David Cameron

Labour, Letters And Clear Water

Both Paul Bernal and Sunny Hundal have written open letters to Rachel Reeves. First, the ex-Labour Party member expresses what many of us feel:

“This is a rare chance for you – I do hope you haven’t already thrown it away. Ed Miliband’s speech at conference was very well received, and seemed to pretty seriously rattle the Tories. They, in response, revealed some of their nastiest aspects at their conference. The Lib Dems are still in chaos. With the departure of Liam Byrne, you had a chance to change the game. It was a chance get onto the front foot, and set the agenda – as Ed Miliband did so well with the energy price freeze policy. Did you notice how well that resonated with people? And how the promise to repeal the Bedroom Tax resonated with people? Did you ask yourself why? One of the key reasons is that it put clear water between Labour and the Tories. It showed that Labour understood peoples’ problems, and actually seemed to care about them. It showed that Labour was no longer going to just be a slightly milder version of the Tories…. or so we thought.
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Through your interview, you’ve reversed all that. You may well have lost all the goodwill gained by the Party Conference. I do hope that’s not the case, and I hope you’ll be willing to reconsider your approach. Personally, I live in Cambridge, which is a marginal seat, currently held by the Lib Dems, and I would have thought that you want my vote. Right now, with an approach like this, I don’t think I can give it to you. After Ed Miliband’s speech I was even considering rejoining the Labour Party – after a long gap – and putting a good deal of energy into supporting the campaign. I’d still like to do that, but with an approach like this, I really can’t see a way. [My emphasis.] “

Sunny puts it in an more moderate way:

“The conventional wisdom within Labour is that the party is seen as ‘soft’ on people who claim social security and too forgiving of people who abuse the system. You will know that poorer people are usually harsher towards others on benefits and want tough sanctions on abusers of the system. You will have seen polling that suggests Labour needs to neutralise that image or else people may be tempted to vote for the Conservatives in 2015. Hence you wanted to sound tough in your interview with the Observer on Sunday.

This talk of Labour ‘walking into a welfare trap’ set by the Tories has itself become a problem: we keep returning to the safe ground of ‘tough’ rhetoric, without convincing messages or policies that favour Labour in the long term. It is time to bring some fresh thinking to this debate and I hope you won’t shy away from doing so.”

Update 1: George Eaton argues EU study shreds the myth of “benefit tourism”.

News International And The Police

There is a very revealing article in the Independent concerning Rupert Murdoch and News International.

It seems that, for once, the Police will investigate them with some vigour and potentially prosecute them as a corporation. This very notion has sent shivers down News International spines and they have reduced co-operation with the police accordingly.

But do read the article in full, as there is a lot more to this:

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“Lawyers for the media behemoth have pleaded with the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute the company as it would not be in the “public interest” to put thousands of jobs at risk. Gerson Zweifach, the group general counsel of News Corp, flew in to London for emergency talks with the Met last year. According to Scotland Yard, he told police: “Crappy governance is not a crime. The downstream effects of a prosecution would be apocalyptic. The US authorities’ reaction would put the whole business at risk, as licences would be at risk.”

The Independent can reveal that Scotland Yard warned News Corp that its UK subsidiary, which publishes The Sun and used to publish the now-defunct News of the World, was under formal investigation on 18 May last year.

A month later, Rupert Murdoch announced he was splitting the global empire he spent six decades building up into one of the most powerful companies in the world. The 82-year-old hived off the highly profitable television and film assets, including 21st Century Fox and Fox News, into a separate entity from the troubled newspaper group in what was widely perceived as an attempt to isolate any contagion from the phone-hacking scandal.” [My emphasis]

Iain Duncan Smith Caught Lying By The Economist

Politicians do not like being told that they lie.

The English language hides the necessary directness beneath such wording as disingenuous, economical with the truth or actualité. But even the Economist, frequently feriously supportitive of the Tories, has conceded that Iain Duncan Smith is a liar, in a roundabout fashion:

”And this is the only the latest in a series of questionable press releases. Earlier this month, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that the benefits cap had encouraged 8,000 people to get jobs. Yet as Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute for Economics and Social Research pointed out, the Department for Work and Pensions has never made an estimate of the behavioural effects of the benefit cap. At best, Mr Duncan Smith’s figures simply showed that 8,000 people who were to be affected had got jobs. Perhaps some did because of the benefits cap—but we have no idea.

