Archive for February, 2011

Carry on up the Suez: gutless and incompetent Tories bring shame on us all

25/02/2011, 04:30:59 PM

by Jonathan Todd

The epoch changing events in the Middle East, lest we forget, were precipitated by Tarek el-Tayyib Mohamed Ben Bouazizi. Just over a month later, Karim Medhat Ennarah, an Egyptian protester told the Guardian, with tears in his eyes, that:

“For 18 days we have withstood teargas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, Molotov cocktails, thugs on horseback, the scepticism and fear of our loved ones, and the worst sort of ambivalence from an international community that claims to care about democracy. But we held our ground. We did it”.

In the intervening period, the most that William Hague could do to respond to the beauty and bravery of these protestors was to mouth almost exactly the same measly words as Hosni Mubarak about an orderly transition. Britain managed to be dismissed as at best irrelevant, as Krishnan Guru-Murthy noted, both by the Mubarek regime and by those risking their lives to overthrow it.

Our Garibaldi, David Cameron, wasn’t content. He set off on a crusade for freedom. He was the first western leader to visit post-revolutionary Egypt. All very noble. But are arms really the first thing required in the birth pangs of democracy? And is the most fundamental right of British citizens not protection from indiscriminate violence? (more…)

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The sacred cow: splice, dice and if that fails blow the s**t out of it

25/02/2011, 02:30:57 PM

by Dave Howells

What Tony Blair did in three words, “Education, education, education”, David Cameron did in three letters: “N.H.S”. That was how he set his stall out at the last election.  If they couldn’t get away with being “the party of the NHS”, try though they might, at least they could be “the party that wouldn’t fuck it up”.

Before 1997, Labour had a similar problem with the economy, so New Labour was born and the party was rebranded as one that was pro-business and “extremely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.  Labour committed to stick to the Tories’ spending plans during its first two years in office. There. Done. Now the country could exorcise itself from the grip of the Tories without having to worry that a Labour chancellor might give the Treasury PIN number to too many poor people, or that the wheels would come off UK Plc.

In 2010, the Tory problem was being trusted full stop. But they were particularly vulnerable to accusations that they might go selling off “the family silver”, especially our treasured National Health Service. Because, after all, when it comes to flogging off state-owned assets to the private sector at bargain basement prices – be they railways, telephone networks, council houses, or (more recently) forests – the Conservatives have got form. So, in a move straight out of the New Labour playbook, the Tories said they would stick to Labour’s spending plans, funding for the NHS would be maintained at its existing levels (in-line with inflation, no less), and there would be no more costly “top-down reorganisations”.  Oh, and Dave changed their logo to a tree and rode around on a bike a bit. There. Done. (more…)

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Eagle soars in latest Uncut shadow cabinet work-rate league as Alexander hangs onto top spot

25/02/2011, 10:45:08 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Murphy mobilises and moves up from fourth to third in the table but Hillier, Jowell and Woodward fall behind at the bottom.

In the month Ed Miliband’s reshuffled team moved beyond the Johnson resignation and got to work, there’s been a flurry of activity on the Uncut work-rate table and over half of the shadow cabinet have changed position.

Douglas Alexander has remained top, bolstering his lead over the month through sustained media work on the unrest in the middle east. He has tackled the thorny issue of the Labour government’s relationship with Libya with an assured and steady performance.

But below him, there have been some dramatic movements.

Four developments stand out: the change in how the treasury team operates; Jim Murphy’s impact at defence; Mary Creagh’s climb in the bottom half of the table and the position of the bottom three who are in danger of losing touch with the rest of the league. (more…)

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Exclusive extracts from the paperback edition of Peter Mandelson’s book, the Third Man.

25/02/2011, 08:00:03 AM

The paperback edition of Peter Mandelson’s book, the Third Man: life at the heart of New Labour,  is published  on Monday. It contains a new chapter dealing with events since the hardback was first published last summer.

The new chapter includes Mandelson’s thoughts on Ed Miliband’s victory, the impact of the new government and the AV campaign, among other ruminations of the former cabinet minister, EU commissioner and prince of darkness.

In the extracts below, published exclusively here on Uncut for the first time, he talks about David Miliband’s failure to “take the gloves off and mobilise” Labour’s natural New Labour base.

