Archive for July, 2011

Let’s not let hacking scare off good candidates

23/07/2011, 01:30:15 PM

by Staynton Brown

Why is there such a small pool of people who want to put there names forward for selection?

Our politicians too often seem to have followed an all too familiar career path conveyor belt. From a decent university – to a thinktank –  to parliamentary researcher – to MP. It requires the need to think about one’s future from the earliest age, to manage a life. I’m sure many of the Labour shadow cabinet have followed this career trajectory and benefitted from attending meritocratic excellent state or private schools, with the support of educated parents. Tony Blair made reference to this in his updated paperback addition of A Journey.

Near the top of the list of reasons less people go for selection must be media scrutiny and intrusion. Before the phone hacking revelations, it was still a daunting prospect to know that you may have red top journalists and paparazzi digging into your personal life, forensically scrutinising every decision you have made in your life.

One of the most damaging consequences of the phone hacking revelations is that it ratchets up that climate of fear. Right now there are suspicions Gordon Brown had his phone and bank details hacked into for almost ten years. There have been reports that George Osborne may have been the victim of phone hacking. In fact, if you were in the news as a famous person or you just happened to have suffered from newsworthy personal tragedy, you were seemingly at risk of being a victim of hacking and pernicious media intrusion.

The forthcoming inquiries must be wide ranging, robust, credible and must deliver real change, where lessons are also learned by the Labour party. An unintended consequence of these more devastating revelations is the narrowing of the pool of talent willing to put themselves forward for elected roles in the Labour party, or get involved in Labour party politics. Media scrutiny was almost unbearable before, but these devastating revelations concerning NOTW must surely make many people even more nervous to put themselves forward.

This is not aided by the growth in social media. Many younger people are on Facebook and Twitter, or managing their own blog sites, with their work related reports and opinions automatically placed on the web. The level of self-censorship required in a new information age is a burden many do not want to bare. Especially when, if you raise your head above the parapet, you know they’ll be a media or politically led trawl of every recorded event in your life. It is then followed by the anxiety that you are at risk of the worst sort of subjective historical revisionism.

Without real change, imagine the future of who will make up the Labour leadership, inner circle, central office and aspirant candidates – a smaller coterie of people, carefully stage managing their professional careers from the earliest ages, following the same career paths, resulting in an even smaller group of identikit politicians and public leaders. Homogeneity of experience, culture and background should not define the Labour party.

Those in power and positions of influence might be unconcerned, but the lack of diversity of professional experiences and backgrounds at the heart and centre of our party will eventually damage us.

Staynton Brown is a Labour campaigner and member of Labour Values

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The week Uncut

23/07/2011, 10:00:51 AM

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

Michael Dugher takes us behind the scenes of PMQs prep

Dan Hodges Commons sketch: Cameron’s escape

Tom Harris stands up for the off the record whisperers and backroom briefings

Kevin Meagher says Cameron is on the ropes, but he’ll last the distance

Matt Cavanagh reports on Cameron’s broken policing promises

Peter Watt offers a very personal account of the need for a work/life balance

Atul Hatwal asks you to pick your hacking heroes

…and a letter from Tom Watson to David Cameron from last year over Mr Coulson

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Saturday News Review

23/07/2011, 06:50:25 AM

Tragic loss of life in Norway

At least 91 people were killed in yesterday’s terror attacks in Norway, police have said. Eighty four died when a gunman dressed in a police uniform opened fire at a summer camp for the youth wing of the ruling Labour party, hours after a bomb in the capital Oslo killed seven people. David Cameron said the attacks were a “stark reminder of the threat we all face from terrorism”. No British nationals are believed to have been affected by the attacks. A 32 year-old Norwegian man has been charged in connection with both the bomb attack and the shooting. – PoliticsHome

