Archive for October, 2012

Mad Uncle Rupert unsettles anti-Leveson lobby journalists

16/10/2012, 03:41:33 PM

Whispers reach Uncut of disquiet in the lobby on the right approach to oppose Leveson.

The overwhelming majority of parliamentary journalists view the Leveson report as something to be feared and distrusted. The span of opinion ranges from Leveson’s anticipated proposals presaging the end of civilisation to simply sounding the death knell for freedom.

But signs are emerging of a split between the vituperative stance adopted by senior management at some of the leading anti-Leveson titles and the footsoldiers of the lobby.

A recent Mail editorial calling for the Leveson to investigate the BBC, following the Saville revelations, was seen to have made the right point in the wrong way.

The opening paragraph laced into anti-hacking campaigners, Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan and Max Mosley, branding them “three harpies from hell”. One hack at another paper, sympathetic to the  Mail’s position said,

“It was way too over the top. The point is about judging the BBC and the press by the same standard, but personalising it like this makes it seem like they’ve got a vendetta and undermines the case. People will think its sour grapes. Dacre needs to button it.”

Then over the weekend, Rupert Murdoch tweeted “Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws.” Labelling victims of hacking that News International has had to pay substantial sums, as “scumbags” was widely viewed as a major mistake.  One journo murmured,

“He’s basically the mad uncle, locked in the attic, crashing about. Now he’s got twitter, the window is open and everyone in the outside world can hear him. Noone needs that.”

Another scribbler worried about the effect that the almost inevitable divestment of News Corporation’s British stable of papers will have on Rupert Murdoch’s behaviour,

“It’s alright for him. He knows he won’t even have any British newspapers to bother about soon, he can spout off as much as he likes. It’s the rest of us that will have to live with the consequences.”

With journalists from at least one paper under strict instructions to not even tweet about Leveson before the report is published, the signs are that the anti-Leveson lobby is feeling jittery.

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US campaign diary: Three reasons for Democrats to be calm about tonight’s debate

16/10/2012, 07:00:23 AM

by Nikhil Dyundi

It’s nearly here. Two frustrating weeks since president Obama phoned in his performance in the Danville debate, he has the opportunity to make amends.

Across the nation, Democrat nerves will jangle and nails will be bitten. The more volatile will fear disaster at the end of every sentence while even the most confident will feel anxious.

But, in spite of the unavoidable tumult of emotion, rationally Dems should be calm. There are three reasons the result in New York tonight should be more to our liking: expectations about Romney’s performance, his weaknesses and the format

First, Romney is facing a tough fight in the media expectations game. He won last time out and won big. Anything less than a comparable result will have journalists writing about a drop in his level of performance.

The swing of the media pendulum is as predictable as it is exaggerated. The last fortnight gave them the opportunity to write a Romney rebound into reality. An avalanche of gushing pieces about the GOP candidate’s performance has changed the prism through which the public view the race and inevitably shifted the polls.

But that story has been written.

Barring a similarly pallid non-performance from Obama as in the first debate, a passable showing from the president will spawn a wave of comeback pieces.

A presidential fightback will give the media the new angle they need to churn through the next six days until the final debate. There will be review pieces on the performance, tick tock pieces on the minutiae of how the campaign prepared Obama and impact pieces looking at how it played in the battlegrounds.


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Andrew Mitchell will go on Thursday

15/10/2012, 07:00:17 AM

That’s the consensus Uncut hears swirling around the ranks of senior Tories. Post-conference, the denouement of #gategate has acquired a new lethal inevitability. Hopes of a firebreak, with conference season giving space for the furore to subside, have been decisively dashed.

As members of parliament return to Westminster, Ministers and MPs who have fanned out over the weekend for media interviews are all reporting back the same message to the Tory whips: this problem is not going away.

These interviews were meant to have been an opportunity for the Tories to build on David Cameron’s speech and set the agenda before the start of the Autumn session. But, on every single occasion the questioning returned to Andrew Mitchell’s position.

