Archive for February, 2012

Where is Labour’s Steve Hilton?

29/02/2012, 01:20:18 PM

by Peter Goddard

“We need a new brand.”

It’s a question marketers often dread from a customer. This is because, nine times out of ten, what they are really asking for is a new logo, a strapline and a colour scheme.

This is not a brand. Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap defines a brand as “A person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company,” which is as good a definition as any.

Because the brand is, in fact, this relationship with the customer, it is vastly more likely to be the defined by a customer’s experience with your organisation than by your “look and feel”.

Of course, your logo is part of this. If your brand is your personality, your logos and straplines can be likened to your clothing. An outfit may be useful for forming a first impression, but eventually you will be judged by your actions.

This is something clearly understood by Steve Hilton, the nearest politics currently has to a new master of the dark arts since Peter Mandelson’s glide back into the shadows.

Hilton managed to turn around the popular view of the Conservatives as the nasty party and re-invent David Cameron as an electable prime minister. Whether it was hugging a hoodie, doing aid work in Africa or talking about “voting blue and going green”, something worked.

Enough voters changed their gut feeling about this Tory leader to put David Cameron in number ten.


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What’s the government got against children?

29/02/2012, 07:00:03 AM

by Michael Dugher

Today Sarah Teather, the Lib Dem minister for children and families, will be questioned by a cross-party group of MPs following a damning report by the all-party parliamentary group on Sure Start that said that, the UK is facing a “childcare crisis”.

The report highlights that fewer than half of all councils are able to provide adequate help for working parents.   Last week, I appeared on the BBC’s Any Questions? alongside Sarah Teather.  When asked what the government should do in the forthcoming budget she said: “One of the most important things is to put money back into families’ pockets”.  I nearly choked on my BBC mineral water.

The truth is that life getting more difficult for many families with children.  This was highlighted again on Monday by the national childcare charity Daycare Trust, which revealed that 44,000 fewer families have received help with childcare costs since cuts to tax credits took effect last April.  Furthermore, by cutting the maximum level of support available through the childcare element of the working tax credit, the government is taking an additional £500 per year away from many low-income working families.

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Just two weeks ago, the shadow treasury minister, Cathy Jamieson, revealed that 200,000 households, including 470,000 children, will lose tax credits worth almost £4,000 a year unless they significantly increase their working hours.

Due to changes that will come into effect in April, couples with children will have to work a total of 24 hours a week, rather than 16 hours, to qualify for the working tax credit.  In Barnsley alone, this could affect over 750 households and 1,400 children.  At a time when many employers are reducing, not increasing, the hours for part-time employees.  The government seems, perversely, to have a ‘work to welfare’ policy.

Government policies are also forcing many Sure Start children’s centres to close; centres which have been so successful in helping families and communities in poorer areas.  The government claims it is still committed to Sure Start, but figures revealed by Labour show that Sure Start budgets have been slashed in 83% of England’s local authorities.  The average decrease in real-term budgets was 11%last year and will be at least 21%this year.  Children’s charities, such as 4Children, have rightly voiced their concerns about the potential impact this will have on child poverty.


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Cameron’s war on all fronts reaches Stalingrad

28/02/2012, 12:00:26 PM

by Kevin Meagher

This July marks the seventieth anniversary of the start of the battle of Stalingrad, one of the key turning points of the second world war when the reckless German advance east was halted by the implacable might of the Soviet Union. Thus began the inexorable pushback to that bunker in Berlin.

David Cameron, a student of history, should take heed. He faces his own mini-Stalingrad, brought about by a combination of his ambition, hubris and receding good fortune.

But his enemy is more amorphous than the red army back in 1942. He grapples with three inter-connected problems, not one. The first is the on-going fragility of his coalition. His “formal” coalition partners, the Lib Dems, continue to flatline in the polls and desperately need to stamp their mark with policy concessions, hence their solo attempts to write the chancellor’s budget in recent days and wring concessions on the health bill yesterday.

But the prime minister’s “informal” coalition partner – his own party’s right-wing – is equally querulous. What is the point of being in power if you don’t get your own way? A theme former defence secretary Liam Fox rattled his sabre about on Sunday. Why should the Lib Dems get half the policy concessions when they only amount to a sixth of the coalition numbers, he whined. Why indeed?

