Tag Archives: Politics

Told you so…

So there we have it – an answer to my previous post, what was wrong with the press office is that it’s head honcho was resigning… It’s been covered endlessly elsewhere, and to be honest the whole phone-tap marlarky isn’t a topic that I’m all that interested in, so I’m not going to give it any more air here other than to say that the ex-hack in me can’t help but chuckle when the likes of John Prescott, himself of a profession steeped in corruption, lies and thievery, can even begin to keep a straight face saying he thought that hacks might have had ‘higher standards’.

Higher standards? He’s lucky most hacks have any standards at all these days!

Conservative Press Machine in Crisis?

It’s not been a good week for the Conservatives in the press: they’re being slammed over interest rates, job cuts, still-rioting students, and now Baroness Warsi has put her foot in it with a speech which for the most part I think we can agree with, that there is a level of casual discrimination in the UK where all of those who follow Islam as a faith are either moderate and quiet, or extremists with suicide vests.

It could have been dealt with as a quiet matter, a general rebuttal that the PM/ Cabinet/Government agree broadly that all forms of discrimination should be tackled openly – but no. Furious ex-ministers led by the swivel-eyed-past piled into studios up and down the country, a messy operations note came out from No.10 that the speech hadn’t been ‘approved’ – possibly the worst thing that they could have said about it.

So we all looked at this, and we scratched our heads and wondered – just what the hell is going on in the Downing St. press office these days? How did they drop such a clanger in a week of on-going bad news…

This week should have been easy: Miliband is the most ineffective party leader since Iain Duncan Smith, the opposition are in disarray flip flopping, the Shadow Chancellor can’t add up, and today we find out that he’s allegedly (according to the Daily Mail) a cuckold. On top of all of that the golden goose of bad labour press is back: Blair is all over the news dragging the expensive and potentially illegal war back into the public consciousness all over again.

One can only assume that there is something bubbling under the surface about to break miserably all over the Government.

ConHome’s comments go behind a Moderation Wall

Conservative Home has never been my favourite political site: I’ve always considered it to be a mixture of useful news and solid, well researched opinion; mixed schizophrenically with overtly biased tosh that the Daily Mail would be ashamed of. This often results in ConHome feeling like a throwback to the “nasty party” of 20 years ago, a party that didn’t give a toss about liberalism, the future, international cooperation (beyond America) or society – preferring instead to champion the cause of ‘I’m alright Jack’. In part because of that ConHome does seem to have become somewhat of a rallying point for the exact people that made the ‘Tories’ unelectable for a generation.

This slant in direction, is of course, defended by a vocal group who take over the comments with disparaging comments about ‘Cameroons’ and ‘Europhiles’ – all seemingly intent on dragging the party back to ‘values’ that won it so many elections in the last 15 years. Online they portray themselves as the political majority, the screaming cry of the great ignored – offline this group are virtually silent in all the political debates I’ve ever attended; quite often I’ve mused that this might be because the views expressed by some commentators are of the sort that you’d have to be quite brave (or quite stupid) to try and defend face to face.

Whatever you thought about it though, the ferocity of the debate did often prove that the party is in flux; that there are more sides to the argument than the actual editorial often portrayed and that there are plenty of Conservatives out there that aren’t swivel-eyed crackpots stereotyped so often in the wider media, all harking back to a bygone age of Empire, Imperialism and Britain as a global economic force to be feared. This is great. Conservatives should be a split bunch, that’s the point of freedom of thought, and love it or loath it ConHome has given some of these debates a place to flourish.

Those days however might now be over.

Today ConHome published a statement that from now on, all comments will be moderated. And whilst the statement is filled with semi-reasonable excuses as to why they’re beginning to moderate. Not once does it adequately answer my question about why moderation couldn’t be done post rather than pre publication, at least that way the users views are always transparent. They promise to maintain ‘fair’ comment – whether that remains the case we’ll wait and see. I’m not sure that ConHome will be able to resist shaping the conversation to their agenda; it’s certainly been my experience that debate in the comments is often stifled by inconsistent moderation.

