Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A short round up....

Returning to work is making it tricky to keep the blog as up to date as originally planned, but I am hoping that I can find more time as I settle into the new routine! It is a shame as there have been plenty of issues to discuss over the past few weeks....
The big one is of course child benefit and this is the policy that Ed Miliband decided to tackle during his first PMQ's opposite David Cameron today. My feelings on this are mixed; my own family are affected but we are in the very lucky minority where it is a 'nice to have' as opposed to something we rely on. However, I do feel that the plan was ill thought through and cannot understand why the government did not ensure the single parent families weren't affected or base the calculations on total household income. The crude statistics that tell us a family earning £83kpa will still receive the benefit tells me something is not right. Hearing Justine Greening justify the decision not to means test the benefit because it was 'too expensive' will have done very little to appease those who are now going to lose a key part of their income. The idea that a married person's tax break (c£150pa) would somehow ease the pressure seems laughable, especially after reading that this would cost £1.6bn to implement compared to the £1bn that will be saved by the child benefit cuts. On a slightly more emotional note, it does feel like the end of an era. The idea that family allowance, latterly child benefit was truly universal is somehow romantic and something that I have grown up with. Perhaps naively I did think it would always be there for my own family; as it was for my mothers' generation.

The other big news last week was the appointment of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chancellor. There was mixed reaction to the news; with some commentators suggesting it was a move to appease Blairites or more precisely Miliband, D supporters whilst others thought it was a brave move to ignore the pressure to appoint either Mr or Mrs Balls to the post, despite their clear depth of economic understanding. I believe though that Mr Johnson's appointment was a shrewd move. He is popular with voters, he has an experienced 'man of the people' approach, he is plain speaking and an excellent communicator. Compare this with George Osborne who is seen as an aristocratic, uncharismatic and privileged 'toff' and certainly has not charmed the general public since the election; despite public empathy to the idea of widespread cuts. Economic policy means more to the man on the street at the moment than it has done for a generation. We are far removed from the days where the budget was the only economic announcement that the general public listened to, we are hearing daily updates that affect our wallets and people are sitting up and taking notice. Who better to decipher, communicate and attack these decisionss in the common, press and on the television than Alan Johnson?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Welcome Ed!! Now where is your teamsheet?

Having just scanned my last blog we can see that I was wrong. David Miliband didn't win the Labour leadership election; his brother, Ed, whom I voted for is the new leader. In all honesty when the results were declared I really didn't mind which brother won the ballot, I was naturally delighted to see Ed win but there is a part of me that knows that David is the only finished article and the only statesman amongst the contenders.
My immediate thoughts also went to the inevitable 'Red-Ed' and 'Union backed Ed...' headlines in today's papers; and my fear that Labour will now be so far on the back foot with the press that the necessary job of winning over the public will be nigh on impossible. However, as Ed spoke yesterday and this morning to Andrew Marr, I felt that this is the right man to take Labour to the next election and that his eloquence, values and spirit will keep the movement growing and working hard across the country. I believe that the credit crunch and subsequent recession has changed Britain; not dramatically, but enough for the electorate to at least listen to new ideas, new faces and be prepared to do things differently. Our first stable (at least so far) coalition in decades is further proof of this - the unique political situation that the UK is in gives Miliband a mandate to offer some radicalism, and hopefully he will.
His greatest strength will be the team he has around him. Despite the best efforts of the media this leadership election was fought in good spirit; the candidates displayed the utmost respect for one another and Ed Miliband's first action as Labour leader was to pay tribute to that. None of the candidates did their career any harm by fighting this long, tiring and hard campaign, we witnessed their intellect, passion for the party and energy as they attended hustings across the country and numerous media appearances throughout the summer. All four contenders are expected to be offered jobs in the cabinet; although needless to say as I write on Sunday night every political commentator is musing over whether Miliband, D will take a position reporting to his younger brother.
So what will the shadow cabinet look like? It needs to be raring to go in order to tackle the fall out from the ConDem spending review on October 20th and Miliband will be desperate to harness the best talents of the party. Elections for the shadow cabinet take place this week and as well as the big guns other names in the hat include Maria Eagle, Stephen Twigg, Iain Wright and Mary Creagh.
Labour rules mean that Miliband must ensure there are at least 6 women in the shadow cabinet, and he has already stated his intention to work towards a 50/50 ratio of men to women. Having managed Ed's campaign and increased his media presence significantly in recent months, Sadiq Khan must be in line for a more senior post along with the defeated leadership contenders. My thoughts on how it should, and maybe could look? Well, okay then, for what it's worth..

Chancellor - Ed Balls. I know that there are concerns that his economic policy is too far away from Miliand's 'starting point' of Darling's four year deficit reduction plan but Balls has to be the natural for the job. He lived and breathed the Treasury for so many years under Gordon Brown and we all know he would have Osborne for breakfast, lunch and dinner on economic policy and understanding.

Foreign Sec- David Miliband. Clearly not Miliband the elders dream job but it would keep him at arms length from his brother, he knows the job and the people involved. He has a good reputation abroad and would keep his name on the international circuit.

Home Sec - Yvette Cooper. Making the Balls' and Miliband families Britain's most powerful political dynasties but she is a formidable force and her work in Work and Pensions would give her excellent grounding for such an important role as the cuts take hold. Her parliamentary style would overshadow the forgettable Teresa May and she would get straight to nub of the real costs to society of police cuts.

Health - Please, please Andy Burnham. He may want a promotion but he is so passionate, so articulate  and so right when it comes to health and the NHS that he absolutely must stay in this role. We need him to fight for the NHS.

Justice - Harriet Harman. Ever popular and passionate on so many subjects this would be a great job during the tough times ahead for the prison system and with crime likely to increase as unemployment goes up. Harriet will do brilliantly against the old stalwart Ken Clarke for some sensible and progressive debate.

Education - just not sure on this. Michael Gove, despite his terrible start in the role, is well liked and very articulate. Ed Balls terrier tactics certainly got the better of him but this role needs I think an experienced hand. Alan Johnson?

Defence - Douglas Alexander? Liam Byrne? A tricky job that requires experience, maturity and care. The last government's reputation amongst the armed forces lies in tatters - some serious repair work and a sensible brief.

Work & Pensions - this could be one for Sadiq Khan; likely to be an increasingly high profile role up against IDS. Sadiq's 'man of the people' style could suit this role, he understands what the cuts will mean to the man on the street.

So what do we have left? Equalities, Culture, International Aid,  Business, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Environment,  Local Government, Transport, Universities.....How about these names for the hat for these lower profile roles...Diane Abbot, Peter Hain, Caroline Flint, Huw irranca- Davies, Ben Bradshaw, Vernon Coaker, Hilary Benn, Fiona MacTaggert, Rosie Winterton, Pat McFadden and David Lammy

Wow, what a team we could be. My plea? Get together, work together, remember why you are there, why you are Labour and lets get on with it! As they say on twitter....#proudtobeLabour

Thursday, 2 September 2010

David vs...oh, it's David (or maybe Ed)

My ballot papers haven't arrived yet but i know who i am voting for when they do.  I will be voting for Ed Miliband, David Miliband, Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Diane Abbott; in that order. My instinct has told me go with Miliband, E since he announced his intention to run, the literature and articles I have read, the hustings I have attended and 'VoteMatch' have all confirmed that he is the candidate for me, based on his policies and clear passion to fight for Labours core values. I support the Living Wage and believe that a Graduate Tax is the fairest alternative to tuition fees, I am also impressed by his commitment to boosting the Green Economy and using this to create British jobs. I am interested in his willingness to consider a new approach to foreign policy. I do not think Ed Miliband is the finished article but I do believe he can build a strong relationship with the electorate.

During the course of this leadership election I have also, at varying points, been hugely impressed with most of the other candidates. I thought Andy Burnham's defence of the NHS on Question Time in the early summer was heartfelt, intelligent, empathic and hugely impressive. He undoubtedly has the ability to communicate with people on the doorstep and is a vital tool for the Labour party going forward. His man of the people approach has its place and will be useful, especially when dealing with some of the more difficult, sensitive issues that Labour got wrong in the election.

Ed Balls speech at Bloomberg on August 27th was brilliant and without doubt Labours most important economic comment since the coalition came to power. His conviction that supporting growth is essential whilst acknowledging the budget deficit, is exactly what we have been waiting to hear. He spoke clearly and passionately about his subject without going number and statistic crazy as Brown may once have done. His arguments for a more balanced approach to the economy, with the focus on job creation are convincing.

However, David Miliband has demonstrated to me that he is the sole ready-for-action statesman amongst the contenders. Last Mondays Movement for Change event in Central London was a comfortable environment for him, speaking to a band of vocal supporters but his confidence, stature and eloquence immediately made me relish the idea of PMQ's in October with DM at the helm for Labour! He is clearly incredibly erudite, principled and a realist and from what I could see has the ability to inspire people. His previous post as Foreign Secretary will have given him access to the highest workings of state but one gets the impression that he is developing a deeper passion for the country and people around him. I hope that this interest will hold and that the need to make Britain a fairer society will truly drive him if he gets the big job.