These shaky foundations belie the Prime Minister’s second problem: the sheer ambition of his programme. It now seems a long time since those heady days when The Economist breathlessly talked of Cameron being “a radical force” establishing Britain as “the West’s test-tube”. That was only in August 2010, but like the German 6th Army, he is finding the reality of delivering change far harder than the promise of making it.


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From “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher” to “Michael Gove, toilet snatcher”

28/02/2012, 07:00:05 AM

by Amanda Ramsay

First the Tories gave us “Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher”, now a new generation of school children are to become victims of “Michael Gove, toilet snatcher”.

Children’s charity Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence (ERIC) is fighting government plans to axe the requirement for a minimum of one toilet for every 20 pupils with their “Bog Standard” campaign. Cutting standards of sanitation and hygiene for children is part of the department for education’s contribution to the government’s “red tape challenge”. The consultation period on scrapping provisions in the School Premises Regulations (1999) closed in January and the changes will become law in spring.

While Michael Gove has targeted children in his Thatcherite crusade to remove statutory safeguards, teachers’ toilet facilities will remain protected under Workplace Regulations from 1992 which are the responsibility of the department for business, innovation and skills.

School toilets have a big impact on health and well-being. But many schools are failing their pupils with poorly maintained, dirty and smelly facilities.  Research carried out by ERIC and online campaigners Netmums has found a quarter of pupils in England’s schools avoid using toilets because they are so dirty.

The consequences for children of not being able to go to the toilet are severe with issues of soiling and bullying making school life a misery for many. Lobbying parliament on Tuesday, ERIC will target government ministers, MPs and Peers with a petition from angry parents demanding action.


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Why the government’s cost estimates for delivering its NHS reforms are wrong

27/02/2012, 08:42:23 AM

by Paul Crowe

The Lib Dems are tabling hostile amendments in the Lords, the former chief executive of the NHS has broken ranks to voice his disapproval and the BMA is balloting on industrial action.

Just another day in the progress of the health bill.

As the lords set to work on the bill later today, the focus will be on amendments on competition in the health sector.  But as the debate progresses they would also do well to focus on a number which has escaped proper scrutiny:- £1.3bn.

That’s what the NHS reorganisation is going to cost, according to the government.

The figure is contained in a report whose very title seems to discourage interest: Co-ordinating document for the Impact Assessments and Equality Analysis. This gives the detail of the projected costs. It’s a classic of its type: sober, measured and with an authoritative tone.

And hopelessly wrong. The £1.3bn identified will be almost certainly just the start of the spending.

To anyone with even passing experience in managing large-scale reorganisations, the department of health’s assessment should flash more warning lights than the police switchboard on riot night.

The £1.3bn figure is made up of redundancy costs of £1bn for 17,000 staff and £300m of what the department calls “one-off transition costs…around IT and property”.

In return, the government expects to make a £1.5bn saving each year after the change is implemented, giving a net saving of £3.2bn over the course of this parliament. Impressive.

Or it would be impressive were it realistic.

Few disagree on the need for reform in public services, particularly in economic times such as these. And change, when implemented in the right way can achieve the savings needed and improve care in line with the traditions of the NHS.

But looking at the scale of what the department of health is attempting and comparing it to recent corporate reorganisations, three problems are soon apparent.

First, the savings are aggressive given the costs; second, the costs identified don’t appear to be complete; and third the timetable for achieving savings is optimistic to say the least.


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The week Uncut

26/02/2012, 05:10:42 PM

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

Jim Murphy launches the Labour defence review

Matt Cavanagh reports on Cameron’s crime problems

Jonathan Ashworth’s latest Whip’s notebook

Atul Hatwal with the February shadow cabinet league table

John Woodcock say’s Labour need to go further on welfare reform

Tom Harris on the cult of Alex

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Is Cameron feeling vulnerable on crime?

24/02/2012, 02:44:15 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

The lead story (£) in today’s Times tells us that David Cameron is feeling stung by the accusation that his government lacks a coherent policy on crime and law and order. This accusation will be familiar to Labour Uncut readers, for example this piece last year, and more recently after the latest set of crime figures here.

