usual presenter, Nick Ferrari. Certainly you should look at national insurance, you should look at ways of stimulating consumption, confidence in the market, and certainly I think the 50p tax rate as a signal that London is open for business, that London is a great international competitive capital.” But he said the “critical thing” was to set out “a manifesto or charter for growth.” – the Guardian

Answers at last

The Information Commissioner ruled that they were in the public interest, amid claims by some victims’ families that the former Conservative prime minister tried to protect the police’s reputation. In a decision notice, Christopher Graham said: “Support for disclosure of information relating to the Hillsborough disaster was expressed by the previous government and has been reconfirmed by the current government, and the commissioner also believes that the specific content of the information in question would add to public knowledge and understanding about the reaction of various parties to that event, including the government of the day, in the early aftermath.” Ninety-six Liverpool fans died in the crush at Hillsborough stadium in Sheffield on April 15 1989 during an FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest. An inquiry led by Lord Taylor of Gosforth concluded that the main reason for overcrowding was the failure of police control. – Daily Telegraph

The government has been ordered to publish documents revealing the discussions held by Margaret Thatcher about the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 Liverpool fans died in a crush at the stadium in Sheffield. Ruling that release of the documents was in the public interest, the information commissioner said it was right to publish the record of a Cabinet meeting on 20 April 1989 in which the then prime minister and her ministers spoke of the disaster, which took place five days earlier. The judgment by Christopher Graham relates to a freedom of informationrequest by the BBC more than two years ago, which was refused by the Cabinet Office. He rejected the office’s argument that the disclosure would impact negatively on the freedom with which ministers can engage in “free and frank discussions”, and on the convention of collective responsibility. – the Guardian

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Snail-pace growth? They have snow in Europe too. What they don’t have is Osborne.

26/07/2011, 03:00:34 PM

by Rachel Reeves

Throughout the phone hacking scandal, the chancellor has tried to keep his role in the “regrettable” appointment of Andy Coulson as the PM’s director of communications out of the spotlight. Despite being the one who allegedly recommended Coulson’s appointment, Osborne has done his best to bat away any responsibility for his role in that crisis.

Today, as the latest data show that GDP grew by just 0.2% in the second quarter of 2011, the chancellor is no doubt wishing he could be as slippery in evading responsibility for the staggeringly anaemic “recovery” that is now entrenched in the UK.

Growth of 0.2% in the second quarter of this year is a slow-down from growth of 0.5% in the first quarter, which in itself was only just enough to counter the contraction in the economy of 0.5% in the last quarter of 2010. Compare this to Q2 for last year, when the economy, in its third quarter of economic recovery, was growing at 1.1%, thanks to the decisive action from a Labour government that knew a strong recovery was critical to getting the country back on its feet and the deficit down.

Now, as a result of the too far, too fast approach of the government since May 2010, growth has continued to falter, a year and a half after the economy moved into recovery, and the economy is flat-lining. Three years after the peak of GDP before the recession started, output has not managed to recover by even half of the 6.4% that it fell since the first quarter of 2008. This recovery is turning out to be anaemic, as well as historically and internationally weak.

Today’s GDP figure of 0.2% is far below what the treasury needs if the economy is to meet its forecast for growth of 1.7% for this year. And let’s remember, that forecast has already been downgraded three times – the independent office of budget responsibility was forecasting growth of 2.3% for 2011 just a year ago.

(more…)

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All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers

26/07/2011, 12:00:29 PM

by Rob Marchant

Sexism is alive and well in modern Britain. Wherever it is to be found, it is a blight on our society; it lowers people’s horizons and expectations. An indisputable social evil. Obviously not like it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago: but there.

Arguably, its most persistent manifestation is in the workplace: like the difficulty of women returning to work after children, pay inequality and prospects of reaching top management. The last Labour government helped somewhat in these areas by, for example, improving access to childcare and consolidating equality legislation. And perhaps it could, and should, have done more. Inequalities persist which, being about opportunity and not outcome, rightly concern all of us on the left.