And he rues David Miliband’s refusal to do the deal with Ed Balls that Mandelson says would have secured a  David Miliband victory.

Mandelson on why David Miliband lost…

[David] was fearful that if he championed a renewed New Labour vision too strongly, he would be living up to Ed’s stereotype of him as an establishment figure tied to Tony’s coat-tails. He ended up in something of a no-man’s land – wanting to be the New Labour standard-bearer, but terrified that this would lose him many activists’ votes. He did defend New Labour’s  achievements when his brother started to single out a number of them for criticism. But I felt then, and still feel, that he missed an opportunity to take the gloves off and mobilise those in the broader party membership who still celebrated our three terms in Downing Street – and who would have followed a leader with a plan to update and reinvigorate our governing programme rather than bury it.  (p.xxii)

Mandelson on why Ed Balls could have made a difference…

David and I did not speak during the campaign… I understood and respected his desire to go it alone, although in a roundabout way I did pass on one suggestion. It was that he should reach out to the other Ed: Ed Balls.  I had come to know Ed Balls – and in our later years in government to respect him – as a tough, pragmatic politician. I was certain his overriding concern would be to ensure that Labour escaped being relegated to another long spell in opposition. Tactically, there was an obvious interest for him and David, two political heavyweights able to balance their respective strengths, to work together. Although it was fairly clear from the start that Ed Balls was not going to win, he did have significant support to deliver. I knew Gordon would be leaning hard on him to throw this support behind Ed Miliband, since his distrust and resentment of David’s previous on-off leadership challenge had never abated. A concerted effort by David to forge a future leadership alliance with Ed Balls might well have allowed him to carry the day. David was not persuaded, however, both because he did not want to be placed under any obligation to Ed, and because, until the end, he felt he had enough strength on his own to win. (p.xxiii)

The paperback edition of Peter Mandelson’s book, the Third Man: life at the heart of New Labour, is published by HarperPress on Monday.

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Friday News Review

25/02/2011, 07:44:19 AM

Forgetful Clegg in humiliating return

In an interview, the Liberal Democrat leader was asked whether he was in charge while the Prime Minister was away from Britain travelling in the Middle East. Sipping from a mug marked “Deputy Prime Minister,” he said: “Yeah, I suppose I am. I forgot about that. “I’m holding the fort but I’m hoping to take the end of the week off with my kids. “Someone else will have to do it then. It sounds more haphazard than it probably is. People forget there are emails and there is BlackBerry.” It later emerged that within hours of giving the interview, to the Metro newspaper, Mr Clegg did indeed go on holiday to his family chalet in the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Davos. He departed on Tuesday – just a day after Mr Cameron left for his tour of the Middle East. As Labour seized on his remarks, the Deputy Prime Minister hastily returned from his Swiss half term break, where he had been joined by his wife, Miriam, and their three sons. – the Telegraph

Cameron, Obama and Sarkozy discuss Libya

President Obama and David Cameron agreed to co-operate in taking multilateral action on Libya, in a phone call between the heads of state tonight (Thursday). William Hague earlier said the Government is now “very much on top of” the Libyan evacuation effort, but apologised for yesterday’s delayed response. HMS Cumberland left Benghazi with 200 passengers on board this afternoon. A charter flight carrying evacuated British nationals has also left Malta bound for the UK. Colonel Gaddafi has described the protesters who have died fighting his regime as “Libya’s children” and said that those continuing the revolt are trying to “sabotage” the country’s achievements. – PoliticsHome

Head of NHS warns difficult, demanding and tough times to come

Private sector take-overs, mergers and more community-based care may be needed to ensure all hospitals survive the shake-up of the NHS, the head of the health service says. Sir David Nicholson told the BBC the combination of reforms and squeeze on spending meant some hospitals would find the future “difficult”. He said he did not expect any hospitals in England to close completely. But said some would needed to adapt and change to remain competitive. Sir David, who will become the chief executive of the NHS commissioning board when GP consortia are set up, admitted the health service was facing one of its toughest and most demanding periods ever. – the BBC