I think that David Miliband will win the election. And, if I ask myself who is the candidate most likely to become Prime Minister, the immediate answer is David Miliband.
Whether, especially after this weeks shenanigans, we like it or not Tony Blair won Labour three elections by appealing to a broader spectrum of voters than any previous Labour leader has done. Of the contenders the only one who has anything like that appeal is David Miliband. We also know that over the course of the past 13 years Labour lost 5 million voters, many of whom stopped voting rather than moving to the 'dark' side of the Conservatives. In order to win 5 million more voters in the next five years Labour have to deliver credible alternatives to the government. Labour need to inspire the next generation of voters by creating an effective youth arm and building on its core values as a movement. Most of all Labour needs to be united and ensure that the only issue on the agenda is working as a cohesive, organised, passionate and credible opposition party.

Whoever is announced as the new leader on 25th September in Manchester needs to immediately capitalise on the experience and intelligence of those that will make up Labour's shadow cabinet. Provided ego, negative briefings and factionalism are all buried along with the memoirs of the New Labour era than we are looking at a formidable team of people to take on and hold to account the regressive, opportunistic and short-sighted coalition government. The election of 2010 proved Labour with a new intake of MP's who will have to cut their political teeth in opposition, if the Labour machine is effective their next term could see them on the right side of the Commons

Monday, 23 August 2010

Labour List article 19.8.10

Click here for the original article Back to power in five years?

How can the Labour Party return to power in five years? What needs to happen for the country to return a Labour Prime Minister to office in 2015? To hope for further economic woe in order to eject the coalition is a little extreme; it does seem likely that Osborne's aggressive dismantling of the state and fierce spending cuts will achieve its aim of cutting the budget deficit, leaving in its wake a Britain stripped of meaningful social welfare for the poorest.
For many, the reduction of the deficit and the inevitable promise of lower taxes in 2015 will be enough to keep the Tories in power for another five years, with or without the Liberal Democrats. The cuts, at least those we have seen so far, have not stung the middle classes or the rich meaning that many voters, especially in the coalition stronghold of the South, will see no reason to complain. As all the Labour leadership candidates have pointed out; in order to win the next election Labour needs to win back a good proportion of the 5 million voters it has lost since 1997. In my view, there are four key areas Labour need to concentrate on to win back the faith and confidence of the majority of the electorate.
Tony Blair impressed the electorate by bringing the Labour Party into the post Thatcherite world. His symbolic rejection of Clause 4 was a huge gamble but one that paid off and allowed the party to break away from the pain of the 1970's and leadership of Michael Foot in the early 1980's. Without question Neil Kinnock and John Smith paved the way for this moment, but Blair was able to seize the day and capture the nations imagination. The new Labour leader cannot make such a decisive ideological statement; in many ways the job is more difficult in 2010 than it was for Blair in 1994.
All candidates are desperately trying to distance themselves from the lexicon of New Labour before we even know how history will judge the era. An obsession with the personalities at the heart of the movement, rather than its actions, has tainted it, perhaps forever. New Labour is now defined as Blair vs Brown, infighting, spin and the Iraq War and the candidates are desperate to leave it behind.
What message can the contenders take to the public in order to inspire them? Many are choosing to return to the core Labour ideals of reducing the gap between rich and poor and creating a fairer, more equal society. Andy Burnham is pushing his National Care Service idea whilst Ed Miliband is pushing out the Living Wage idea beyond London.
These types of ideas are essential but an acknowledgment of the economic instability is also vital. As Alistair Darling pointed out just this week, the deficit needs to be acknowledged and Labour needs to offer it's own solutions. Hiding behind the facts did not help in the election, it certainly won't help in opposition. How can Britain pay for itself whilst maintaining a supportive, progressive society? This is the real question and the next leader has to be able answer it.
Innovative ideas and even radicalism will be embraced by the party and electorate alike but debate needs to be open and honest. The British public are progressive and wish to see a fair Britain but they will not support initiatives without knowing how they can be paid for.
After the conclusion of the leadership battle the PLP will need to regroup and make some firm commitments. Key figures need to ensure that the factionalism of recent times is eradicated and that MPs focus solely on becoming a tight, sharp, well-briefed opposition party with the ability to challenge the coalition on key policy areas. Many Labour MPs have never been in opposition and they should relish the opportunity to scrutinise, analyse and probe every aspect of coalition policy whilst honing their parliamentary and debating skills.
There are murmurs of dissatisfaction across the government from disgruntled right wingers to bewildered leftist Liberal Democrats and a shrewd Labour Party should (and will) continuously highlight these fault lines. Watching Andy Burnham discussing health policy against a bumbling Francis Maude on Question Time was impressive, his inside knowledge and experience of the NHS places him in an incredibly strong position to probe and tear apart proposals both in parliament and in the media. The combined experience of the shadow cabinet and ex-ministers on back benches needs to be maximised to question all government departments.
Labour also has to be prepared to make solid proposals in opposition which move away from the previous government. For example, Ed Miliband has accepted the introduction of ID cards was something that was hugely unpopular and a threat to civil liberties. This is the optimum opportunity for Labour to u-turn on unpopular and weak policy ideas - it needs to be used strategically and effectively.
Membership of the Labour Party has increased by tens of thousands since the election and, as I have argued before, these members need to feel wanted, valued and effective. The leadership of the party need to mobilise these members into small, localised armies working for the Labour Party on the ground. This isn't just delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. This is working within communities for communities wearing their Labour membership like a badge of honour. Labour is the most compassionate, socially minded party in British politics; we know this. Its links to trade unions and cooperatives are vitally important but we can do much more.
We know that the coalition austerity measures will have a negative impact on many community projects and groups and Labour needs to be visible and on the ground with its support, pro-activity and local lobbying; not just voicing anger in Westminster
David Miliband has recognised this with his movement for change programme - inspired by the work of Barack Obama's campaign, but this needs to continue and become a backbone of the organisation.
Local members are the eyes and ears of the party; and need to be listened to. This is of course both obvious and common sense, but one can't help feeling that had the previous government listened harder to public feeling regarding ID cards, immigration and the Iraq War these issues would have been dealt with very differently.
Labour needs its new leader to do many things, but it will not be an easy job. He or she will need to manage the legacy of and be accountable for the previous 13 years in government, give the party a new message and ensure it is stuck to, unite the party - a much harder task in opposition than in government - and be Prime Ministerial material. A tough call.
All the candidates are strong and have a core level of support, but whether we like it or not, the new leader has to appeal to floating, Liberal Democrat and Conservative voters in order for Labour to win the next election. Diane Abbott and Ed Balls do not have that ability. Andy Burnham does not have it, yet. Only a Miliband can engage with the majority of the electorate and set Labour on course for power again. But which one?
David Miliband is without doubt the more accomplished politician and this is apparent in his oratory; he has a solid reputation on the world stage and a strong desire to lead, but for many voters he is just too close to the New Labour project and is by proxy not to be trusted. He has received the backing of many senior ex-cabinet ministers including Alistair Darling, Jack Straw and Alan Johnson, all intrinsically linked to the Blair-Brown years and now elder statesmen of the party.
Ed Miliband can win the contest. He has put forward a clear mandate, and doesn't appear to be afraid of shifting the party through a series of clear and well intended proposals including a national living wage and a high pay commission. He proved to be popular as climate change secretary and is committed to a modern, progressive Britain.
Ed Miliband is in a unique position, as was David Cameron, in that he could use the position of leader of the opposition to fully develop his style and shape his public persona. Not enough is known about him by the public for too many preconceptions to have been drawn, and this could be used very much to Labours advantage and allow the public to warm to him organically as he grows into the role.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ten things that frighten me about the coalition...

Just a quickie from me this week. Traditionally August is a slow news month as MP's take their summer holidays and Whitehall closes down. Not so this year, civil servants are busy preparing for the autumn spending review when the real horror of the coalition cuts will be revealed. We are hearing on an almost daily basis snippets from ministers many of which are quite unbelievable... the end of school milk was even mooted again on Sunday!! What strikes is the arrogant, nonchalant delivery of ministers when they are proposing measures likely to cost many thousands of people their jobs and livelihoods. There are little or no positive proposals which even in a time of austerity is depressing and unnecessary, Cameron's bizarre vision of a Big Society where volunteers are supposed to manage and maintain public services seems to be the only attempt to promote a cohesive and creative Britain.
So in summary and in no particular order, here are my top ten fears and dislikes so far, and yes it was hard restricting it to ten!