It not only dragged the MPs back into territory that the Tories have been trying to escape, but also presents a uniquely difficult question to answer.

There’s no defending Mitchell’s conduct. His absence from Birmingham, despite being the Tories’ only Birmingham MP, was stark. The agreed line to take that he apologised and the police personnel involved have accepted the apology leaves too many unanswered questions:  what did he actually say? Why are the police federation calling for him to go? How long will this drag on?

The critical day is now Wednesday. PMQs will be dominated by Andrew Mitchell, who will then face the judgement of the Tories backbench 1922 committee later that day when it meets.


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The Sunday review: conference season

14/10/2012, 08:00:33 AM

by Anthony Painter

The two main parties have raised their game. Admittedly, this wasn’t difficult after last year but it is the case nonetheless. Conference season 2012 has defined the 2015 fight and was, unusually, consequential. The Liberal Democrats sunk without a trace. We now have a traditional fight between a party of enterprise and individualism and a party of the people taking on unjust elites. There is real choice in politics again.

On their own terms both Ed Miliband and David Cameron delivered very good speeches. The script for Labour’s conference was that its leader would deliver another vague, unfocused, holier-than-thou address. He didn’t. It had a clear and appealing message and it re-defined him as a political voice with an ability to cut through.

Equally, the script for the Conservative conference was that, having failed to establish a convincing economic recovery, the party would simply shift back into 2001/2005 mode. In fairness, the party did shunt right with all the old classics on abortion, the right to shoot at will, human rights and fantasies about workers being traded as if they were grains of wheat. Its leader did something different: he articulated a centre-right vision of the mainstream; one that is recognisable from the Thatcher years. It was full of many of the same bogeymen: intellectuals, teaching unions, the work-shy, and so on. But its aspiration nation message is a mainstream one nonetheless.


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Practical policy for Labour from the Small Business Forum conference fringe

12/10/2012, 11:19:09 AM

by Philip Ross

The Labour Small Business Forum is a network of Labour members and supporters who work for themselves or in a small business. We recently held a fringe at Labour party conference with a simple goal: to not just to talk round the issues but highlight some practical proposals for the party for small business, proposed by small business.

We had the best SME line up at conference with around 50 people attending. After my introduction in which I stressed the importance of modernising the way we work and supporting emerging firms and freelance working, John Walker the national chairman of the Federation of Small Business picked up on comments about IR35.

This regulation, which means freelancers who work for one client are treated as an employee for tax purposes, despite not having the same rights as an employee, has long been an issue for contractors.

John agreed that it was a complicated and unwieldy tax that has not been resolved and was a bar for going into business. He went on to reiterate the familiar problems that small businesses have with getting hold of finance from the banks. Confidence in financial institutions is a problem and he made reference to the mis-selling of interest rate swaps to many of his members.

As a policy call he suggested that it was hard for small firms to initially grow and take on people and backed an NI holiday for firms that did this, in line with the party’s policy.

He was followed by Dr Jo Twist of the UKIE (the trade association for the UK’s games industry), her points neatly dovetailed with his as she talked about the phenomena of crowd-funding which was a way that investors could lend to companies directly using the internet as a platform and thereby circumnavigating the banks.


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On tax, Labour must remember: “It’s not our money stupid, it’s theirs”

11/10/2012, 08:00:20 AM

by Peter Watt

So the battle of the speeches is over.  All three leaders made pretty good speeches.  Nick Clegg, who I have a soft spot for, probably had the toughest job of all but seemed to go down well in the hall at least.  But the real battle was Miliband versus Cameron.

Trying to be non-biased, I think that Ed Miliband just won the battle, although David Cameron   wasn’t far behind.  They were both very similar in that they were both very personal, focused on values and were policy light.  They were also both used as opportunities to attack the other; both with some force; and both speeches were passionate and effective.

But in truth, Ed Miliband managed to use his speech to build much needed confidence in him from his party.  Critically he also managed to persuade a sceptical press that he really could win an election.   It may or may not have been a game changer but it was certainly a very significant event in the slow run-up to the election in 2015.  For that reason I think that he won the battle.  But he has not yet won the war.