Forces chiefs warn PM Navy cuts will risk lives

The scrapping of the Harriers and aircraft carrier Ark Royal means Britain can no longer carry out amphibious operations without putting troops’ lives at “considerable risk”, senior officers and defence experts have warned the Prime Minster. In a private letter, passed to The Daily Telegraph, the former Navy and Army chiefs warn the Prime Minister that there are serious flaws in last October’s defence review. The scrapping of the Royal Navy’s Harrier fleet, in particular, has “profound consequences” that “strike at the heart of our Defence structure”, they say. The authors, who include Field Marshal Lord Bramall, the former head of the Armed Forces, as well as six retired admirals and three generals, say the move undermines the Navy’s ability to protect the Army or Royal Marines on amphibious operations. These can no longer be attempted against “even a lightly armed aggressor” without “considerable risk” to the safety of soldiers, they say. – the Telegraph

Balls makes case for lowering the 50p tax threshold

The Labour party might propose lowering the 50p rate of tax to £100,000 and bringing in an annual mansion tax, Ed Balls has said in an interview with Progress magazine. The shadow chancellor says there is an argument for lowering the level at which the 50p rate of tax is paid. It is currently charged on those with incomes of £150,000 and over. The current government has indicated that although uncomfortable with the Labour measure, the task of deficit reduction means it is unlikely to be scrapped immediately. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has said he believes the 50p rate at £150,000 should stay in place as a point of principle. Balls says the government should not have increased VAT and puts forward two revenue-raising ideas of his own that are not party policy. He says: “I was probably the first person to be strong in opposing VAT. I thought there were fairer ways to make tax decisions. So my argument was that the VAT rise was unfair, I thought David Miliband’s idea of the mansion tax was attractive and it could be made to work. “And if we were making choices on the economy between VAT and the top rate of tax, I’d rather have stuck with a top rate of tax at £100,000.” – the Guardian

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David Miliband must stay on the subs bench.

24/02/2011, 04:15:06 PM

by Kevin Meagher

This morning’s Sun reports that Ed Miliband held “hush hush” talks with his brother David following the resignation of shadow chancellor Alan Johnson last month. The paper reports that:

“…during their clandestine conversation, the possibility of him replacing Mr Johnson was raised”.

Quoting an “insider”, the paper reports that “Ed stopped short of offering his brother the job when David made it clear he wanted to stay on the backbenches”. The party denies an explicit job offer was made to David: “The only person offered it was Ed Balls”, insists a spokesman. This does, however, amount to a non-denial denial of the Sun’s allegation that the idea was floated.

But, as we now know, the post was amply filled by Ed Balls. Common sense prevailed. But it is worth stating why the idea of David Miliband taking on the shadow chancellor’s role is a disastrous, indulgent idea. (more…)

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Hey, Eds, let some other people write on your blank sheet of paper.

24/02/2011, 02:00:04 PM

by Alex Hilton

I saw something on the BBC this week that looked so silly I had to check it wasn’t yet April 1. It seems that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are insisting that shadow ministers submit forms for approval before announcing any policies. Policy forms are a simple solution to the complex problem that we want to have policies, but we don’t want to be held to them.

But this solution will create more problems than it solves. Mostly, it will drive innovation into the hands of the two Eds, a centralisation of thought that exceeds even the worst paranoia-tinged years of government.

This approach has no resonance in a world where people expect a better quality of communication than can be achieved through a simple broadcasting of opinion from important people. And in an era when people are rightly mistrustful of pre-election promises, reassuring the public of our general values will become an essential factor in securing their confidence.

This can’t be achieved through a turgid conveyor belt mechanically analysing policies one by one and reducing them to their lowest common denominator. We can instead develop a more fecund environment for innovating in policy by reducing restrictions rather than reducing the pool of available talent contributing to their inception. (more…)

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Cameron and Osborne are not for learning. King should know better.

24/02/2011, 11:30:48 AM

by Jonathan Todd

“Is not the lesson from the noble Baroness Thatcher that, when you have set an economic course, you should stick to it – ‘there is no alternative'”?

So asked Jacob Rees-Mogg at PMQs recently. The IFS cautions “a Plan B might be needed, potentially involving some reduction in the size and pace of cuts in the structural deficit”. But David Cameron knows best. He did not demur from the insufferable Rees-Mogg.