  •  Gideon Osborne. How is this man running our economy? I want to cry. 
  • Proposals relating to social housing such as losing homes after 5 years and/or being rehoused in job rich areas. Erm, civil liberties anyone? Anyone getting the feeling that the poor are second class citizens under the Tories? 
  • Every announcement starts with blaming Labour. No doubt this will still be the case as they lead us into record unemployment and a double dip recession?
  • Still no announcements regarding cuts that affect the rich. Banking levy? Pah... 
  • The plan to dismantle the NHS without mandate, consultation or foresight
  • They will create astronomical levels of youth unemployment and have NO Ideas how to curb it
  • No positive action or real plans to grow the private sector, total lack of innnovation or investment  
  • The vilification of civil servants, fearing for their jobs and facing cuts in pensions and redundancy rights as well as pay freezes. Going to work everyday wondering if they'll have jobs in a few months. Utter lack of compassion when making announcements such as closure of Audit Commission, job losses at Ministry of Justice and UK Film Council 
  • Despite the cabinet's personal wealth adding up to more than the total UK arts budget, there are likely to be significant cuts in the arts sector. The disbanding of the UK Film Council without consultation or alternatives is setting a worrying precedent
  • The decimation of great services like Surestart, helping all families to give their children the best start in life.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Link to Labour Uncut Article 9.8.10

Read my article on the threat of Youth Unemployment

The recent media circus surrounding the Raoul Moat case did lead to some interesting discussion about the ‘lost generation’ of working class men who have lost their standing in society as a result of the steady decline in manufacturing since the 1980s.
Numerous commentators discussed fathers and their sons who have spent much of their lives on benefits and with little or no expectation of finding work. This is an issue across the UK, though one more noticeable in the former industrial heartlands of the North, and especially former mining towns that experienced mass unemployment after the pit closures of the Thatcher years.

In the vast majority of these towns, little or no thought was given to the effects of long term unemployment on successive generations, or to the very working of these communities. Small business closures, divorce rates, crime and drug and alcohol addiction all increased in these areas.
As the new coalition continues to talk only of cuts and directing them almost exclusively at the poor, we fear that Cameron will be repeating the mistakes of Margaret Thatcher at her most vile in ignoring the social group which is most likely to suffer in the next five years.
The combination of public service job cuts, a reduction in university places, the abolition of the future jobs fund all point to a bleak future for today’s youth. This is a real life consequence of Osborne’s inflexibility when pushing for spending cuts above and beyond any reasoning. What practical solutions are being offered? None.
To top it off, the Connexions youth careers service has started to downsize as a result of pressure on local government to make spending cuts. This service, which has encountered criticism in the past, does however operate in a vital space dealing with young people not in education, employment or training (‘NEETs’), and there is radio silence from the government in terms of what alternative service will be offered, just when it is needed most.
Last year the Prince’s trust conducted a survey of 2000 young people, which found that the young unemployed were more likely to feel ashamed, rejected, lost, anxious, insecure, down and depressed, isolated and unloved. Many reported having suicidal thoughts. The long term implications of rising youth unemployment are frightening, especially as this recession is affecting graduates as well as school leavers, many of whom are bringing with them the new social burden of huge student debt.
The government owes it to the electorate to offer some hope and practical solution to our young people. It is simply not acceptable to dismantle the structure that has been built to ensure we never return to such horrific youth unemployment as we experienced in the 1980s when over one million youths were registered unemployed – not to mention the two million plus who were not in education or training, causing tension and unrest in Britain’s inner cities.
In 2009, in the middle of the latest recession, the figure approached three-quarters of a million. But the Labour government’s future jobs fund, largely funded by the one-off bankers’ bonus tax, had positive results, with many young people having their 6 month placements extended. The scrapping of this successful scheme points to the short-sightedness of the coalition and the distinct absence of positivity or creativity in Osborne’s fiscal policy.
A new government should be coming to power with ideas and determination to enhance opportunities for youth, not limit them. According to Martina Milburn, chief executive of the Prince’s trust, youth unemployment costs the economy £10m a day in lost productivity. We need action, an emphasis on vocational training, opportunities within the green economy and real projects to target areas with severe skills shortages.
Will these vulnerable young adults be left without any support in what will be an increasingly harsh world of lower benefits and housing allowances? What will the government’s reaction be to the inevitable increase in crime and substance abuse that we are likely to see in certain communities? It is here than the policy of across the board cuts once again implodes. Making job cuts, cutting education and training resources as well as reducing benefits creates a black hole for individuals; but concurrently slashing policing and prison budgets signals dramatic consequences for society as a whole. This is an issue that threatens to be a national crisis as headline unemployment seems likely to rise next year.
Labour needs to ensure that we are organised, vocal and dynamic in opposition and have plenty to offer on this subject if we are to engage with the youth. More importantly, we must make sure that we don’t lose what should be our best-educated, most internationally focused and most technologically advanced generation of young people in British history.
We need to work with and support community groups, social enterprises and careers services that will be the only hope for many in a twisted version of Cameron’s Big Society.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Link to LabourList article 16.7.10

Read original article here

Since the general election the membership of the Labour Party has increased by thousands, albeit from an historically low base at the end of the last government. These new members do include some disaffected Liberal Democrats but there are also a huge number of brand new members - people feeling inspired and motivated for the very first time to get involved in politics and attempt to make a difference.
This surge in membership is a direct result of the horror at the new coalition and their determination to attack the poor with their policies on benefits cuts, tax rises and attacking civil servants, schools and massacring the NHS. The large numbers of younger members could also be inspired by the yes we can political attitude of the Barack Obama campaign in 2008, with the electorate in the UK now seeing a political struggle ahead and wanting to use their youth and dynamism to get things done. It would be arrogant of Labour to try and take credit; we are leaderless, largely policy-less and local parties do not, frankly, have the best reputation in terms of accessibility and openness. On the back of Labour's worst electoral result since 1931 meltdown and deep depression within the grassroots party would be a more predictable outcome, but there is a real feeling of hope and energy as a result of the new membership.
There is no doubt there is a real opportunity for the Labour party to rebuild from the grassroots upwards and to create an effective movement to support the opposition parliamentary party across the UK. The challenge now is to absolutely ensure that new members and activists are kept enthused and fully engaged in the long period between the leadership battle and the next election. We need to keep talking, listening and ensuring that the Labour Party is the diverse, hardworking organisation it needs to be in order to win the next election.
To capitalise on the new energy each local party needs to adapt and make sure that new members are not bogged down in acronyms, fustiness and cliques and that we become as visible as possible within the community. We can do this by offering ourselves as a community service; whether we're educating people of what the budget means to them, which school programmes are under threat, or just listening to their concerns. How do we do that? Door knocking yes, newsletters, yes but we also need to be out and about talking in more 'natural' environments, the more members a CLP has, then the more subtle campaigning is going on every single day in cafes, bars, libraries, playgroups and schools. As well as this we also need to be a community force, use our local website to hold vital community information, make sure we have a presence at every event, let us have a friendly, open, face that enables us to be a vital part of every area, not just a distant Westminster force. We need to find our new message and deliver it with our new voices. Our fight starts now in every constituency in Britain. Or, in the words of a brand new member, Rachel Reid:
"...we need to focus on getting back our voters..and for them to believe once again that Labour is the party to make this country one that we can ALL be proud to be part of..."

Are we nearly there yet?

As end of term in parliament approaches one gets the impression that the coalition will relish their summer break before all hell breaks loose with the Autumn Spending Review.
Michael Gove has been converted from a cool, sharp ex journalist to an paranoid ranter during his appearance on Today with Sarah Montague; weeks of Ed Balls crawling all over him seem to have taken their toll. He is currently fighting on two fronts after the terrible way that the Building Future Schools project was scrapped with unclear and badly prepared information along with widespread criticism from the opposition, back-benchers and teachers to the speed in which the Academies Bill is being rushed through the house for September. No one can understand why they are being pushed through, particularly when so many points are still so unclear and the time to debate them is running out.
Vince Cable is likely to appear even more ashen than in recent weeks following the news that his Graduate Tax proposals which were launched with much fanfare last week in London are now likely to be shelved in favour of a more direct transaction between graduates and their educational institutions. And, as discussed on the blog last week....
Andrew Lansley's NHS proposals have not had a positive reaction from the public; there is the feeling that the reorganisation is unnecessary and a thinly veiled attempt from the Tories to move the NHS towards denationalisation. Ahem, we certainly didn't vote for that Mr Lansley....
Nick Clegg managed to make such a hash of PMQ's (see previous post) that Number 10 was forced to clarify what he was trying to say, as well as no doubt giving him a ticking off for his assertion that the Iraq War was 'illegal'. Dave won't be leaving him in charge for a while....
And lets not forget Cameron himself who made a crazy claim that the UK was a junior partner in 1940 in the fight against the Nazi's. That's a junior partner to the USA, who didn't enter the war until 1941. Oh dear Dave...are you trying to upset everyone?

