Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday 30 April 2009

Why is this Government so incompetent?

The mortgage rescue scheme that this Government announced with such a fanfare last September but didn't actually introduce until January has so far only helped one household. Yes, that's right one.

I am getting so sick of them announcing some measure or other that they claim will help all sorts of people, only to find a while later that either they have not been implemented or have hardly helped anybody.

Ministers constantly use the announcements of these schemes to beat the opposition parties over the head with. It is as if the announcement is all that is needed and is then job done.

This Government in particular is terrible at administration. I think one of the reasons for this must be that most of the members of the administration have never run their own business and some of them have spent their entire working lives in politics. For them, making the speech is the job as far as they are concerned. They have never known anything different.

Something which I have been meaning to write about for a while is the sets of skills that a successful politician needs. They need to be able to speak with confidence in public with few notes. They need to be able to remember a brief. They need to be able to ingratiate themselves with enough members of a constituency party to get selected so this means they need to be charismatic. They need to be able to look like they are answering a question when in fact they are studiously not answering it. And they need to be able to use language in such a way as it sounds like they are agreeing with anything and everything that their party colleagues have ever said on any subject. I am sure there are other skills too but these seem to me to be the main ones.

Now those skills might be vital to climb the greasy pole and get selected, elected and then promoted to ministerial office. However I would argue that there are much more important skills that are needed for someone to be a government minister. And herein lies the problem. If you go for a job interview for a senior position in the private sector let's say Head of Marketing, you will be expected to have done marketing for many years followed by having previously been a Head of Marketing somewhere else (or at least a deputy or equivalent). You would stand virtually no chance of getting the job without being able to demonstrate aptitude and the correct skills and experience for the position.

Contrast this with how ministers are appointed. The PM chooses them on the basis of keeping a balance of positions within the party, loyalty to the whip, longevity of time in parliament, popularity of the individual (usually from them having made good speeches), alignment with his own political views etc. etc. etc. There is no interview or aptitude testing. They are just dropped in at the deep end without the requisite skills or any meaningful training. And these people then end up in charge of Multi-billion pound budgets.

It is no wonder that there are so many cock-ups. I am not really sure what the answer is because when they bring in ministers from outside they often also become croppers. They are usually much better at the administrative side but come a cropper on the political side. There are very few people, certainly in the Labour Party who straddle both. It is generally better in the Lib Dem and Tory parties because many of their MPs have run their own businesses so they have a better idea about this sort of thing.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Lib Dem motion defeats government on Gurkhas

I haven't commented on the Gurkha issue before but it has always been my feeling that we owe them a great debt. They have been willing to fight and die for this country and it is scandalous that we have treated them in the shoddy way we have until recently.

The motion that we tabled today defeated the government (despite some attempted strong-arming - old habits die hard eh Gordon?) by 21 votes. This is not a binding vote but the government's credibility is now shot to pieces on this issue.

Nick Clegg did brilliantly well during PMQs today and perfectly articulated my thoughts on this. "If you are willing to die for this country, you should be able to live in this country". Spot on. You could tell from Brown's evasive and unconvincing responses that he just did not get how strong the feeling on this issue is. They will have to change tack now. It is a victory for the Gurkhas and for natural justice.

It will be interesting to see how the vote tomorrow on the expenses goes given Brown's clunking performance on this issue too. Once MPs of the governing party get a taste for rebellion it can keep coming back. Usually loyalty causes most of them to fall back in line but I get the feeling that Brown is viewed with such disdain by his own side that they might be willing to keep defeating him until his position becomes untenable.

Perhaps Kalvis Jansons' petition could have its aim fulfilled sooner than he suspected.

Further blog comment on the Gurkha issue here, here, here and here.

"Gordon Brown resign" petition. Now at the top!

The "Gordon Brown resign" petition has just reached the top of the chart with 28,454 signatures. Congratulations to Kalvis Jansons for getting there in just over a week!

It will be interesting to see how Number 10 responds to this now. They surely cannot completely ignore it. I know they can claim that some of the signatures will be spurious but I bet the vast majority are from real people and it reflects a strong feeling within the country that the man is a disaster and he should go.

There was talk within the blogosphere earlier today that David Cameron might bring this subject up during PMQs. I had hoped he might but he did not and the more I have thought about it, the more unlikely this seemed. Brown could have plucked a few of the obviously spurious names from the list that had made it through the vetting to make Cameron seem silly. Also, Cameron is probably thinking that assuming he becomes PM himself, after 6 months or a year of tough decisions when he is unpopular, a similar petition against him could be started and he could then find himself skewered with his own words from today.

But just because Cameron and others from within the political classes do not want to make the running on this does not mean that others such as political bloggers should not. Hopefully now it is at the top is should garner more media coverage and we can then get many more signatures. I think the next target should be 100,000 which should be achievable within the next couple of weeks if it is publicised widely enough.

Tuesday 28 April 2009

"Gordon Brown resign" petition - numbers now exceed his votes at the last election

Unlike with Tony Blair, nobody outside of the constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath actually voted for Gordon Brown. Blair got 9.5 million votes as putative Prime Minister pledging to serve a full term in the 2005 General Election. Brown has no real mandate for anything because not only has he never faced the electorate in a General Election but uniquely among modern Prime Ministers he hasn't even faced an election within his own party giving him even less legitimacy.

The number of people who voted for Gordon Brown in his constituency in 2005 was 24,278.

The number of people who have put their name to the petition for him to resign on the Number 10 petitions website has just passed this mark and is now at 24,325:

More people have now officially registered that they wish him to go than elected him MP in the first place.

There are only a few thousand more votes to go before it becomes the top petition on the site.

UPDATE: It is now at the top!

Reinstate Margaret Haywood

This story is absolutely dreadful. Margaret Haywood, a nurse tried to do her best to highlight failings in elderly patient care within a hospital and when the internal procedures she followed did not improve things she filmed undercover for BBC's Panorama.

Her case was referred to Nursing and Midwifery Council which ruled that she should be struck off the nursing register in perpetuity. They also ruled that it was only the broadcast that had forced radical reform. In other words by her very actions she had massively improved things and as a direct result elderly patients are now less likely to be left in their own urine and faeces or be adminstered the wrong drugs and thus be left in agony.

Their reason for striking her off is because one of the patients who could be identified in the background film had not had his permission sought. This is despite the fact that Haywood and the programme makers were very thorough in trying to get permission from all the patients or their families to be included in the film - it seems that one slipped through the net. As Jenni Russell points out in the Guardian piece I linked to above, there is nothing in the whistleblowing rules specifically about this.

It strikes me that the NMC were looking for a reason to get rid of her and they managed to find (or contrive) one. The message is absolutely clear to any future whisleblowers. Yes, you may uncover bad practises and yes, your actions may ultimately improve things but you will lose your job and career as a result. So don't do it.

This is an appaling way for the NMC to behave. They are supposed to be there to uphold the standards of the profession and Margaret Haywood is a shining example to all her colleagues. She cared enough to try and make a difference. Some of her colleagues who knew full well what was happening but did nothing are the ones who should be being struck off. The NMC should itself be investigated by an external body for this travesty of justice and heads should roll. It is the only way that bodies like this will learn that they cannot close ranks like this and get away with it.

Please sign this Royal College of Nursing petition which is trying to get her reinstated and already has over 25,000 signatures. Please also contact the NMC to express your disgust at this decision.

Monday 27 April 2009

Is Daniel Hannan in the wrong party?

I have just watched Dan Hannan's speech at the Tory Spring conference from yesterday. It is being linked to by right wing bloggers and bigged up like with his recent European Parliament speech where he eviscerated Brown.

This latest speech is certainly very good and is peppered with literary references and he shows genuine passion and humour which is so often lacking in speeches by politicians. I would be amazed if he is not in the House of Commons within the next few years.