A Norwegian who dressed as a police officer to gun down summer campers killed at least 84 people at an island retreat, horrified police said this morning. It took investigators several hours to begin to realize the full scope of yesterday’s massacre, which followed an explosion in nearby Oslo that killed seven and that police say was set off by the same suspect. The mass shootings are among the worst in history. With the blast outside the prime minister’s office, they formed the deadliest day of terror in Western Europe since the 2004 Madrid train bombings killed 191. Police official Roger Andresen told reporters that the total death toll was now 91 and that a suspect was in custody being questioned for both assaults and is cooperating with the investigators. Though police did not release his name, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK identified him as 32-year-old Anders Behring Breivik and said police searched his Oslo apartment overnight. NRK and other Norwegian media posted pictures of the blond, blue-eyed Norwegian. – the Independent

Coulson under investigation for perjury

Andy Coulson, the prime minister’s former director of communications, is being investigated by police for allegedly committing perjury while working for David Cameron in Downing Street. The development renews pressure on the prime minister over his judgment in hiring the former News of the World editor and represents the third criminal investigation Coulson faces, adding to allegations that he knew of phone hacking while in charge of the tabloid and authorised bribes to police officers. Strathclyde detectives confirmed that they had opened a perjury inquiry centred on evidence Coulson gave in court last year that led to a man being jailed. Coulson was a major witness in a trial involving Tommy Sheridan, the former MSP who was accused of lying in court when winning a libel action against the News of the World. Coulson had been the editor of the Sunday tabloid when it ran a story accusing Sheridan of being an adulterer who visited swingers’ clubs. Sources say police will examine Coulson’s denial of any knowledge of phone hacking and payments to police officers at the Sheridan trial against the evidence held by the Scotland Yard investigation. – the Guardian

Osborne jetted off to NY for dinner with Rupert Murdoch

The Chancellor, George Osborne, flew to New York and had dinner with Rupert Murdoch two weeks before the media regulator was due to decide on whether to approve his takeover of BSkyB. The timing of the meeting will raise further questions about the close ties between senior members of the Coalition and Mr Murdoch’s media empire. The disclosure comes as the Cabinet Office prepares to publish for the first time details of all meetings between government ministers and media executives and proprietors for the first three months of this year. The Daily Telegraph can disclose that Mr Osborne flew to New York on a five-day visit on Dec 16 last year, to meet Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and a group of bankers. The day after arriving, the Chancellor met Mr Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp, for a “social” dinner with a small gathering of people. The Treasury refused to discuss who attended, but insisted that BSkyB was not discussed. – the Telegraph

Max Mosely questions Rupert Murdoch’s evidence

Max Mosley has called into doubt Rupert Murdoch‘s claim that he was unaware of the identity of the News of the World‘s chief reporter. During questioning at the Commons media select committee on Tuesday, Murdoch was asked by Labour MP Tom Watson: “In 2008, why did you not dismiss News of the World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck following the Mosley case?” Murdoch replied: “I’d never heard of him.” That reply surprised Mosley, the former motor sport chief who was the subject of a controversial NotW exposure of his private life. He recalled writing to Murdoch in March this year specifically about Thurlbeck’s role in the story and the evidence he gave when Mosley sued the paper for an intrusion into his privacy. Mosley won the case and was awarded damages of £60,000. The judge was critical of Thurlbeck and that was the burden of Mosley’s complaint to Murdoch in his letter. It was sent by post to Murdoch at the New York headquarters of his company, News Corporation, and also emailed to him on 10 March. In the letter, there are several mentions of Thurlbeck’s name. – the Guardian

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Cameron’s broken promises on policing

22/07/2011, 11:00:01 AM

by Matt Cavanagh

A few days before the general election, David Cameron famously promised that “Any Cabinet minister, if we win the election, who comes to me and says ‘here are my plans and they involve front line reductions’ will be sent back to their department to go away and think again.” As late as last September, home secretary Theresa May was insisting that “lower budgets do not mean lower numbers of police officers”. The breathtaking disingenuousness of these soundbites has been exposed again yesterday, as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary publish the first authorised estimate of how the government’s 20% cut in police funding, announced in October’s spending review, will affect police numbers – and in particular how it will affect the front line.