Even before that, there was the matter of 878,000 people who apparently dropped their claims for disability benefits when faced with a doctors test over the past four years, as the old Incapacity Benefit system was replaced with the new Employment and Support Allowance. Again, this figure was absurd. It took no account of the churn—the number of people who come off benefits each month anyway. The most glaring error was that the figures completely ignored the fact that a lot of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claims are short-term—and so a lot of claimants simply got better before facing the test.

All of these are technical, even wonkish objections. “Yes, we twisted the statistics a little”, I can hear a hypothetical Conservative MP saying, “but so does Labour, and the fundamental truth is that the benefits system costs too much and is need of reform.”

Well, quite. The welfare system does indeed need reform. But the whole point about government statistics is that they are meant to be at least sort of objective. Ministers can quote the ones which support their case—but they shouldn’t manipulate them and distort them to tell stories that aren’t actually true. There is plenty of evidence to support welfare reform without resorting to such disgraceful abuse of numbers.

But the problem is, they get away with it—they have done for a long time. Even before the election, Chris Grayling, then the shadow home secretary, was alleging that gun crime was soaring, using distorted data to prove his point. In fact, gun crime began its precipitous decline under Labour. Similarly, much of David Cameron’s “Broken Britain” rhetoric ignored—or denied—dramatic and unexpected improvements in social indicators. “[My emphasis.]

The Economist is too polite. I blame lying Tories, myself.

Polly Toynbee vs. Ed Balls

Last week I briefly glimpsed an interview with Ed Balls, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and major figure in the British Labour Party.

It was a general discussion on the Tories (misnamed) Autumn statement. The interviewer, whose name I forget, tried to pin him down into criticising George Osborne’s measures. However, the ever so cunning Balls was having none of it. He hummed and ahhed, instead of giving pointed answers and making it clear that Labour was stridently oppose the Tory measures, he prevaricated.

And that, for me, is the problem with the Labour leadership, they don’t really know which Tory measures there against, or even if they should oppose them totally, which is bewildering.

But I am not the only one to notice the malaise within the Labour leadership. The hardly radical, Polly Toynbee has some suggestions:

“To turn the public mood, Labour needs to find its voice and tell the stories that counteract Daily Mail scrounger anecdotes. For every cheat claiming disability while running a marathon, there are thousands of tales of the hard-working and the desperate-to-work queuing at food banks. Labour MPs’ surgeries brim with stories that need to be told, of families evicted unable to pay soaring rents, of children trapped in bed-and-breakfast single rooms, of “strivers” sinking through no fault of their own.

Labour needs to say what they see. Forget the polls and the focus groups, let the facts speak for themselves. Ed Miliband’s best instinct is that people are sick of Osborne’s callow politicking. Voters will reward honesty in politicians who speak their minds. If not, why bother at all?

My feeling is, that the useless Balls and Miliband are too wrapped up in the Westminster bubble to take this shrewd advice.

An Occasional Murdoch, NHS and Misogyny Roundup

Rupert Murdoch ate a mountain of humble pie at the Levinson inquiry and looked distinctly uncomfortable with his newfound humility.

That’s a thing of the past. Murdoch reveals his true feelings on Twitter:

“Told UK’s Cameron receiving scumbag celebrities pushing for even more privacy laws. Trust the toffs! Transparency under attack. Bad.”

Charlotte Church was a bit annoyed.

Over at the NHS they are not happy, according to one of its honchos:

“The head of the NHS has laid bare his fears that the government’s controversial reforms of the health service could end in “misery and failure”.

Women in the media, why the disparity?

An ex-Wikileaks supporter explains why:

“For a long time now I was a strong supporter of Julian. I used to donate regularly to him. I defended and supported his actions because I believed in the cause that he was fighting for. Since the days of the original attack I ran the primary South African Wikileaks mirror (www.wikileaks.za.org). Back in those days thousands of us rallied to support Wikileaks when it was under constant DDOS attack.

Now I see the absolute disdain the Assange`s treat this cause with I can no longer put my support behind the idea. To the Assange’s it has become the Assange Road Show. Wikileaks is all about them and their own personal agenda. “

Malatesta covers the activity of the British Far Right with humour, look out for Mike Mosley, yet another neo-Nazi that likes guns.