However, as DK has pointed out his speech is dishonest. If you believe the thrust of what he is saying then you would think that it is only Labour governments supported by the Lib Dems who have pursued closer integration with Europe whereas it was actually Ted Heath who started the process and it continued under both Thatcher and Major. In the past, the Tory party have recognised when in power that it is in Britain's best interests to be closely involved with Europe. I see no indication from David Cameron that he suddenly intends to reverse this trend. In fact Cameron has done his best since becoming leader to dampen down talk about Europe as I suspect he recognises that the approach of some in his party on this issue does not always come across particularly well.

The more I think about Hannan's latest speech, the more it actually sounds like it came from a UKIP member. At least if a UKIP member had made it, he would also have referred to the Tory party's role in closer integration. If this is such a fundamental issue for him, is Mr Hannan perhaps in the wrong party? I suspect Nigel Farage would welcome such a great orator into his fold.

Saturday 25 April 2009

"Gordon Brown resign" petition - numbers may go down as well as up!?

I have been keeping an eye on the "Gordon Brown resign" petition on the Number 10 petitions site today and I noticed something a bit odd. at around 15:30, the number was at 6,828 but half an hour later the number was at 6,825. Only 30 seconds or so after I saw the reduced number I had another look and it had then gone up to 6,916. I have the browser instances open separately although there are no timestamps for them.

Now I am not sure what this means. I cannot see a facility for signatories to remove their name. Is it possible that administrators are removing signatories from this? If so, for what reason? If they are removing names in the hope that they can reduce the size of this then they are playing a dangerous game as if that were to be the case it would definitely become extremely newsworthy.

I should make clear I do not know the cause of this anomaly and there may be an innocent explanation. It does seem odd though and I would be interested if anybody out there could shed any light on this.

I have also noticed some of the commenters on Guido's latest thread about this have also noticed the numbers going down at various points.

"Gordon Brown resign" petition shoots up the charts

Gordon Brown's resignation petition that I mentioned yesterday is now shooting up the charts on the Number 10 petitions site. It now has 6,035 signatures already (up from 706 at about 3pm yesterday).

Many other bloggers have been promoting the fact that it is there. I have not yet seen any coverage in the MSM but someone in it will surely pick up on this soon. I know they keep a close eye on the blogosphere. They are probably just waiting for it to become properly newsworthy and I predict that will be once it gets to the top of the list (it currently needs 28,000 to get there) or close enough that it is clear it will get there. Once that happens it could easily snowball from there as more people hear about it.

Some bloggers such as Peter Black AM think that this is an example of a bad petition. I am afraid I disagree. Gordon Brown was not elected by anyone (as I have posted about before) and we need something like this for people to be able to express their disgust. If this petition gets as big as I think it could then it will be a focal point for a debate about why this unelected man should be allowed to drag this country further into the mire, backed up by the fact that lots of people have expressed their desire for him to go.

Friday 24 April 2009

EU Integration Test

I have just taken the EU Integration test. There are 30 questions and it attempts to gauge where you are on a graph where the axes are anti-pro EU integration on one and left-right socioeconomic on the other. Some of the questions do not allow enough nuance for my liking. For example one of them asks if the EU should have more powers and another asks if they should be able to raise taxes. I am not keen on either of those things but if there was proper democratic reform of the European institutions, I might be. Doubtless my responses to these moved me more towards anti-EU

Interestingly according to the results I am moderately anti-EU and am somewhere between the Tories and the Greens:

For the record, I do not consider myself to be anti-EU. I do have a problem with the way in which the structures are not properly democratically accountable and I really think that the Lisbon treaty should be ratified in the UK through a referendum because all 3 main parties said it would happen. We are however much better off in the EU than outside of it and it is generally a force for good in my view.

Iain Dale is apparently slap bang on the UKIP tag and Tim Montgomerie from Con Home is also hovering dangerously close to them too!

I would be interested to see where other Lib Dems are on this graph.

Petition for Gordon Brown to resign

Rather cheekily, there is now a petition on the Number 10 website urging the Prime Minister to resign.

There are already 706 signatures. I wonder how many they will get before it closes on 22nd October this year, or Number 10 shuts it down.

UPDATE: Guido and Dale have now posted on this. I think this could get very big, very quickly. It's already up to 1,789 in the space of a couple of hours. It only needs 28,000 to become the top petition.

Why Vince Cable is unlikely to ever be in government

Vince Cable has written an excellent article for The Independent today. It quickly gets to the heart of the current economic malaise with brevity and honesty and then proposes a number of measures that could be taken now to begin to cut spending.

If you read further down the article you will see that almost every comment is strongly in favour of what he is saying and several of them lament the fact that he is not, and likely will not ever be in government. One comment in particular is almost heartbreaking from someone who is terminally ill and despite having voted Liberal/Lib Dem in every election, he has never seen a Lib Dem MP elected in any of the constituencies he has lived in. Effectively he has been disenfranchised for his entire life.

The reason is because of our first past the post electoral system. The number of votes cast bear very little relation to the number of seats allocated amongst the 646 parliamentary constituencies. For example Labour at the last election got 55% of the seats with only 36% of the vote. The Lib Dems got 22% of the vote and less than 10% of the seats.

Just to highlight how utterly unfair the system is, I have put figures into the UK Polling Report Swing Calculator to see what the outcome would be if all three main parties got exactly one third of the votes in an election. I know that is a very unlikely scenario, but just as an experiment, it is very revealing about our electoral system. Here are the results:

Discounting "Others" and Northern Ireland (which are built into this calculator), there are 620 seats to compete for. As you can see, despite complete parity in the votes (33.33% each), The Lib Dems only get 106 of them or 17%. The Conservatives get 208 or 33.5%. Labour get 306 or 49.4%. So Labour would almost have enough to form a majority government. They could certainly head a minority administration. Meanwhile the Lib Dems get only a third of the seats that Labour get despite having had exactly the same number of votes!

The system is utterly broken and massively favours Labour. The only reason the Conservatives do not want to change to a proportional system is because in a good year for them, the distortion also works in their favour by inflating their share of the seats as well allowing them to form a majority government, also on a minority of votes.

This is the reason why, despite the fact that Vince Cable is patently the politician with the clearest idea of what is wrong with the economy and the best grasp of what to do about it, he is unlikely to ever be in a position of executive power and to actually do anything about it.

See Make Votes Count and the Electoral Reform Society for more information about our broken electoral system and what can be done to change it.

Thursday 23 April 2009

BBC Question Time LiveChat Thread

Thanks to those who attended. The chat is now closed.

I am planning to do live chats for BBC Question Time as often as possible from now on so please feel free to stop by on Thursday evenings.

Guido is spot on about drugs

Great post from Guido today on politician's attitude to drugs. He is spot on with his view that the drug laws in this country are a mess and there is huge hypocrisy from our politicians.

Most of them simply refuse to engage with a sensible debate and instead fall back on appealing to emotion failing to grasp that the current system leaves our children exposed to a massive criminal network of dealers who cut the drugs with god knows what.

He also rightly identifies that drugs are a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue, a point that Transform have been making for many years.

I have posted a number of times on this issue. Here are links to some of them:

Sensible advice on drugs SCANDAL
Drug prohibition cost-effectiveness study published
Debased Debate
Ecstacy comments on Question Time
Jacqui Smith is the one trivialising this debate
Ecstacy and Horses
Michael Phelps is being made a Scapegoat

Question Time Live Chat 23/04/2009

I am planning to hold a live chat using CoverItLive tonight for BBC's Question Time. The panel are John Denham, Phillip Hammond, Vince Cable, David Starkey and Claire Fox so it should be a good edition. Denham has always impressed me in the past and it will be interesting to see him try to defend the government following yesterday's depressing budget. Vince should be excellent value as usual and Starkey and Fox are no shrinking violets.