The report, based on detailed investigation of individual forces’ plans, estimates that 16,200 police officers will be cut between 2010 and 2015. This entirely undoes Labour’s investment between 2000 and 2010, taking police numbers back to 1997 levels.

There is undoubtedly scope for efficiency savings in the police. Some of these were already in train before the election (they are set out in Chapter 5 of the 2009 White Paper). But as is clear from the graph on p24 of the HMIC report, with 81% of police funding going on staff costs, and another 10% going on areas like transport and premises, the 20% cuts announced in the spending review were always going to cut deep into police numbers. (more…)

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Goal of the month: hacking special

22/07/2011, 08:36:23 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Readers pick from Miliband, Coogan, Watson, Skinner and er more Watson, for their Hackgate highlight

Around this time of the month we normally do a shadow cabinet goal of the month competition.

But this hasn’t been a normal month.

Hacking has been global front page news, and in amidst the shocking, tawdry and downright bizarre revelations, there have been some points of light that will be remembered for the right reasons.

We bring you five of those moments. Make your choice, vote and tell us which you rate the best.

1. Ed finds his voice

PMQs on the 6th July seems an age ago. On Monday this week, Michael Dugher gave us the inside story about this pivotal exchange on Uncut.

Back then, it was a risk to call for Rebekah Brooks to resign and the BSkyB bid to be referred to the Competition Commission. Plenty of folk on the Labour side were nervous about attacking News International so explicitly.

But as Ed Miliband sets out his case, even David Cameron begins to understand the strength of the case.

In the clip, at the start of Miliband’s first intervention there’s a cut away of Cameron sitting on the government benches. His puce, Colonel Blimp-like expression is the image of man on the wrong side of the argument.

One of the features of the declining years of the last Labour government was the number of times Ministers went out to defend unpopular decisions by hiding behind the obscure detail of government process. It defined the foot dragging approach on expenses.

Cameron’s response to Miliband’s first question is a case study in the dangers of governmentitis.

Its amazing that after just fifteen months in office, someone who is meant to be good at presentation explicitly mounts a defence of their position to such an emotive issue on “a technicality”

2. Knowing him Steve Coogan, knowing you Paul McMullan, a-ha!

On the 8th July, at the end of the first week of revelations, Newsnight hosted what has already become a legendary confrontation.

Steve Coogan pulverises Paul McMullan, a man who, through his media appearances, has done almost as much damage to News International as Glenn Mulcaire’s notebook.

There’s a clear point where something snaps in Coogan and he is straining at the leash to thump Mcmullan. But instead of lunging, he channels the anger and takes McMullan to pieces.

Coogan’s righteous onslaught perfectly echoes the feelings of a nation getting to grips with the extent of the scandal. Shock, revulsion and a growing anger.

McMullan’s limp and flailing body language is the visible representation of News International’s defence.

It’s a metaphor that remains just as appropriate today.

3. Tom Watson exposes Murdoch for what he is

Do you remember the scene in the third Indiana Jones film, where Harrison Ford comes face to face with Hitler?

Well there was touch of that about the first moments of the Select Committee session.

After years of tireless campaigning by Tom Watson, as well as many others, suddenly there they were, Rupert and James Murdoch, face to face with their previously insignificant and ignored inquisitors.

In the days before the session Tom had been playing down expectations. There weren’t going to be pyrotechnics, a single killer question or Few Good Men moment. Murdoch wasn’t going to crack, shouting “Parliament can’t handle the truth!”.

In a sense, Tom was right. There was no explosion, but something equally striking did occur.

This figure who has dominated the media for the best part of four decades was exposed for what he is – an ageing, out of touch, old man.

No doubt, part of the coaching Murdoch received before his appearance was to drill him to think carefully before answering. But to wait so long before uttering anything? And then to stumble over his words and facts?

