Archive for August, 2011

Revealed: £1.9bn surge in gambling as desperate Brits try to bet their way out of recession

26/08/2011, 08:00:27 AM

by Atul Hatwal

As George Osborne’s economic vice gets ever tighter, new HMRC figures show that struggling Britons gambled £1.9bn more than last year. It follows two years where the total amount gambled actually fell.

Based on government receipts from the duties levied on gambling since the start of this financial year, the projections for 2011/12 are of another big increase, by £3.5bn to £48bn.

This is the first time since government records began in the mid-1990s that gambling has risen while household incomes have fallen.

Earlier this year, a major survey by the gambling commission found that nearly three-quarters of Britons – 73% – had gambled in the past year, up from 63% in 2007 when the survey was last conducted.

Most worryingly of all, the numbers with a problem gambling habit was estimated to have risen to 451,000, an increase of 5% since 2007.

When in opposition, David Cameron was quick to position himself as an opponent of gambling.

In 2007 he over-ruled his shadow chancellor in opposing the Labour government’s plans on casinos and led the Tories in a U-turn on their previous commitment to support the proposals.

In the House of Commons, he was clear that his fears on problem gambling were at the heart of his concerns. Following the awarding of a super-casino for Manchester he said,

We congratulated Manchester, because we thought the review had been conducted properly, but then we found out that the decision to put it in Manchester, they hadn’t looked at really important issues, like will this encourage problem gambling”?

The current minister responsible for gambling, John Penrose, couldn’t have been clearer in his views in an EDM he tabled in 2006 on the problems of gambling addiction in his local area,

“I don’t want to see one form of addiction – drugs, being replaced by another – gambling”.

But since those early days in opposition, the Tories have adopted a very different approach. (more…)

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Dominique Strauss-Kahn is innocent

25/08/2011, 01:30:24 PM

by Dan Hodges

Was Dominique Strauss-Kahn on trial for rape? Or was he on trial for being a banker?

I ask that question because on Tuesday he was declared innocent of all charges, and freed. At least, I thought he’d been declared innocent. That was the story I read in the news reports. But the commentary that followed told a different tale.

In a nutshell: he did it. Forget the evidence. Or lack of it. Forget the fact that the case was so flimsy it never even got within a hundred miles of a jury. Forget ludicrously outdated concepts like presumption of innocence until proof of guilt. The guy’s a rapist. And he got away scott-free.

“What occurred in room 2806 will never be known”, wrote Hadley Freeman in the Guardian, before adding, “What has been proved, on an international scale, is that only women who have led lives as sheltered as Rapunzel and have memory recall as robotic as computers are capable of being raped. The rest are money-grabbing sluts with vaginal bruising”. (more…)

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What is party conference for?

25/08/2011, 08:00:01 AM

by Peter Watt

I have been pondering for a while what exactly party conferences are about. What are they for? This week Labour has announced that it will hold an “open day” at its conference in Liverpool.  Up to 2000 members of the public are invited to attend and can register online for a full day’s programme of policy discussions. Wednesday 28 September is described as:

“…the first of its kind from any political party, is an opportunity for you to join the conversation about the challenges our country faces and talk to Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, and the Shadow Cabinet face to face”.

I think that this is probably a good idea; well in a symbolic way at least. It sends a signal that the leadership is determined to open up the party beyond the dwindling band of party activists. And that has to be a good thing. It is clearly unsustainable for handfuls (relatively) of party activists to maintain the pretence that they alone should determine policy, choose candidates and so on. But does it go far enough and will anyone be interested? (more…)

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Will Rick Perry be the Republican Clinton?

24/08/2011, 12:53:57 PM

by Jonathan Todd

At the start of May I argued that President Obama was as vulnerable to a challenger emerging as the seemingly ascendant George W H Bush was at the same time in 1991. This view was then out of kilter with the beltway view of Obama as a two term president. Subsequently the US has suffered an unprecedented credit downgrade, its economy has continued to struggle and grumbles about Obama, most recently due to his holidaying at a “millionaires’ playground”, have got louder.

