Friday, January 29, 2010

Money, money, money...

A very interesting meeting, last night's Yardley Constituency Committee. So interesting that Cllr Paul Tilsley spent most of his time working through the emails on his Blackberry, although I'm sure that he was keeping an ear on the discussions. Perhaps he was booking a few anaesthetic-free dental appointments with underperforming council officers.

First up was the financial situation across the constituency. The councillors sat there, impassive and silent, while an officer ran through the report, which was a pile of bad news. This bad news actually dates from last September, as the data has - apparently - not been available until now. Quite how anyone is supposed to manage the constituency without current financial data is entirely beyond me and I simply don't believe that these figures weren't available earlier. The quarter 2 data apparently indicates a forecast overspend at year end (that's the end of March 2010) of £564,000, but this seriously understates the position, because the budget reconciliation is based upon 'efficiencies' of £364,000 being delivered by the end of the year. Given that at the end of September, a grand total of £0 had been delivered and that the councillors failed to deliver £118,000 in 2008/09, the signs aren't good. This means that the true end of year forecast position is likely to be somewhere north of £920,000 - an overspend against locally managed services of some 20%.

I did ask - just as I did at the last financial reporting session - for some details about how these savings are to be achieved, but no answer was forthcoming, either from the officer or his elected masters, who left him to struggle bravely, supporting him by remaining silent and impassive. Some of this overspend has been gifted to Yardley from the centre, as no allowance was made for the costs of retrospective appeals against the outcome of the Pay and Grading exercise. Cllr Whorwood tried to shift the blame for these costs by saying that it would have been cheaper if done earlier, but this ignores the simple facts that the process was flawed and some additional costs should have been factored in from the start. Basic business practice would dictate that, but such was the confidence in the process from the very top that it was thought unnecessary. In any case, only a small part of the overspend relates to Pay and Grading.

The only information available is that £177,000 has apparently been earmarked for recovery against 'general efficiencies.' However, only £52,000 has actually been saved and that is 'not fully in place.' The remaining £125,000 is classified as 'one off savings in place for 2009/10', but it is actually coming from the 'Constituency Investment Fund.' That sounds like a good idea - we need some investment in our constituency, but I suspect that this grand name is actually a cover for the use of central council reserves to try to cover up the failures of the Regressive Partnership. A similar funding solution has been employed in Hall Green, where the Liberal Democrats in charge face swingeing cuts to try and cover a deficit of £1.8 million - comprised of a history of years of overspending and failure to meet savings targets. The short version is that this £125k isn't an efficiency saving, but seems to be an additional chunk of funding from the centre that has been dressed up to look like efficiency.

There are also problems incurred through the 'Customer First' scheme, which is running late and has therefore failed to deliver the forecast savings within this year, so these will have to be found from somewhere else. It isn't clear who is to blame for this delay or whether any of those costs can be contractually recovered, but Yardley will pay the price in the immediate term.

And there is more. The officer presenting the budget tonight let slip that the, as yet unpublished, figures for the third quarter actually show a further deterioration in performance. I wonder if we'll get those before the end of the financial year? Given that the district auditor has been very critical of the council and has refused to sign off the 2008/09 accounts in time for the deadline last September, I doubt that we'll see quarter three before the end of the financial year.
Perhaps Tilsley should start his 'bad cop' meetings rather closer to home.

Further afield, it seems that major savings within the Business Transformation programme are predicated on the commercial property market picking up and returning to pre-2008 levels within two years.

Plans to sell off surplus offices and raise £49.7 million towards the project have been put on hold following the slump in the commercial property market.But city council analysts expect the bulk of sales to go through by 2012/3 and have included the full amount in their forecasts for the future Business Transformation savings. In the meantime, the shortfall in income is being plugged by high-cost borrowing.According to the latest figures, the council was expected to raise £38 million this year and £7.2 million next. But it will now only reach £2.5 million this year before seeing a rise to £8.8 million next and £36.6 million the year after. Council deputy leader Paul Tilsley, the man heading up the Business Transformation scheme, admitted the authority was assuming the market would return to its pre-recession levels

That may happen, but it is unrealistically optimistic to provide a medium term budget on such a basis.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Stop whinging Nigel

Yet again, I'm forced to ask the question - what planet is Nigel Dawkins on?