This wasn’t Ming the Merciless, it was Elmer Fudd.

In terms of getting to the truth, Rupert Murdoch’s responses weren’t terribly helpful. But for the future of News Corp and the role of the Murdoch family in running a media empire, it may well be the turning point.

On the morning after the Select Committee performance, for the first time, News Corp’s big shareholders started to find their voice and organise to put in place some proper corporate governance – a process that will ultimately likely move the Murdochs out of the company.

Tom Watson’s revenge on Rupert Murdoch could yet be to destroy his media dynasty.

4. Cameron caught out by Watson

ITMA! No, not Tommy Handley, Tommy Watson (if you get that you’re older than you look). Not content with a star turn at the Select Committee, he made one of the key interventions in Wednesday’s hacking parliamentary marathon

Rising to respond to Cameron’s bald assertion that no-one raised any specific claims about Coulson with him when in government, Tom Watson catches Cameron clean out.

Studious, measured and precise, Tom Watson is the anti-thesis of the Prime Minister. He has been methodically driving this campaign forward, week in, week out for years.

In contrast, there is something David Gower-esque about Cameron – ability but insufficient application and prone to the same errors time and time again.

He doesn’t recall the letter. Or the fact he did actually respond. The jeers that greet the first words of Cameron’s response vividly illustrate the growing credibility problems he is facing.

His “tribute” to Tom Watson is so obviously a stalling tactic and the absence of any form of rebuttal confirms that it’s another skied catch from the PM.

Lack of attention to detail has become an established part of the media perception of the Prime Minister and is now part of the core part narrative for his government’s failings.

Fifteen months into office, Cameron is running down his credit with the public. Every time he slips up like this, he becomes a little less the Prime Minister, and little more the PR man.

A comment from the Sydney Morning Herald twenty-one years ago about Gower seems eerily prescient,

“Graceful, elegant, languid, indifferent, cavalier, diffident, reckless, and…too laid-back for leadership. As even his county chairman once observed: “Let’s face it, David does not give the appearance on the field of having the job by the balls.””

5. Skinner and the House laugh at Cameron

Laughter is the cruellest punishment in the House of Commons.

David Cameron’s took one hundred and thirty-six questions on his statement and to those who watched it at the time, overall, he came across as capable and combative.

But politics today isn’t about three hour debates.

It’s mediated through the packages for the news broadcasts. And for all of Cameron’s abilities, his obvious discomfort when answering questions on his discussions with News International about the BSkyB bid always meant he was going to struggle in the clips.

Eleven times Cameron was asked and eleven times he evaded.

Dennis Skinner provided the pick of the bunch.

The question isn’t the most eloquent, but Skinner’s presence carries the House with him. As Cameron squirms, the Commons erupts. Through the prism of the nightly news, this exchange showed David Cameron, literally as a laughing stock.

It’s been a long two weeks for the government. If any proof were needed of the impact of the crisis on their mood, it was written on the faces sitting on their front bench.

Nick Clegg doing his very best “nothing to do with me guv” expression. Every aspect of his body language is detached and uncomfortable. And on the other side, Theresa May, semi-slouched and with a face like thunder.

Regardless of the number of supportive backbench interventions enforced by the Tory whips, David Cameron remains very much a man alone.

So there they are, five magic moments from the hacking farrago. Vote now and tell us, and the world, your choice.

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Cameron’s on the ropes, but he will last the distance

21/07/2011, 04:13:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The parliamentary recess will be greeted by the prime minister in exactly the same way a wounded boxer welcomes the end of a gruelling round. Winded, bloodied and blurry-eyed, the prime minister staggers back to his corner. His legs are like lead. His arms ache. His body is battered and sore.

He put up a spirited defence in the Commons yesterday – penance for bobbing and weaving out of fronting-up the hacking issue on behalf of the government these past few weeks – but he is behind on points.