But agreeing on the problem is not the same as agreeing on the solution. And we don’t to need enter into the complex debate over the many methods of combating sexism, in order to evaluate a specific one: quotas. Aiming for gender equality and aiming for numerical gender balance, to state the obvious, are not the same thing.

Is it not telling that, in all the years of putting in place legislation to fight sexism, the western world has seldom got to the stage of implementing gender quotas for jobs? Could it be because (a) they’re often pretty unworkable in practice (just think for a second about how you’d ensure gender balance across all comparable roles and departments in an organisation, and you’ll start to see the logistical nightmare)? And (b) a lot of women, as well as men, don’t like the idea?

However, for some reason, in the Labour party, we have long ago come to a majority view that quotas are not only desirable, but unquestionable. It’s as if we, with our more developed moral compass, provide a beacon of best practice which all other right-thinking organisations should follow. They’re a bit behind us, that’s all: given time, everyone will come round to adopting our advanced ways.

Well, some news: the British public doesn’t agree. The rest of the country looks at these practices – introduced into the party, for the record, by a tiny knot of politicians and NEC members – and think us odd, not advanced. Look, here comes the Labour party. With its strange gender-target obsession.

Naturally, that group includes a vast number of proud, upstanding women and men who are not content to leave sexism unchallenged in the pub or the workplace. Yes, there are people without a sexist bone in their bodies, who just don’t think much of quotas. A lot will want to see more women in positions of power, but don’t see this as the right way. Many of them may not be against affirmative action per se: the debate is more nuanced than that. Many may not even be entirely against quotas, in extremis: but they aren’t for them in general.

And then there is our unhelpful habit of choking off debate on the matter. How? By viewing any questioning of this logic through the following prism: that a challenge can only come from a well-meaning but misguided woman; or a reactionary, Neanderthal man. And, for the record, neither does the debate-stifling trick necessarily follow gender lines: it is often as likely to come from men as women.

But is it not understandable that some of those many party members who are not sexist, and have spent their lives fighting sexism in all its forms, might at some point get frustrated at having the sins of the few visited upon them? Because there is a respectable, differing point of view which deserves at least a hearing, rather than a moral judgement.

It is this: that the numbers game has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. And it is the cumulative effect of this thinking which, bit by bit, avoiding sensible debate and taking quotas as a universal good, ends with what Neil Kinnock might term the “grotesque spectacle” of the summary Refounding Labour strategy document suggesting, with a straight face, that we might have not just a cabinet chosen by quota, but a leader and deputy leader chosen by quota. Well, no.

That’s right: you vote for two people, but if the leader turns out not to be a woman, all male candidates for deputy leader will have to withdraw. Or two separate, hugely expensive, all-member ballots. Or some similarly unworkable scheme. And, by the way, insisting on a 50-50 cabinet, if Labour were in government, would be an extraordinarily unhelpful constraint on a prime minister to get the cabinet which best fitted skills to positions (not to mention quite possibly illegal).

Finally, we patronise decent male politicians by assuming that, should they find themselves in a majority in a non-quota system, as a group they cannot be trusted not to make sexist decisions or policy unless we remove some of their number and replacing them with women, to “even things up”. It doesn’t make sense, unless you believe that there are seriously sexist men at the top of the party. Who are these cavemen? We should name names.

Yet one of the great attributes of the twenty first century Labour party is that, itself, it is already way ahead of the curve. Yes, you can be sure to find the odd situation when you’ll find some old feller with a dodgy opinion, and you can also be sure he’ll be roundly condemned for it. On average, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people less likely to be sexist than at a local Labour party meeting. We mostly fall over ourselves to get this right and we should be proud of that. But if we spent as much time and energy fighting sexism in the workplace as we do on tinkering with our internal processes to mixed results, you can’t help thinking that we might be helping the cause a lot more.

As a grown-up political party of 110 years standing, we’re surely self-confident enough to have an open debate about this. No name-calling, no ad-hominem judgement of the person voicing the opinion, or their sex. Just a simple, clear-headed analysis of where positive action is appropriate, and where it is not.