He's spent the past few weeks wandering around Bournville collecting letters and signatures demanding that the government act to keep Cadburys British and now he's delivered them to Downing Street. Now, while I'd like to see some guarantee of continuing employment and investment in Birmingham and the rest of the UK, I'm flummoxed as to what the government can do to ensure that Cadburys is owned in Britain, short of nationalising the damn thing. And I don't think that the Conservatives really want to limit shareholder rights, do they?

You may recall that Nigel accused the local MPs who signed an Early Day Motion about the proposed takeover of 'gesture politics.'

Not that he'd ever engage in anything as pointless as that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Scraping out of recession

Only just, but we are through the worst.

We've been badly hurt because of our central position as a key focal point for the world's financial trading and banking operations, so we've taken longer to pull out. The danger now is that this fragile recovery might be derailed. This month's loss of productivity due to snow won't help in the immediate term and nor would the Tory plan to slash and burn government spending. Dumping people back onto the dole queue isn't a solution. The government has to sustain the economy in the short term until the private sector is able to pick up the strain again. We've managed to scrape through with unemployment at 8% - behind the 10% in the US and the EU - and Liam Byrne reports that the growth, although slight, has a reasonably broad base across manufacturing and services.

No matter how much George Osborne postures, looking petulant in TV studios isn't a substitute for real policies.

Cameron and Osborne have got it wrong on the economy before. Rough as this has been over the past year, the Conservatives would have made it deeper and harsher with their failure to respond to the initial problems. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who chairs the IMF commented that
if you exit too early (from the stimulus steps), then you’ll have the risk of going back into recession

So all the talk of cutting now is downright dangerous.

Unreasonable force

Chris Grayling was on the Politics Show this week, trying to argue in favour of a change in the law to allow homeowners to use all force that is not 'grossly disproportionate' in defence of themselves, their families and - one presumes - their property.

Naturally, the appeal case last week came up for comment, but I'm not quite sure of the relevance in this case, as the injuries to the burglar came after he had left the victim's premises and been pursued down the street by the victim and his family. Surely Grayling can't be proposing that we will be allowed to wreak vengeance upon criminals. I suppose that it would save money on the courts system, but I'm not sure that it is in the interests of justice.

Grayling said that nobody knows how they would react if they came across

a burglar holding a knife to your children's throats

which is, fortunately, true. However, I doubt that many parents would consider the law in their response, but the situation is likely to provide sufficient justification for extreme force.

And indeed, the advice from the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers is quite clear
Anyone can use reasonable force to protect themselves or others, or to carry out an arrest or to prevent crime. You are not expected to make fine judgements over the level of force you use in the heat of the moment. So long as you only do what you honestly and instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, that would be the strongest evidence of you acting lawfully and in self-defence. This is still the case if you use something to hand as a weapon. As a general rule, the more extreme the circumstances and the fear felt, the more force you can lawfully use in self-defence.

The law itself is quite straightforward and relies upon the Criminal Law Act 1967,
A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large
further codified with more detail in the 2008 Criminal Justice and Immigration Act. Case law (Palmer v The Queen) has established that as long as a victim acting in self defence
had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary that would be most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken
R v Owino established the concept that
a person may use such force as is [objectively] reasonable in the circumstances as he [subjectively] believes them to be.

The law covers everyone from me at home to an armed police officer patrolling the streets of Birmingham and that versatility is a tribute to the elegance of the solution.

Why we need a new law specifically to allow householders to use additional force just short of grossly disproportionate, but not a law to provide additional protection to people on the street, isn't quite clear. Despite the fear spread by the Conservatives, aided and abetted by a stunt committed by Myleene Klass' PR merchant, there are very few prosecutions brought for the use of excessive force and most of them deserve to be put before a jury for their consideration.

The law change simply isn't required, other than to provide soundbites for Grayling and Cameron.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Bungalow Bill shows his sensitive side

Despite his Etonian background (yet another Cameronian contemporary), Conservative MP Bill Wiggin seems remarkably dumb. Or just plain insensitive.