All are welcome to stop by from 10:30pm onwards and hopefully we can have a lively discussion in real time.

UPDATE: The thread is here and the CIL client will be active in it from 10:30pm

Labour must call election before 6th April 2010

Following the announcement yesterday that the government will tax anybody earning over £150,000 at a rate of 50%, I have been reviewing their manifesto from 2005. It explicitly states towards the bottom of page 16:

"We will not raise the basic or top rates of income tax in the next Parliament."

There are no caveats or hedging. This is not open to interpretation of what the top rate of income tax means like Labour tried to argue when they abandoned their pledge to hold a referendum on the European Constitution.

If Labour go to the country before 6th April 2010 (when it will come into effect) with this tax change in their manifesto, and they win, then they can have a fresh mandate to make this change. Otherwise this is a blatant reneging on a major plank of their manifesto and there is no reason to ever believe anything else that they put in a future manifesto.

This is a point that the opposition parties should hammer home again and again.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

This Government is now the walking dead

With the pointless Budget today and Gordon Brown's surprise and cack-handed attempt to take control of the MP expenses issue yesterday it is really starting to feel now like this government is in its death throes.

I am old enough to remember the last couple of years of the Major government. It wasn't pretty and it was like watching a slow motion car crash. That lasted years. One big difference between then and now though was that John Major was initially elected by his own party, then he won a general election and when the whispering and back-biting got too much he submitted himself again to a leadership election in 1995 which in the end he won convincingly with almost 2/3rds of the votes of the parliamentary Conservative party.

Contrast that with the unelected and politically amoral current resident of Downing Street. It is now clear to me that he used his goons to ensure that nobody stood against him for the leadership when Tony Blair stood down. It is also becoming ever clearer through memoirs etc. that he spent his 10 years in No 11 plotting against and trying to destabilise Blair's leadership. That is Tony Blair who was elected leader of the Labour party with a decent majority and won three general elections.

Brown to my knowledge is unique, certainly in the modern age of politics for not have been elected in any way shape or form (discounting his constituency election which is about as red rosette and donkeyish as you can get and thus not a real test for him) and this is now painfully apparent. He has no empathy or feel for the concerns of the public and he comes across appallingly badly.

The worst thing is that we are going to have to wait another year at least before we have the chance to get rid of him and his rotten government.

Damp Squib Budget

I was hopefuly today that Alistair Darling's budget would bring some cheer but it has ended up a damp squib.

He could and should have made some changes to put more money in the pockets of ordinary people. An increase in the starting rate for tax would have been a good move, or a reduction in the 20p rate. He could also have reduced corporation tax for small businesses which would help in the current climate.

Instead we seem to have had a few gimmicks. A scheme to encourage people to buy new cars but only if theirs is at least 10 years old. That won't help many people struggling and even those who qualify will have to stump up thousands themselves as well. There are a few other fiddling measures but the one that is going to make the most headlines is the introduction of a new 50p tax rate for anybody earning over £150,000. Now I do not have a problem in principle with making sure those who can afford it pay their fair share in order to help us balance the books as we come out of this recession. The problem I have is that this measure is unlikely to raise much if any new money. Therefore on pragmatic grounds alone I am very dubious about its merits. It seems clear to me that this is yet another example of Brown trying to wrong foot the Tories. He is addicted to this sort of pathetic political trick (see 10p debacle, IHT and many others over the years) and it will be his undoing in the end.

This is now the government's last throw of the dice and they have blown it. The borrowing figures are atrocious and if anything, Darling has yet again understimated what will be required and overestimated how quickly the economy will recover. With this budget I am afraid they have now sealed their electoral fate.

Monday 20 April 2009

Lib Dems lead the way on fairer tax

I realise that title could be directly from a Cowley Street press release but it is true.

Labour have had twelve years to do something like this but have pussy footed around terrified of being seen as too left wing. They have even done stupid and wrong headed things like abolish the 10p tax band which has taken us in the opposite direction.

Now, the Lib Dems are proposing to increase the tax free band to the first £10,000 of income paid for by closing tax loopholes for big business and the wealthy such as:

  • Restricting tax relief on pension contributions to the basic rate
  • Taxing Capital Gains at marginal income tax rates, allowing for indexation and retirement relief
  • Tackling Stamp Duty Land Tax avoidance and Corporation Tax avoidance
  • Subjecting benefits in kind to National Insurance Contributions as well as income tax and applying National Insurance to multiple jobs
  • Switching aviation taxes from per person to per plane and increasing taxation on non lifeline domestic flights.

I am 100% behind this move. This is the sort of measure we need that will put £700 in people's pockets who are actually more likely to spend it, and we really that at the moment. It will be interesting to see how the other parties react to this.

I see Alix is already praising this move from the rooftops. She is a long standing proponent of this sort of thing.

LDV has a CIL post on the measures from Vince also.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Mandelson is very unconvincing on Smeargate

Just heard an interview with Peter Mandelson on Radio 4's "The World this Weekend" where he was attempting to draw a line under the Smeargate affair.

His main point seemed to be that it is ridiculous to blame Gordon Brown for the actions of his underlings and he is such a busy man that he cannot be expected to have made sure this sort of thing was not going on. Neil Kinnock made a similar point on Andy Marr this morning so this is clearly the line we are being asked to swallow. Mandelson also tried to big up Gordon Brown's now rather damaged moral compass.

I am afraid it won't wash. Here are a few reasons why off the top of my head:

1) Gordon Brown is famously a control freak and the idea that he had no control over very senior advisers like Damian McBride stretches credulity to breaking point. McBride would not have dared to do what he did without at least thinking he was doing his master's bidding. And why would he have thought that?
2) The implication seems to be that McBride was some sort of junior underling amongst many others. This is nonsense. He was one of the, if not the actual closest advisers to the PM.
3) Can you imagine the furore that Labour would have kicked up if the boot was on the other foot? Just imagine for a moment what would have happened if one of John Major's most senior advisers had been caught out trying to spread rumours about Tony Blair's sexual health, the psychological condition of Sarah Macaulay and lies about other senior Labour figures. Would Mandelson have come onto the radio to sympathise with Major's situation? Or would he have torn him a new one?

If this is the best Labour can do then they are in real trouble.

Where is Guido Fawkes?

At the time of writing, Guido's site has been down since first thing this morning.

This is an unfortunate day for him to be having site problems as he had tantalised yesterday evening us by posting that he would have more Smeargate revelations today. Hopefully he will be back up and running soon.

As an aside, I wonder if this problem could be linked with his recent switch from Blogger to Wordpress?

Sensible advice on drugs SCANDAL

Tim Worstall has an excellent post today about a government advice line that actually seems to be giving out sensible advice about drugs. He references a Telegraph story which has the usual SHOCK HORROR approach to the idea that a measured approach could be taken to advising youngsters about drugs.

The thing is, this is exactly the sort of approach that should be taken. If officialdom just trumpets the line to young people that all drugs are very dangerous and the risks are very high then eventually youngsters will see for themselves that their friends have taken things like cannabis and ecstacy (it is statistically almost impossible to not know at least one person who has done so when you are young) with no ill effects and will realise that the "advice" given is nonsense. Far better to give measured advice on the relative risks.

Why is it so hard to be sensible about this subject in this country?

Saturday 18 April 2009

Is Labour now in meltdown?

There are two stories in tomorrow's papers that indicate that the Smeargate scandal is far from over.

Iain Dale has a post quoting a News of the World story that The Labour Party General Secretary Ray Collins and Gordon Brown's fixer Charlie Whelan were present at a meeting to set up the Reg Rag website which was planned to be the conduit for the smearing stories from the original scandal that Guido brokw last weekend.