Clegg's Clangers

Can anyone tolerate Nick Clegg anymore? How did he fool so many? Watching him this week as he covered PMQ's for David Cameron was an uncomfortable experience. Granted, Jack Straw did go on a bit and his questions were rather long winded but Clegg's performance was arrogant, waffling and evasive; he attempted humour with a couple of gags about Straw's age but this did nothing to enhance his first appearance at PMQ's. He gave the impression of someone who was a little over excited to be there, and couldn't resist the opportunity to attack the previous government, even though the vast majority of his points were so irrelevant that the speaker had to put him back on course. Straw's six questions focused on Afghanistan and the Sheffield Forgemasters loan.
On Afghanistan Clegg clarified the coalition decision that UK forces in Afghanistan will be withdrawn from combat by 2015. This is after General Sir Mike Jackson said he was “wary” about setting down dates before Afghan troops were ready to take over the job of securing their country.  Given the unpredictable and fragile situation in Afghanistan, it does seem ill advised to set anything in stone and one can't help wondering if this is a box to be ticked prior to the next scheduled General Election in 2015, cynical but I can picture it now....celebrations and elation as the last troops arrive home from what will surely be by 2015 the bloodiest war in a generation, followed weeks later by polling day.

Clegg did not take the opportunity to be so clear on the continuing issue of Sheffield Forgemasters following the the challenge to his reasoning for cancelling the loan. Clegg had told the house that the loan was cancelled because the company's directors were unwilling to dilute their shareholding in the firm; however in a letter leaked since Clegg actually acknowledges that the directors were willing to do this. The issue was raised as a point of order on Tuesday in the House and the Speaker, John Bercow, advised that these issues should be dealt with in front of MP's. However, Clegg failed to use the opportunity to make an apology or even admit his error- instead he followed in his boss's footsteps when there is a tough question to be answered, and simply reminded us about the deficit; and then claimed that this was the reason for cancelling the loan. This issue is one that Labour will not let go of; it is especially sensitive for Clegg given it affects those in his constituency, Sheffield Hallam. His approach to the issue was rather disinterested; at no point did he acknowledge that this was a blow to the organisation or that this was a loan, rather than a grant. There is of course no chance of a U turn on this issue, but it is certainly one that has captured Labour's imagination and for that reason it won't go away....
Number 10 was then forced to make a statement that Clegg was voicing his own opinion when he described the Iraq War as illegal, a fair point but a bizarre choice of statement during PMQ's when you have a bunch of Tories behind you, all but 15 of which voted for the war! And was that George Osborne nodding along as Nick made this gaffe? Says it all really...
So all in all a bad PMQ's for the coalition and for Clegg in what could of been his opportunity to shine. The Labour Party were always going to go on the attack, but he really didn't help himself either.


Friday, 16 July 2010

The mask is slipping....

It was only a matter of time; after a regressive budget and numerous announcements relating to cuts affecting the poorest the ConDem coalition has finally touched Britain's rawest nerve - the NHS. After campaigning on the promise of ring-fencing the budget and no further 'top down re-organisation' the government published their NHS White Paper on Monday leaving Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham by his own admission, close to tears. Andrew Lansley defended the paper in the Commons on Monday, but it was left to a struggling Francis Maude to confront Burnham and the hecklers of Bexhill-on-Sea on Question Time. The public are finally beginning to question the coalition and their actions; Lansley's proposals will cost a staggering £1.7bn at a time when the NHS and the electorate would rather that all money is directed towards front line services. The proposals aim to rid the NHS of a costly bureaucracy by scrapping Primary Care Trusts (PCT's) and instead placing budgets in the care of GP's, a new NHS Commissioning Board and Local Authorities. The biggest shake up will be for GP's who will have to form consortia and will be responsible for buying services for their patients from 2013. This will add a new dimension to the role of many GP's who will, in many cases, lack the skills and expertise to perform these accounting roles. For those who fear for the long term future of the NHS itself there is an extra dimension of concern. Private health care providers will now be able to offer their services to GP's, meaning that companies could effectively undercut the NHS in order to 'win business'. Anyone fancy a Virgin branded brain scan? Its no wonder that Kingsley Manning, business development director at Tribal, welcomed moves which the firm said "could lead to the denationalisation of healthcare services in England". For those of us who have a fundamental fear of mixing healthcare with profit this is a worrying statement.
There is further muddy water surrounding the core principles of the coalition when it comes to the NHS. Whilst they are keeping their election promise to ring-fence spending there is concern that the resulting severe cuts in local government could have a detrimental effect on the NHS; without effective social services, social care and elderly care it will struggle to exist and safely discharge vulnerable patients. Furthermore their insistence that the targets put in place by Labour are ineffective and bureaucratic means that we could lose the two week cancer promise and the 48 hour GP appointment guarantee; measures which are popular with the electorate.
And let us remember, these are reforms that nobody voted for - they were not mentioned in any manifesto or the coalition agreement- and thus the government has no mandate to carry them out. NHS staff and their unions will be watching closely as the debate rages on; but we can be assured that the coalition will not be able to sneak through such radical reforms without a fight.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Labour Uncut Article - Posted 9.7.10

Link to original article
In 1997 my entire family voted for Tony Blair. We were genuinely thrilled as we celebrated the landslide. I was 21 and optimistic after a lifetime of Conservative government.
Fast forward to 2010 and only half of us still gave Labour our vote, with my mother making it very clear that this was their last chance. Interestingly, of the Labour voters, two of us are now members. We both got involved in the election campaign and felt passionately that Labour was the right party, on policy across the board and particularly to get us out of the recession.
But what about the rest of my family; what went wrong?

I should explain what sort of family we are. We are working class, although arguably we have moved to a more middle class existence. Within the family we have diverse careers and salaries. We have had a fair and moral upbringing. We live within our means and aren’t greedy. Here are the things that I believe defined and changed our politics, and those of other families, in the past 13 years.
1. The Iraq war. This led to me leaving the Labour party for 4 years and it was the final nail in Tony Blair’s coffin for my parents. This was an illegal war, without the backing of the British public and the first and only time I saw my mother get politicised (she even considered coming to London for the march). It felt as though Blair had completely lost interest in Britain and our domestic issues and that he was already cosying up to statesmen all over the world and getting into America’s back pocket in preparation for his post-politics millionaire lifestyle. This is history, and cannot be altered; but it was still not forgotten by the electorate in 2010.
2. Gordon Brown. Three of us were fans of Brown, cut to two after the Gillian Duffy affair. Despite the disappointment and frustration of all with the Blair spin years we discovered we didn’t want the alternative either. Brown unfortunately proved that you can’t be a 21st century PM unless you can act up for the media, smile naturally and play Mr Nice Guy. Substance, it seems doesn’t win you votes. People, and it would appear my family included, prefer someone with more charm and gloss to lead the country. There is no doubt that Labour has learned its lesson. All the leadership candidates are more media savvy, friendly and malleable than the former prime minister
3. Immigration. We are not a racist family. Nevertheless, my parents – like millions of other Labour and ex-Labour voters – are from the Duffy school of thought. When I ask them what negative experiences of immigration they have personally experienced they don’t have any answers. It is a perceived issue and their evidence includes: random stories from the Daily Mail, increased parking and traffic problems, Latvian neighbours (whom they very much like) and a lack of English spoken in a nearby High Street.
Yet both work closely with foreigners and are interested in and respectful of other cultures. Pretty depressing, but unfortunately their reasoning is far from unique amongst working class Britons. The leadership candidates have all agreed that complaints about immigration are often a smokescreen for other social issues such as housing, transport, poor town planning and run down areas. We all know that cultural diversity adds to our society, but that doesn’t appease people who see their immediate geography changing and link it with immigration almost by default.
Andy Burnham seems to be the only candidate speaking with an understanding of the average working class person and their concerns on this issue. It is not an easy subject, and some might argue that Labour were in the process of tackling it with their points based system, but this simply wasn’t communicated well enough. Clearly, we are in the EU and we can’t change history with regard to the east European immigrants, many of whom are no longer in the UK. The solution? Continue to educate and do not be afraid to celebrate the benefits of our society while listening to what the electorate actually wants, and maintaining an open, mature debate.
4. The Media. My family got scared. They read about the deficit and decided it was a big, dark monster that was going to get us if Labour got back in. They didn’t read complex economic analysis or read articles by leading economists. They heard a figure and it had the desired effect on them. They also saw how the media only printed pictures of Gordon Brown grimacing, frowning, mouth agape or in an equally unflattering pose. They believed that most of the people on benefits were lazy, undermotivated layabouts sponging off the government. They thought that all teenagers in baggy clothes talking ‘street’ were trouble. In essence they believed that Britain is broken.
It is too soon for the press to fall in back in love with Labour. But who knows – as things turn sour for the ConDem coalition maybe the nation will embrace an Ed, a Miliband, an Andy or Diane. The country nearly always leans to the left when a Tory government is in power, and surely this pattern will be replicated, especially given the regressive politics of this government.
On the positive side: what made me and my sister get involved and continue to do so post-election? We believe in right and wrong. We simply don’t think it is right to take away benefits from the poorest, cut spending in areas where the most vulnerable need support and let the rich continue to get richer. We don’t mind paying our taxes if it makes Britain a better country. We will happily pay our fair share and more if necessary.
We want to see the gap between rich and poor reduced, we want each child to have an equal start in life, we want to celebrate the tolerant and diverse Britain that we live in. Our lives improved between 1997 and 2010. We bought homes; we travelled; we have never been unemployed; our gay friends don’t encounter prejudices; we don’t experience sexism and we live in a fair tolerant society that we all helped to create. Our job for the next five years is to ensure that as life in Britain becomes harder, tougher and more unequal we are fighting for a fairer country as part of the Labour party.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The sun is shining..everywhere but Westminster

PMQs was a drab and somber affair today. Harriet Harman used her questions to tackle home office cuts resulting in pointless ping pong across the dispatch box over whether the number of police will be cut, with Cameron refusing to answer; surely the electorate have the right to know the truth, we aren't interested in smart one liners on issues like this. Cameron is becoming increasingly cocky during PMQ's, perhaps as he gets more comfortable his arrogance will be harder to hide?