Smack bang in the middle of his Leominster constituency is the Marlbrook milk plant, operated by Cadburys. Obviously, the employees there were concerned about their future, now that Kraft have taken over the company, but Bill thinks (allegedly) that these plebs are just moaning Minnies -

"No-one wants to hire a whinging workforce when you could have a positive upbeat one"
These are the workers who will face job losses over the coming months as Kraft try to turn a profit on the purchase of Cadbury. Bill even refused to sign an Early Day Motion in support of an independent Cadburys - I do hope that Nigel Dawkins will be as critical of him as he was of the Labour MPs who didn't sign.

An early victim of the Kraft axe will be Roger Carr. Roger Carr is the chairman of Cadburys who started the week attacking Kraft, but swiftly reversed course in the face of the new offer and welcomed the new overlords. He says he'll miss being chairman of Cadbury, but the £4.5 million his shares will make should cushion the loss somewhat. So, there is little surprise that some of the workers further down the food chain are rather more worried - as they can't expect that sort of payout when their jobs are declared surplus to requirements.

But I digress. Back to the lovely, sensitive and supportive Mr Wiggin. Even the £11,000 that Bungling Bungalow Bill claimed in mortgage interest for a property that he already owned would help a family get over the tough times ahead, but perhaps I'm just whinging. After all, he was exonerated by his Etonian chum Dave. Even when challenged by his party members to stand down, Bill stood firm
re-selection would "send a signal" that he had done something wrong when he had, in fact, made an error
So that's all right then. He's not done anything wrong. He's made a mistake - something completely different. Anyone can make a mistake...
...repeated 23 times on expenses claims meant to cover the mortgage on his London home but mistakenly attributed to his Herefordshire home

23 times.

But he doesn't whinge about it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dave and TED's Excellent (Secret) Adventure

Cameron is off to speak at an event run by TED, an American foundation devoted to the dissemination of ideas, at an event entitled 'What the World Needs Now.' Continuing the elitist theme of this week, a select group of 250 movers and shakers have been invited to witness the outpouring of Cameron's genius (limited to 18 minutes, as all sessions are), but only the first 150 applicants will actually get to see the great man perform and then share in the experience with their fellow luminaries.

Peculiarly, they have been sworn to secrecy in advance over Cameron's presence.

Don't worry, plebs - TED puts these presentations on line, so we'll get to see what Cameron is blathering about eventually.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ashamedly elitist

I am not the only person to have noted that in Cameron's drive to attract graduates from the best universities with the best degrees into the teaching profession would bar his own maths tsar, Carol Vorderman, who only got a third. I sought advice from an expert with more than 40 years' experience at the sharp end of education - practical, classroom teaching. She's recently retired as a maths teacher, but is in great demand by her former employer for cover work, although she doesn't have a degree, so wouldn't qualify for training funding under the Cameron approach.

If I'm being generous, this is another Cameron policy idea that is based upon a simple solution - education results can be improved by getting the top graduates involved in teaching. There is a damn sight more to being a teacher than the quality of your degree. I know of one Cambridge graduate with a first-class degree in maths that lasted twelve months in front of a class because he lacked the necessary abilities and skills possessed by many lesser-qualified teachers. I've known well-qualified teachers without the ability to control classes, but the top graduates will get the golden welcome, while lesser mortals - still required to make up the numbers - will have to fund themselves. I'm not alone in this view.

Similarly, the idea that married couples should get a tax break is well-meaning, but it is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of cause and effect. Children certainly benefit from stable parental partnerships, but marriage is not the cause of the stability, but a symptom. Stable couples are more likely to get married, but the message that Cameron is sending out is that unmarried parents are second-class parents. Perhaps this is appealing to some of the Daily Mail-reading classes who consider all single-parents to be young, feckless scroungers - although the reality is that over half of single parents are single in their 30s and 40s as the result of the end of the marriage through widowhood or divorce and a very small proportion of single mothers are in their teens. For some reason, these aren't deserving of a tax break, but the love-rat partner who abandons them and takes a new wife then collects the tax bonus. And then there's the reality check - would a few pounds a week in tax benefits really make anyone dash out to find a spouse? I'm not sure that encouraging relationships on the basis of tax efficiency is a guarantee of love or stability. Isn't it rather odd that a party that has been critical of the level of state intervention into people's lives is happy to intervene in their lives in this way.

If I'm being less than generous, then this is just a series of attempts to grab headlines without the intention to follow through with any real, substantive policy.