Again, from Iain, and also Political Betting, the Sunday Times is reporting that Ed Balls was in charge of Downing Street's dirty tricks unit. This information has apparently come from an anonymous whistleblower.

And Guido has posted ominously (for the government) that he will have more information that he is labelling "Smeargate II" tomorrow.

I am starting to get the feeling that things are spiralling out of control for the government now. They have completely lost control of the agenda and are just firefighting. It must be devastating for a control freak such as Gordon Brown to find that extremely damaging headlines are being dripped slowly out like this and there is nothing he can do about it. However it is all his own fault as he created the culture in which these people operate.

Coupled with polls out tomorrow showing Tory leads of 17% and 19% respectively, tomorrow could be the worst day of Gordon Brown's political life.

Technology will force the Police to change

The news that Ian Tomlinson now most likely died of internal bleeding has once again thrown the spotlight on the Police and their tactics during the G20 protests. Indeed the Metropolitan Police Comissioner has now launched a review of police tactics which I welcome. I particularly welcome the public statement that officers should always wear their identification. It seemed a bit sinister to me that some officers involved in the G20 protests had either not worn them, or they were covered up or otherwise obscured.

I am a big supporter of the Police. I know they do a very difficult job often in very difficult circumstances. On the few occasions I have had dealings with them (as a victim of various crimes over the years) they have always been very courteous and professional and I have felt like they have done their best for me and that they were very much on my side.

However, I know that not everybody's experience of the Police is as positive as mine. There have been numerous examples recently of Police officers forcing people to delete photographs that they have taken in public areas. This story reported in The Guardian last week is typical of the sort of thing I mean where a tourist taking photos of modern architecture inclusing bus and tube stations was forced to delete his photographs. I saw on our local news in the South here a few months ago that a man who collected photographs of the insignias of different police forces took pictures of the one outside a police station locally and before he knew what was happening, several officers came out from the station, surrounded him and forced him to delete the pictures. Once it became a news story, a senior officer apologised and confirmed that what the man had been doing was not a crime, in spite of what the officers had implied. I apologise that I cannot currently find a link to this story.

A few months ago, someone on another blog pointed me towards a couple of youtube clips that had been filmed by members of the public.

The first one is somebody filming officers from his own garden questioning a cyclist. When one of the officers clocks that they are being filmed they come over to the cameraman on his own property and try to get him to stop filming. the cameraman stands up for himself and insists he is doing nothing wrong. The officers insist he is breaking the law but he refuses to stop filming and after calling back to base, the officers eventually seem to realise that they are in the wrong and walk away. He calls after them requesting to know their identities but they do not respond to him.

The second clip is more shocking to me. A filmmaker has put together a 6 minute piece which interperses him being harassed by two police officers (I think they may be special constables rather than full police officers) when he is filming in London with commentary on what is and isn't legal (filming in a lublic place is legal). The attitude of one of the officers is very aggressive. Straight away he starts shouting, putting his hand up over the lens and demanding to know why he is filming and also he wants to the filmmaker's ID and barks at him to "Give me your ID" as if we are in some sort of facist state. When the filmmaker stands his ground and insists he is not breaking the law he is told to "Shut up" by the aggressive officer before they finally walk off.

A cursory glance on youtube will find many more examples of this sort of thing. I highlight them here not to make a particular point about the incidents, there are bound to be overzealous police officers occasionally as you get in any other profession and doubtless they often have to deal with much less reasonable people than shown in these clips, and maybe they were just having a bad day - it can happen to all of us. I show them because it is an example of how it is much more difficult for people including the police to get away with this sort of behaviour given the state of technology. The first clip has been seen by nearly 300,000 people and the second by nearly 70,000.

It is now possible for ordinary people to carry round the means to take pictures and high quality filmed footage all the time. Indeed these features of often built into modern mobile phones which people almost always have with them. Given this, the Police can have their activities filmed at any time. They can be uploaded in minutes and viewed by thousands or in some cases millions of people within a few hours or days. The Police should not be afraid of this as if they are acting correctly then there is nothing to worry about. After all, the Police are big supporters of CCTV and use precisely that rationale to justify it.

The power of technology in the hands of the masses has been amply demonstrated in the aftermath of the G20 protests. The death of Ian Tomlinson that I blogged about last week and the alleged assault on Nicola Fisher are only now being fully pursued because in each case there is irrefutable evidence filmed by members of the public. This technology is only going to get smaller (hence easier to use covertly), better quality and cheaper as time goes on. Therefore it will be harder and harder for officials to conceal mistakes and wrongdoing.

In many ways I think this could be a very good thing as it will force everybody involved to ensure that their actions are above board. Public support for the Police has been slipping in recent years but if this decline can be arrested and turned around, and I think the inevitability of what I have written about here could be the catalyst for this, then it will be a win win for both public and Police.

UPDATE: And as I predicted, more video footage has come out today. There is no stopping this sort of thing now and every protest will bring more footage like this until the Police change their tactics.

Georgia Gould is too young to be an MP

There have been some shenanigans going on with the selection for Labour's candidate in the fairly safe seat of Erith and Thamesmead in south-east London. After tampering with a ballot box and allegations flying around, the process has been suspended.

One of the candidates to become the PPC is Georgia Gould who is the 22 year old daughter of Philip Gould, Tony Blair's longstanding pollster. There are quotes from local activists that they feel the process is being stitched up in her favour by the central party.

I don't particularly want to dwell on the ins and outs of this selection process. However I do feel that 22 or 23 is just too young to become an MP. When you are that young you have very little experience of life or business or, "the real world". Assuming you went to university, you have only just graduated and are just starting to make your way. It would be far better to go and get several years experience of real life before trying to become an MP.

Of course Georgia Gould is not an ordinary 22 year old given who her father is and she is likely to have been exposed to politics from a very young age. However, the fact that she is a serious candidate for this fairly safe Labour seat at such a young age is part of the problem we have with politics at the moment. She is clearly part of the political classes and the attempt to parachute her into this seat is symptomatic of a broken system. Why are Labour so keen to get her into parliament? Is she likely to be a strong independent voice who sticks up for her constituents, or is she likely to be lobby fodder who will do what she is told by the party leadersip in the hope of becoming a (perhaps the youngest ever) cabinet or shadow cabinet minister at some point?

My advice to Georgia is to get some real world experience and come back in 5 or 10 years time with that under your belt, and then try to get selected under your own steam, not by getting the party hierarchy to smooth the way for you. You will be a better politician and will be much more respected for doing it this way.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Is Brown legitimately Prime Minister?

One of the consequences of the Smeargate saga is that politicians and journalists are now feeling emboldened to speak out about Gordon Brown's back-room operations.

Alice Miles has written a piece for The Times today in which she talks about the character assassination plots run by Brown's close advisers. Leaving aside the question of whether or not journalists are complicit in spreading this sort of poison (I think they are and Iain Dale has posted on this too), for me this raises an even more important question. Here is an excerpt from Miles' piece:

The poisoning was at its worst in the run-up to the leadership noncontest two years ago. Yesterday I spoke to somebody who balked at challenging Mr Brown then, because he couldn’t face the poisoners. “It’s the reason why Gordon came to office untested,” he said. “When I considered challenging him for the leadership, people warned me it would be a very unpleasant campaign; and it would have been an unpleasant campaign because Gordon’s people would have run it in an extremely vicious way.”

As he spoke, I remembered being told at the time by a number of journalists that one potential candidate was having a mental breakdown, and there was some embarrassing story involving him and a woman doing the rounds. The tales seemed obviously to have been invented by Mr Brown’s muck-spinners. In place of ideas, smears: that contest should have been conducted by open debate, not whispered poison. But Mr Brown was afraid of the debate.