Peter Hain, who is in charge of Refounding Labour, in 2006 apologised for the fiasco in Blaenau Gwent, where an imposed quota led directly to the loss of a seat. A recognition that quotas are not a universal good. Surely he, of all people, should encourage this debate?

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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The latest round of Army cuts confirms that the Conservative Party, like News International, use the military for their own ends

26/07/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

David Cameron’s Downing Street machine may have endured its biggest crisis so far over phone hacking, but at least its media strategy is working well in one area: defence cuts. As with October’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, bad news in defence is only cleared for release when there is enough other bad news to bury it. The SDSR announced the biggest defence cuts for 20 years, including cutting 7,000 soldiers, but with the spending review setting out even bigger cuts elsewhere the next day, the defence settlement didn’t make a single front page, and broadcast coverage was similarly muted. Likewise last week, when Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced that 10,000 more soldiers would be cut, even Telegraph readers had to turn past ten pages of hacking coverage before they saw it.

How much attention an announcement gets will always depend on what other news is around, and it would have been hard for any story to compete with the hacking scandal. But it is a shame for defence, because the Government’s treatment has been both dishonest and shambolic, and deserves greater scrutiny.

Fox’s dishonesty on Army numbers goes back many years. In opposition he repeatedly lied that Labour had ‘cut the Army by 10,000’: in fact, numbers remained fairly stable, and the Army was bigger in 2010 than 1997. He also promised that a Conservative government would give the Army ‘three new battalions’, a promise which Cameron endorsed in his Conference speech in 2007 at the end of another hard summer in Afghanistan and Iraq – a predictable move from a party which has long seen defence as an issue to be milked for maximum political effect. Some in the Army may be wishing they had paid less attention to these speeches and more attention to history. The bean-counters in the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have always wanted to cut the Army – it is so much easier than dealing with the bigger problems in the defence budget – and generally it has been Conservative ministers who give them the go-ahead, perhaps because they think they can get away with it. In the 1990s, they cut the Army by 35,000, alongside deep cuts in the defence budget and reductions in military capability. The script has changed – then it was the ‘peace dividend’ after the Cold War, now it is the deficit – but from the Army’s point of view, they could be forgiven for thinking history is repeating itself.

Even now, with the Government’s real agenda for the Army exposed, ministers are still not being honest. In early July, Labour’s Dan Jarvis, a former Parachute Regiment major, confronted Fox at the despatch box and asked him whether he had any plans for further cuts to the Army. Fox replied that ‘nothing has changed since the SDSR’. This was two weeks before he announced further cuts of 10,000 soldiers. When he did finally announce the cuts, he attempted to preserve some semblance of consistency with the SDSR by claiming that none of this would happen before 2015, and that when it did, it would be offset by more generous funding. That was contradicted yesterday by a leaked letter in the Telegraph from the head of the Army, suggesting that 5,000 more soldiers will indeed be cut before 2015, biting deep into the combat units which have been serving in Afghanistan.

We should not deny that there is a funding crisis in the MOD – even if its true nature tends to be obscured by the ministerial rhetoric rather than illuminated by it. There is also a case to be made for a smaller Army. In the continuing absence of an existential threat of the kind we faced in the Cold War, and with the nation losing its appetite for manpower-intensive counter-insurgency, ministers could have come out and argued for a redistribution of resources away from a standing army and towards new threats and new capabilities – like cyber security, or drones and other surveillance. But they haven’t had the courage, or strategic vision, to do so. Fox did try to use the Reserves Review to put a strategic spin on last week’s cuts, arguing that overall ‘deployability’, across regular and reserve forces, is the key – with a reformed and more deployable T.A. offsetting cuts to regular soldiers. Leaving aside the hypocrisy of Fox objecting to Labour questions about overall numbers (“they talk about total numbers all the time”, he complains, “but they do not talk about deployability”) given his own approach in opposition, this is an dangerous tack for a Defence Secretary who has announced a radical cut of one-third in, precisely, deployability. (This was tucked away on p19 of the SDSR document, glossed over by Fox and Cameron in their statements at the time: the admission that in future, in a one-off operation like the invasion of Iraq, we will be able to deploy 30,000, rather than 45,000; and that in an enduring operation like Afghanistan, we will be able to deploy 6,500 rather than 10,000.) (more…)