But that isn't likely, is it?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Niggling Nigel

Nigel Hastilow popped up on The Politics Show as a blogger who has opposed Birmingham's bid to be UK City of Culture in 2013 - he thinks that it is a waste of money to spend a few thousand pounds on a bid that could provide a positive image of our City across the country, bring hundreds of thousands of visitors and their money into our City and would further energise an already successful local cultural scene.

Nigel, seasoned observers will recall, hit the headlines a couple of years back when his views on Enoch Powell were regarded by many as rather radical and out of step with reality, his party and the modern world. As Nigel put it - in scenes now deleted from his shiny new blog - but remembered by others,
Enoch, once MP for Wolverhampton South-West, was sacked from the Conservative front bench and marginalised politically for his 1968 'rivers of blood' speech, warning that uncontrolled immigration would change our country irrevocably. He was right.
After that, Mr Hastilow had to step down as a Tory candidate in Halesowen and Rowley Regis. Prior to that, at the time of the 2001 election, he had inadvertently praised the state of the Labour-run economy while he was the Tory candidate for Edgbaston and this was thrown back at William Hague by the Prime Minister during questions in the House.
Yesterday, Mr. Hastilow said: For many voters and most of the media, the Conservative Party is a lost cause. On the economy, Mr. Hastilow--should we call him Nigel?--provided the answer to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) when he said that we've never had it so good . . . people are prospering, unemployment is falling, interest rates are low. There's nothing much to worry about. Mr. Hastilow provides a rather more accurate summary of the
economy than does the Leader of the Opposition

So, Nigel is a bit of a loose cannon.

However, his observations have again proved interesting.

He's still on the hunt for a winnable Conservative seat, but the party hierarchy have decided that in a tight campaign, they don't want this particular piece of weaponry rolling around the gundeck during close-quarter battles, so Eric Pickles and John Maples both rolled up to meet South Staffordshire's Conservative committee this week - the seat falls vacant as Patrick Cormack will retire at the next election - to ensure that Nigel wasn't put through for the selection meeting. Nigel doesn't think this is fair and gives us a blow-by-blow account of the meeting. Eric Pickles summarises Nigel's career to date
You don’t want him. He has embarrassed the party twice, once in 2001 and then again in 2007. You can’t have him.

Nigel isn't happy.
If David Cameron’s “localism” policy does not apply to his own constituency parties, how can we have any faith in its wider application under a Conservative Government? ...If the party’s own members can’t trust its leaders to behave honourably and honestly, why should the voters?
Good questions, Nigel.

Anyone got any answers?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The party's over

All UKIP candidates signed a declaration that they would agree to join the Group, and pool our resources in order to continue our fight against the European Union. Nikki Sinclaire has dishonoured that pledge. In a separate breach of party discipline, Ms. Sinclaire also failed to declare other relevant issues to the interview panel when she was selected as a UKIP candidate. As a consequence of these actions, the National Executive Committee took the decision on 11 January 2010 that Ms. Sinclaire will not be permitted to stand as a UKIP candidate at future elections
Thus came the decision from the appropriately named chairman of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, although Nikki claims that she has had no chance to answer the accusations and has been convicted and sentenced by a kangaroo court.

Curiously, bankruptcy petitions are a matter of public record and this one was filed on the day before the 2005 General Election, when Nikki was on the verge of being defeated by Sylvia Heal in Halesowen and Rowley Regis. Rumour has it that the petition was presented to Nikki on the occasion of the election count. In short, I find it very hard to believe that UKIP weren't aware that Ms Sinclaire had been bankrupted - a bankruptcy that was later discharged and would not affect her candidacy as an MEP. Indeed, it seems clear that senior members within UKIP were well aware of her past troubles.

Responding to Nigel Farrago's assault earlier in the week, Nikki has declared that she is determined to stand for UKIP in the General Election in Meriden, although as her nomination and right to use the party description and logo has to be signed off by a party official, it seems unlikely that this will come to pass. Indeed, she has already been instructed that she is now prohibited from using the UKIP logo and name in any published material.

Looks like my forecast of her being gone by the summer is distinctly optimistic. Will she last the weekend as a UKIP MEP?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Every party has their bad apples.

