Archive for October, 2011

Cameron’s history notes 1: Achilles, revisited

31/10/2011, 09:48:16 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, David Cameron had a bad week. But it’s important to understand what kind of bad week. He’s had not a defeat, but a sour victory in the Commons against his own rebels. But so did Tony Blair on two memorable occasions – Iraq and tuition fees – when he feared that he might have to resign, and didn’t. These things, although nerve-wracking at the time, are to some extent part and parcel of being a prime minister.

The extent of the defeat, though large, was to be expected over an issue as touchy as Europe and the relative weakness of his electoral position. However, neither does his government look “in office but not in power”, as Norman Lamont described the Major government. And his rebuke by Sarkozy, for trying to interfere in a subject, the euro, which Britain long ago put on the long finger, was also to be expected.

Many have adversely criticised his handling of the Commons vote, saying that he was looking for a fight; but it is hardly his fault that half of his backbenchers defy rationality on this subject. And some believe that, despite the bad headlines, he called it right. (more…)

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The week Uncut

29/10/2011, 12:18:23 PM

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

Jim Murphy MP on the PM’s problem with Europe

Anthony Painter reviews What makes people tick

Peter Watt thinks “same old Tories” still trumps “same old Labour”

Jonathan Todd on Gaddafi and human rights

Adam Richards on Europe and the economy

Kevin Meagher’s take on workforce reform

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Workforce reform will support not attack our public services

28/10/2011, 07:46:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The answer, we believed at first, was more spending. Our dilapidated public services had become so because the Tories had run them down during the 80s and 90s. Catch-up investment was necessary. And Labour delivered it with gusto: doubling the amounts spent on education and trebling the NHS budget.

Then we realised that investment was not enough; there was a need for reform of our public services too. So we introduced performance management and targets. Resented by some public sector professionals, they were at least an attempt to iron out the differences in the quality of service provision across the country.

But we never quite got round to the last part of the puzzle in improving public services: workforce reform. This was always a no-go area for Labour ministers, even for the most swivel-eyed Blairites. Where, broadly, Brownites emphasised resources and Blairites structural reform, no-one wanted to be seen to imply that our teachers, nurses and police officers were not doing a good job.

But the evidence shows that too many of them simply are not. (more…)

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“Same old Tories” trumps “same old Labour”

27/10/2011, 07:30:50 AM

by Peter Watt

Politically, life suddenly seems a little easier at the moment. Well from a tribal Labour perspective anyway. The last few weeks have been dominated, domestically, by stories and events that are, on the face of it, very bad for the government, and therefore good for Labour’s electoral prospects.

The economy is flat lining at best and possibly dipping into a downturn. Unemployment is rising and the private sector isn’t creating jobs as fast as the Tories hoped. And all of that before our friends in France and Germany finally decide, or more worryingly don’t decide, how to save the Euro and at who knows what cost to the rest of us.  Then there is the NHS which the Government seems intent on screwing up.

I actually don’t buy into the line that says the NHS is about to implode, but what is in little doubt is that the Lansley “reforms” have been a right cock-up from the start, unnecessary at best and gratuitously stupid at worst. And then there are rising crime levels, increased levels of public and business pessimism and Liam Fox reminding people of the impression of corruption that dogged the Tories in the past. (more…)

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60 more seconds: 60 more votes

26/10/2011, 06:00:01 AM

by Adam Richards

A former colleague, now a journalist, took to tweeting an exasperated message because his newsroom hadn’t picked up on the political [in]significance of the EU debate that took place last night. Nor did the BBC it seems, who took nearly an hour to feature the story on their site, at the bottom of the newsfeed.

With the government moving the debate forward so that David Cameron and William Hague could [not] attend it seemed to appear out of nowhere. The newspapers covered the story over the weekend and the majority of pundits, from the left and right, focussed their ire towards the Conservatives, with only a couple foolishly believing Cameron would come out of it strengthened. Today’s media coverage seems to confirm this. In a flash, Cameron has suffered an embarrassing erosion of his leadership.