My biggest problem though is that a pre-comment moderation will inevitably slow the pace of discussion – politics can move fast, sometimes blisteringly so… one of the joys of ConHome is that this pace has always been reflected in the user comments: now it looks like those days might be over. I personally think that’s a sad day for the Right’s online community – I know I’m a hypocrite in having pre-comment moderation on my own site, but I’ve never claimed that this is a voice of a group, nor have I made a media career out of it. I think Tim and friends will find that this is a step backwards for ConHome, and I hope they will reconsider the distinctly retrograde step of moderating all comment pre-publication, and I hope they do this before it becomes a ghost site with all the good stuff hidden behind a wall of moderation or payment.

The real cost of the ‘public’ sector.

In a moment of hilarious irony, The Guardian, king of the non-job advertisement market, has posted a map with accompanying figures showing the public sector workforce as a percentage of the total workforce throughout the UK, broken down by electoral region.

It just goes to prove what many have suspected for years – that certain areas of the country where Labour were ‘slashing’ unemployment were simply transferring the unemployed from benefits to a job that provides benefits: in some areas the public sector workforce is above 30% with Castle Morpeth’s public sector accounting for a staggering 48.7% of the total workforce.

It’s no wonder the UK is broke, not just broke though, broken is closer to the mark. Our politicians have created a generation that sees it as the state’s duty to employ them. The public sector doesn’t generate wealth, it simply leaches – and while there are services that clearly the state should pay for – there are many more it shouldn’t. These millions of jobs paid for solely at taxpayers expense aren’t putting teachers in schools, or policemen on the beat, they’re instead giving us ‘community street football organisers’, ‘regional diversity cohesion coordinators’ and a whole host of other non-jobs making people ‘feel happy’, ‘play safe’ or ‘integrate’.

The fact is that we’ve seen an explosion of bureaucracy in the last 10 years. Councils with ‘CEOs’ demanding money with menaces through debt collection agencies, community spies photographing your rubbish, a veritable sheaf of paperwork to even consider working near a child – I could go on and on.

While it’s unfair to tar all public sector workers with the same brush, many people’s experiences (often unfairly dismissed as ‘just opinions’) are that the public sector works to slowly, doesn’t communicate internally, wastes huge amounts of money, and doesn’t deliver to the man in the street – who it shouldn’t be forgotten is the embodiment of who the whole sector is supposed to serve.

This wasn’t job creation, this was block vote buying – pure and simple, and now it’s time to pay for that. Except I don’t think we’re going to slash anywhere near as much as we need to. Cameron promised the small-state, but the truth is he can’t afford it – he simply can’t afford the political price of making most of the North East unemployed again, and he can’t afford the economic reality of some of these people sitting on benefits claiming their is no work.

It made the Conservatives toxic for a whole generation after Thatcher dispatched the over-productive, state-supported job creation that was the coal mines, they formed powerful unions that chose who you voted for, they bankrupt businesses up and down the country, and they’ve proved to be a rallying call for the left ever since. Reinforcing the view that the state will provide come hell or highwater. Except it shouldn’t be like that.

Coal miners are the classic example; many to this day claim they never found work again – they were coal miners and that was that – but much of the real life experience of those that worked in these communities after Thatcher shut the mines proved that these men had learnt skills in the mines that could be easily transferred to construction, highway maintenance, machinery and automotive repair and a thousand other trades… many however chose to ignore this, bitter that they would have to consider a different ‘trade’ while others claimed that they were ‘incapable’ of travelling to find work.

They were dragged into a mentality that it was the state’s duty to employ them at any cost, and now we have a new generation of miners in our inefficient overly expensive public services.

The argument often used about public sector workers is that they’re contributing to the tax coffers: except they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how you spin the maths it doesn’t work – it’s black magic taxation that offsets incoming money against outgoing money and never looks at a correlation between where the outgoing money pays for the incoming money.

If we consider it using magic beans (which let’s face it may be all we have left soon) it looks like this.

I decide I’m going to be a magician. I work hard. I make and sell magic beans in a country which has 100 people in it.

In year one I make 10 beans and I sell all ten to people.

I’m taxed at 20% so that’s equivalent to giving 2 beans back to the state in year 1.

The state provides me with magical lanterns, giant killing services and so on that cost  50 beans a year so I have paid 4% of what it has cost to provide. That means that clearly not everyone has to pay meaning the state can afford healthcare, looking after old warlocks and saving unicorns.