Another week has passed, and no one can accuse the coalition of being inactive; we are getting daily updates of cuts, planned legislation changes and policy ideas all of which seem to follow their increasingly concerning pattern of cutting wherever possible and with little regard for the outcome.

We are also starting to see the first PR disasters coming out of the government; this week Sir Alan Budd's hasty resignation from the newly formed OBR caused some discomfort and Michael Gove made an unforgivable error in the Commons on Monday night when he read out the wrong list of schools to be scrapped.
As if the building of 700 new schools being stopped wasn't enough, many projects were thought to be safe until lists printed yesterday by the DofE told them otherwise; a further 25 are affected. The education policy is looking increasingly bizarre - we've now seen the encouragement of academies and free schools everywhere; scrapping of free school meals for the needy, cutting new, needed projects and all the while the government is still protecting the charitable status of private schools. 
Meanwhile in the yellow corner Nick Clegg is busy setting up websites asking us which laws we'd like to change and getting excited about a potential electoral reform that he has previously rejected and that is seemingly an academic system that is not being used for national elections anywhere in the world. The irony being that this little backhander to Clegg will cost the country c£80m; exactly the same amount that the cancelled loan to the Sheffield Forgemasters was projected to be...Despite his position in government and the fact that 25% of LibDem MP's hold ministerial positions on many levels things couldn't be worse for them. Clegg has gone from the man everyone agreed with to the biggest sell out since Iggy Pop did insurance ad's; the latest YouGov poll puts LibDem support at a reduced 15% and Danny Alexander the Treasury man from nowhere still looks like a rabbit in headlights stammering over questions related to the slashing of public services as he tried to defend the Finance Bill on Tuesday. He, and the rest of us are wondering how on earth he got to be on the front benches defending cuts on behalf of George Osborne.

And things are still getting worse for our public servants; not only will many have to contend with a pay freeze at best, and redundancy at worse but they will also have to deal with reduced pensions and more than likely reductions in their redundancy payouts should the government squeeze through legislation. Francis Maude another Tory old timer wheeled out to wield the axe said the measures were 'an inevitable consequence of current economic circumstances'. Of course they are.
Surely we are in for a winter of discontent post October if the coalition persist with these measures; trade unions are already predicting strike action; and who can blame them - many civil servants must be wondering what they will have to lose? And it doesn't stop there; after happily accepting front line troops' cheers as he increased their daily allowances David Cameron used the comfort of Westminster for his altogether less jolly announcement that they too will have their basic pay frozen, for a squaddie this means his salary will remain at £21k for the next 2 years.

So once again a harsh week for all bar the rich, the bankers and big business. Despite the urgency with which these cuts are taking place, it is worth noting that the Treasury will receive exactly £0 from the banking levy this year. The evidence seems to be stacking up that this governments regressive actions are not solely for the purpose of cutting the budget deficit, but to play out a long held belief in a smaller state leaving many without much needed jobs and support.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The State of Play

As I write David Cameron is busy blowing his own trumpet in the Commons post G8 so it seems a good time to reflect on reaction to the budget, nearly one week on, as well as commenting on some of the further proposals that we have heard from the coalition to cut the deficit.
Without doubt this budget has generated huge levels of interest from all parties, groups and commentators as well as for the first time in a long while, the ordinary man on the street.
In summary, it was a harsh budget that did not help anyone. No-one comes out of it better off, for which the coalition makes no apology; their oft repeated line is that we all have to contribute to clearing up the mess of the budget deficit. And most people would concede that this is fair enough, unless you consider just who will be hit the hardest as a result of Osborne's measures. No surprises, it's the poor that seem destined to suffer as a result of George Osborne's determination to pay off our deficit a full 15 years before even the IMF believes we need to. Research by the Fabian Society projects that spending cuts are likely to affect the poorest 10% six times as badly as the richest 10%. This is because it is precisely this group that relies both on welfare and front line services from local government, such as social care and services which are likely to be vastly reduced by Eric Pickles.

Various polls at the weekend seemed to indicate that overall the electorate are happy with the budget; the increase in VAT seemingly the only announcement that the majority take issue with. It appears that middle income Britain is if anything a little relieved; child benefit is staying albeit with a 3 year freeze; tax credits remain for those with salaries of under £40k and the cuts that we so far know about seem to be focused on benefits for those at the bottom of the pile; caps on housing benefit, review of disability allowance and as well as these measures the Tories are making frightening noises about relocating the long term unemployed, rehousing council tenants who's houses are deemed too big, forcing single mums back out to work when their children reach 5 as well as cutting disability benefits....oh and just make things even more Thatcherite we even have a culture minister suggesting that the Hillsborough tragedy was due to 'hooliganism'.

Meanwhile as our most needy digest how these changes may impact them at a time where unemployment is still climbing and their options are fewer than at anytime in the past 13 years; what are the cuts at the top of the tree? Ah, well....there is a banking levy which is only likely to bring in £2bn per year (around 0.07% of the balance sheet of the average city institution) which has been offset by a gradual cut in corporation tax. And we did see an increase in Capital Gains Tax, but even this was a good deal lower than expected by many commentators and investors.

Despite all of this, perhaps it is fair to say that so far, so far good for our merry coalition. Well, for the Tories that are no doubt controlling this government this may be the case but the Liberal Democrats are really starting to suffer. Labour are making it their clear modus operandi to attack them at any opportunity. All leading Labour figures used their articles and television appearances over the weekend to put the boot in, personally attacking the big Lib Dem names and digging out useful quotes especially relating to VAT rises. There are known to be an increasing number of Liberal Democrat MP's feeling very disengaged and nervous about what is happening in Westminster in their name. Alas, it appears that things can only get worse for the junior party in the coalition and indeed those needing any state support in the UK. A key part of Osborne's budget was the announcement that most government departments will have their budgets cut by some 25%, we will not know until the October spending review what this means in terms of inevitable job losses, cuts to services and further benefit reductions but it is likely that this is the point where the electorate will begin to sit up and take notice of what is surely an ideologically led attempt to shrink the state. October is likely to be the time that  real cracks will appear in the coalition, followed by severe tremors after the May local elections which will surely see a huge reduction in Lib Dem seats in councils across Britain, in particular in the North West where there is likely to be a strong sense of betrayal from the electorate.
However, even this won't make life easy for Labour. With the leadership battle in full swing and virtually all of the candidates admitting that mistakes were made in both the recent election campaign and the proceeding government there is a fundamental issue which doesn't appear to have been addressed. All five candidates have slammed the budget as regressive, unfair and attacking those most vulnerable and have been keen to point this out given any opportunity. But, as we have already seen, the electorate does not seem to share their view (at this stage at least) and surely any reinvention of the Labour Party needs to acknowledge this. The demographic that ensured Tony Blair's coronation is precisely the group which is currently satisfied with how the coalition is performing, whether we like it or not and Labour need to win back these people. How does it do it? If Osborne's plans don't plunge Britain into a double dip recession then whichever Ed or Miliband or Burnham or Abbott wins in September is going to need to be able to do more than just appeal to the UK's sense of fairness and  justice to get back into power.
Perhaps we can readdress this question in October when we will know more about how our future looks and who will be Labour leader but either way the candidates need to ensure that they are listening and can appeal to those who cannot see, or perhaps do not care that this budget is likely to cripple the poorest in Britain and could be the first step on an incredibly depressing,rocky road to  two tier society.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Budget Day....

Just hours after George Osborne delivered his first budget and it is fair to say the dust has far from settled. We were warned, of course, that this would be an unpleasant budget and both Osborne and Cameron did the media circuit at the weekend accepting that their popularity would suffer in the wake of today's announcements.
Osborne began his speech by outlining headline figures and concentrating on some of the macro economic figures; his intention is that by 2014/5 Britain's books will balance and that debt will be falling. Unemployment, he said, will peak next year at 8.1% but will be in decline to 6.1% by the end of this parliament. He stated that his rule of thumb is to work on a 80/20 ratio of spending cuts to taxes; and for this budget he has achieved a ratio of 77/23 - a sign, according to the BBC's Nick Robinson, of some LibDem influence. The camera hid David Cameron; giving the impression that Osbourne was flanked by his LibDem colleagues; Nick Clegg looking more smug and Tory-like than ever before and Danny Alexander still wondering how he got to be in the front bench of the Commons as Osborne's sidekick...