Cameron’s response, we are told, is a new policy of “virtual prison” for offenders on community sentences, tagged and placed under curfew for up to 16 hours a day. But while “virtual prison” is an evocative new label, the policy itself is not new: it was announced in August.

On the inside pages, the Times home affairs expert Richard Ford does a better job of putting the story in context, reminding us that this is “yet another attempt, by yet another government”, to strengthen public confidence in alternatives to prison (similar attempts by the Brown government, for example, can be seen here and here).

The other element in today’s story is No 10’s apparent unhappiness with the Ministry of Justice, and speculation that it may be broken up – based on an article earlier in the week by the Times’ Rachel Sylvester, picked up today by ConservativeHome. Contrary to Conservative Home’s Paul Goodman, I think this is very unlikely – though we agree that “there are few less futile Whitehall activities than merging and unmerging Departments” (as I argued in relation to the plan announced earlier this week, to split up the UK Border Agency).

Structural reforms won’t do anything to help Cameron’s fundamental problem on crime and law and order, which is a lack of ideas. This was disguised temporarily by his ability to strike the right tone over the riots (as far as the majority of the public was concerned), after an initially sluggish response.


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February shadow cabinet league

24/02/2012, 07:00:30 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Boom! There have been fireworks at the start the year from the shadow cabinet: a blaze of 30 press releases per week for the past six weeks, more stories generated proactively than ever before and a couple of urgent questions in the House of Commons for good measure.

The best team performance since the shadow cabinet league began.

But for all this activity, there is one star turn that stands out: Andy Burnham. He has shone as never before.

Although Ed Miliband has grabbed many of the headlines on the NHS with his attacks on David Cameron at PMQs, it’s the shadow secretary of state for health who has made this campaign a Labour-led fight.


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Greece has taken one for the team; for now

23/02/2012, 08:00:22 AM

by Peter Watt

What a relief, the world has been saved. Again.

In 2008 there was a financial crisis that many have described as being worse than that of the 1930s. Markets collapsed, banks failed and lives were ruined. In essence, and over many years, much of the western world had begun to believe in magic. Somehow we could all have really low taxes and really high spending by governments. We could have relatively low interest rates and unlimited access to borrowing. Individuals and governments indulged themselves as excess cash from the economies of the east poured into a market of gorging consumers. Credit cards, mortgages, car loans, government bonds – it didn’t matter as there was so much money to go around.

But it was all too good to be true and it couldn’t go on forever.


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Why Britain needs a new defence strategy

22/02/2012, 02:13:20 PM

by Jim Murphy

The driving focus of the shadow defence team is to develop a defence policy fit for modern times, responsive to a dramatically changing world which enables us to maintain a position of global influence.

That is why today we have published a consultation paper, ‘21st Century Defence’, to launch the shadow defence review.

Defence is important to Labour for two reasons. First, defence must be the first duty of any government and therefore also the first duty of any party aspiring to govern. Our credibility as an alternative government relies on our credibility on defence.

Second, the Arab spring is the tip of the iceberg of the change we are likely to experience over the next decade.  New and emerging threats, from cyber to bioterrorism, demand new policy responses.  Constrained fiscal circumstances due to the downturn limit expenditure and potentially our global reach.

Global trends – from climate change to new economies – are creating new threats and recasting the global power balance.  These trends come amidst the immediate pressures and priorities of stabilisation in Afghanistan, countering extremism, preventing proliferations and confronting the fresh turmoil in the Middle East. There is massive potential for disruption.

In that context Britain needs a defence policy which can keep up. It must be flexible and agile, with new and wide-ranging capabilities. It must prioritise coalition-building, be attuned to the threats and trends of the future and co-ordinate defence with development and diplomacy.

The government’s rushed review fell short. It did not match ends with means, precipitated a strategic shrinkage by stealth and left us with dangerous capability gaps.  Libyan operations succeeded in spite of the defence review.  Tough decisions must be made – we have been clear about that – but we disagree with some of the decisions and the manner in which they were taken. There is more than one way to spend an annual defence budget of almost £35bn. Labour is committed to being fiscally responsible and true to our own progressive principles.

We need a new defence strategy consistent with financial circumstances but also with strategic context.  Lasting more than a year, this consultation is open to all military, industrial and academic figures, all parties and the general public.


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