When Tories debate Europe time goes backward. It is a common mistake to believe the digital clock in the chamber represents time; it is the number of Conservative voters jumping ship. As sure as tick follows tock, Tory followed Tory and story followed story. There aren’t many more satisfying things than watching Jacob Rees-Mogg on telly – he is after all a walking talking party political broadcast for Labour. There were wry smiles allround when his honourable colleague intervened and he was granted a further 60 seconds on the floor. 60 seconds, 60 votes, thank you very much, sir. (more…)

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Major was fearful, Cameron is hubristic – the result is the same

24/10/2011, 01:09:05 PM

by Jim Murphy MP

People watching political events unfold over the last few weeks will have felt a sense of familiarity. A minister resigns amidst scandal. Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers threaten mass revolt. Inflation and unemployment are steadily high while the government looks on. A party of government turns inwards when the country seeks leadership. A prime minister appears at the mercy of events rather than in charge of them.  This is the Conservative government in the early 1990s, but now David Cameron has taken the role of John Major. And just to complete the set the Stone Roses have announced they are reforming.

We all remember the sleaze scandals of the 1990s. A minister resigned after lobbying on behalf of a businessman.  Two PPSs and two ministers resigned following ‘cash for questions’.  Current minister Alan Duncan resigned after making £50,000 from a deal on a council house. Jonathan Aitken was accused of secretly doing deals with Saudi princes and then sent to jail for perjury. And we do not need reminding of ‘toe job to no job’.

The Fox resignation was a different type of crisis.  Liam Fox was found to have broken the ministerial code on multiple counts. His unofficial adviser was used to orchestrate a shadow political operation which undermined the civil service. He appears to have solicited undeclared donations.  His and Mr Werritty’s funders have well established links to the Conservative party.

The nature of the wrongdoing has been clear for some time, but the full extent has yet to be revealed by a prime Minister who has refused to take responsibility for a crisis that happened on his watch inside the most sensitive of government departments. David Cameron will still not answer our questions.

In a similar way as John Major’s “back to basics” speech jarred with the actions of his ministers and MPs, so David Cameron’s words in the ministerial code “We must be…transparent about what we do and how we do it…above improper influence” jar with his actions during the Liam Fox scandal.

David Cameron may not have labelled some in his party as ‘bastards’ over Europe, but few would bet against him sharing that sentiment at the moment. Just as with John Major, at a vital moment for the future of the EU and therefore Britain a Tory government is debating internal party politics.  Rather than engaging seriously with the Treaty which led the EU to come into existence John Major was desperately scrabbling for votes in the House of Commons.  Rather than concentrating on the growing crisis gripping the European economy David Cameron is having showdown meetings with his MPs. (more…)

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Alone in Sirte

24/10/2011, 12:35:01 PM

by Jonathan Todd

Human rights, by definition, are held by all humans. In spite of Lockerbie, Yvonne Fletcher’s murder and his tyrannical 42-year misrule of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi was human. He, therefore, deserved a fair trial in a Libyan court or in The Hague. That he would certainly have been found guilty before such a court does not detract from the belittlement, both of those denied and those who deny, inherent in denying fundamental human rights.

Justice can never come from the mob; only vengeance. No matter how understandable the desire for vengeance, it is not justice. It is wonderful that Libya now has a chance for freedom, so long prevented by Gaddafi. The West should respond with a carrots and sticks offer of support as transformative as that offered to Eastern Europe by the EU after the fall of communism. But it would be a more fitting and solid foundation for this epoch had it begun with an act of justice, not with what seemed more like the fall of Mussolini than the Nuremburg trials.