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Tuesday News Review

26/07/2011, 06:36:38 AM

Pressure piles on for Plan B

The Government could come under pressure later today to produce a ‘plan B’ for the economy if official figures show no sign of recovery.  City forecasts of 0.5% growth for the last three months have been trimmed back by most economists to around 0.1% or 0.2%, and some have even predicted the Office for National Statistics figures could show the economy contracting. Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted there is no room for fiscal stimulus through tax cuts or spending increases, and the only solution is to “get on top of your debt”. Labour has been calling for a economic plan B, saying the Government’s policy of tax rises and spending cuts to erase the national debt cuts “too far and too fast”. They point to earlier figures showing a decline of 0.5% in the final quarter of 2010 and growth of 0.5% in the first three months of 2011 as proof of the coalition’s ineffective grasp on the economy. – Sky News

David Cameron yesterday ruled out tax cuts or spending increases to kick-start Britain’s economy as ministers braced themselves for figures showing growth has ground to a halt. Official statistics to be released today are expected to show that economic growth fell to about 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of this year. Last night it emerged that the top civil servant at 10 Downing Street has raised concerns with the Treasury about George Osborne’s failure to kick-start growth. Jeremy Heywood, permanent secretary at No10, met senior officials in the Treasury and the Department of Business to order urgent action to tackle the problem. Confidential Whitehall documents are reported to have found that the Chancellor’s ‘growth agenda’ is failing to meet key targets. – Daily Mail

An unrepentant David Cameron prepared consumers and the markets for publication on Tuesday of gruesome growth figures by admitting Britain’s “path back to growth will be a difficult one”, but insisting no shortcut lay in either a fiscal or monetary stimulus. The chancellor, George Osborne, also set out his defence ahead of an expected political battering by claiming he had “turned Britain into a safe harbour in a storm” by focusing so rigidly on deficit reduction. He admitted: “There are risks to current and future growth.” The figures are expected to show Britain’s economy has flatlined for almost a year, contrasting with strong growth in Germany and, to a lesser extent, France. Most economists believe the economy ground to a halt in the three months to the end of June after a big slowdown in the manufacturing sector, which has been instrumental in preventing the economy sinking back into recession over the last 18 months. – the Guardian

EDL links probed

Police are trying to track down two Brits who agreed to fight a global anti-Muslim terror crusade with mass murderer Breivik. Before slaughtering 76 and wounding 97 in his sickening spree, Breivik, 32, posted a 1518-page terror plan on the internet. The Norwegian killer claimed he re-founded a fanatical group called Knights Templar Europe with “an English ­protestant” and “an English Christian atheist” in April 2002. The three held two ­meetings in London with five members from France, Germany, Holland, Greece and Russia – who Scotland Yard is trying to identify. – Daily Mirror

As further details emerged of the connections between Anders Behring Breivik and the English Defence League (EDL), the group’s founder warned last night that a similar attack could take place in Britain. The anti-fascist group Searchlight is preparing to release further information today about the killer’s links with the EDL. The EDL was the organisation mentioned most often by Breivik in the 1,500-page personal “manifesto” he posted online before embarking on his killing spree. EDL organiser Daryl Hobson wrote in an online posting: “He had about 150 EDL on his list … bar one or two doubt the rest of us ever met him, altho [sic] he did come over for one of our demo [sic] in 2010 … but what he did was wrong. RIP to all who died as a result of his actions.” However, a senior member said he understood Breivik had met EDL leaders when he attended the demonstration in March 2010, and described him as “very affable”. – the Independent

Boy George regrets recommending Coulson

George Osborne has expressed his regret for recommending Andy Coulson as the Tory party’s director of communications, as an opinion poll shows most people believe Rupert Murdoch‘s News Corp is not a fit and proper company to hold a broadcasting licence. Osborne said : “Of course, knowing what we know now, we regret the decision and I suspect Andy Coulson would not have taken the job knowing what he knows now. But we did not have 20/20 hindsight when we made that decision.” In a further development, lawyers Harbottle and Lewis have responded to a letter from the chair of the home affairs committee, Keith Vaz MP, setting out their inability to disclose information and naming the lawyer who originally advised News International. Harbottle and Lewis explained their previous unwillingness to disclose contents of advice they gave to News International on the scale of any illegal activity at the paper. – the Guardian