However…

In year 2 the state decides that it’ll start providing a community street quidditch coordinator. This person costs 2 beans, the total cost of the state is now 52 beans. This means my contribution is now worth less. The total amount of incoming tax has reduced. The state justifies this with the fact that the community street quidditch coordinator pays 1 bean a year in tax. But the state now puts 1 bean away as well to pay for HR, insurance and an end salary pension scheme so the community street quidditch coordinator can retire fifteen years before I do to look after Mandrakes.

This means…

That the state now has 2 beans a year unpaid for, the community street quidditch coordinator will never actually generate new beans. The beans he is taxed never actually cover the full cost of his employment.

So eventually…

The state begins to run a deficit of beans. We have to borrow beans, and the more beans we borrow the more they cost to pay back. They have to take more of people’s beans, people with businesses leave the country – So eventually evil wizards from the IMF have to devalue our beans meaning that we’re all poorer, these wizards will make the community street quidditch coordinator unemployed whether the state likes it or not, and eventually someone will have to pay for looking after the ex-community street quidditch coordinator which eventually comes back to me.

Ultimately this means…

My beans are worth less, the state is taking more of them, and I’m looking at the border to a country where my beans aren’t wasted meaning that when I do move to a far-away land the state won’t get my 2 beans at all.

It’s a vicious cycle and what’s more it’s one that is unjustifiable however you look at it. But it’s one we’re currently stuck in. We’ve got to balance the books, we can’t afford to be stuck paying for people to be employed by the state simply so they have jobs. The private sector will eventually cover unemployment – Germany proved this with an affordable tax and spend plan that encouraged companies to train employees, generate wealth and exports and make it easier for the country to run without running a dangerous overdraft on the international bond market.

It’s not ‘nice’ – Cameron and Clegg know this. Whether they’ve got the political balls to be ‘nasty’ is yet to be seen. What’s clear is that the current cuts where nowhere near deep enough.

The NUS are revolting

As I write this I’ve just watched a ‘peaceful’ protester throw a 10kg fire extinguisher off the roof of 30 Millbank at the Police attempting to regain order below. A low point in the protest that saw 30 odd thousand students, lecturers, anti-cuts, anti-war, anarchist, trots and others take to the street to protest about the Government’s plans to raise University tuition fees.

The plan to raise fees would see fees which currently average around £3,000 (3,500.- €) double in most cases and peak at up to £9,000 (10,600.- €) in the most outstanding institutions. This at the highest end of the scale is being reported as having the potential to leave a student £40,000 (47,000.- €) in debt at the end of their course.

It’s clearly a lot of money – but, let’s have a quick fact check at some of the things that have been said about this plan:

First – no matter what media you indulge yourself in, you can’t help but have noticed the number of students claiming they wouldn’t be able to go to university at all if the fees were raised. This simply isn’t the case – the  student funding mechanism is not going to change in the respect that it stumps up the money in the first place, no student would be unable to get this – thus no student would not be able to attend.

Second – it’s been widely ignored by the student unions and sympathetic media that the student funding mechanism is actually becoming fairer with students able to earn more initially before there student loan is deducted from their wage. This means that they can begin to establish a career using the degree before they start to pay back the loan.

Third – you can’t protest by spraying anarchy symbols on things then demand that the state pay your education fees: you’re misunderstanding the very concept of anarchy.

With those uncomfortable truths in the open we can continue. You see the problem here is nothing to do with university funding, it runs much deeper than that: the real problem lies in why so many of our young people today believe vehemently that they’ll not be able to get a job without a degree, and further that they must attend university to study (it does not matter what) in order to complete the educational tick-list.

The truth is that the degree has been entirely devalued. A degree used to be a symbol of professional achievement in a field – your degree almost always led directly to a particular specialism in the working world or to an academic career. Now many students study fields that they’ll never refer to in their working life, many more leave with degrees which are out of date, irrelevant or inappropriate. Labour saw the degree not as an academic key, but rather as an issue of class – so they manipulated it, it became the benchmark to which you must aspire. This was done quite cynically, it allowed the Labour party to manipulate youth unemployment figures with gay abandon, and it generated a reason to reach out to their core constituencies with a real chance of ‘betterment’.

They knew this would cost money of course, so in 1997 they controversially removed the free education at university level for those meritorious enough to warrant admission to undergraduate education and put in place a semi-affordable loan scheme that wouldn’t seem like too much money for most in good economic times and would give a decent enough level of interest to keep it looking semi-affordable for the public purse.