The big news is of course the increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20% from January 4th 2011. This measure was widely expected, but is still a disappointing move given the effect on the poorest. ONS statistics show that the richest 10% pay £1 in every £25 of their income in VAT; the poorest 10% pay £1 in every £7 as VAT. It simply cannot be denied that this move affects the poorest in Britain and counter balances any other measures that are designed to help them.

Regarding departmental budgets; the NHS and International Aid budgets have been protected but Mr Osborne announced that on top of the £40bn spending cuts that the previous government outlined he had found a further £17bn cuts in departmental spending. All other departments will be subject to 25% decrease in budget over the next four years, with seemingly some flexibility around this for Education and Defence. As an example, this could be a £10bn cut from the Home Office budget; and it is hard to see where these cuts can be made without reducing the police force and other vital, front line services.

As feared those working in the public sector were hit hard, a review of the public sector pensions was promised as well as pay freeze for 2 years for those earning more than £21000. Undeniably a cut given inflation; another blow to the so called 'protected' front line.

He confirmed that John Hutton will be looking into the benefits system in more detail and his report will be ready for next years budget; but some changes to benefits were ready to be unveiled..the headline grabbers will be:

  • Child benefit frozen for the next 3 years
  • Accelerating the increase in pension age to 66
  • Review of disability allowance, including introduction of a medical examination
  • Cap on housing benefit, maximum up to £400 per week for a four bed home (in London!, how on earth?); saving £11bn by the end of the parliament. He did, of course, tell the obligatory story of the family claiming £104k per year...the reality is there are 100 families in Britain claiming £100k - surely isolated and could be dealt with locally?
  • Scrapping the Health in Pregnancy grant, Surestart maternity grant, the Savings Gateway
  • Scrapping child tax credits for those families with a joint income of £40k plus
  • Increase of £150 above inflation for child tax credits
  • Public sector pensions, benefits and tax credits will be linked to the CPI rather than the RPI from now on, effectively cutting them
  • Relinking the state pension to earnins

In terms of tax rises and changes the big ones, aside from VAT, were:

  • Rise in Capital Gains Tax, staggered so that those in the lower tax bracket aren't affected; those in higher tax bracket will see an increase up to 28%
  • Increase of £1000 to the personal tax allowance threshold, rising to £7475 - taking 888,000 out of the tax system and affecting a further 23 million basic rate taxpayers
  • Introduction of a banking levy from January 2011, France and  Germany to follow suit.
  • Cuts in corporation tax, phased over the next 4 years
  • National Insurance holidays and tax cuts for some regional and small businesses, in order to encourage enterprise
  • The government will 'assist' those local authorities wanting to freeze council tax next year. Given that these very local authorities are victim to some of the toughest cuts, it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

The Chancellor also announced his plans to sell off NATS (National Air Traffic Services), the student loans book, TOTE and repeating the intention to inject private capital into Royal Mail; he also announced that the civil list will once again be frozen and that the list will be subject to scrutiny by the Audit Commission.

Osborne ended his speech by suggesting that this was a 'progressive budget' and that there would be no increase in child poverty numbers as a result of it's measures. Harriet Harman was passionate in her response; attacking the Liberal Democrats for their duplicity and damning the budget as one that would cost thousands of jobs and would affect the poor the most. She noted that the area most adversely affected would be Merseyside, and the least affected? Cheshire, home of Mr Gideon Osborne.

All commentators agree this was a tough budget and included the harshest measures for the last 30 years; no one will come out of it better off and there will be tough times ahead for many. It has to be said that those at the bottom of the ladder seem to have the least rosy future; a reduction in many benefits and few jobs to go out there and single mothers are supposed to go and find jobs when their children reach 5, given the economic climate and the need for flexibility is anyone's guess....
It would appear though that even more difficult times are ahead; in October's budget each department will announce where they are making their 25% of cuts - here is when the knife will go in even deeper...we fully expect more cuts to filter through over the next few weeks and I intend to keep track of them on the blog. If you have any comments regarding specific cuts or general thoughts please do comment. The future is certainly not bright, it is looking very blue in more ways than one....

Friday, 11 June 2010


I am away on holiday from today until 20th June and unlikely to be able to update; however I will catch up on my return. If you have any comments on previous posts please let me know!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Chop, come the cuts...

So Gideon/George wants us all to have a say in where the cuts are made. This rather lame policy was panned in most of the press this morning, including the Tory newspapers. The idea that those that hold the budgets, the figures and the power in their hands don't want to be the bad guys and make the tough decisions on their own is a little worrying, and a whole new way of avoiding responsibility! Ministers too are in for a tough time, they have been warned that they will judged on their ability to find cuts and wastage in their departments rather than their eloquence in lobbying for more cash.

The bottom line is this:  around £360bn in savings have to be found in the next five years (why oh why were we all getting so excited about the £6.2bn mentioned in the election campaign?!) and the deficit for the last tax year was £156bn which works out to be around £2500 per person in the UK.
Phew, pretty frightening.
So, what are we doing about it? Well, so far STILL no actual detail but apparently we're all going to get involved in talking about it and we are going to look at what Canada did in the 1990's for inspiration...But tidbits are coming through from Westminster, through both rumour and policy and the below could give us some indication of what to expect:

  • Libraries being staffed by volunteers? Mooted by Head of Public Sector at consultants KPMG, Alan Downey on yesterdays Today programme. Lots of libraries in the home counties then; not so many in the inner cities?
  • Increase in VAT seems imminent. An increase to 19% or perhaps a two phase rise? There is even talk of extending VAT to include some currently zero-rated items such as food, children's clothes or books.
  • Was the 5% ministerial pay cut a precedent for wider public sector salary cuts? Will the coalition be asking our teachers and nurses to take a reduction in salary? There is a growing belief in Westminster that this could be the case.
  • After Cameron's attack on the £20bn increase in benefits spending under Labour, the Department for Work and Pensions is bound to a take a hit in the emergency budget. Let's hope they keep their promises to protect Britain's poorest and most vulnerable and in particular their children when these cuts are allocated.
  • New Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander refused to comment on means testing child benefit, so this looks likely to be part of the cuts
  • The Department for Education announced today that they will not be implementing the extension to free school meals. The extension, which would have affected 500,000 pupils was due to include all of those will a combined parental income of less than £16191. Michael Gove's department said that this measure can no longer be afforded.
But despite this cut the Home Office has today managed to find £81m over ten years to bring forward a Labour policy of testing English language skills of all non-EU immigrants coming to the UK through marriage visas. The policy was due to be introduced next year, but it will be implemented this summer instead. Many immigration welfare groups are against the policy which is expected to reduce marriage visa applications by 15% , but clearly the government feels it is money well spent.

Let just keep an eye on these savings,  I am not seeing that many that are affecting Cameron, Osborne and their pals from Britain's elite so far! Instead we've got kids losing out on free school meals, mum's potentially having to pay VAT on kids clothes and no public libraries....

Monday, 7 June 2010

And so it begins...

The first LibDems have defected and David Cameron has told us, as predicted, that the books are in a much worse state than anticipated so cuts will affect each and every one of us. No surprises there.
The two LibDem absconders are a couple of local councillors in Exeter who have moved over to Labour as a protest at the coalition. I am sure that they won't be the last, but wonder how long until Nick loses a 'name' - I guess when the public sector job cuts begin; speaking of which....
Cameron chose the Open University at Milton Keynes to make his speech of doom, understood by many as a 'softening up' of the public before the spending review on the 22nd June which is likely to hit the public sector hard, as well as an increase in VAT - possibly to 20%. It has even been rumoured that public sector workers will be expected to take a 5% pay cut, mirroring that of ministers.
Cameron focussed on the deficit and the interest payments that the UK will be paying in 2014/5 if the deficit isn't reduced now. He said that there was no link between the deficit and the recession and is purely due to the previous governments overspending in the public sector. The Shadow Chancellor, Alistair Darling, challenged this by stating that pre the recession the UK had the second smallest deficit in the G7 and pointed out that "there’s absolutely nothing now that people didn’t know when I made my Budget statement in March". Once again the PM's speech was short of detail, and there was no information regarding the scale or focus of the cuts other than a promise that the most needy and vulnerable will be protected. Again, there was a lack of detail as to how that can be so, and already commentators are wondering how the gap between rich and poor can possibly be closed given the cuts we are likely to see. All should be revealed on June 22nd, when George Osborne will announce his spending review and our new age of austerity begins...
Meanwhile in the Commons, Nick Clegg was busy defending his reform proposals and indicating that there maybe some movement on the 55% for dissolution policy, should a parliament find itself in limbo, yet unable to find the missing 4% to dissolve.