There were two very significant passages in the speeches.  The first from Ed:

“A tax cut for millionaires. Next April, David Cameron will be writing a cheque for £40,000 to each and every millionaire in Britain. Not just for one year. But each and every year.”

And the second is from David Cameron’s speech in response:

“I sometimes wonder if they know anything about the real economy at all.  Did you hear what Ed Miliband said last week about taxes?  He described a tax cut as the government writing people a cheque.  Ed… Let me explain to you how it works.  When people earn money, it’s their money.   Not the government’s money: their money.  Then, the government takes some of it away in tax.  So, if we cut taxes, we’re not giving them money – we’re taking less of it away.  OK?”

Put aside the silly looseness in language from Ed over the “each and every millionaire” line, these two passages hold the key to one of the central battles of the next election – Labour’s competence on the economy.

Unless and until Labour really does understand the tax point then they will struggle to convince people that they are not profligate “tax-and-spenders”.   The truth is that too many people in Labour really do think that taxation is an inherently good thing.  That somehow taxing people, the state taking peoples’ own money from them, is somehow morally right.


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Cameron breaches Labour’s Maginot line

10/10/2012, 03:10:56 PM

by David Talbot

The battle lines for 2015 have begun to be drawn. As Labour’s foot soldiers marched to the beat towards the feted middle ground last week in Manchester, its gun batteries trained their aim onto unfamiliar territory with audacious talk of a Labour “one nation” prime minister. The Tories, retreating in disarray, have receded to their ideological redoubt, and Labour skirmishers have at last engaged with hostile middle England in a first serious advance on the mission to Downing Street.

Or so the Labour hierarchy would have you believe. But they have made a serious tactical error.

The infamous Maginot Line was a fortified defensive line built by the French to protect the Franco-German border. It was a formidable defensive structure, and a feat of military engineering and strategising far beyond the era in which it was built. It lies between 12 to 16 miles in depth and stretched from the Swiss Alps in the south to the Channel in the north. The defensive structure was completed after ten years, just before the outbreak of war, and is estimated in today’s money to have cost the equivalent of nearly €50 trillion.

This is the comparable psychological position the Labour party are now staking their ground upon. The party’s grey beards have assumed that, much like the French army, the Conservatives would become unsteady under fire and surrender without trace when grapeshot thinned the lines. This is a first-class misjudgement. The Conservatives are headed through the Ardennes.

Miliband stole the Tories’ one-nation clothes precisely because David Cameron had forgotten to look after them. The Labour leader was executing a classic New Labour move straight from the Tony Blair’s playbook. But unlike the Blair years the Tories will not move ever-rightwards to placate the rabid tenancy and pander to their core. Cameron, frankly, is far too astute for that. Revitalising the “compassionate conservative” model that launched his leadership some seven years ago, the Conservative leader resolutely refused to fall into Labour’s lazy caricature. Moreover, he fought back and punched through Labour’s lines. Tough language on Labour’s Achilles heel – the deficit – will cut through to the nation’s conscience far more than any high-minded seminar on a 19th century Disraelian ideal.


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It’s been a dreadful conference for the Tories but they will still leave Birmingham happy

10/10/2012, 07:59:31 AM

by Atul Hatwal

One wonders if the Tories can see how their conference has looked to the rest of Britain. Once upon a time in the mid-2000s they used it as a platform to speak to the country. It was an opportunity to demonstrate how they had changed. There was talk of voting blue to go green, civil liberties and hugging hoodies.

The rank and file might have been unhappy but the message to the general public couldn’t have been clearer: “we are not the same old Tories, we have changed, we live in the modern world.”

These last few days have been like looking at the photo negative of days gone by: cutting workers’ rights, slashing benefits and battering burglars.

The pre-briefing about this conference focused on the Tories new magic word “striver.” In itself it’s a good idea; aspiration and hard-work will never be out of political fashion.