Despite his combativeness and bluster the reigning champ looked ring rusty. Belligerent where he should have been contrite, he struggled to read the fight and walked on the end of punches he is seasoned enough to avoid. His pledge to apologise if Andy Coulson is eventually found guilty of sanctioning phone hacking simply risks storing up the mea culpa to end all apologies.

“I’m enjoying this” he proclaimed amid the stinging blows; (an insensitive boast given the thousands of innocent victims swept in the phone hacking scandal) and a curious formulation for an under-fire Tory leader as it was last used by Margaret Thatcher in her swansong Commons performance.

Cameron’s technique, punching power and the strength of his chin have all been sorely tested these past few weeks – and more often than not they have been found lacking. As the unfortunate British heavyweight David Haye found to his cost against Wladimir Klitschko the other week, talking a good fight is not enough. (more…)

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Families need less tax and more time

21/07/2011, 07:00:31 AM

by Peter Watt

Four years ago my Dad died. He had suffered with cancer for a few years, which forced him to retire early. He appeared to have recovered, but in 2007 he suffered a relapse. After just six months, he died at home with his family around him. It was a terrible blow to us all, but we were all with him when we he died. If there is such a thing as a good death, this was it. Eight of his children, their partners, countless grandkids and his wife of nearly 40 years, my Mum, were all with him. We cried, said some prayers and goodbye as he slipped into a coma and then, mercifully, died.

Over the next few months I missed him terribly. He was my Dad, of course, but also my friend, my advisor and an oasis of calm. I had known him my whole life, after all, and at moments of great stress, when I was celebrating or when I was alone, the pain I felt was intense. At really unexpected moments I would find myself welling up and crying. I remember sitting on a train crying uncontrollably to the concerned looks of fellow passengers. Slowly the incidences of acute pain lessened in frequency. They still happened, they still do, but I was also able to reflect on his life and my time with him.

In reality, I only got to know my Dad well as an adult. When I was younger he was all too often absent. Why? Because he was working. In order to keep his family fed and watered and the bills paid, he worked hard, very hard. He wasn’t hugely well paid, not badly paid either, but his job was demanding and required him to be out early in the morning, often returning after we were in bed, and some weekend working. He was always tired. Not just tired, but stressed. And that made him pretty crotchety. At times he was bloody moody. The result was that for much of my childhood, he was either not there or when he was he was quite hard to get on with. My Mum was the central figure in our lives and we could go days without really seeing Dad. And then there are the cherished memories of the times when he was relaxed or a bit more open. (more…)

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Thursday News Review

21/07/2011, 06:50:35 AM

More evidence to come after gagging order lifted

The full extent of the alleged cover-up at the News of the World could be disclosed after News International bowed to pressure last night and lifted a gagging order it had imposed on its lawyers. In the latest development in the phone hacking scandal, Rupert Murdoch’s company agreed to release details of its dealings with Harbottle & Lewis, the lawyers who for four years held company emails containing details of wrongdoing at the Sunday tabloid. Documents held by Harbottle & Lewis, who act for the Royal family, have been described as the “smoking gun” that could prove that senior figures in Mr Murdoch’s empire were aware of hacking but tried to cover it up. Despite protests from MPs and pressure from the law firm, News International had refused to release Harbottle & Lewis from legal obligations of confidentiality, meaning that the lawyers could not co-operate fully with police and parliamentary inquiries. Last night the company relented and said it would allow the lawyers to disclose at least some of the information they hold to detectives and MPs. While the move could help to solve the mystery of the company’s response to the scandal, it remained unclear how much information would be disclosed, and whether it would be put in the public domain. – the Telegraph

A law firm blamed by Rupert Murdoch for failing to raise the alarm over evidence of police bribes at News International was last night given the go-ahead to put its side of events to police and MPs. Harbottle & Lewis, who also represent the Queen, was said to be furious at the allegations of wrongdoing made against it by the Murdochs but unable to explain why it did not hand over files to the police due to client-lawyer confidentiality. News Corp’s management and standards committee announced after 7pm yesterday, on a day when Parliament went into recess, that its British arm, News International, had given the law firm permission to answer questions from Scotland Yard and parliamentary committees. – the Independent