Except the plan backfired. University applications went through the roof – Universities simply couldn’t keep up with demand, clearing became a national news item as millions of students clammered to scoop up what was left in the bucket if they didn’t get their choice of university. Oversubscribed the system began to look very underfunded – many universities turned to commercial grants with varying degrees of success (academically, morally and economically). Others simply struggled by – safe in the knowledge that there was always a drop out rate, and that so long as they could make it to the end of the budget year without irritating too many lecturers about their pay, they’d probably get a year on year increase in next year’s money.

The youth unemployment issue moved from one demographic to another – rather than school leavers bumming around at home, kicking their heals and discovering the dole office, we had graduates cramming themselves into ruthlessly competitive graduate schemes, willing to take, in some cases, unimaginably poor contractual employment conditions in order to wedge their foot in the door of super-brand-name PLC or Sherlock, Watson, Ironside and Poroit LLP.

On the other side of this catastrophic backfiring was the unforgivable profligacy of certain educational institutions – courses cropped up in just about everything: from things that were once considered to be valuable vocational training areas, to the mickey mouse degrees ranging from Media Studies to Klingon. All guaranteed to give a few letters after your name, a semi-respectable university certificate and the ‘pride’ of saying your got a 2:1.

Pandora’s box was firmly opened, and the government were now up against the wall – they made vocational training a dirty word, traditional apprenticeships almost totally disappeared, replaced with decidedly doublethink term of the ‘Modern Apprenticeship’ which at times was used as little more than a bribe to get people off one sort of benefit and onto another.

The students that were on the streets today were for the most part peaceful – it is unfair to tar them all as violent – what isn’t unfair however is to say that the arguments these students have don’t add up. In one breath they say “we need to go to university to get a job that pays properly” and then in another they say “but we’re not willing to pay for it, and furthermore everyone – regardless of whether they have a university education or not should pay for my education.”.  If they truly believe that a university degree will result in a lifetime of significantly higher earning potential then it’s not unreasonable that they should contribute more to that education in line with the market and actual value of the services that they’re being provided with? It’s hypocrisy on a massive scale to say anything other than that.

I think however that if a significant number of the students that were protesting today had a long and considered think about their future, they’d come to the uncomfortable truth. Many degrees are done blindly, many are just vanity papers. Indeed research by human resources departments of our major firms often find that the majority of degrees held in the corporate world in the UK have virtually nothing to do with the day to day operation of the corporation. The vanity of having a degree has been built up by a whole generation of teaching staff – it’s been drummed into our young people and they’re suffering for it financially – a graduate in many areas of work can be 4 years behind their non-graduate colleagues, and experience is worth so much more to employers that being a graduate could be seen as being a positive barrier to competing at a job interview.

Where the truth becomes properly painful, is that we’re all paying for this – we’re paying for education that isn’t worth the paper the certificate is printed on, we’re paying for poor institutions doling out bog-standard degrees to below standard students. Our academic research and talent development is flagging behind our international competitors because we’re not funding our top-flight institutions properly and we’re not investing in the truly gifted, preferring instead an adequate, average, middle-class, middle-england 24 year old with a degree in sociology. Most important though, until we change this obsession with a university education or bust we’re losing a valuable asset in our economic society – vocationally trained artisans and specialists.

Bottom line, We’re letting down our young people – they know this, they’re just not quite sure where yet.

Danny Alexander T-Minus 2 days to resignation?

Well, perhaps the headline is overplaying it a little, but it seems that the Daily Telegraph is now getting it’s teeth into Danny Alexander over avoiding capital gains tax – whether it’s legal or illegal will be the big question – Telegraph attempt to skewer Danny...whether an answer is needed before they decide he should be hung drawn and quartered is another thing.

The Telegraph is now full out gunning for the coalition, my spies tell me that they’re being briefed by Labour yes, but that to be be expected, more worryingly is the rumour that one or two Lib Dem staffers are briefing hacks that are way above their pay-grade. I’m not sure whether to believe this or not, I certainly wasn’t expecting a barage of messages surrouding David Laws yesterday though – so who can say who’s side they’re playing on.