This is a piece of understated reporting if ever there was one.

French antisemitism comes to the fore on Twitter.

An indicator, if one was needed, of Tory failures, food banks serving more.

In Australia, the definition of misogyny is being updated.

When Universal Credit is introduced in Britain, the disabled will lose out.

Radovan Karadžić’s lying know no bounds.

When you think about buying an iPhone remember that Foxcon are still using youngsters to make their bits.

Worried by Americanisms? Linguistic traffic is not one way, as the Beeb shows.

Good news, neo-Nazi’s plans for social media thwarted by Twitter.

Tens of thousands have disappeared in Syria.

Paramilitary abuse and raped in Colombia, one woman’s tale.

Thanks to the UK Human Rights Blog and Irène Solomon there is an unofficial English translation of the Rachel Corrie judgment.

The Beeb and its mistakes over the Jimmy Savile investigation.

The New Yorker on Romney:

“Romney’s conviction is that the broad swath of citizens who do not pay federal income tax—a category that includes pensioners, soldiers, low-income workers, and those who have lost their jobs—are parasites, too far gone in sloth and dependency to be worth the breath one might spend asking for their votes. His descent to this cynical view—further evidenced by his selection of a running mate, Paul Ryan, who is the epitome of the contemporary radical Republican—has been dishearteningly smooth. He in essence renounced his greatest achievement in public life—the Massachusetts health-care law—because its national manifestation, Obamacare, is anathema to the Tea Party and to the G.O.P. in general. He has tacked to the hard right on abortion, immigration, gun laws, climate change, stem-cell research, gay rights, the Bush tax cuts, and a host of foreign-policy issues. He has signed the Grover Norquist no-tax-hike pledge and endorsed Ryan’s winner-take-all economics. “

Finally, the CST’s Online radicalisation. ‘Lone wolves’ of all stripes.

The BBC And The NHS

I think Martin Shovel doesn’t get the recognition that his wit and drawing skills deserve.

In this case he details with the BBC’s attitude to the NHS:

Those readers unfamiliar with the issues would do well to read Oliver Huitson’s and openDemocracy contribution:

“The BBC’s coverage of the NHS bill represents a profound failure to inform the public on an issue of the utmost importance. To summarise, it appears that:

- the BBC never questioned or explored the lack of democratic mandate for the changes to the NHS

- they consistently presented the bill using the government’s own highly contested description

- expert critics were not given the space and opportunity to highlight the true nature of their objections

- financial links between healthcare firms, the Conservatives and the House of Lords were never reported

- the significant role of the private sector in Lansley’s new health market was never explored

- fears over privatisation were occasionally stated but never explored or explained

- the role of private firms in commissioning care was not properly explained, if at all

- the role of private firms in creating the bill was never examined or reported

- sources with significant links to private healthcare were presented without a disclosure of their interests

- the BBC censored key stories, particularly as the bill reached its final stages. On 19 March 2012 when the bill was finally passed in the Lords, BBC Online published not a single article of news or analysis on the bill. “

(more…)

A Damp Round Up Of World News

Lighter blogging than expected, so it’s a good time for a roundup.

Tom points to David Cameron’s greed, Cameron is the first PM to pocket private rent while living at number 10.

Bob from Brockley argues that the slaughter in Syria is not really covered in the Western media with any vigour. The old adage of, if it bleeds it leads, doesn’t always applied to certain parts of the Middle East.

Sexism down under, as Julia Gillard rips into her conservative opponent.

Owen Jones on Hugo.

To quote Carl Packman: “Why are @GeorgeGalloway and Ken Livingstone silent about their employer giving so many anti-Semites a platform? …”

Elsewhere, Ruskin College is accused of academic vandalism and destroying its own historical records.

Battle of the ads in NYC, the campaign to counter Pam Geller’s bigoted nonsense.

Fit for work? Don’t believe it.

The statistics are frightening: I missed it but the Mirror pointed it out in April 2012. Chris Tattershall’s treatment was atrocious.