Republicans are increasingly confident that Obama is Jimmy Carter. But the election will be a choice, not a referendum on Obama. They need a more convincing choice to win. As the early Republican pacesetters have not convinced, the stage remains set for a Republican Bill Clinton.

To date, tea party favourite Michelle Bachmann has probably done the best job of appealing to Republicans with misgivings, such as Romneycare and Mormonism, about the frontrunner, Mitt Romney. There may be enough such conservative voters for Romney to be defeated in January’s Iowa caucuses. The former Baptist pastor Mike Huckerbee won in this first state to vote in 2008.

God isn’t calling Huckerbee to run this time. However, God is said to have called Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, as well as Bachmann. Either they are suffering crossed wires or God’s mind is yet to be made up. God wouldn’t be the only one. The Republican race is fluid.

While Rick Perry’s backing for the three-time married Rudy Giuliani in 2008 and rumours about his own marriage are concerns for some religious voters, his leading of vast prayer meetings enables him to pitch to the religious right. That 40 percent of new US jobs since June 2009 have been created in Texas, where Perry is governor, also creates the basis – though other aspects of Texas’ economy undermine this – for appeal to those (i.e. everyone) with economic worries. A candidate able to challenge Romney for his strongest card, economic competence, and rival Bachmann for the religious right vote has a shout of being the Republican candidate.

There are various ways that this could play out. (more…)

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Wednesday News Review

24/08/2011, 07:05:12 AM

Rebels hunt for Gaddafi

The massive green gates were blasted open after seven hours of ferocious fighting and exultant rebels poured into Bab al-Aziziya, Muammar Gaddafi’s fortress and the symbol of the regime’s bloody resistance in Tripoli. The fighters scoured through the complex shouting to each other that they had trapped the dictator in his lair. Frantic early searches failed to find the quarry and the revolutionaries were last night trying to locate a network of tunnels supposedly hidden inside the complex. Meanwhile, they tore down the regime’s green flag from the top of his home, which had been bombed in 1986 by US warplanes, and replaced it with the banner of the revolution. For the revolutionaries, frustrated and angry that their entry into the capital had not resulted in the immediate vanquishing of their hated foe, the fall of the bastion gave cathartic relief. They hugged each other amid repeated cries of “Allahu Akbar”. One of the fighters climbed on to the statue of a clenched fist, a symbol of defiance against the West, and raised his hand in a victory salute. Another statue, that of Colonel Gaddafi, was dragged out of a building by rope, the head torn off and tossed from hand to hand. – the Independent

Clegg in charge of Libya as Cameron goes on holiday… again

Nick Clegg has defended David Cameron’s decision to resume his summer holiday even though the Libyan crisis remains unresolved. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke after taking the Prime Minister’s place as chairman of the National Security Committee dealing with Libya. Mr Cameron is now on holiday in Cornwall – his third week of holiday this summer – with his family. He returned to London on Monday morning, before resuming his holiday again yesterday morning. Earlier this month, he also cut short an Italian holiday to return to work to respond to rioting in London and other English cities. The Deputy Prime Minister insisted that there was nothing wrong with Mr Cameron’s decision to return to Cornwall, saying that the Government could deal with the Libyan situation without him. “We as a Government work collectively very effectively. I regularly chair meetings of the National Security Council and have done so today,” Mr Clegg said. Mr Cameron is “in constant contact with other world leaders and leaders of the National Transitional Council in Libya, and that is exactly the way that we will continue to operate,” Mr Clegg said. – the Telegraph