Health tsar launches scathing attack on reforms

One of the most senior doctors in the Department of Health today launches a scathing attack on NHS reforms. Sir Roger Boyle, who retired as the Government’s National Director of Heart Disease at the weekend, accuses the Health Secretary of squandering past gains in treatment because of his obsession with opening up the NHS to private contractors, at the expense of patients. Sir Roger told The Independent: “The allegiances [of the private companies] will be to their shareholders, not to the users of the services. If the market was going to work, the Americans would have cracked it.” Mr Lansley’s plans are “the ideas of one man acting without an electoral mandate”, Sir Roger added. Sir Roger says Mr Lansley had never bothered to visit him until a fortnight ago, despite his success in halving heart-disease death rates and slashing waiting times in the past decade, with minimal involvement by the private sector. – the Independent

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Reflections on the obvious

25/07/2011, 02:16:20 PM

by Pat McFadden

The woman doing the newspaper review summed up the predicament of the newspapers following the killings in Norway.  “How to make sense of the senseless” she said.  And in truth, it is hard to know where to begin.

I was struck by the motivations of the young people at the summer camp.  600 or so in a small country of a few million people, all dedicated to making their world a better place.  Debate, learning, sport and doing them all not alone but together with your friends.  What a contrast with the killer.

The papers at first assumed it was an act of Islamic extremism.  They were wrong.  Given the record of Islamic extremism in killing innocent people, you could see why the assumption had been reached for.  But no, this was a figure of the far right.  He was in fact a hater both of Islam and of any political force, like Labour, that tries to preach solidarity between peoples and tries to thrash out how we can all live together.

They have something in common, killers who hold either a warped version of Islam and have in recent years bombed underground trains, blown up marketplaces in the middle east and the far right.  This hatred of the “other”, this demonising of those who won’t follow the one truth, and the blaming of others for whatever grievance they nurse.

This is a great contrast with the motivations of the young people who had gathered for the Labour party summer camp.

Labour parties around the world try to match economic strength with the just society.  We stand against the notion that your lot in life will be dictated by the hand you were dealt at birth.  And we use the power of government to get the barriers out of the way.  We understand that there is little meaning to freedom if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from or you have no educational opportunity to put yourself in a position to use freedom.  So for us it is about making freedom real and about standing against that which holds people back.

We don’t always get it right in terms of how we do this.  Sometimes we get the balance wrong between our desire for the just society and how much money we ought to leave in people’s own pockets, to spend as they choose.  Sometimes we cling to policies that have outlived their use.  Sometimes our belief in the basic worth of every person has made us reluctant to spell out the need for a society with rules where people contribute as well as take out. Sometimes we have failed to appreciate that what we believe may be good for people may not be what they believe themselves.

And yet some version of this, how you match prosperity with compassion for our fellow human beings, is still what Labour parties all around the world have in common. And the key to success is to match this basic belief to the ever changing times.

By its nature, this is not an extreme idea.  It is unlikely to inspire zealots who seek the one truth.  But it is an idea worth cherishing and defending against those who hate it.

Labour parties operate in democracies, where mandates are given, but are by their nature limited.  “We are the masters now” is a poor lesson to learn from any election victory.  Election winners are given a mandate, but it is limited, both by the presence of those who didn’t vote for it and by the notion that a new mandate will have to be sought in a few years.

This is not an argument for a mushy relativism where every idea or opinion is thought equally valid.  But it is an argument for contested truths, where politics will always be debated, certainties always challenged and where a case has to be argued and won.

In one way or another, that is what was being taught at the Norwegian Labour party summer camp.

Pat McFadden is Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East.