But for what did Thatcher think the grinding unemployment and dislocation of the 1980s was a price worth paying? Low and stable inflation. The NUM was, she thought, the enemy within and the wage/price spirals of the 1970s were part of the damage they wrought. She was right that high inflation is no basis for a dynamic economy. But her policies didn’t deliver this. In his memoirs, Nigel Lawson concedes that he should have raised interest rates in 1986. Instead, with a general election looming, he offered tax sweeteners. Inflation topped 8 per cent by 1988.

It wasn’t until Labour took politics out of monetary policy by making the Bank of England independent that the inflation dragon was slain. Now politics is back at the Bank and so is inflation. Not that Mervyn King’s grovelling praise for George Osborne’s ideologically-driven deficit reduction strategy has caused inflation to be persistently above target. But that that is not his job. The governor’s remit is to run monetary policy to defend this target. It isn’t to provide cover for Osborne’s politics. (more…)

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One sorry doesn’t save the Tory sinners

24/02/2011, 09:35:43 AM

by John Woodcock

There is a scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent, played by John Travolta, testily tells fellow hitman Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop giving him grief about the fact he has just accidently shot  a third member of their gang in the face.

“Did you ever hear the philosophy that once a man admits he’s wrong that he is immediately forgiven for all wrongdoings”? asks Vincent.

Now I am obviously not making any comparison at all between the drug-fuelled, murderous underworlds created by Quentin Tarantino and environment secretary Caroline Spelman’s disagreeable encounters with forest lovers. No one died, or was ever going to die, as a result of the hopefully now aborted Tory forest privatisation plan.

Nevertheless, there was a concerted effort last week to impose a Pulp Fiction philosophy on those seeking to assess the effect on the government’s credibility of David Cameron’s growing reputation for u-turns.

“A shining example of the new politics”, was how one robustly pro-coalition Liberal Democrat MP described Caroline Spelman’s humiliating volte-face on forests.

Bravo to the Conservatives for finally admitting openly that this mass sell-off of our English heritage, of which they had been extolling the virtues for months, was in fact bonkers. Shame on Labour for not having the good grace to join in the choruses of “For she’s a jolly good fellow” ringing out from the government benches behind the newly repentant environment secretary.

Now it has to be said that the way Ms Spelman baldly admitted she had been wrong and the tone she adopted in doing so were indeed striking last week. And they fairly disarming.

But the public are not daft. Yes, when faced with a government doing something they rightly hate, they would of course rather it changed its mind. But nothing beats not wanting to do it in the first place: having the good sense to realise from the outset what is totally beyond the pale.

And there is something else that fundamentally undermines the notion that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are taking a further stride into a new dawn with each successive u-turn. That is the fact that a Spelman-style mea culpa is actually the exception rather than the rule so far.

Compare her approach to that of defence secretary the previous day on an equally important issue – the military covenant between government and the armed forces. Liam Fox point blank refused to admit that he had backed away from the Tory commitment to enshrine covenant in law, ignoring all evidence to the contrary presented by respected groups like the Royal British Legion.

It was more Vicky Pollard: “I never”, than Spelman: “I’m sorry”. All supplemented with wild attacks on Labour to the effect that we never apologised, so why should they? (They were clearly too busy getting to grips with the levers of power to listen to our four month long leadership contest, when at times we seemed to do little else).

But the real test will come in how open David Cameron and George Osborne are with the public if they change course in the budget to tackle the lack of growth in the economy. Will the new politics extend to George Osborne standing up to admit that the economic masochism imposed in the first nine months of Tory-led government is not in the country’s long term interests after all?

I very much doubt it.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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Thursday News Review

24/02/2011, 07:26:10 AM

Government under fire over DLA plans

The government’s plans to overhaul disability benefits have come under fire from its own official advisory body. The statutory social security advisory committee is questioning the motives for the proposed replacement of disability living allowance (DLA), paid to almost 3 million people to help cover extra costs arising from their condition. It is also opposing outright the separate move to withdraw DLA entitlement from people living in care homes who receive it to help with the costs of transport. Ministers will be embarrassed by the committee’s intervention, disclosedthe day after the Guardian reported that one of the architects of the new sickness benefit regime had declared its fitness-for-work test “a complete mess”. The advisory committee, chaired by Sir Richard Tilt, a former director general of the prison service, has made its criticisms in a formal, so far unpublished, response to the consultation on DLA changes. – the Guardian (more…)

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