A man who admitted making nail bombs at his West Yorkshire home has been jailed for 11 years.... [the] arsenal of weapons and explosives included home-made shotguns, pen guns and pistols... [he] also pleaded guilty to six counts of having or collecting documents useful in terrorism... Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said his case was "unique" because of his long and persistent manufacture of guns and explosives.... pleaded guilty to 22 charges at Woolwich Crown Court in November.... Police discovered 12 firearms and 54 improvised explosive devices, which included nail bombs and a booby-trapped cigarette packet, at the home Gavan shared with his mother.
As I heard this story, I was just waiting for the inevitable denouement. And lo, it came to pass...
the court heard [he] was a former member of the BNP
Sadly, his defence wasn't up to much.
He told detectives he had "a fascination with things that go bang", the Old Bailey heard
The judge wasn't a lot better, describing it as
almost an obsession with guns and explosives
ALMOST? I don't think there's any almost about this. This was the largest stock of home-made explosives and weapons ever discovered in that area.
Police uncovered... nail bombs, pipe bombs and a booby-trapped cigarette packet, and 12 firearms - three of them loaded - plus devices in whisky bottles and aerosols. There were also materials for making more devices, including fireworks, weedkiller, hydrogen peroxide and gunpowder. Gavan was also apparently in the process of building a rocket launcher. It took police and Army bomb disposal officers six days to search the room and explode some of the devices to make them safe, during which time shocked neighbours in Colbeck Terrace had to be evacuated.

I think we can safely call this an obsession. Yup, I'll sign off that this is an obsession.

And the BNP membership? That's just a given. The BNP will doubtless

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dissent at the top

Nikki Sinclaire is clearly having difficulty with the leadership of UKIP, as she has left the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping to which UKIP belongs, although she continues her membership of UKIP (for the time being, at least). Refusal to follow the party course is usually something likely to result in disciplinary action, and withdrawal of the whip but in this case, apparently not
I have discussed my position at length with the Leader of UKIP, Lord Pearson, who understands my viewpoint and has assured me of his support both now and in the future in my continued work for UKIP. My move to the non-attached group therefore will not affect in any way my position as a UKIP MEP for the West Midlands.

Her problem with the grouping is that she found some of the other member parties
have a variety of extremist views which includes anti-Semitism, violence and the espousal of a single European policy on immigration. One of these parties, Liga Nord which was expelled from the previous Ind Dem Group, currently holds the Group Presidency jointly with UKIP.In addition, a particular difficulty has arisen for me with the prospect of EFD joining a PAN-European Party whose aim is Party enhancement within the EU rather than extraction from it, to which I am implacably opposed.

But that is not her only issue. It appears that the former leader, Nigel Farage doesn't like her much.
My working relationship and trust with EFD Co-President, Nigel Farage has broken down since his personal admittance to me recently that he wished I had not been elected. The comment “I wish I had only 12 not 13 MEP`s” was made to many people in the aftermath of the European Elections. I have found this personal animosity difficult to work with.I would also like to point out that on a pre arranged interview on the BBC West Midlands Politics Show, Mike Nattrass and I had to spent two thirds of the time defending our membership of the EFD Group and Nigel’s public remarks made about leadership candidates ‘not being credible’.

Despite Nikki promising to support Nigel Farage in his campaign to eject John Bercow from Buckingham, but the swivel-eyed one wasted no time in putting the boot in himself, using a Daily Politics interview to threaten action against her and disclosing the fact that Ms Sinclaire was made bankrupt in 2005, something that he claims she did not disclose back when they selected her. You would think that they would have learnt something from the Ashley Mote case, where he apparently forgot to tell the party that he was about to face trial for fraud. Apparently not.

So, will Nikki still be a UKIP MEP by the summer or will she join the procession of former UKIP MEPs who have left the parliament under a range of clouds.

Still, despite the abuse heaped upon us by Nikki and her West Midlands colleague, Mike Nattrass, at the count - calling Labour and the Tories 'fascists', the Labour MEP Michael Cashman extends a comforting hand
My sympathies go to Nikki Sinclaire. No one should have to suffer such Neanderthal discrimination in the 21st century. However it's proof that if you scrape away the gloss from these extremists, they remain the same terrible bigots. They have never voted for equality or stood up for the rights of minorities.

Farage's dream of detoxifying the party has a LONG way to go yet.
When I took it over, and for a few years before that, UKIP had been riven with in-fighting. We had a brand that was seen by many to be somewhat toxic. I think that has gone.... When I took it over, and for a few years before that, UKIP had been riven with in-fighting. We had a brand that was seen by many to be somewhat toxic. I think that has gone....