“Panorama also revealed that between January and August last year, on average 32 people died every week who the government had declared could be helped back into work in the medium term. “

Malala Yousafzai and the Taliban. As CNN reports:

“The Taliban controlled Malala’s valley for years until 2009, when the military cleared it in an operation that also evacuated thousands of families. Last year, Malala told CNN she feared “being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education. During their rule, the Taliban used to march into our houses to check whether we were studying or watching television.” She described how she used to hide her books under her bed, fearing a house search by the Taliban.”

Norm on the Guardian’s pandering. The Beeb’s Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger. Related, the Safe World for Women campaign has a message. Alex Andreou is sharp on the Tories:

“Last year, he framed his speech with “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with her armbands on”. This year he says “it is time to sink or swim”. An elegant, if unwitting, indication of how his thinking has moved on; from foolhardy champion swimmer to panicked doggy-paddler. The UK economy is fast becoming a small makeshift raft, cobbled together from antiquated dogma, U-turns and fiascos, adrift in a sea of global uncertainty. Selling off the planks to passing sharks is not a solution. When the water is ankle-deep, crew and passengers look to the captain for action, not regurgitated rhetoric, however deftly delivered. All he can do is stand there and shout passionately “The Free Market will save us! Enterprise will save us! Aspiration will save us!” Abstract, deified, neoliberal concepts without a smidgeon of policy, detail or budget to back them up. I recognised his speech for what it was: A drowning man’s gurgling prayer. “

Immigration detention centres in Britain. Bradley Burston’s appeal:

“Send a message. The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. It makes much better economic sense to integrate asylum seekers into work places and schools, than it does to waste millions on building, maintaining, and operating centers for endless detention of non-criminals and their children. “

Nikolas Kozloff’s Chomsky, Ali, and the failure to challenge the authoritarian left is damning.

Some say Keynes was right? The IMF?

Trending swastikas? Twitter shows that antisemitism is not dead, not even by half.

Atos and Scotland, I must start reading the Daily Record.

When next you meet a Press TV admirer remind them of how it openly pushes the Far and Extreme Right, plus a whole host of nasty racists.

Julian Assange and leaving Sweden.

Topically, sexual harassment and the 21st century.

Didn’t  anyone see this coming? Jean-Marie Le Pen backs Marine on kippah ban.

The UK Human Rights Blog is always worth reading, in particular, their post on Back in the spotlight: the detention of mentally ill asylum seekers.

In cult news, Scientology and the Nation of Islam. Even the free-wheeling Economist thinks Mitt Romney’s foreign policy is weak:

“In truth, his speech, though grave and stern in its delivery, was pretty short on policies that differ greatly from Mr Obama’s.”

B’Tselem’s camera project.

How a society treats minorities, women and rape victims is emblematic of its priorities.

Nick Lowles on football and how not to tackle racism.

Finally, lest we forget buttons, and why history is important, Kublai Khan.

The Nasty Party In 2012

I suppose, like many who take a passing interest in politics, that I have watched a fair few party political conferences, but what we see on television is only part of it.

Decca Aitkenhead ably reveals the Nasty Party:

“It’s a very different story at an Adam Smith Institute fringe meeting on economic growth later that afternoon. It’s not just standing room only – people can’t even squeeze into the room – but still they hover at the door, hungry for the narcotic blast of high-grade, free-market rhetorical cocaine. “Remember: low taxes and low spending. If you just remember that,” urges a speaker, “a lot of our difficulties will be removed.” The chair despairs of Osborne’s warning that morning to people who don’t pay their taxes (“Why is tax avoidance a priority?”). The mantra is relentless: cut taxes, cut spending, roll back the state.

Only a few years ago this sort of session had been exiled to the fringes of the fringe, confined to diehard followers of John Redwood, but now meetings such as this dominate the week, like a runaway Thatcherite express train hurtling back to the 80s.

Every party conference can become a bit of a parallel universe, safe behind its G4S security cordon, but this takes the bubble mentality to a whole new level. In the real world outside, austerity is hurting and voters are complaining about cuts, but here inside most people put the government’s problems down to being too wet and leftwing. A Populus fringe meeting delivers an avalanche of bad news about the party’s poll ratings, but to a half-empty room; in previous years, when the polling news was good, the Populus meeting was always well attended. Now the party doesn’t seem keen to hear what voters think of them.