Cameron red faced as details of NI payments to Coulson revealed

The Conservative party is struggling to defend itself against the disclosure that Andy Coulson, its former head of communications, received six-figure payments from News International while working for the party, despite having previously stated categorically that he had no other income. The party has been asked repeatedly about Coulson’s income, insisting that he was not paid by anyone else during his time at Conservative party HQ and in Downing Street. It offered comprehensive assurances that he had no other income as recently as last month, and apparently after seeking assurances directly from Coulson…. But in a sign of the continued loyalty to Coulson at the top of the government, senior sources in the Conservative party stressed that the severance payments were different from receiving a salary or co-payment from News International. The party refused to answer detailed questions about what assurances Coulson gave about his earnings, whom he had given assurances to, and when. – the Guardian

The Prime Minister is once again facing embarrassment over his decision to hire the former News of the World editor after the BBC reported Mr Coulson received hundreds of thousands of pounds from the newspaper group after he was hired by the Conservative Party. It is alleged that News International continued paying him in instalments until the end of 2007. If confirmed, it would Mr Coulson was receiving money from Rupert Murdoch’s media empire for at least five months while working as the Conservative’s Director of Communications, a role for which he was apparently paid £275,000 a year. The payments were said to be part of a “compromise agreement” following his resignation from the NoW after royal editor Clive Goodman was convicted of phone hacking. This morning, two of News International’s former editors said they did not receive any payment when they left the company. – the Telegraph

So now we hear that Andy Coulson was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by News International for several months when he was working for David Cameron’s Conservative party. This despite the fact that he let the Commons culture committee believe that he’d had no secondary income. It seems everyone in the Tory party is now running for cover. Nobody knew of anything untoward. Everyone is categorical in their denial. But what they surely cannot deny is that they never really did due diligence. This was a man who had resigned from the News of the Worldunder a cloud. One of his employees had gone to prison for hacking phones, along with a commissioned freelancer. Did anybody ask whether Coulson was still being paid by News International when he arrived at Conservative Central Office? If not, that would be culpable negligence on the side of the accounting officers at the Conservative party in my book. – Chris Bryant, the Guardian

MPs try to save cheques

MPs are battling banks’ plans to abolish cheques. A Treasury Select Committee has warned banks not to attempt to abandon cheques by stealth or deter customers from using cheques. It has also recommended that the Payments Council be brought under regulatory control to stop its “unfettered power to decide the future of cheques”. Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the committee, said: “The Payments Council is an industry-dominated body with no effective public accountability. It should not have unfettered power to take decisions on matters such as the future of cheques, that are of vital importance to millions of people. Banks have given customers the impression that the abolition of cheques was a foregone conclusion. This type of behaviour is unacceptable.” – the Independent

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Labour should back a co-operative rebuilding of finance

23/08/2011, 02:46:18 PM

by Peter Jefferys

Behind the noise of this summer’s events – the riots; phone hacking; Gadhafi’s fall – the great economic issues facing Britain have been largely muted. Of course had this not been a summer of scandal, war and looting, the huge losses and gains on the stock market and the dearth of growth worldwide would be much firmer in the public consciousness. People are already feeling this deep crisis through its ramifications: the rising costs of living and terrible jobs market. We are in a highly precarious position, with many comparisons made to the scale of the crisis in 2007/08 and we must pay close attention to the solutions being offered by the Government and our shadow team.

It is equally vital, though, for Labour to look beyond the day-to-day fluctuations of markets and even quarterly growth figures in order to form a vision for the future of the economy. The Shadow Chancellor has offered a sharp critique of the Government’s economic strategy, but Labour must also have a positive alternative for fairer financial services. A vision that would appeal to voters and reduce the risk of future crises – after all, financial services are at the heart of the current problems.

This is much more than simply advocating ‘banker bashing’ – short term measures of retribution on the city of London. We would do well to remember that financial services are integral to our economy and to the lives of citizens, access to credit and banking services are import right across the economy and our society. Rather, we need to think about long-term, sophisticated changes of emphasis in what sort of financial services we support.