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White, christian and right-wing: a terrorist liberals can hate with impunity

25/07/2011, 11:30:37 AM

by Tom Harris

Before the dust had settled on the terrorist attacks in Norway, even before the body count had been completed, some news organisations and individuals drew their own conclusions about the identity of the perpetrators. And got it wrong.

I was one of them.

Having seen an online report identifying islamists as the likely perpetrators, I tweeted that in the aftermath of the attack, there would still be some on the British left who would resume their role of apologists-in-chief for people whose intolerance of others put them firmly in the far right camp.

I got it wrong and I apologise. I should not have jumped to conclusions, especially not so early on in such a terrible sequence of events.

But (and of course there’s a “but” or I wouldn’t be writing this), the palpable relief that swept through the left when the identity of the terrorist was made known – a 32-year-old Norwegian christian fundamentalist – was revealing. Here, thank God, was a terrorist we can all hate without equivocation: white, christian and far right-wing.

Phew.

Since 9/11 the left has been wrestling with its liberal conscience. This “new” terrorist threat (which wasn’t new at all, even then) came from people with a different colour of skin and different religion to us. Weren’t we being racist in condemning them? (more…)

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Tom Watson is readers’ hackgate hero

25/07/2011, 08:00:54 AM

In a close fought contest, Tom Watson has emerged as the Uncut readers’ hackgate hero.  His intervention on David Cameron during the Parliamentary statement was the public’s choice for goal of the month with 26% of the vote, 4% ahead of his other entry, the questioning of Rupert Murdoch at the Select Committee which secured 22%.

Ed Miliband’s pivotal PMQ performance from the start of July was joint third with Dennis Skinner on 20% of the vote, followed by Steve Coogan on 12%.

In voting throughout Friday, Ed Miliband built up a solid lead over the chasing pack, but was overhauled on Saturday by Watson’s two entries. Despite a late rally on Sunday, Miliband was not able to catch Watson.

The vote reflects the pivotal role Tom Watson has played in doggedly pursuing this issue for the past few years as well as the quality of his contributions in the Parliamentary statement and the Select Committee hearing.

As the scandal has unfolded, the twittersphere has been abuzz with who would play the central characters in the inevitable movie. This being a British scandal, the casting choices are somewhat different to the Redford and Hoffman partnership in All The President’s Men.

Currently the hot favourite to pick up the plum part of Tom Watson is Nick Frost.

They’ve been tweeting and agreeing though who Simon Pegg will play remains unclear. But given the nature of a scandal which continues to grow and grow, there are bound to be some new casting opportunities that emerge in the coming days.

Chief amongst these will potentially be the role of George Osborne. Studiously silent throughout proceedings so far, he has all the makings of a villain who emerges in the third reel as the puppet master, pulling the strings. (more…)

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Monday News Review

25/07/2011, 06:57:59 AM

Gunman’s EDL links

Supporters of the English Defence League have blamed the Norwegian government’s immigration policies for the attacks that killed at least 93 people, provoking outcry from anti-fascist campaigners who are calling for the EDL to be classified as an extremist group. The comments come amid increased scrutiny of links between the man arrested for the attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, and the EDL. Since the attacks, campaigners have called for the EDL to be formally classified by the government as a far-right organisation, rather than a legitimate political entity. Nick Lowles, director of anti-extremist campaign group Hope Not Hate, said yesterday that the decision not to classify the EDL as an extremist right-wing group “severely limits the capacity of the police to gather intelligence on the EDL, its members and its activities”. The Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has said Norwegian officials are working with foreign intelligence agencies to see if there was any international involvement in the attacks. – the Independent

Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind the Norway killings that left 93 people dead, began his journey in extremist rightwing politics at a small meeting in London in 2002, according to his online manifesto, and may have attended a far right demonstration in the UK as recently as last year. In a 1,467-page document that contains chilling details of his preparations for Friday’s attacks, Breivik outlines his UK links, claiming he met eight other extremists from across Europe in London in 2002 to “re-form” the Knights Templar Europe – a group whose purpose was “to seize political and military control of western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda”. The manifesto, signed “Andrew Berwick London 2011″, contains repeated references to his links to the UK far right group the English Defence League. On Sunday there were unconfirmed reports from one of the organisation’s supporters that the 32-year-old had attended at least one EDL demonstration in the UK in 2010. – the Guardian