Now this is all hedged through anonymous sources (ironically the exact problem that Miles is identifying in her piece) but it suggests to me that there is a serious question mark over Gordon Brown's legitimacy as Prime Minister of this country. He was not tested in a Labour Party leadership election. His spinners have said previously that this means he was elected "unopposed", i.e. by default in the absence of anybody challenging him. However, if the quotes in the above article are true, it is not because there was nobody who wanted to stand against him, but because potential rivals were afraid of what Brown's bully boys would do if they were to stand. It could be argued that they should have had more courage, and I do think this too, however if I was going to put myself in the firing line for unfounded smears against me and my family from such a powerful machine then I may well have thought twice too.

So, there is now a body of evidence assembling that Gordon Brown became leader without a contest because of his spin machine. If anybody had stood against him, you never know what could have happened. Funny things can happen during leadership campaigns. Look what happened to David Davis who was the clear front runner in the 2005 Conservative leadership election. I have no doubt that Brown feared this too which is why his machine crushed any chance of there being a challenger.

In the light of all this, can Gordon Brown claim any sort of legitimacy to be our Prime Minister?

Tuesday 14 April 2009

The Daily Mail is immoral

The Daily Mail is immoral.

There can be no other explanation for the fact that they are campaigning against the HPV vaccine in the UK and for it in Ireland as exposed by The Lay Scientist.

It is clear that they are doing whatever they think will sell the most newspapers in each country. In quite a lot of stories e.g. relating to politics where you expect newspapers to have an agenda and to pander to its readers prejudices, this would be fair enough. However in a case like this where they are dealing with a subject which affects people's health there is no excuse. If the weight of scientific evidence is for the HPV vaccine then they should report this in as straight a way as possible. If the weight of scientific evidence is against it then again they should report this instead. What they should not do is cherry pick arguments and data from one side or the other to suit an agenda tailored to increase sales of their newspaper.

The Daily Mail has a shameful record on MMR as covered in depth by the heroic Ben Goldacre and many others over the last few years. They should not be allowed to get away with blatantly playing games with the health of its readers, some of whom will trust what they read in its pages and may act upon this.

Smeargate - Fallout

The more I see and read about Smeargate, the more I think that this could be the most damaging thing to happen to Gordon Brown since "The election that never was".

Close political observers know that Gordon Brown has over the years surrounded himself with characters such as Damian McBride to act as his attack dogs. There are plenty of politicians (mostly Labour ones) who have fallen victim to this sort of thing. It is one of the reasons that Brown was elected unopposed in 2007 - his operation had made sure over the years that there was nobody left with any credibility to stand against him.

The thing is, people are now starting to question how his back-room operates. There are various comment pieces and stories coming out about the behaviour of McBride over the years and it is becoming clear that his modus operandi has been to smear and attack by default. It is not credible for Gordon Brown to say that he knew nothing of what was going on. He has fostered the political climate in which McBride was able to operate. Indeed he owes his unopposed election to it.

I doubt we will ever know for sure if Brown knew exactly what was going on regarding Smeargate. Most commentators appear to be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this. However, even if he did not know anything about it specifically, to a large extent this is irrelevant. If Brown had really wanted to clean up politics and make it spin free like he said when he became PM, he would have called McBride off. He didn't, and that speaks volumes to me about what goes on behind the closed doors of No 10.

Things could now get much worse for Brown. The spin has been to try and close this issue down as isolated and basically an adviser gone rogue as a one off. But the issue has not been closed down. It is still very high up the news agenda 4 days on from the original story. The more this goes on, the more politicians and journalists who have had first-hand experience of McBride and his tactics will feel emboldened to come forward and tell their stories. And the more this happens, the more hollow Downing Street's spin that this was a one off will sound.

I think that if this story is not away from the headlines by tomorrow at the latest then we will start to see real damage to the Prime Minister. He appears to finally be reaping what he has sown over the last 12 years.

Costigan has done an excellent piece on this today. There are also other pieces worth reading here, here and here.

Monday 13 April 2009

Cameron thinks current electoral system is unfair

I read in the Sunday Times yesterday that David Cameron is planning changes to the way MPs are elected if he becomes Prime Minister.

He says that the current system "under which constituencies such as the Isle of Wight have tens of thousands more voters than others such as Orkney and Shetland - 'neither fair nor efficient'."

He goes on to say: “We should start by looking at the way MPs are elected. At the moment, some seats have many more electors than others . . . it means there are more MPs than there need to be,” he said. “I believe every vote should carry the same weight, which means levelling up the size of constituencies. That would help reduce the number of MPs, save money, and give people confidence that their vote really mattered.”

Right, well I completely agree that the way MPs are currently elected is unfair. I think there are more MPs than there need to be and I absolutely agree that every vote should carry the same weight and that every vote should count. However, levelling up the size of constituencies will not achieve this. There will still be marginal seats and safe seats under this system. Does Cameron seriously think that his scheme will enfranchise a Labour voter in Kensington and Chelsea or a Tory voter in Sedgefield?

What Cameron has done is to identify the problem and then reach for a "solution" that is still grossly unfair but will have the effect of increasing the Tory representation in parliament. At the moment there is a bias in Labour's favour, but the solution cannot surely be to retain the old unfairness but just nudge it back in favour of the Tories a bit to compensate?

If David Cameron was serious about reform of the electoral system he would be looking at the sort of ideas advocated by the Electoral Reform Society and Make Votes Count. Their ideas would enfranchise everybody in the country with real reform using a system such as Single Transferable Vote.

I welcome Cameron's contribution to this debate but only in so far as it will allow us to open up the discussion to include potential reforms that will actually make everybody's vote count, not just benefit the Conservative party as his proposals would.

UPDATE1: Malcolm Clark from Make Votes Count has also posted on this today.

UPDATE2: I have now sent e-mails about this to both The Sunday Times and David Cameron himself. If I get any response from either I will post it on this blog.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Derek Draper should go - now


I've been away for the bank holiday weekend down in Devon and so have only just got to a computer. I only had intermittent coverage on my iPhone so have not been able to follow the blogs as closely as I mormally so. I didn't actually need to read the blogs however to see what has happened as it was the main headline on the BBC News yesterday and has been rumbling on today.

There's not much point in me going into detail about McBride's resignation. I don't know much about him but everything I have heard makes him sound like exactly the sort of person that we do not need in politics and I do not lament his passing.

However, when it comes to Derek Draper who was the recipient of the e-mails and co-conspirator in this sleazy episode, I do have some experience. He responded to a comment I left on LabourList when it first started up and either him or one of his cohorts also commented on a post I made a couple of weeks ago when I accused him of damaging the blogosphere.

After this weekend's revelations I now very strongly feel that he is not fit to run a website so closely associated with a major political party.

Draper has posted an entry today on LabourList entitled "Apologies and Regrets". The tone is moderately contrite but I am afraid there is still too much self justification and attempt to spin his way out of things.

I don't like to kick a man when he is down but there seems to be no indication that he is going to step down so here is a quick fisk:

Since the beginning of this year we have worked hard to build a Labour supporting presence online. 99.9% of that time was taken up by setting up LabourList and trying to build it into our version of ConservativeHome. I am proud of what we have achieved in those three months. But of course I regret the 0.1% of my time that I spent thinking about how we might set up a separate left wing “gossipy” site. We had been looking at the success of the right across the blogosphere and seen how effective their more scurrilous elements were. To be honest I think we were a bit dazzled by what they get up to.

But why Derek? Why have you been so dazzled by the sort of bile that the more scurrilous elements of the right in the blogosphere pour out? Surely a blog closely associated with the Labour Party should be arguing the case for the policies on their merits, not trying to smear opponents.

But in the end both myself and Damian McBride came to believe that such a site would be wrong. That is why when you look at LabourList tens of thousands of words have been posted since those emails were sent back in January and the site we had kicked around the idea of - Red Rag - remains completely empty. You can see where my energy and passion has been going.