Nowhere is this clearer than with the future of Northern Rock. Labour advocated an approach in the 2010 manifesto that would have seen Northern Rock depositors take back ownership within a new ‘Co-operative Building Society’. Re-mutualisation would reverse the failed Tory policy of allowing Building Societies to become risky shareholder owned banks and create a much safer organisation, unlikely to require a future taxpayer bailout. The Chancellor, however, has decided to flog-off the Rock with no consideration of its future business model. We have a petition to stop the sale here.

Beyond Northern Rock, we are campaigning for a greater emphasis on the role of financial mutuals – such as building societies and credit unions. Financial mutuals are member owned, rather than shareholder owned, meaning that business decisions are taken in the long-term interests of customers, rather than the short-term interests of capital. Labour did much in power to support financial mutuals, but more is needed to increase the diversity of financial services provides. Labour should support the creation of a ‘diversity index’ and corresponding diversity threshold for UK financial services, in order to ensure that such services are not dominated by a few, pseudo-monopolistic plcs.

We are also advocating a new international approach for the rating and regulation of financial products and services. Labour should support much needed reform to Credit Ratings Agencies (CRAs), the bodies which severely mis-rated financial products in the run up to the banking crisis and recently caused unnecessary woes through a downgrade of American sovereign debt, initially based on a $2 trillion miscalculation. The current business model of ratings agencies is a classic conflict of interest – CRAs rate the quality of financial products but are paid for by the same institutions that create and sell those products.

Just yesterday, the former head of Moody’s launched a stinging attack on CRAs, suggesting that there is a longstanding culture of intimidation and harassment within the companies from management to analysts, ensuring that ratings match the needs of clients (large financial institutions).

Given the failure of CRAs to adequately rate debt in the run up to the crisis and the current unnecessary pain caused to the American economy, the time is rife for reform of CRAs. The Co-operative Party advocates the creation of a UN backed mutual Credit Ratings Agency, to be funded by contributions from investors, member countries and debt issuing organisations. The mutual structure would ensure that no one funder has undue influence, giving far greater credibility to ratings issued. This is a great ambition for Labour to get behind, as it puts democracy at the heart of the international financial system.

These policies offer the basis of a co-operative vision for the future of financial services that Labour could get behind. Injecting democracy and other co-operative values into financial services would provide a positive Labour Co-operative alternative to the Coalition’s inaction and de-facto endorsement of the status quo.

Peter Jefferys is the policy and campaigns officer of the Co-operative party

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The second life of Keith Vaz

23/08/2011, 10:00:42 AM

Garlanded as the first Asian MP in modern times, when elected in 1987, Keith Vaz has often hit the headlines.

Vaz is the great survivor: his propensity for self-reinvention is notorious. From campaign group member to New Labour minister. From Eurosceptic to Euro-enthusiast. His chutzpah is legendary. Joining Muslim marchers opposing the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses back in 1990, he is even said to have offered words of support to the author too.

Starting as a Parliamentary bag barrier, when Labour came to power in 1997, he rose quickly, becoming a minister in the Lord Chancellor’s department before landing one of the plum jobs in government as minister for Europe in 1999.

By now a devout euro-enthusiast, Vaz held this position for two and a half years before resigning at the 2001 general election, citing ill health, caught up, as he was, in the Hinduja brothers’ passport scandal. (more…)

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Tuesday News Review

23/08/2011, 07:00:20 AM

Coulson continued to be paid by NI

Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World who has been arrested on suspicion of involvement in phone hacking and bribing the police, received several hundred thousand pounds from News International after starting work as the Conservative Party’s Director of Communications in July 2007. These payments were part of his severance package, under what is known as a “compromise agreement”. According to sources, Mr Coulson’s contractual leaving pay was given to him in instalments until the end of 2007 – which means he continued to be financially linked to News International for several months of his tenure as David Cameron’s main media adviser. The disclosure that Mr Coulson maintained a financial relationship with News International after moving into a sensitive role in the Tory Party will be controversial. According to a senior member of the government, Tory Party managers at the time say they were not aware Mr Coulson was receiving these payments from News International while employed by the Conservative Party. – the BBC