Lansley’s letter

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, has privately attacked the Government’s public-sector pension reforms in a letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury which has been leaked to The Daily Telegraph. Mr Lansley warns that the reforms outlined last month will not meet the Coalition’s “commitment to maintain gold standard pensions”. He says the proposals are set to prompt public sector workers to stop contributing to their pensions which “would increase pressure on the social security budget” as people rely on state benefits to fund their retirement. The Health Secretary describes parts of the reform proposals as “inappropriate” and “unrealistic” and warns they will hit women health workers particularly hard. The emergence of a Cabinet rift over one of the most toxic areas of Government policy is likely to alarm David Cameron, who is facing national strikes over the issue in the autumn. It had previously been thought that Conservative ministers were wholly supportive of the plans. – Daily Telegraph

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has privately attacked his own Government’s controversial shake-up of public sector pensions, it emerged last night. In a letter to Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, he appears to side with NHS staff rather than with his own Cabinet – describing elements of the reforms as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘unrealistic’. Mr Lansley’s views are likely to be seized on by unions, who have threatened national strikes over the controversial issue in the autumn. Previously Tory ministers were thought to be supportive of the plans. Under the reforms outlined by Liberal Democrat Mr Alexander last month, public sector workers will retire later, contribute more to pensions, and receive payouts based on average career earnings, rather than final salary. But in his letter, Mr Lansley said planned reforms would see more NHS workers opting out of the pension scheme – meaning they would be forced to rely on state pensions; costing the Treasury more. And he warned of a damaging wave of strike action in the Health Service, if the unions are ‘pushed too hard’. – Daily Mail

Too far, too fast

Fresh doubts over the efficacy of the Government’s economic medicine are expected be raised tomorrow after another gloomy set of figures underline Britain’s frail recovery. Labour is preparing to seize on the gross domestic product (GDP) figures as evidence that the Chancellor, George Osborne, has killed the recovery by cutting “too far, too fast” – notably by raising VAT to 20 per cent in January. Further evidence of a faltering economy emerged in a ComRes survey of 165 business leaders for The Independent. Asked about growth in their own sector, 26 per cent said it was decreasing, only 22 per cent that it was increasing while 47 per cent said it was staying the same and 5 per cent replied “don’t know”. Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, blamed the predicted poor figures on decisions taken at home rather than abroad. “We are making the mistake, even though we don’t have to, of undermining growth,” he said. “We’ve got the fastest cuts in any country other than Greece in all the world, and the fact is it’s not working.” – the Independent

Ed’s hacking bounce

Ed Miliband continues to profit from his decision to lead the charge against News International. The latest YouGov/Sunday Times poll shows that the Labour leader’s net approval rating is now higher than David Cameron’s for the first time since last September. Miliband’s rating is now -15, up from -21 a week ago and from -34 three weeks ago (before the Milly Dowler story broke), while Cameron’s is -16, down from -12 a week ago. Nick Clegg’s approval rating is unchanged at -42. However, it’s important to note, as UK Polling Report’s Anthony Wells does, that this simply means people think Miliband is doing a better job as Labour leader, not that he’d make a better prime minister than Cameron. A YouGov poll earlier this week gave Cameron a nine point lead over Miliband as the best PM. But, one hastens to add, this is the lowest lead recorded to date. Miliband has grown significantly in the eyes of the public over the last two weeks. Given that personal approval ratings are often a better long-term indicator of the next election result than voting intentions, this is encouraging for Labour. The party frequently led the Tories under Neil Kinnock, for instance, but Kinnock was never rated above John Major as a potential prime minister. – New Statesman