No “inappropriate” conversations

Number 10 has again insisted that David Cameron had no inappropriate talks over the BSkyB takeover. Labour have attempted to seize on comments by Jeremy Hunt that the Prime Minister had “conversations” about the deal. Mr Hunt was talking about discussions in general rather than conversations with News International executives, his aides later insisted. Labour’s Ivan Lewis said Mr Cameron had previously “refused point blank” to confirm conversations took place and that the Prime Minister “now has far more questions to answer”. – PoliticsHome

Hacking cops increased

The police team investigating phone hacking has been boosted from 45 to 60 officers, Scotland Yard has said. Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner Sue Akers said the move came after a “significant increase in the workload” over the past fortnight. Meanwhile, the investigation into alleged misconduct by newspapers may be spreading beyond News International. Police have asked for files of an earlier inquiry into the use of private investigators, the BBC has learned. According to BBC Radio 4’s The Report, the files from Operation Motorman, which was run by the Information Commissioners Office in 2003, were requested three months ago. They contain 4,000 requests from 300 journalists and 31 publications for confidential information from a private investigator, which in many cases had been obtained illegally. – the BBC

Balls slams Osborne

Deeper fiscal co-ordination among eurozone members is the only way to avert a “calamitous debt crisis”, Ed Balls said on Wednesday as he accused chancellor George Osborne of a “failure of leadership” before a crunch Brussels summit. Balls, Labour’s shadow treasury spokesman, warned that the UK government’s hands-off stance on Europe meant one of the top three economies in the EU was in effect abdicating responsibility for resolving a crisis that could engulf the British economy. He backed the creation of eurobonds to fund a bailout package that would also involve eurozone countries agreeing greater co-ordination and guarantees to protect member states’ debt mountains. He urged the prime minister, David Cameron, and Osborne to join leaders in Brussels to hammer out a deal. “There isn’t any possibility of getting through this crisis without at least a temporary eurozone-wide guarantee based on government-issued debt from countries at risk from contagion. Without that support the markets are going to continue to lose confidence. We need to face up to today’s problems. When you see Italian and Spanish bond spreads you can see the situation is incredibly dangerous,” he said. – the Guardian

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Commons Sketch: Cameron’s escape

20/07/2011, 06:23:38 PM

by Dan Hodges

And with a single bound, he was free. Well, at least that was the plan.

David Cameron had been cornered. After a week on the run he had finally been tracked down to the Southern-most tip of the Dark Continent.

“The world has changed”, we are told. Well it may have, or it may not. But when a Conservative prime minister runs half way round the globe to find political solace in the arms of the ANC, you know something is up.

Yet while he could run, he could not hide. And hounded by a vengeful head of the metropolitan police, a rejuvenated Labour leader, and an increasingly worried and fractious Tory party, he was forced to turn and face his pursuers.

They met at the despatch box of the house of commons. There is a myth that our prime minister is a natural performer in the chamber. In reality he often appears poorly briefed, distracted and easily provoked.

But credit where credit is due. Where many men would have been cowed, David Cameron came out fighting. “A torrent”, of allegations had burst forth, he said. He would confront them all. He apologised to the speaker, but his response would be lengthy and fulsome. It was what the country demanded, and deserved.

He announced a panel of inquiry to look into the allegations that brought the British establishment to its knees. The greatest political scandal for a generation would be investigated by Shami Chakrabarti, Elinor Goodman and George Jones. A grateful nation let out an audible sigh. Shami, Elinor and George. There would be no whitewash in Whitehall.