Ann Widdecombe’s anti-gay marriage rally, on the other hand, is packed and excitable to the point of pantomime, with Widdecombe on her feet conducting the audience from the stage. “Is that how we want our country to look?” she trills. “No!” everyone roars. “This is not an anti-gay rally, it is defining marriage full stop!” she shrieks. “Yes!” everyone cheers. “

(H/T: @jomccarron)

Toynbee on Cameron And Thatcher.

Polly Toynbee is right to argue, despite its supposed fluffiness, that the Cameron administration is even to the right of Margaret Thatcher:

“When Cameron assumed leadership of a party that had lost three elections, the focus groups warned him to embrace welfare state values. Or at least to pretend to. How consciously he dissembled we don’t know, perhaps he doesn’t either. He retains the misleading aura of a pragmatist, disguising the fervour of his anti-state dogma. He may be no great ideas man, but for his Tory generation it’s a reflex: they instinctively breathe free-market Hayek and Schumpeter on “creative destruction”, applying it to government itself. Their Americanism takes the form of shipping in Tea Party Republicanism – how readily they would have let Murdoch create a British Fox News.

Only dogma explains why Cameron risks all by stripping down the NHS, Britain’s holy of holies. The only serious obstacle to his intent has been his own ineptitude at implementation. Yet for all the bungled U-turns, there has been no deviation from the great austerity.

How ironic that he should be assailed from his right. In misleading voters as to his intentions before the election, he seems not to have let his own party into the secret. They only heard they were to be disinfected, detoxified, turned green and never be nasty again. The reality of welfare cuts the Institute for Fiscal Studies calls “without historical and international precedent” seems to pass by the likes of Fox and Davis. “

Did I say I didn’t like the Tories? With reason.

Liberal Conspiracy’s Ten key NHS privatisation stories the BBC barely reported on, is a useful reminder.

Update 1: How Tory Peers will financially benefit from the privatisation of the NHS:

“More than one in four Conservative peers – 62 out of the total of 216 – and many other members of the House of Lords have a direct financial interest in the radical re-shaping of the NHS in England that is perilously close to being enacted. These peers have been able to vote on the crucial divisions that will determine the immediate and long-term future of the NHS and the coalition’s Health and Social Care bill.

The peers – who have personal interests in insurance companies, private health-care and private equity groups – have placed themselves into a position in which they are in danger of voting on behalf of the personal and private interests that stand to gain from the bill rather than in the public interest. “

Dennis Skinner And David Cameron

The comparison between David Cameron and Dennis Skinner is stark, as an unlikely source reminds us about the Tories:

“Two thirds of the Cabinet — 18 out of 29 ministers — were millionaires, the new Cabinet “rich list” found.

Wealth-X, a consultancy specialising in analysing the financial affairs of US politicians, based its figures on salaries as well as declared shares and properties.

The consultancy’s analysts estimated Mr Cameron’s net worth at £3.8million, with liquid assets of £190,000 from current and previous salaries – half as much as President Barack Obama.

His fortune was in part self-made and from “property, most likely funded from parents/inheritance”.

The analysis also forecast that the combined wealth of Mr and Mrs Cameron was likely to rise sharply in coming years because they would inherit an estimated £25.3 million. “

The Indy describes Skinner’s relationship with Cameron:

“Then along came David Cameron, who seemed to think that a really clever way to put down the veteran socialist was to ridicule him for being old. Replying to a barbed question about the former Downing Street spin doctor, Andy Coulson, Mr Cameron told him: “I often say to my children, ‘no need to go to the Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur, come to the House of Commons’.” At another session, last month, the Prime Minister ignored the question altogether, and peevishly remarked: “He has the right at any time to take his pension – and I advise him to do so.”

Some of Parliament’s older MPs were offended to hear a youngish Prime Minister imply that someone should shut up because he is no longer young. Mr Cameron took note and last Wednesday adopted a very different tone. Challenged again by Mr Skinner, a contrite Mr Cameron replied: “My last response to him was a bit more sharp than it should have been and I hope he will accept my apologies.”

As far as Mr Skinner is concerned, the apology was pointless because the insults were water off a duck’s back. “I don’t let that worry me – never have. I think it diminishes him,” he said.”

Some of Dennis Skinner’s better quotes.