What is true is that The Telegraph can no longer hide behind the veil of ‘the public interest’ in their theft of expenses data – if it is in the public interest, let’s have full disclosure; all out, right now… all parties all the data, otherwise it’s going to be a drip drip drip that does nothing but increase the circulation of The Telegraph (benefiting from the proceeds of Stolen goods one could possibly argue). It’s hard to see how the coalition can function effectively if one side of it is being taken apart one person at a time; it’s even harder to see how Nick Clegg’s reputation will recover after his protestations that his was a party of new politics, whiter than white.

Communications Control

Dear lord, the past few days have been interesting: the Liberal Democrats are really showing how far in opposition they really are – they’ve got so little control of their communications it’s hard not to feel sorry for them – they’re a mess. No clear line, briefing against each other secretly (but in a horribly obvious way) and just generally having the communications strategy of a bunch of rabid puppies.

They desperately need to get a grip: for the first time in their history they’re in power – and it’s all about to go awfully wrong if they don’t stop a few movers from acting like they’re running a university debating society, it’s shabby and unbecoming of a party in power.

This goes for the Conservatives as well – better press handling will result in slicker relations with the media; not spin, but at least making sure people are saying the same things at the same time: what will kill the coalition dead is the press, if they scent descent or a mixed message it’ll be leaped on every single time. I’m amazed with all of the support they have from really influential lobbyists, communications specialists, old-style PRs and digital and social media people that it’s still such a mess.

Some have blamed it on the state of the economy, the mess they’re having to sort out – the rush of the coalition talks, but they’re all just making excuses. A good communications plan and superb people to carry it out will work whatever the situation, so please. Stop making excuses and start exercising some communications discipline.

David Laws to go?

5.45pm I’m hearing rumours from 2 independent people who might be in a position to know, that David Laws is about to resign. He’s going to cite that his position has been compromised by a the story the Daily Telegraph published this morning, he’s deeply sorry and that he is stepping down to avoid further scrutiny of his private life and those that he loves. One rumour claims he may step down altogether – but I’d consider this unlikely in such a relatively young politician.

6.18pm Seems it’s not just me: Tim Montgomerie on twitter: Unconfirmed but I’m hearing Laws will quit this evening. Huhne and Browne being mentioned as possible replacements.

6.20pm And it would seem Dale might have the scoop? I’m told David Laws has just resigned.

6.30pm Well the twittersphere is alive with rumours now – whether any of them are true I’m not sure, this has a distinctly stage managed feel to it – even if he wasn’t intending to, it may now be too late to put this one back in it’s box.

7.00pm Well, still no announcement – there are rumours that it was tendered but not immediately accepted. Doesn’t explain why certain Lib Dems appear to have their staff briefing that he’s already gone. If this debacle demonstrates everything it’s that the government press office needs to be better: and the Lib Dems need to stop leaking like a sieve, we know they can do it.

7.19pm Iain Dale is saying there’s going to be an announcement at the Treasury, but I don’t seem to be alone in saying that I’ve not seen an Op Note yet, several hack chums are equally in the dark.

7.22pm Aha, an op note is circulating, I’ll be amazed if anyone other than those based immediately in Westminster get there in time to cover this though. There’s an announcement expected anytime from 7.45.

7.25pm Not a single main stream media outlet is even trailing this is a possibility beyond this morning’s rehashed and tired opinion pieces.

7.40pm Still nothing, this is either the best twitter rumour ever, or it’s been so quickly sprung the media that no one is yet responding, but even that seems odd: literally no one is covering this apart from twitter and blogs.

7.48pm Sky calls it. David Laws resigns.

7.52pm And I’m hearing that Danny Alexander is going to take over, surely that can’t be true? It must be Huhne surely?

7.55pm Sky call it again, Danny Alexander to replace David Laws, reformers can breathe a sigh of relief.

8.00pm David Cameron issues a statement saying he hopes that ‘in time’ David Laws would serve the government again in cabinet

8.02pm Nick Clegg expected to make a statement to the press shortly. Taking the fore on this one.

8.20pm Nick Clegg actually sounds angry, describing David Laws’ privacy as having been ‘shattered’ – door certainly seems to be open for a return in time.