You carry on believing that Nigel.

Plots thickening.

If you recall, way back in the summer of 2009, John Hemming distributed a leaflet which was considered by some to allege that a property developer had purchased plots of land at the Swan Centre to hinder the new Tesco development. M'learned friends became involved and a legal threat winged towards the MP, at which John decided that discretion was the better part of valour and issued an apology on his blog.

Since August, this email has clearly rankled with John, so an emergency debate has been called for tomorrow and the full text of the email has now been published.

On the one hand, there would seem to be a case to answer for Withers, in that they have tried to get an undertaking from an MP not to repeat an allegedly libellous statement even from behind the protection of Parliamentary privilege.
an undertaking not to repeat the allegations or any similar allegations, particularly in Parliament.

On the other hand, John has obviously accepted that the developer concerned is not engaging in spoiling tactics to delay the Swan redevelopment, but has genuine concerns and is seeking to voice them despite the compulsory purchase order process, so it would seem unreasonable of him to then abuse privilege to repeat a statement that he publicly accepts to be false.

So, is John Hemming on a crusade to protect the primacy of parliamentary free speech? Is he using this to gain some publicity for himself? Or is there something else going on in the background?

I initially thought that this was publicity-seeking, but now, I suspect that there is something else going on.

All most peculiar.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Class is an issue - and a valid one.

A little while back, I wrote that the 'class war' tactics derided by the Conservatives were valid. If, as the rumours report, Gordon has been persuaded to put that weapon down, then he's been pushed into making a massive mistake, because it is an area where Labour polls well and one that appeals to many voters on a visceral level. It is also an effective weapon against the Tories - hence their disarray when it was used. It also speaks to an older truth that has driven Labour politics for generations - an attack on privilege and there is a simple message behind it about fairness. That is something that we instinctively understand - children have an over-developed sense of what is and what is not fair.

It seems that I am not alone - better writers think the same. Alastair Campbell wrote
At a time Labour were drawing blood on inheritance tax, and Zac Goldsmith was causing his party trouble over his non-dom status, GB suggested to Cameron
at PMQs that his tax policies were drawn up on the playing fields of Eton. It was evident from Cameron's face that he hated it. It was clear from the faces behind that they shared the hurt. Inflicting political pain on your opponents is part of the job of politicians. Deflecting it is another part. The Tories went immediately into 'this is class war' as a tactic in that perfectly legitimate act of deflection. Most in the media chimed along, partly because they realised it was a story, but also because as Will Hutton points out, most senior journalists send their kids to private schools, and do not want a real debate about the consequences of their choices. Far easier then to say it is a misguided political tactic by a flailing political leader.
Campbell is exactly right when he says this,

Nobody is saying Cameron is unfit to be PM because he went to Eton. But when his background dictates his policy agenda - and on the table at the time were two policy positions absolutely rooted in privilege - it is a perfectly legitimate attack to mount. And when Cameron tries to portray himself as having a real understanding of how people live their lives, his background and lifestyle are relevant to that debate too.
And that has always been my argument. There is nothing wrong in asking how Cameron can relate to the disadvantaged in our society. Does he understand the hand that fate has dealt them or does he think that they are deserving of their status because they haven't bettered themselves. Can he even see the massive barriers to mobility, starting with your parents? Will Hutton writes

The dice are loaded against the child born into a disadvantaged family. It is the language used in the home, diet, the capacity to borrow, clothes, housing, quality of schools and the availability of work, especially outside Britain's gilded regions. You can work like a Trojan to get out of these traps, but still be stuck. And the old corrective institutions – trade unions, co-operatives, factories – are much feebler. The gleeful condemnation of the poor as sponging chavs and the delight with which Little Britain's brilliant creation Vicky Pollard is seen as accurately representing today's poor – deserving of being there – masks the brute reality. This is bad luck
superimposed upon bad luck, which Britain has been singularly poor at redressing.
The irony is that those who have the luck don't recognise it.