Friday, 4 June 2010

First PMQ's

Wednesday saw David Cameron's first PMQ's, it was a subdued affair due in part to the horrific events unfolding in Cumbria and also due to the first day of school atmosphere in the Commons with so many new MP's getting the feel for this tradition. Harriet Harman was asking the questions on the opposition benches and she did very well, asking questions based around two key policy areas; marriage tax allowances and rape. There was an amusing exchange on the subject of cutting the married man's tax allowance; a policy that Cameron claims will reinforce his commitment to promoting marriage and keeping families together. Harman pointed out that this measure will cost the Treasury half a billion pounds per annum whereas the difference in pocket is likely to be only £3 per week - is this likely to keep a family together? I think not. Nick Clegg, who is against this policy and has won the Liberal Democrats an abstention in this vote, looks decided squeamish and rather like an embarrassed teenager on holiday with his middle aged, and rather uncool dad.
The exchange of questions relating to the proposal to change anonymity laws for rape defendants was really interesting and some commentators observed that David Cameron has perhaps diluted this proposal somewhat. It had been thought that the coalition was attempting to retain anonymity until the point of verdict in any trial, the PM seemed to indicate that it is more likely that this will be until the accused is charged.  A change from the current law which can release a name at the arrest stage. It would appear that this issue will be subject to some debate and hopefully a consensus will be reached across all parties. A key concern is that there is evidence that many victims do not come forward until the identify of a rapist is released and the fear is that any changes could be a step back in time.
The rest of PMQ's was largely uneventful with several questions from new MP's relating to issues such as NHS spending, RDA's, building new schools programmes and the Human Rights Act. We didn't learn anything of substance from the answers to these questions, but the Prime Minister was polite, honest and spoke broadly of aims and intentions.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A week is a long time in politics....

A cliche often over used but for poor David Laws this really is appropriate. He was lauded by all following his performance in the Commons in the week, passionately and eloquently defending his £6.2bn spending cut plans. Even senior Labour figures were publicly impressed, and some believed he was beginning to outshine his boss, George Osborne.
However after just 17 days in his role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws was yesterday forced to resign from his post after it was revealed, once again by The Daily Telegraph, that he had claimed over £40000 in second home expenses whilst cohabiting with his long term partner. It's a sad state of affairs, particularly as it does genuinely appear that Laws was trying to protect his privacy and that of his lobbyist partner, James Lundie. Perhaps though Law, a millionaire by the time he was 28 after a glittering career in the City at JP Morgan and Barclays, could have taken a hit from his own pocket rather than putting through the claim if he were so keen to keep his sexuality in the closet?
No doubt a blow to Clegg and Cameron as the first 'old politics' scandal strike the very heart of a rising star of the 'new politics'. Both have focussed heavily on the need to clean up Westminster and therefore could not afford to back Laws, especially as Cameron has so publicly disciplined his own MP's accused of similar crimes during the last parliament. Both men did express their desire to see Laws return to the cabinet, perhaps when the dust settles; in the meantime he will be replaced by the current Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander, who worked alongside Laws and senior Conservatives during the coalition talks in May.

The above news closes a busy end to May for our new government which several big announcements including the publication of the full Coalition Agreement, the report on the first wave of spending cuts and the Queens Speech on Tuesday. Cameron then made his first key speech as PM in West Yorkshire, focussing on ending the benefit culture and rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Key points to come out of the coalition agreement include the following:

  • Parliamentary reform which will be lead by Nick Clegg. This will include a referendum on the Alternative Voting system, to be held in this parliament. Other elements will include the reform of the House of Lords, fixed parliamentary terms and the controversial move to change rules relating to the dissolution of parliament. Clegg compared the proposals to those of the 1832 Reform Act and vowed to act swiftly. However the announcement of the new peerages at the end of the week smacked of old politics with several Tory donors entering the house including Simon Wolfson, Chief Executive of Next, who is was a key signatory of the 'anti jobs tax' letter that played such a large part in the election campaign. Dolar Popat, who has donated c £200k to the Tories was also given a peerage. On the Labour benches John Prescott and Angela Smith were amongst the names entering the Lords, along with a number of Gordon Browns personal advisors.
  • Big changes were announced in Education this week also, with all schools now given the opportunity to apply for academy status. This is a change from the previous governments policy which only allowed failing schools to apply in an attempt to inject private money and improve performance. Initial fears are of a two tier system of education where struggling schools are left to implode and 'outstanding' schools turn into academies and increase their resources. The news has met with a mixed reaction within the education sector. Meanwhile it was also announced that any spending promises made since January 2010 by the Labour government will now be reviewed, threatening several school building projects across the country. The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed at the end of the week that it would be impossible to continue with the current school building projects and go ahead with the proposals relating to academies. It is starting to become apparent that education is going to be a key department for change in the early months of the coalition. 
  • The changes relating to Health were largely expected with the announcement of changes to the way the senior positions in the NHS are appointed. There is to be an elected board of executives, although we await more detail of how this will work. There will be a reduction in administration costs within the NHS of 33% according to the agreement. The Tory proposal to rename the department the Department of Public Health seems to have been quashed. Some disappointing news though, the Tory pledge to build a new hospital in the North East to replace aging facilities in Stockton and Hartlepool has been scrapped. The £464m project, called Wynyard Park was backed by the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley prior to the election.
  • Royal Mail is backing the news after the coalition detailed its plans for the troublesome service. It announced that it plans to sell off Royal Mail, whilst retaining Post Office Ltd under government control. The policy, which was scrapped by Labour earlier this year will be controversial given the strength of the unionised workforce, market changes and the difficulty in finding a buyer for the business. Peter Mandelson was forced to scrap his own policy; blaming the lack of interest from the private sector. The coalition proposal has not ruled out the possibility of employee ownership.
  • European policy was largely as expected with a pledge that no further powers will be devolved to Europe during the lifetime of this parliament. a stark reminder to Nick Clegg, the most EU friendly of all senior political figures that he is dealing with a Conservative Party that still views Europe with enormous suspicion. 
  • Increase in Capital Gains Tax, this is a policy where we are awaiting more detail and already has caused ripples of discontent. CGT currently stands at 18%, much lower than the normal rates of income tax and therefore creating a convenient tax loophole that is exploited by many. The government is under pressure to ensure that those close to retirement age are not penalised as well as protecting small businesses. 
  • An interesting proposal is the changing of the laws around rape. The government is proposing that men accused of rape will, like victims, will be entitled to anonymity until such time as they are found guilty. The thinking behind this is that a large number of those wrongly accused find that their reputations are irreversibly damaged and that they are unable to return to their previous lives after the court case. However, the move has been widely critised by women's groups and those representing rape victims. One commentator noted that this was like going back in time by 25 years, and will stop women coming forward to report crime. A number of men have been convicted as a result of more victims coming forward when their rapist is identified, most recently in the case of John Warboys the 'Black Cab rapist'.
The coalition agreement covers some 400 legislative proposals in total, but still has a lack of detail especially on the Immigration Cap which we know will apply to all non EU citizens although we are still none the wiser as to how the cap will work or what the number will be. There are clearly still some areas over which the Tories and Liberal Democrats cannot find agreement, such as the Human Rights Act and Social Care and the interim solution here seems to be to set up a number of commissions. There are at least nine to be set up, many of which have one year to report back.

Monday 24th May saw the publication of the first wave of spending cuts announced at the Treasury by George Osborne and the aforementioned David Laws. As promised during the election campaign £6.2bn (gross) spending cuts were announced, making little more than a scratch on the surface of the current deficit but still managing to grab headlines with cuts such as the following:

  • Scrapping Child Trust Funds completely by the end of 2010
  • Reduction in ministerial spending, ministers will be encouraged to share cars and travel second class (although one of my followers did spot Teresa May and her leopard skin shoes in the 1st class carriage returning from the Police Federation conference on the South Coast to London last week....). However it later transpired that ministerial red boxes will have to travel by car for security reasons....
  • £80m cuts from Education QUANGO's
  • Reduction of 11% in costs from the Department for Business
  • Reduction in the number of extra university places from 20000 to 10000 this year
  • Scrapping Regional Development Agencies in the South of England
  • Several cuts in transport budgets, likely to lead to an increase in train fares
  • Huge 'wastage' cuts from the Local Government and Communities departments
  • £27m cut from the Olympics budget
The general theme of the cuts was, as promised during the election campaign, to cut government wastage. Across most departments we see proposals to cut spending on IT projects, administration, recruitment, consultancy and property costs. There is to be a freeze on all non essential public sector recruitment effective straight away.

So far things seem to be panning out as expected, and to be fair, as promised. The government is continually warning us that tough times are ahead and these initial policies are only the tip of the iceberg. What lies ahead in the next few weeks and months? All agree that the emergency budget on 22nd June will include deeper and more harrowing cuts in public spending and more than likely are increase in VAT to this space.....

    Wednesday, 26 May 2010


    Apologies for the lack of activity on the site. I am currently reading the Coalition Agreement, the Spending Report and the Queens Speech and will attempt to summarise all three and report back in the next few days.
    I will also look at some of the immediate changes that have been announced such as the invitation for all schools to take up Academy status....Any comments or thoughts you have on any of this weeks events please feel free to blog!