But Damian did write and send those emails, I did respond hastily and stupidly and now, thanks - it appears - to someone hacking into my private emails, they are in the public domain. Damian has paid a heavy price for writing them but I have to stress one important point: without the hacking they would never ever have seen the light of day. They were destined for the trash can. But we should never really have considered the idea and I am sorry we did. We got ourselves drawn into the most negative part of the blogosphere when we should have been concentrating exclusively on the more positive aspects as a model for LabourList.

Indeed. Also, from what I have read I doubt you were hacked. E-mails are very easy to forward on and unless you completely trust everybody who could have seen them then I suggest your first instinct should be that you have a leaker.

So I am sorry. I am particularly sorry to the individuals mentioned in those juvenile emails, and especially sorry to Nadine Dorries, George and Frances Osborne and David and Samantha Cameron. I can understand why they – and others – may be sceptical but all I can do is absolutely promise that these stories were just daft ideas that never – and would never have - got off the drawing board.

So in those last three months we have had some successes and made some mistakes. The most obvious being this silly idea that the smears and slurs of the right-wing blogosphere could be challenged through setting up an alternative Labour supporting gossip website – whether it contained the infamous stories in Damian´s emails or more harmless tittle tattle.

LabourList has a lot of work to do to grow and support progressives online. I want to draw a line under this email affair and make it absolutely clear that we will be doing that by discussing issues, policies and campaigning. Dozens of people have posted and thousands of comments have been made, the site grows every day, and gets richer and deeper too. That is because LabourList is about ideas and not smears.

As I have posted before, LabourList seems to be used primarily as a way of diseminating Labour Party propaganda and latterly to execute Draper's blogwars which have so spectacularly backfired on him.

On that note, though, while I do think it is right that we hold our opponents accountable our tone has sometimes been wrong. On the specifics of Iain Dale I do think he should have condemned Carol Thatcher when she used the term Golliwog but I have never said he was a racist. From what I know – and hear of him – I don´t believe him to be prejudiced at all, and actually a rather decent guy, just wrong about that particular issue. If I ever suggested other than that I apologise to him too. It may also surprise you to hear me ackowledge that, from what I know and hear, Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes is also not a racist, though we did, rightly I believe, criticize him for hosting racist comments on his site, alongside other offensive material.

Lots of self justification here.

Maybe this affair will encourage the whole blogosphere, right and left, to commit to a new start, where offensiveness and personal attacks are avoided and debate is elevated not dragged down into the gutter? Maybe this can be a turning point at which we all redouble our efforts to tap into the internet´s positive potential rather than allowing its more peurile aspects to come to the fore? But that won´t happen without many many more people getting involved and taking blogging out of its ghetto.

Maybe it will Derek, but I think that your aims can best be served by you withdrawing from the blogosphere. You came from nowhere late last year and have tried through various tactics to get well known in the blogosphere and to influence things. You have succeeded in that, but it has all blown up in your face and it is you that has dragged things down. In that context this paragraph is sanctimonious tosh. Hand the reins of LL over to someone who understands blogging and can do a proper job.

For those who have suppported LabourList and feel they have been let down, I apologise. I would encourage them – and others - to stay with us: read the site, get involved, make some comments and write some posts. Join the community and make it what you want it to be.

That was always the way to build Labour´s case on line not getting distracted by silly plans for tittle tattle and gossip. I did realize that in time, but should have done so even earlier.. However I really am proud of LabourList and what we are trying to achieve and I rededicate myself to that 100%.

No, it's too late now Derek. You are damaged goods and you need to step back.

For me, the worst aspect of this whole episode is the revelation that one of the intended smears was to suggest that George Osborne's wife was suffering from mental problems. Draper's response to this suggestion was to say that it was "Absolutely, totally brilliant". Derek Draper is a psychotherapist who had a nervous breakdown following the lobbygate scandal in the late 90s.

That he of all people should react to a suggestion regarding a plan to smear an innocent party as being mentally ill in this way tells me all I need to know about him. He hasn't changed and it is now clear to me that he is incapable of changing. He must step down from LabourList.

PS: I know I promised not to post about LabourList any more, but after this weekend I felt I had to! I will now redouble my efforts not to again.

UPDATE (06/05/2009): According to Iain Dale, Mr Draper is indeed now leaving Labourlist for pastures new. Not before time.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Smart move by Nick Clegg on second homes

Just read on LDV quoting a Sam Coates story in The Times that Nick Clegg is going to propose that the capital gains from second home sales revert to the public purse when the properties are sold. He also wants to make sure that they cannot claim at all for mortgage interest payments, only rent.

Whilst there will doubtless be practical complications, I think these are great ideas in principle and they chime with what I have said in the past about needing to make sure that MPs do not benefit from the capital gains as they do at the moment.

Clegg also wants an end to the ability to claim for things like flat screen TVs and furniture and only be able to claim for utilities and council tax.

As Guido suggests, MPs are likely to be horriried by these proposals but something has to be done to restore public trust and Nick Clegg's proposals are exactly the sort of radical reform that is needed to do this.

It will be interesting to see how Gordon Brown and David Cameron respond to this smart move by Clegg.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Drug prohibition cost-effectiveness study published

Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) have published a cost-effectiveness study of the prohibition of drugs in the UK.

Their findings are that a legalised (but strictly controlled) drugs regime could save £14 billion per year (interesting to note in the current climate).

It is well worth reading this report and I would also question why the government has not even attempted any sort of cost-effectiveness or cost benefit analysis of their policy in this area.

EDIT: I should point out that the focus of the report is also on harm reduction as well as saving money. This is an important point as it seems like there could be cost savings and health improvements for drug users and addicts alike if a more progressive approach was taken.

Ian Tomlinson

The blogosphere has exploded today following the recent release of video footage by The Guardian which shows that during the G20 protests, a police officer hit a man across the legs and pushed him onto the floor, from behind. The man appears to have had nothing to do with the protests and was walking away from the police. There is no indication that there was any sort of provocation. The man died a few minutes later of a heart attack. His name was Ian Tomlinson.

At first the police made no mention of the assault on Mr Tomlinson and indeed their statement suggested that the police were trying to help him and protesters were throwing missiles at them as they tried to do so. Although I am sure that later on police did try to help him (the footage is only for a couple of minutes prior to Mr Tomlinson's death) it is seems that the police (or at least one officer in particular) acted in a disproportionate manner towards an innocent bystander and this could have been a contributing factor to his death a few minutes later.

I fear that were it not for this footage having been taken and thus providing incontrovertable evidence of what happened that the police would not have volunteered the information, despite the fact that there were at least 5 of them who could clearly see what happened. There has been no indication in the last few days that they were intending to make this public themselves. I am sad to say that this seems to be par for the course. The jury in the De Menezes case in their verdict thought that the police had not been honest about their claims that an officer had shouted a warning before the fatal shots were fired. Independent witnesses had contradicted the police record and they were believed by the jury over the police. I was and still am very uncomfortable about the idea that the police would tailor their stories to all match with each other like this.

It is precisely for this reason that the recent stories about it being made unlawful to take photographs or film the police cannot be allowed to happen. It is only because footage is available that what happened to Mr Tomlinson can be fully investigated.

UPDATE: Following the revelation that Ian may well have died from internal bleeding, not a heart attack as was first thought, I have some further thoughts on how the Police will have to change.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Spending must be cut

The more I hear about the state of the public finances, the more it is becoming obvious that spending will have to be cut in the coming years. This is surely going to be true whoever is in government.

Nick Clegg has had a go at trying to change the terms of political debate recently by identifying some areas where savings could be made and reorienting spending priorities.

I think that the Tories are so scarred by the last 3 election defeats where each time Labour went for their jugular about cuts, demanding to know how many schools and hospitals would have to close each time any attempt was made to question public spending that they are afraid to say so now.