...the rich believe they deserve their status. They're not lucky; they've worked hard and owe nothing to any public institution or society. Wealth is seen as a sign of worth in itself and to be so deserved that if menaced with taxation you threaten to leave the country. Philanthropic giving is actually down
The flipside of this is that those who are poor clearly haven't worked hard and are just part of the client state, feeding off the working rich. Class matters in this country, no matter how we try to deceive ourselves that this is a meritocracy and no matter how much the Tories whinge about it. Funny how it is always unfair when directed against them, as Campbell reminds us

I don't remember any charges of class war when all the Tory toffs were calling former Speaker Michael Martin 'Gorbals Mick.'

As I think I've written before. If there is a class war, then we didn't start it. I want people to aspire to do better, but to do that, there has to be opportunity. It is rather like coming out onto the athletics track and lining up for the race, only to see that there's a smaller group on the other side of the track just a few steps from the winning post and knowing that when the gun is fired, they have only to step across the line to receive plaudits, garlands and the winners medal, while you face derision for coming in last. 7% of children are educated privately, but that 7% go on to make up 75% of the judges, 70% of the nation's finance directors, 45% of the top ranks of the civil service and 32% of the members of parliament - quite apart from the numbers populating the media.

I don't expect equality of outcome, but I do believe we should stand for equality of opportunity. So Gordon, don't let the Tories off the hook on this one. Challenge them on fairness - a simple concept that we all understand and may yet provide a way into this fight for Labour.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I'm surprised

Moving on from a nutjob, fringe, religious group unrepresentative of their faith, I come to another nutjob fringe religious group unrepresentative of their faith, as it appears that, entirely predictably, Islam4UK have abandoned their plans for a demonstration march through Wootton Bassett.

Well, colour me surprised.

They got their media exposure, which was their aim, along with fuelling the paranoia of the Islamophobes amongst us. According to the News of the World, Alan Johnson is about to proscribe the group.

Perhaps the media also ought to learn not to feed the trolls by running with every little bit of rubbish that groups like Islam4UK and Christian Voice decide to spout, legitimising them as faith groups rather than the tiny, unrepresentative preachers of hate and division that they are.

Quote of the week

An early contender came from the Nicky Campbell debate show, The Big Questions, which was broadcast from Bristol this Sunday. Stephen Green was allowed out of his straitjacket to fulminate against all things non-Christian (with a specialist subject of homosexuality) and was sat next to a nice chap from the Bristol Gay Switchboard. In the Crazy World of Stephen Green, this isn't an advice and support line, but a recruitment agency, as homosexuals cannot reproduce, so must recruit to maintain their numbers. Stephen pointed out that the Bible said that man and woman should cleave together as one flesh and that man and man could not become one flesh, a feed that demanded and got the response from his neighbour, 'Oh yes we can.'

Sadly, there was no time for a detailed discussion about Uganda.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cameron on Marr

He was promising to cut deeper and faster - just what the economy needs to really kick start that drop into depression. Cameron is right that growth cannot be rebuilt by public spending, but one of the functions of current spending is to sustain the country while the rest of the economy reboots and growth returns, which it will do over the course of the next twelve months - albeit shakily to start with. Those fragile shoots of growth could be fatally damaged by Cameron's undisclosed plans for hack and slash across the board to cut costs. The ongoing financial crisis is a desperate national emergency and borrowing will see us through the worst of it.

They got their response to the initial crisis so magnificently wrong, how can we believe that they'll get this anywhere near right?

Cameron also highlighted his success in turning round the finances of the Conservative Party, reducing a debt of over £20 million to one of around £3 million. As this has been achieved through a voluntary 'tax' payment by rich donors, does this mean that the Tories plan to tax the rich even more? Probably not. And still no answer to the airbrushing conundrum earlier in the week - Cameron has settled on the catchphrase that he is responsible for the message, not the picture, handily sidestepping the issue.

He was also challenged on his policies towards the BBC and chose to remind us that he once worked in television. Actually, CallMeDave worked as a PR wonk for Carlton Communications, talking up the promise of the company's role in that roaring success ITV Digital. You remember that one - the one that went spectacularly bump back in 2002 and had to be replaced by a service supported by the BBC. Dave did such a good job there that he jumped ship a year before the whole thing collapsed.

To add to the fun, it appears that donations have been funnelled to the Conservative Party through a front company, including money from one of their favourite non-doms, Zac Goldsmith.

What really terrifies the Doctor?