    Monday, 17 May 2010

    The waiting game....

    The weekend press was full of speculation regarding likely policies of our new LibCon coalition but it seems we will have a short wait to see exactly what the Queens Speech will contain next week. There was a briefing this morning from George Osborne from the Treasury although this wasn't specific in terms of cuts, it just confirmed the date of the budget will be June 22nd. As expected he made a point of stating that things were even worse than expected and that tough times are ahead because of the mess that was left behind; however he still insisted that the savings this year can primarily come from 'government waste' rather than an increase in taxes. He refused to be drawn on the expected rise in VAT, perhaps this tells us what we need to know?
    There is increasing dissent from all sides regarding the proposal to change the rules around the dissolution of parliament. The proposal is that rather than simply requiring a majority, i.e. 51%, of MP's to dissolve the house and therefore call an election 55% will instead be required. David Davis is the most senior Tory voice to oppose this, along with other member of the house; it's predicted this bill could have a rocky ride through the Lords.
    An arguably cynical piece below relating to means testing child benefit; not something we have heard as yet but thought to be a likely cut. The article contains individual quotes from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stating that they will not means test; will the coalition be used as an excuse to implement such a policy? See this link for the full article Child Benefit

    I will update with any further news as it comes through but as ever please do comment and post your thoughts.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Settling dust....

    For the first time today it feels as if things are returning to normal....out and about I didn't overhear a single conversation about politics and the BBC's 'BREAKING NEWS' banner has gone from announcements such as 'BROWN RESIGNS' to 'Nick Herbert gets Policing Minister'.  Hmm not quite as sexy is it?
    David Cameron chaired his first coalition cabinet meeting since WWII and things looked very cosy with Nick wedged between a couple of Tories and Dave vice versa. Lovely. All the papers have used the wedding analogy and things look reasonably cosy two days in...but that is not our concern. My interest is policy - what is happening, which promises are being kept and/or broken and how it is affecting us day to day.
    Things are still reasonably sketchy, and most of todays information came from radio and TV interview soundbites from the new cabinet ministers. Things to watch out for.....Olympics budget will not be protected....LibDems can abstain on new nuclear power station, which are unlikely to be built as they won't be government funded.....persistant rumours that VAT will increase to 20% and that employees NI will increase as per Labour plans in April 2011.....
    Perhaps no huge surprises as we know we are in for tough times in the next few months and years but lets see what else comes through in the next few days as we move away from the media frenzy to more mundane Westminster affairs and eagerly await the Queens Speech on May 25th.  

    The Department for Children, Schools and Families with its bright rainbow logo has already been renamed today by Michael Gove. It is back to the Department for Education (cost of renaming and rebranding??)  we understand that as per the Tory manifesto the majority of Sure Start centres will close in order to save money in this department. Speaking to a worker in our local centre yesterday she was nervous about the future, which she believes is assured until 2011,  as these centres are, in my experience, widely praised and provide an excellent support network for families and mothers in communities all over the country as well as being of particular value for immigrant families; often providing the first interaction outside of their ethnic community. They also provide services such as nutritional advice, English lessons for non native speakers, baby massage courses, new mother support groups and stay and play sessions for under 5's. Let us see what transpires here....Comments and thoughts welcome as ever!

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010

    Policies starting to filter through....

    Following the Cameron-Clegg press conference at 1420 from the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street we are starting to see a fuller picture of what the new coalition holds, policy wise. One observation that the country is being run by 'characters from a Richard Curtis movie' did make me laugh, indeed it was very much a love-in with lots of quips and witty comments. However, pleasantries aside - what is actually going to happen and what impact will it have on our daily lives; so far we know pretty much the following:

    • 3rd runway at Heathrow to be scrapped - good news for environmentalists? 
    • £1million inheritance tax threshold scrapped, sticking at £325k for now - bad news for property millionaires who might die soon? 
    • Implementation of a 'plane tax' another one for the greens, but doubtless meaning an increase in airfares?
    • Changes to the Child Trust Fund, a given really but likely to mean scrapping the vouchers for middle income families and retaining for lower income families
    • From April 2011 minimum tax threshold will increase to £10k
    • Spending cuts of £6bn to be found this fiscal year, money to be raised through cuts, not increasing taxes- hard times ahead for all?
    • And the 'jobs tax' the crux of the Tories entire campaign, rather quietly it looks likely that the increase in NI will take place in April 2011 although the increase will only apply for employees, not employers...a nod to those businessmen that backed Cameron with their letter writing campaign?
    • The cap on non-EU immigration will be implemented, despite the difference in immigration policy between the two parties - still no detail though on how this will be implemented. Surely a huge challenge? 
    A really interesting change to a five year fixed electoral term, personally I think this is a great idea in the name of democracy and open government. But the question still remains - will our two foppish heroes still be buddies come the third Thursday in May 2015?

    Lots more detail likely to come through in the coming days; but please post your thoughts on what we have so far...

    See link for the full policy document:

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    New PM at Number 10

    Finally, it feels as if the election is over. We've just seen David Cameron enter Number 10 for the very first time, along with his wife and closest political advisors. We now know that he is entering into a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats; although as yet no news on policy, cabinet positions and exactly which manifesto promises (on both sides) will be broken to make way for a 'stable government'. Rumours abound that the increase in the inheritance tax threshold will be the first thing to go; no doubt a popular move for the majority but what about those for whom this was a key factor in their decision making? But surely the biggest question we have to ask is how do LibDem voters feel? Excited at their first opportunity in generations to influence the front line of government, or betrayed by Nick Clegg who is aware of how uncomfortable so many of his members will feel having to work with a party to which they feel ideologically opposed? Initial comment on social networking sites seems to suggest disappointment from LibDem voters who see them as a party committed to reform, pro European and with a liberal attitude to immigration. Will this new period of government at Number 10 lead to a resurgence for the Labour Party? Liberal lefties coming home, under a new, fresh leader -who will definitely be called 'Ed or Miliband' according to one senior figure in the party.
    Meanwhile, lets watch closely over the next few days at what immediate action our new government takes....


    General feeling is that an announcement is imminent. More and more senior Labour figures publicly stating that they do not believe a Lib-Lab pact can work. Smiling faces from Tories, glum Labour faces....
    Is GB moving out as we speak?, will Clegg & Cable have cabinet posts? Will Balls and Miliband declare their candidature for the Labour leadership?
    We should soon be able to see just what this new government is going to mean for the British public.

    Monday, 10 May 2010


    1700 from 10 Downing Street. Lib Dems and Labour to start formal talks to discuss a 'progressive coalition' - Brown resigning as leader of the Labour Party. Removing himself from the situation to allow conversations to begin. New Labour leader by September conference.
    Liberal Democrats now talking to both main parties - even more interesting days ahead.....

    Interesting article from Saturday's Independant


    Interesting article from Saturday

    Still waiting...

    So, nothing to add in terms of the fundamental point of this blog because we don't know who our government will be; and as such what policies are going to be implemented and when...However, politics is definitely the key talking point amongst friends and acquaintances at the moment - everyone is keen to know how the situation will resolve itself and how the new government will look and operate. As I write the LibDems are going back to the Tories for further clarification on a number of points, according to David Laws from the Liberal Democrats. Apparently Peter Mandelson and co are still waiting in the wings although it seems a matter of days before Gordon leaves Downing Street for the last time.

    Some initial thoughts though away from the hullabaloo at Westminster. Much talk about the changes in child tax credits that the new government seems sure to abolish, hurting a good deal of people although the feeling seems to be that this is an essential loss during these tough economic times and with an enormous deficit that needs clearing - other freebies that we are sure to lose - Health in Pregnancy Grant and Child Trust Funds; nice to haves but rather generous?
    After spending a lovely though rainy weekend on the South Bank in London it dawned on me how little the arts were mentioned during this election campaign. In the heady, easy days of 1997 New Labour was able to schmooze our creative greats and offer free museum entrance to all in their manifesto. Surely this will sadly be reversed in this next parliament? What do we think? A shame, but again a no brainer to save money?

    Things to muse on as we await further information from the talks.....

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    The morning after....

    Unlikely to be the only post of the day as things seem to be moving very quickly but everything seems to be up in the air. As I see it, Clegg sticking to his word and more likely to back the Conversatives although not perhaps in a formal coalition - but Brown appearing to be holding on and will attempt to speak to the Lib Dems, although Lib/Lab still wouldn't give a majority!
    Earlier on this morning and in the midst of the confusion there was still a lot of politicking and spin going on especially from Mandelson and May squabbling about terminology and exactly 'who lost the election' - neither conceding their disappointment.

    Little reaction on the BBC from the public themselves, just some soundbites in Leeds hoping for a better time for small businesses and hard working families - it could be a long wait until we know how relevant policies will pan out.

    Most interesting aspect for me is whether Clegg, who so far has appeared to be straightforward in sticking with his election statements (the only one who has been in a situation where he has had to....) will use electoral reform as a tool when speaking with Cameron later on today and latterly when the emergency budget is revealed in 50 days time....