However I think that they are in increasing danger (as politicians often are) of fighting the last war. Things have changed on the ground significantly in the last year. I run my own business and I know that people in the private sector are having to cope with pay freezes, pay cuts, shorter hours, lay-offs, reductions in benefits, redundancies etc. etc. This is what happens during a downturn. I think that a large proportion of the electorate will be affected one way or another by these things and they will in turn expect the public sector to take its share of the pain. The more they see this not happening (and the recent pay round showing modest but real public sector pay increases is an example of this), the more angry they will get.

I already sense a strong feeling of injustice regarding the public sector pension arrangements when compared to the private sector and continuing public sector expansion will do nothing to ameliorate these feelings.

Given all of this, I think Labour are wrong in thinking that they are going to be able to throw around accusations at opposition politicians who talk honestly about what needs to happen. It might have worked in 2001 and 2005 but this is 2009 in the middle of worst recession in living memory.

The rules have changed and I think that politicians who are honest with the public about what needs to happen will reap the rewards.

Monday 6 April 2009

Does politics really have to be like this?

I have posted before about how the full weight of the government is used to come down on suggestions that do not chime precisely with what the government want to do.

This post on Coffee House yesterday from Fraser Nelson has me again wondering if politics has to be played out the way it is at the moment.

From what I can see, Michael Gove has made some suggestions about how we might want to consider implementing some of the policies that Sweden have apparently successfully followed for the last few years regarding schools. Irrespective of the individual merits or otherwise of the proposals, what has happened is that Jim Knight, a minister has come out and ripped into the proposals claiming the plans would involve cuts, that they are risky, divisive, that the Tories would allow schools to wither and die and that it would lead to a lottery that would benefit only the few.

As far as I can tell, the suggestions merit sensible debate, unless you think that the current system, or whatever the government's latest policy is (it changes fairly frequently) is unquestionably absolutely right, with no need for any debate. At all.

Of course, this is how politics is done in this country. One party has a policy and the the other parties rip into it pointing out how it is completely wrong. Whichever party forms the government basically does what it wants irrespective of the arguments.

Isn't this one of the main problems we have at the moment in this country though? Whoever is in government does not really listen to opposition. There is the odd occasion where they do, when it is close to election time for example but even then it is the few thousand floating voters in swing seats that they focus on. Also, when public anger bubbles over e.g. on fuel prices in 2000 or on the 10p tax hike last year. But by and large they stick their fingers in their ears, shout "La, la, la, la, not listening" and do as they please.

And the Tories are exactly the same. I remember in the dying days of the Major government how minister after minister would tear into Labour for having the temerity to suggest that workers in this country might be able to earn a minimum wage rather than be exploited. It would cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs we were told, the country cannot afford it, we were assured, any argument to maintain the status quo was mustered. Of course all the apocalyptic predictions never came to pass and the Tories quietly adopted the minimum wage as policy a few years ago.

I wonder if one of the problems is the completely adverserial nature of debate in the political sphere. Many MPs were part of debating societies at university and the job to be done here is to argue a case and to win the argument. It is embedded deep within our judicial system also. I think that this attitude is so prevalent that the odd occasion when a politician tries to step outside the bounds (e.g. Cameron's call for no more "Punch and Judy" politics - how long did that last?) they almost immediately fail because everybody else is still playing the same game.

I think politics in this country would be much better if there was actually proper debate. Watch a government minister or opposition spokesperson on Question Time or whenever they are being interviewed next time and see if you think they are really listening, or whether they are calculating how to rip into their opponent's policy in the most effective way irrespective of the merits of their proposals.

Oh and one last thing, I know we Lib Dems can sometimes be guilty of this but from what I can tell we are the best certainly of the 3 main parties at actually engaging properly with an argument. It is one of the reasons I joined the party.

Sunday 5 April 2009

If I hear "It was within the rules" one more time...

If I hear the phrase "It was within the rules" one more time I may have to damage something. Hard. The continuing revelations about MPs allowances and expenses has now made me understand what Mr Eugenides means when he says he is "trying to hold back the rage".

The latest senior MP to have been caught enriching himself at the taxpayer's expense is Geoff "Buff" Hoon. Predictably his defence is that what he did was within the rules.

When will these people understand that we have now reached the point where the rules are so widely despised that use of this phrase is tantamount to sticking two fingers up to the rest of us? Any rules that allow public servants to make tens of thousands of pounds of captial gains profit from public money are rotten.

To Eric Pickles credit, he has now recognised that his pathetic attempt to justify MPs second homes was wrong and he has now changed his view.

Just to clarify my view on this, WE DO NOT NEED YET MORE INQURIES. What we need is for the rules to be changed right now to stop politicians from shafting the tax payer. Here are a few suggestions to go into the pot (I have mentioned some of these previously):

1) MPs researchers and assistants should be paid for directly by the state. There should be monitoring of this to be sure that this is done fairly (e.g. MPs with a particularly "busy" constituency may need more help than some others). The jobs should be given to the best candidate in an open process, not necessarily given to wives, children, friends etc. unless they happen to be the best qualified.

2) The state could purchase (or build, or adapt one or more of its existing buildings) into a large accomodation block for MPs. They would be able to use their flat within this to live in when they needed to be in London and it could operate like a military baracks or halls of residence whereby meals etc. were provided, thus allowing them to concentrate on the busy job in hand that they have. The flats would be furnished to a reasonable standard already. There would be no need to provide money to them for accomodation and they would not realise any capital gains in the end as the property would revert to the state. I understand there are practical problems with this but with the political will they could be overcome. I see that Irfan Ahmed is also floating this idea and there is a No 10 petition for it.

3) MPs would still be given expenses for things like travel to and from their constituency etc. but all receipts will need to be kept and they would need to put in a expense claim which if necessary may require justifcation like us mere mortals have to.

4) If my suggestion 2 is not followed, and property can still be claimed on, then any captial gains that acrue on property that has claims made by politicians as part of their allowances must be repaid to the exchequer on sale of the property.

5) No pay rises for MPs to compensate for any reduction or modification to the allowances regime. If MPs are worried that there is public disquiet at the moment, just let them try this. Then they will find out the true meaning of the word disquiet.

Friday 3 April 2009

Might Brown dissolve parliament very soon?

Further to my previous post about the G20 summit and positive coverage Brown is getting, I am starting to wonder if my former confidence that Brown will go the distance is perhaps misplaced. I still think it most likely that the next General Election will be in May or June 2009, but if Brown has the balls he could surprise us all. As Peter Hoskin says here on the Spectator blog today:

Much as with one of Brown's Budgets, it takes at least a few days - if not weeks, months - for the charade to be picked up on by all the media, and to become the dominant narrative.

This chimes with what I was saying too. However, it really will take weeks or months before it becomes clear whether or not the G20 was a success. In the meantime, Brown has come across as a leading world statesman and is getting very positive coverage. It will not get any better than this for Brown.

There are all sort of problems in the economy, with MPs expenses and lots of Labour chickens from the last 12 years coming home to roost.

If I was Brown I would be very quietly considering calling a snap election. Because of our twisted electoral system, he can be a few points behind the Tories and still get a majority, or at the very least be the largest single party in parliament.

The odds are still with a long game but the generally positive reaction to Brown's G20 performance just made a quick election that bit more likely.


I saw Watchdog on the sign zone last night and there was a piece about Tiscali's customer service (or lack of it) that reminded me of something that happened last year.

Since 2003 I had been with Pipex as my broadband provider. They had come highly recommended and I was very pleased with the service I had received having stayed with them through a house move and having gone from 512kb/s to 1Mb/s and finally to 2Mb/s. I never quite got the headline speed but it was usually not far off.