David Cameron.
"I think David Cameron is a terrifying prospect... I would still rather have Gordon Brown than David Cameron... I would rather have a prime minister who is the cleverest person in the room, than a prime minister who looks good in a suit... ... a regional newsreader who will jump on whatever bandwagon flies past. I get quite panicked at the notion that people are buying his rhetoric, because it seems very manipulative to me."

You'll do for me Mr Tennant.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wisdom of Crowds or just general foolishness.

The Cameron policy generator - have your say on the next Tory policy shift.

Not all the bastards are Tories.

Every journalist is reporting that Labour MPs from the Cabinet downwards want Gordon to go now, but nobody is prepared to step forward and wield the axe, leaving it to the dynamic duo of Hewitt and Hoon to demand a secret ballot over the PM's future.

Is there a part of 'Shut up - you aren't helping' that they don't understand?

We are less than five months away from a general election - one that we are expected to lose and one that even the most positive of Labour supporters has to know will be the toughest in a generation. Right now, we expect our elected members to be on board and at least presenting a semblance of unity. Senior members like Hoon and Hewitt should be leading the way and not actively trying to ensure a bigger defeat that will set the party back decades - because nothing guarantees public opprobrium than a divided party. I have said before, given that we remain in economic difficulties and face some years of austerity, then will the country thank us for engaging in twelve weeks of navel-gazing and internal fighting? Not a hope. Quite aside from the fact that we will end up with a leader with a matter of weeks to make his or her mark in the public imagination and seize control of the story, while the Cameron story is well-established and will steam ahead.

After a reasonably good start to the year, with Cameron faltering over this misguided tax giveaway for marriage and the hole in Osborne's financial planning and Gordon having a pretty good opening PMQs, then Hoon and Hewitt kick off this storm in a teacup.

If the next election has a precedent - and I don't buy the theory that all history is circular - then it may well be 1979. If Cameron wins a majority - which will still be a massive leap forward for the Conservative party in terms of electoral swing - then it will more than likely be a small one, which means that we will face an election in 2014/15 in the same situation as 1983, just hopefully without a war to generate a pro-government swing. In an unusual, long-term prediction, I would forecast that the government elected this May will not win when it next goes to the nation.

One thing we must understand is that if we lose, we get the recriminations and internal factional fighting over double quick and get on with taking on the Tories. But first, we have an election and if we are going down, then by God, we should go down fighting, because it the Labour Party is a cause worth the fight.

If Hoon, Hewitt, Clarke and the rest don't get that, if they cannot sublimate their petty bickering to that common good, then they should consider whether wearing a red rosette at the next election is really for them. Help like theirs we don't need. If they felt so strongly that Gordon was unsuitable for the job, then they should have pushed an alternative candidate in 2007, rather than waging a politically damaging guerilla war ever since. Right now, they seem to feel that surrendering the country to Cameron, Osborne and their mates is a better option than a Labour government.

That isn't an option for us. As a party, we either stand together or fall apart. I know which is the better option.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Art of Publicity

The end of a slow news week is just the right time to chuck a story at the media, especially if it feeds the fires of the tabloids. Coverage was guaranteed and the publicity-hungry nutnuts over at Islam4UK must have been rubbing their hands together at the opportunity to spread their division and hatred through the broadcast media as well. I doubt that there was ever an intention to stage a parade through Wootton Bassett - frankly, it is unlikely that this group could muster enough supporters to carry coffins. But they've achieved their aim and have happily fuelled the fires of their flipsides in the BNP and the EDL, because this lot actually want us to be scared of Muslims and of Islam. Just as the BNP want us to believe that their views represent the majority of 'English' people, Islam4UK want us to believe that they speak for Muslims. They don't.

And just like the BNP, they now get to feel victimised by the Home Secretary backing the local authority and police if they choose to ban the march - right as that decision is.

Froth and nonsense.

Not that I think he's hugely fussed, but apparently Gordon is the worst-dressed man in the country in a poll decided by GQ magazine.

GQ magazine is edited by Dylan Jones, who penned a hagiographic work Cameron on Cameron back in 2008 - copies still available if you can intercept the truck on the way to the pulping plant - and regularly devotes magazine space to idolising the Tory leader. No wonder that the man who may yet prove to be Cameron's nemesis, the floppy-haired blonde across the water, also figures in the list.