The Electoral Commission is to be urged to hold an investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire was covertly funding the Conservative Party while David Cameron was leader of the opposition. The call from the Labour MP Tom Watson, who has played the lead role in uncovering the telephone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s former newspaper the News of the World, follows a BBC revelation about large payments to David Cameron’s former spin doctor, Andy Coulson. Mr Coulson resigned from the editorship of the News of the World early in 2007, after the newspaper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman and the private detective Glen Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking. – the Independent

David Cameron is facing fresh questions about his decision to hire Andy Coulson in 2007 after it was reported that his former communications director received several hundred thousand pounds from his former employer News International after he was hired by the Conservative party. The BBC’s Robert Peston said that Coulson received cash payments from the company until the end of 2007 after his resignation as editor of the News of the World in January of that year. Coulson resigned after Clive Goodman, the former royal editor at the paper, which was closed last month, was jailed for illegally intercepting voicemail messages. The title’s owner News International allegedly agreed to honour the remainder of Coulson’s two-year contract, and the money was paid in instalments. Coulson also continued to receive other benefits, including private health insurance and a company car, for several years. – the Guardian

Cameron returns from holiday as Libyan rebels take Tripoli

David Cameron will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Libya (NSC-L) today after cutting short his holiday, Downing Street said. The Prime Minister returned to London from Cornwall last night as euphoric Libyan rebels swept into Tripoli. Scenes of jubilation broke out in the capital’s Green Square today as Colonel’s Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year rule appeared to be crumbling. Gaddafi last night issued a fresh appeal on state television for Libyans to save the capital. In a series of audio messages, he called on his supporters to march in the streets of the capital and “purify it” from “the rats”. He was not shown in the messages. The near-collapse of the regime will come has a huge relief to Mr Cameron, who combined with French president Nicolas Sarkozy to launch international airstrikes to protect the rebels last March. – the Telegraph

This time David Cameron didn’t mind interrupting his holiday. Two weeks after cutting short his main summer break in Tuscany because of the riots, the Prime Minister broke another family holiday in Cornwall to handle Britain’s response to the dramatic endgame in Libya. After taking a high-stakes gamble by calling for international intervention six months ago, Mr Cameron could hardly be blamed for wanting a share of the limelight when Muammar Gaddafi’s regime finally crumbled. Yesterday Mr Cameron addressed TV crews outside Downing Street and was quick to speak by telephone to Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC). But other leaders were also determined to grab the credit in what became a rather unseemly race. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, invited Mr Jalil for talks in Paris tomorrow. France plans to host next week a meeting of the “contact group” of nations trying to stabilise Libya since the anti-Gaddafi uprising began. – Independent

Cabinet at war over gang plans

The all-out war that David Cameron promised to wage on gangs after the August riots is threatening to turn into one between government departments. The Prime Minister appointed the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith as joint heads of the so-called “gangs committee”, which held its first meeting last week. But already it has run into problems because Mr Duncan Smith, who spent months in opposition working on problems of social exclusion, has long-term plans to set gang members back on the straight and narrow. He wants to introduce an anti-gangs strategy modelled on those tried out in Boston, Massachusetts, and in Strathclyde, both of which were highly praised by David Cameron. But his ambitious proposals are not popular with the police, who face drastic cuts to their budgets and object to the potential cost. – Independent