Then it was time to deal with the personal allegations that had been made against him. Or rather those made against his chief of staff. Ed Llewellyn had been asked by the metropolitan police whether the prime minister wanted a briefing on possible corruption and law breaking that penetrated to the heart of Downing Street. Not on your nellie, Ed had replied. Quite right too, said the PM. There would have been “justifiable outrage” had he attempted to investigate this cancer at the heart of his government.

There had also been allegations made against a man called Neil Wallis, a former police officer who had done a brief stint of consultancy as deputy editor of the News of the World. Somewhere in between his busy schedule he’d managed to slip in the odd bit of work for the Tory party. “To the best of my knowledge”, said the prime minister, “I did not know anything about this until Sunday night”. The fact that the leader of the Conservative party hadn’t a clue who’d been working for him had the Tory back benches roaring in delight.

There was one final point he needed to address. Andy Coulson. Serious allegations had been made against him, said the prime minister. If they were proven he would be arrested, charged, incarcerated, hung, drawn and quartered and have his entrails scattered to the winds. It would be fitting. He would have lied to him, the police, a select committee and court of law. It was a terrible mistake to have ever employed this cad. With hindsight, he should never have touched him with a barge pole. “But”, he said, “I have an old fashioned belief that you are innocent until proven guilty”. Andy Coulson would no doubt have been delighted to hear it.

Ed Miliband rose. You can always tell if Ed is going to be a little off his game. He starts to speak with an exaggerated precision. So when his first words sounded like the leader of the Labour party had been kidnapped and replaced by a slightly nasal speak your weight machine, we feared the worst. In fairness, there were a couple of moments when it looked like he was starting to pin Cameron down. But just as he did, smack, he’d run right into an answer the prime minister had just given.

“He’s clearly written his questions before listening to my answers”, taunted Cameron. You could see the relief flowing from him. Behind him it was cascading down the government benches like a wave.

He’d done it. He was free.

Then a figure in a dirty raincoat rose from the Labour benches. “Er…prime minister. Before you go. I forgot. Just one more thing”. It was Tom Watson. The prime minister claimed he hadn’t been warned about Coulson. But that wasn’t true. And he, Tom Watson, had the letter to prove it.

Cameron attempted to brush him aside.

“Not so fast”. It was Dennis Skinner. The prime minister has been asked twice if he had discussed the BSKyB merger. He hadn’t answered the question. So had he discussed it? Or hadn’t he?

The prime minister again tried to dodge his inquisitor. But the spring had gone from his step.

David Cameron had escaped. But he was still not free.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

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The economics of Tony Blair

20/07/2011, 07:35:43 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Tony Blair, according to his economics advisor as prime minister, isn’t much of an economist. In contrast – the only leader to take Labour to three general election victories – Blair is a politician par excellence. While others are better on economics, what Blair says and doesn’t say on the economy is politically insightful.

Let’s take four points made in his speech and the Q&A at a recent Progress event.

First, Labour should focus more on microeconomic debates and less on the macro-economy.

This seems an oddly technocratic point but reminds me of the view of Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy that “Labour needs a draw on the deficit and a win on growth”. I suspect I took Alexander by surprise when I asked how we achieve this at a CLP dinner earlier this year.

I also suspect that Blair is giving his answer. We get a draw on the deficit by maintaining a strong line that closes it on the trajectory first specified by Alistair Darling. We get a win on growth not by making arguments about the economy as a whole but by crafting a series of bespoke policy offers sector by sector.

The combined impact of these offers would enable a win on growth and creates a series of talking points with business, which, as Blair stressed, matters because we won’t have this win until we have a phalanx of leading business people prepared to back us.

Second, these are distinct questions:

–          How do we make sure the crisis never happens again?

–          How do we get the economy moving again?

Separating these questions misses the golden thread of confidence. The economy won’t be moving again until we have confidence in a brighter future. We won’t have this until steps are seen to have been taken to mitigate the risk of the crisis of recent years repeating. Rock bottom public confidence attests that this isn’t coming from government. (more…)

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