However, early in 2008 I started to notice that the speed had dropped off. At first I assumed that it was a temporary thing and because I do not keep a constant eye on download speeds at first I did not properly notice and it actually felt like my PC was running slowly. After a while though I realised that it was indeed the web connection and when I started running some tests I discovered that I was getting at best about 25kb/s. To put this into perspective that is less than half the speed of dial-up and about 1% of the speed that Pipex should have been providing me according to their headline figures. Completely unacceptable.

Once I had satisfied myself that this was not a temporary thing (I waited a good few days) I contacted Pipex. Their response was to suggest that there must be a problem with the phone line and they asked me to install some low-level engineering type software on my machine and sent me a list of fairly complex tests that they said I needed to perform. Once they got the results they would then decide what the problem was and take it from there.

At this point I got slightly suspicious. I am technially proficient being a software engineer by background and the tests they were asking me to run seemed very complicated. I was sure I could do it, but I bet the majority of people could not, without assistance. It smelt a bit like they were trying to fob me off.

I started doing a trawl of web forums to fsee what I could find out about Pipex and to see if anyone else had had similar problems. What I discovered was that lots of Pipex customers had started experiencing similar speed problems to myself at around the same time. Coincidentally, Tiscali had recently taken over Pipex. Although they had apparently not admitted publicly to throttling bandwidth, there was a widespread suspicion amongst affected customers that that is exactly what had happened.

At this point I was very angry. It seemed that Pipex had deliberately throttled my internet connection by a factor of nearly 100 and then had the gall to suggest it was a technical problem and try to get me to do a load of work from my end under the guise of trying to help me.

I started investigating other ISPs very quickly settled on Be There as a provider who were offerring up to 24Mb/s for a similar price to what I was paying with Pipex for about 1000th of that speed. I switched very soon afterwards. With Be I now get about 6 or 7Mb/s which is plenty fast enough for me at the moment.

The fact that as soon as I switched to Be, the speed problems disappeared absolutely convinced me that there had been no problem at all with the line and that the issue must have been with Pipex but they didn't even have the decency to tell me that they had throttled my line.

Labour MPs will regret the groans and jeering

I missed PMQs this week and have only just caught up with watching it this morning. I have to say that what Cameron led on is exactly what I have been saying regarding MPs expenses. I have reproduced the relevant portion from Hansard below (although you really need to watch it to hear the barracking from 33 minutes in for about 4 minutes here):

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On behalf of all Conservative Members, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming President Obama and the First Lady, and all the other Presidents and Prime Ministers, to our country this week.

Before turning to the G20, may I ask the Prime Minister about the issue of MPs’ expenses? [ Interruption. ] MPs may groan, but frankly I am fed up with our politics being dragged through the mud. We need a solution that is transparent, costs less than the current arrangements, and restores faith in the political process. Is it not the case that we cannot wait for another review, and that this needs to be agreed now? So instead of another review, will the Prime Minister agree to an urgent meeting between the main party leaders so that we can sort this out once and for all?

The Prime Minister: I agree and have said on many occasions that this whole system has to be reformed and improved. I think that there is common ground in this House that it brings no repute to MPs if we are continually having to deal with these issues. We have made some changes, by the will of the House, to the way that expenses are documented, to the way that the Green Book is organised, and to the way that people are obliged to account for their expenditures of money. Both the parties agreed that the Committee on Standards in Public Life could do a good job in looking at these
1 Apr 2009 : Column 911
issues. Of course I am happy to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties to discuss this, but to restore public confidence in the matter the Committee will have to complete its review as well, and I have asked it to speed up that review so that it is completed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: Frankly, the problem is that we do not need another review. Let us be clear: this is exactly what happened last time. The Prime Minister supported a review, he sent it a letter and when it came up with conclusions, he did not vote for them. [Hon. Members: “Nor did you.”] I did vote for them. The public are sick and tired of this situation, and it requires political leadership. That means political leaders making decisions, which means the Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberals and me. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he have that meeting of party leaders so that we can sort this out? May we have it, instead of a review, not in six months’ time, not in a year’s time, but right now?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he heard my first answer. I said I was quite happy to meet him and the leader of the Liberal party to discuss these issues, but he has to remember that if we in this House are to command public confidence for what we do, we need to satisfy the Committee on Standards in Public Life as well as ourselves. The whole purpose of the discussions we have had in recent years is to take MPs’ pay out of politics, so that it is not MPs who are held responsible for the original recommendations on pay, or for voting for them. I believe that we have to satisfy more than ourselves on the standards we apply in public life. Yes, I am prepared to talk to the right hon. Gentleman, but he should agree to what was agreed before: that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should continue to review this issue and report as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: The problem is that we can all hear the rustling of the long grass.

It's good to see Cameron following Nick Clegg's lead on this. He was the first party leader to suggest a meeting between the three leaders to try and sort this all out and I welcome the Tory support for this.

Cameron is spot on about the sound of the long grass and the need for urgent reform. The groans and the jeering from Labour MPs when Cameron started his question demonstrate how out of touch they are. If they had any sense of the public feeling about this issue they would shut up and listen hard to the suggestions being made. This should not be a party political football, it is damaging our democracy and needs to be fixed and quickly.

I suspect members of the public will have been disgusted with this sort of response to sensible suggestions about reform of how our money is spent.

It was also heartening to hear Nick Clegg go for Brown on tax havens, the lack of a green stimulus and the wasteful VAT cut, call of which I fully agree with and I did not feel Brown's platitudes addressed his questions. As usual.

Will this unravel for Brown?

So, Brown has managed to get some fantastic coverage in today's press regarding the G20. Probably about as good as he could have hoped for and the markets also rose 4% yesterday.

However, I think we all need to remember that this is Gordon Brown we are talking about here. Every budget that he announced as Chancellor was always spun to the max and usually also garnered positive headlines, until a few days later when the detail had been pored over and the double counting, reannouncements and shabbily concealed bad news became clear to everyone. Indeed Fraser Nelson has already started the analysis here and is does not look good if he is right about the detail.

There is another point worth remembering here. This is Gordon's last roll of the dice. He is massively associated with the decisions made yesterday. He hosted the summit and was first to the podium with the speech after the agreements had been reached. If this package now fails to work then he has nowhere else to go.

I hope it does work - there has been such relentless bad news for the last year that something that showed clear signs that a corner was being turned can only be a good thing.

Charlotte has performed a detailed analysis of yesterday's announcements from a Libertarian perspective.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Lib Dem Blogroll

Charlotte Gore has made a good point today about Lib Dems not linking to each others blogs as much as other parties because of the existence of the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator. I must admit I had not done much on this precisely because of the aggregator.

I have rectified this now however and put a Lib Dem Blogroll on this blog in a decent position. If Lib Dem bloggers want to be added to it, let me know in the comments below and please feel free to add me to yours as well.

Mark Thomas on Newsnight

Mark Thomas was great last night on Newsnight (watch it here from about 26 minutes in). He managed to summarise what he perceives as the main problem that the G20 should tackle (tax havens) in a very short space of time. He even seemed to know more about the situation than Paxman. He made a comment that the government actually rents some of its buildings from companies that operate from tax havens and Paxman asked "Is that true?".

Unfortunately Wee Douggie Alexander did not respond to this but instead emphasised that global action is needed. He has a fair point but everything he said was hedged with "I hope we can do this." emphasising how limited the British Government's power is on this.

Before Mark Thomas even opened his mouth I knew he was going to go for tax havens. I have been listening to his podcasts recently which are very much focussed on the recession within the context of fairness and tackling corruption. He clearly thinks that the crisis is an opportunity for fundamental reform and I agree. For each podcast he interviews a different person such as Vince Cable, Caroline Lucas and many other activists. They usually make for fascinating listening and I have learnt plenty I did not know before. You can get them on iTunes or from here.