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Monday News Review

22/08/2011, 07:42:07 AM

Rebels reach Tripoli

Rebel fighters celebrated victory in Tripoli’s Green Square last night as heavy fighting continued in the capital. Hours after Colonel Gaddafi congratulated his forces for standing firm, his son Saif al Islam was arrested by the opposition, the International Criminal Court confirmed. The rebel troops landed by sea to re-inforce an uprising inside the capital, signalling that the bloody endgame to the civil war was fast approaching, with revolutionary forces surrounding the city. The regime sent tanks into residential areas and opened fire on protesters in an attempt to claw back control. Gaddafi turned thousands of troops on opposition members inside the capital, with claims from fleeing residents of homes destroyed and roadside executions. But some of the rebel fighters entering Tripoli from the western side of the city were greeted by cheering crowds late last night, with some people tearing up portraits of Gaddafi. Mohammed Ilyash, an engineer, one of those celebrating, declared: “This is the birth of new Libya. We are seeing our country coming out of a dark and frightening time. We welcome our young men who are bringing us freedom.” His friend, Omar Ali Baidi, added: “We now want to see justice catch up with Gaddafi and his family.” However, ferocious fighting continued at other parts of the city late into the evening as Col Gaddafi, in an audio broadcast, called on the people of Tripoli, including women, to resist the “collaborators with the imperialists”. – the Independent

Hundreds of rebel fighters pushed into the centre of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, late on Sunday as their battle to overthrow the 42-year rule ofMuammar Gaddafi moved closer to ending in victory. Rebels waved opposition flags and fired guns into the air in jubilation after reaching Tripoli’s central Green Square, the symbolic heart of the city, in the early hours of Monday morning. Delighted residents were seen pouring into the streets to celebrate and greet the rebel fighters as they advanced through the suburbs towards the centre. The prosecutor of the international criminal court said one of Gaddafi’s sons, Saif al-Islam, who has been indicted along with his father on crimes against humanity charges had been detained. The head of the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Abd el-Jalil said that his fighters who had detained Saif al-Islam had been given instructions to “treat him well”. There were also reports that Gaddafi’s eldest son, Mohammed, and the presidential guard had surrendered but Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound was still under the control of the regime. – the Guardian

Little real action to reduce gangs

“Gang-busting” measures championed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith are in doubt because of budget cuts.  Waltham Forest Council yesterday attacked the Government for failing to support a best-practice gang-tackling project. The East London council claims the project, which has been running since January, has been an “uphill struggle” because of funding shortages. In Birmingham today a man will appear in court accused of the murder of three men hit by a car during the 10 August riots. The three men were protecting the Winson Green area from looters when they were struck. – PoliticsHome

Prince Charles’ charities push government for support

Prince Charles’s charities have lobbied government ministers and senior officials to change policies on politically sensitive topics including VAT rates and regional development spending, according to letters and emails obtained by the Guardian. In a series of interventions that will re-ignite debate about the Prince of Wales’s alleged “meddling” in politics, charities set up by the prince in line with his social and environmental goals have called on the government to change policies. Business in the Community, a charity of which Charles has been president for 25 years, urged the business secretary, Vince Cable, to rethink a decision to scrap the Northwest Regional Development Agency, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. In another case, the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment urged the local government minister, Grant Shapps, to incorporate greater community engagement in planning and promoted its own planning work around the country as something for him to consider in the national planning policy framework. – the Guardian

Gimmick: take your minister to work day

The government has been accused of using “gimmicky” policies over a scheme to get families into work. The project, revealed yesterday, will involve ministers volunteering to mentor a family in which two or three generations have not worked. The politicans involved include Tim Loughton, the Children and Families Minister, and the Employment Minister Chris Grayling, The Sunday Times reported. The Department for Education confirmed Mr Loughton’s involvement, but Mr Grayling told Sky News that his participation was “news to me”. Vernon Coaker, the Shadow home office minister, dismissed the idea as “gimmicky”. He said: “It smacks of something that gets a headline, but what is going on underneath?” – the Independent

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The week Uncut

21/08/2011, 08:38:05 PM

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

Atul Hatwal on Cameron’s super cop

Dan Hodges knows which side he’s on

Kevin Meagher says Labour should recover its patrician socialist streak

Anthony Painter’s Sunday review: Visions of England

Peter Watt thinks politics is boring and irrelevant

Jon Todd thinks Cameron is a second rate Ted Heath

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