8.23pm You know, the reason this all seems strange is we’re all used to the sight of shamed Labour MPs clinging onto their positions no matter how heinous or depraved their actions – It seems like the honourable thing to do, it’s not the right thing for the country, which is a shame – it won’t stop this being used as ammunition at every opportunity by those not enamoured with the Coalition.

Final thoughts

So David Laws has gone – he was, and always has been, one of my favourite Liberal Democrats, clearly he’s broken the rules to keep his private life, private – and it’s been his downfall. It’s a great shame as he is a superbly bright man, just the sort you need when things need doing, not spinning. I do hope that the press now give him the space to sort out his private life, coming out is a gut-wrenching experience at the best of times, without it being forced on you.

More on Laws

You know – there’s a distinctly unpleasant smell about many of the comments surrounding David Laws at the moment, accusations that ‘militant’ homosexuals (god alone knows what they look like) and ‘agenda pushers’ will keep him in his job: and you know what – maybe that’s a good thing? Not the keeping in his job because he’s a woofter, no – but keeping him in his job because he’s good at it, and if the Parliamentary Standards Commission finds his ‘crime’ to not be worth a reprimand why should rabid commentators thirsty for blood get a scalp just for the sake of it seeming ‘the decent’ thing to do (in best daily mail speak).

As I was saying yesterday, his expenses pale into insignificance compared to what others have taken, it’s his honesty over the nature of his relationship which you have to call into question. Of course if they were just friends with benefits then one can understand why it was treated as a landlord/tenant agreement, if they formalised the relationship in any other way however – then it’s an entirely different matter: and the money should be not only repaid, but investigated to the full extent of the law.

I’ve been saying for a long time that Parliamentary expenses should be simplified – this is yet another case where the rules were grey and we’re once again all pontificating on whether to hang David Laws out to dry or let him ‘get away’ with it. Of course this stems from our general assumption that most politicians are scum, movers and operators of the lowest order; which is unfair – many really, genuinely, aren’t – but while there is still not enough public transparency in the details of how they’re paid and how they claim work expenses, and indeed who presides over the ajudication of setting those fees and how they’re administered, we’re going to rub against this again and again.

It is of course, not just Parliament: Parliament is just an unfortunately public example. Expense fraud, if you want to be blunt about naming it, is rife in any business where expense accounts are the standard way of claiming back a significant proportions of outlaid income. Maybe that should be the argument for building a hotel with 650 rooms for MPs, setting a standard pay grade for all of them, giving them a free travel pass (as in the forces) to and from their nominated home to their nearest London terminal free on national rail or an airline of choice (in standard class) and doing away with all the expense and rigmarole of the IPSA and the fees office – Simplistic many in Westminster might scream, but you’ll never know until you actually give it a try.

The Telegraph still holds the Sword of Damocles

This time last week I was talking about Expenses being the monster that just won’t die, and it seems that the sword of damocles is still dangling as the Telegraph reveal tonight that David Laws has claimed £40,000 in expenses to pay for a room – hang him, the tabloids predictably scream, while some of the broadsheets can barely control their sneers of revulsion that it’s ‘his boyfriends’ house.

But, please – first a little perspective, this is over eight years which comes to about £950 a month: that’s not expensive for London, my weekly rent is about half that – so I think we can safely say that there’s been no financial gain: and how much did it save on him renting or buying a place of his own – ultimately he’s most likely saved us all money.

But, it is a question of honesty, David Laws’ said he didn’t give the full detail because it wasn’t his spouse – that’s a grey area in the rules that the IPSA will want to be looking into: I think it’s probably fair to say if you’ve been with someone since 2001 then I think it’s not unfair to claim that you’re a ‘proper’ item: which of course brings us to the real reason it was kept quiet: David didn’t want to out either himself, his partner (a director at an international, politically connected PR firm) or his relationship in general. All credit to The Telegraph though, they didn’t out him – and they could have done: the really delicious irony of course being that climbing into the cabinet has rather forced him out of the closet.

I find it difficult to stand by the hang him and flog him brigade, but equally I find it difficult to support this idea that he was simply protecting his private life – he’s a public figure, a long term partner is a long term partner: and he should have been up front about that: most people would have made nothing of it… instead, he’s needlessly wounded his reputation and potentially his cabinet career. I think it’s unlikely Cameron or Clegg will want to be rid of him: but I expect you’ll be seeing less of him for the next few weeks.