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Sunday News Review

24/07/2011, 09:08:03 AM

Balls piles pressure on Osborne

Ed Balls has piled the pressure on George Osborne ahead of the Tuesday’s GDP figures, claiming they will need to show growth of at least 0.8%. In an article for PoliticsHome, the Shadow Chancellor wrote: “Last year’s recovery has already been hugely undermined by George Osborne’s policies. Our economy has seen no growth at all over the last six months.” He added: “Simply to stay on track for his Budget forecasts… George Osborne needs Tuesday’s crucial figures to show growth of 0.8% in the second quarter of this year.” Mr Balls claimed that consumers and businesses have reined in their spending because they fear the Government’s impending spending cuts and tax rises, and said the Government had undermined consumer confidence by comparing Britain to Greece. He urged the Chancellor to “get his head out of the sand” and take “urgent action” to boost growth through a VAT cut and a repeat of the bank bonus tax. – PoliticsHome

George and his News International buddies

George Osborne’s relationship with News International will be thrown into the spotlight this week when the Chancellor is forced to publish details of every meeting with media executives since the election. The revelations are expected to step up pressure on Mr Osborne as a senior political strategist at the heart of the Tory party, and his role in persuading David Cameron to hire the ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications chief. Sources close to Mr Osborne confirmed that he flew to New York last December and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch, two weeks before Ofcom was due to rule on his bid to take over BSkyB. More details are expected early next week when the Cabinet Office releases details of every meeting between a cabinet minister and media executives and proprietors since May 2010. Mr Cameron released his meetings 10 days ago. A senior Whitehall source feared the release would be “hideous”. – the Independent

Questions over inquiry judge

Ed Miliband is considering demands by MPs for the judge in charge of the phone-hacking inquiry to be removed from his post after reports that he had socialised with members of Rupert Murdoch’s family. Sources close to the Labour leader said he shared the concerns raised over the impartiality of Lord Justice Leveson after it emerged that the judge attended two parties at the London home of Elisabeth Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman’s daughter who is regarded as the heir to the business, and her husband, Matthew Freud. David Cameron knew about the parties before appointing Lord Leveson to chair the inquiry into the scandal, Downing Street admitted… Lord Leveson attended two parties at the London home of Mr Freud and Ms Murdoch, on 29 July last year and on 25 January this year. A source close to the Labour leader said: “The Prime Minister must make clear whether he considered all aspects of the appointment [of Lord Leveson] properly. Ed is aware of and shares the concern about this.” – the Independent

New Labour and News International

Blair has… used the scandal to call for a wide investigation into the role of the media. “Both Ed Miliband and David Cameron are right to say that this is not just News International,” Blair told one interviewer. Dan Hodges, commissioning editor of the Labour Uncut website, and a commentator on the party, said he was not surprised Blair was reluctant to wade into the row. “A lot of Labour party members will find what comes out at the official inquiry [into the role of the press] about New Labour’s relationship with News International quite hard to take,” Hodges said. “Revelations about the depth of the relationship as it existed under both Brown and Blair are going to be uncomfortable for the party.” Indeed, Brooks confirmed to parliament that it “was under Labour prime ministers that I was a regular visitor to Downing Street and not the current administration”. Blair in particular has enjoyed a relationship with the tycoon that stretches beyond the political to the personal, continuing to socialise with the Murdochs after leaving office. This month it was alleged Blair urged Brown to persuade Tom Watson, the Labour MP who led the efforts to expose phone-hacking at the NoW, to back off. The claims were denied by Blair. – the Guardian

Sugar vs. Mensch

A war of words erupted between Alan Sugar and Conservative MP Louise Mensch on Twitter on Saturday over comments she made about alleged phone hacking at the Daily Mirror. Lord Sugar accused the MP for Corby of abusing parliamentary privilege during a culture, media and sport select committee hearing on Tuesday where she incorrectly claimed Piers Morgan had admitted hacking into celebrities’ phones when he edited the tabloid. Sugar launched the astonishing attack after she refused to repeat her claims outside the hearing because she would not be protected by parliamentary privilege and would leave herself open to being sued. He wrote: “Louise Mensch should be fired by Cameron for abuse of parliamentary privilege. Last night on Newsnight shown to be a liar. Media Wannabe”. Mensch responded that Lord Sugar should apologise for remarks he made about pregnant mums who are looking for employment, adding: ‘Your comments disgrace the Labour party.” – the Guardian

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