But the Tories seem to have got confused.

Tough messages on law and order and benefits might be perennially popular but without some balance in other areas like civil liberties or the economy it all begins to look decidedly familiar. More red meat vicar?

It’s as if the Tory political managers have given up on ever returning to those halcyon days when the words “progressive” and “Conservative” were routinely used in the same sentence. They have meekly accepted their slide back into the comfortable embrace of the past.

For the Tories, uniquely of all of the parties, the only audience that matters at their conference is not out in the country, but sat in the hall.


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Want to engage young people? Lower the voting age to 16 and build up citizenship education in schools

09/10/2012, 02:41:49 PM

Last week Lucy Rigby won the “top of the policies” vote at Pragmatic Radicalism’s event at Labour party conference. The winning proposal tackled the question of how to engage young people in politics

Most people with even a vague knowledge of politics know that the way we do politics – in this country and others – is in deep, deep trouble.  Turnout, in every type of election, is low – which, amongst other things, raises all manner of questions about legitimacy.  People feel disengaged from politics, particularly young people.

You don’t need to be a canvassing enthusiast to be all too familiar with phrases such as “they’re all the same” and “voting doesn’t change anything”- that’s just the standard office view (on the few occasions politics is talked about).  There doesn’t seem to be much of an explicable connection between physically putting an ‘X’ in the box of a candidate in constituency Y, and the prime minister that appears on the television a day later.

In essence then, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the mechanics of our democracy is in crisis.  It’s the responsibility of our generation to solve it.

First then, let’s enfranchise 16 year olds.  Currently, a 16 year old can get married, fight for their country, pay income tax and national insurance and become a director of a company.  But they can’t vote.  That’s not fair and it doesn’t make any sense.  Let’s change it.


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Bring me the head of David Cameron

09/10/2012, 07:00:39 AM

by Jonathan Todd

Kill the body and the head will die, so goes the old boxing maxim. The spine that is the chief whip is banished from conference. The lifeblood that is the party chair does not know who he is. The minister for Murdoch, now minister for the NHS, has distracted from efforts to restore vitality to the body Tory with his views on the bodies of women.

The Tories are taking a pummelling. It has become, to mix metaphors, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel to attack Tory ministers. What is more challenging and much more consequential is to have these attacks stick on the man responsible for these ministers. Up until now the prime minster has displayed a rather Teflon ability to evade calculability for the rolling omnishambles over which he has presided.

Several shadow ministers have been heard to bemoan over the TV and radio lately that the rule for blame allocation in this government is ABC: Anyone but Cameron. Damaged ministers are kept in post for as long as possible to soak up as much opprobrium as possible – otherwise, it might attach to the prime minister. Hapless junior ministers, as far as possible from association to Cameron, are sent out to try to explain u-turns. No humiliation is too great for these dispensable shock absorbers. Their reputations only matter insofar as they impact upon the prime minister’s standing.

It’s no surprise that a man whose only motivation for being prime minister is that he wants to be prime minister is deploying a vain and self-serving strategy. But shallow egotism is not the only motivation for Number 10’s approach. They see Cameron as the Conservative’s strongest resource, which they must preserve over all others.

Even if – as has transpired – the economy tanked and deficit grew, Conservatives reassured themselves with the view that the country would never vote for Ed Miliband and had become content with the idea of Cameron – so natural, so smooth, so born to rule – as their prime minister. Now two things are changing, which worry these Tories.

First, Miliband is starting to look and act a bit more like a prime minister. He leads a party united and determined to make a concerted pitch for the electoral centre ground: two preconditions of electoral success that Tories had assumed Miliband would never satisfy.

Second, Cameron seems less imperious. It’s not that Boris Johnson has won two elections, while Cameron has won none. It’s not that Johnson strikes an easier bond with the Tory faithful. It’s not that a time beyond Cameron has long been in sight. But all of these things matter. It’s that events appear the master of Cameron and his incompetent ministers.


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