No one is quibbling in Libya now, I know. Still, to have the despotic brought to heal by institutions of justice seems, in the longer run, likely to be a more cathartic basis for the oppressed to recover than to visit violence with violence. This catharsis is rooted in showing that order now comes from the rule of law, not from crude strength or even a golden gun. History teaches us that violence tends only to beget more violence. (more…)

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The week Uncut

23/10/2011, 06:25:36 PM

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

Tom Harris on the weirdos in Westminster

Dan Hodges reviews Matthew Collins’ Hate

Michael Dugher says DC cares more about Fox than about you

Matt Cavanagh on the government’s record on crime

Peter Watt remembers Tony Gardner

Kevin Meagher thinks Fox is just the beginning

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What makes people tick, by Chris Rose

23/10/2011, 12:00:44 PM

by Anthony Painter

It has been clear for some time that class-based models of political behaviour have weakened to the point of uselessness. The question is what to replace them with. Human beings are not just a set of individuals impervious to external influence. In fact, we are deeply influenced in ways that we don’t realise. It turns out that that what drives us is values.

Values are the deep undercurrents of individual motivation. They heavily influence our shopping habits, our choice of partner, our cultural interests, our work, and our politics. We don’t just wake up one day and decide that we are going to hold a certain set of values. It is something which occurs in response to our needs. If we are hungry then our values will gear us towards abating our hunger. If we need the esteem of others then our values will guide us in that direction. And if we need to attain ethical wisdom then that is what we will spend our time doing.

It is these deep values that Chris Rose explains in this powerful and exciting look at what makes humans tick. Maslow was right: we do have a hieracrchy of needs and this book presents the evidence behind the theory. It is built around decades worth of data about values and value shifts in society. The evidence base comes from a guy called Pat Dade who runs a company called Cultural Dynamics. I’ve met Pat on a number occasions and he is one of the most inspirational people I’ve come across in my professional life. This book explains his life’s work. Anyone engaged in politics, business, human association of any kind who hasn’t read this book is missing the full picture. It’s all in here.


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The government’s complacency about rising crime will hurt them in the end

22/10/2011, 04:00:55 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The government must have been grateful for the news of Gaddafi’s death this week, not just for the symbolic ‘closure’ of the Libya campaign, but also for distracting the media pack from a troubling set of quarterly crime figures, and from their own clumsy response to them.

When the previous set of quarterly figures came out, ministers tried to spin them as a ‘vindication of their reforms’, despite those reforms having hardly started – and despite the figures themselves being mixed at best. This time, ministers are trying to spin the figures as mixed, when in fact the bad news clearly outweighs the good.

The figures cover the year ending in June – so not including the riots – and show overall recorded crime down, though there were rises in recorded instances of serious sexual crimes, in some categories of theft, and in knife crime (though provisional figures for knife homicides are stable, at just over 200 per year). But – as the UK Statistics Authority impressed on the Conservatives before the election, and as they have now accepted – a far better guide to crime trends is provided by the British Crime Survey, which has used the same methodology for thirty years. The latest BCS results, published at the same time, estimate a 10% rise in burglary, a 7% rise in household acquisitive crime, a 7% rise in theft from the person, a 3% rise in robbery, and a 3% rise in violent crime. They also estimate an overall rise in crime of 2%, with the proviso that this overall rise, along with the apparent rises in several of the individual categories, is ‘not statistically significant’ – the phrase which a Downing Street spokesperson rather unfortunately seized on in trying to play down the figures.

It remains true, as I wrote after the last quarter’s results, that it is too early to be sure about the nature of the trend. This might be a blip, of the kind we saw in 2008-09 when the recession began, and when Conservatives and Liberal Democrats reacted to a much smaller increase in burglary by predicting a ‘recession crime wave’ – which actually turned out to be a rise of 1%, followed by a resumption of the falling trend. Or it might be a sign that the long downward trend since 1995 is flattening out, to be replaced by annual fluctuations. Or, the bad scenario, this might be the start of a belated surge in crime associated with the state of the economy, of the kind we saw in the early 1990s. (more…)

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