Thursday, September 30, 2010

George Osborne pop quiz

They have freed their markets, developed the skills of their workforce, encouraged enterprise and innovation and created a dynamic economy. They have much to teach us, if only we are willing to learn.

Is this statement about
  • A - Ireland, which is facing having to pay an amount equal to 30% of the economy to recapitalise 'dynamic' and over-adventurous banks?
  • B - Ireland, which slashed 4 billion euros from their budget and is now standing on the brink of another recession?
  • C - Ireland, which has cut 960 billion euros from investment and 760m euros from the benefits bill?
Yes, only a few years ago, Gorgeous George was singing the praises of the now-neutered Celtic Tiger.
First, Ireland’s education system is world-class... Staying ahead in a global economy will mean staying at the cutting edge of technological innovation, and using that to boost our productivity. To do that you need the best-educated workforce possible.

From that lesson comes the free schools programme, cuts to special needs and the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future.
Secondly, the Irish understand that staying ahead in innovation requires world class research and development

So that's why the government is reducing funding for science research, despite the desperate pleas of scientists.

And he wasn't alone, Paul Staines, better known as the sewer rat Guido Fawkes, delivered this financial advice just two years ago (hat tip to Sunny Hundal)
Despite Gordon’s whining to the EU it is now the case that Irish banks now represent the safest place to deposit money in Europe, with a AAA guarantee from a country with the lowest national debt to GDP ratio of any AAA country. Thanks to Gordon’s prolificacy [sic] Irish commercial banks are safer than even the Bank of England.

That looks to be as sound as the Liberal Democrats' policy of joining the Eurozone.

Reasons to oppose 'free schools'

Last night, the BBC broadcast a programme of such devastating bias that complaints from Downing Street should follow. I don't think they meant it to be biased, but you would have to be certifiable to approve of the free schools programm after watching Start Your Own School and following the travails of Toby Young as he struggles against entrenched opposition to open a secondary school that will provide an education that matches Toby's own views and prejudices. I'm not alone in this - Twitter was alive last night with abuse being hurled at him and Stable and Principled joins in here.

You may ask what qualifies Toby to start a school and to presume to be chair of governors - an elected post in most governing bodies, but Toby clearly plans some form of benevolent dictatorship. Beyond being a parent - a useful qualification, but no demonstration of experience - there seems to be very little. Yes, Toby is the son of a great man, Michael Young, who wrote the 1945 Labour manifesto and founded the Consumer Association, thinktanks and the Open University, but Toby's current attitudes mean that his father must have attained a spectacularly high speed of revolution in his grave.

Watch the programme and be amazed as he turns up on the wrong day for a key meeting with the Department for Education, searches desperately for a suitable - or unsuitable, such is his desperation - home for the school, assembles a group of middle-class, white parents representative of Acton. Gasp as he is gently ridiculed by a group of experienced teachers and as his friends patronise the locals. Of course, Toby is helped by his celebrity connections and the fact that he is able to wangle an invitation to Downing Street to a reception with Cameron. I doubt you'll be able to stomach much of it and you will end up hoarse from shouting at the screen.

Through it all, you wonder whether Young is driven by a desire to improve education for the children of his sharp-elbowed friends or whether it is far more to do with his ego and a desire to be the first 'free school' to open, as that seems to be the major driver. Not doing it right, just doing it first. And that's the problem. There are some things - brain surgery, nuclear reactor design, educating our children - that are perhaps best left in the hands of trained and experienced professionals, not handed over wholesale to feed an ego made flesh in Toby Young. I'm all in favour of schools being run by their governors - local people committed to involvement with the school and to being critical friends of the school management - but the move to make these schools independent of local influence and beholden to the central finance of Whitehall is deeply worrying. That the son of one of the architects of the post-war system is leading the charge to destroy his father's legacy is just depressing.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Strong on substance, but the delivery needs work

Ed Miliband's speech today covered a lot of ground and of necessity was a broad brush approach to setting a new direction for the party.

There was enough looking back with pride at the achievements of the past thirteen years - health, education, equalities - but also a necessary humility in accepting that we made errors over promising an end to boom and bust, over civil libertiLinkes issues and, in particular, over the invasion of Iraq. He rightly accepted the need to reduce the deficit, but not at the expense of risking the recovery, which makes eminent economic sense. He spoke of unions working to support their members, but didn't support strike action without reservation. Bravely, he took on the nicknames that have been attached to him over the course of the campaign and in recent days, neatly defusing their power to damage with the evidence of his words. There may have been little in substantive policy, but given the breadth of the speech, that is not a criticism. That will need to evolve, but the direction of the party looks to be set.

For me, the weakness in the speech was the presentation and the delivery, which need to be improved as a matter of urgency. To be fair, this is a first outing as leader, it seemed under-rehearsed and gigs don't come much tougher than this, but Ed has to improve rapidly to be sure of making the right impression. It may be worthwhile following the well-trodden path to a vocal coach - Margaret Thatcher certainly had some help in the early years of her premiership and I'm convinced that Boris Johnson has done some work to train himself to speak more slowly and with less boyish enthusiasm. Ed has to learn fast on this one.

Ed certainly improved as the speech went on and the final peroration was quite strong, drawing in the essential optimism that characterises Labour politics - the belief that we can build a new Jerusalem together as a society rather than as individuals. It is our disappointment in government, but our guiding light in opposition.
We are the heirs to an extraordinary tradition, to great leaders who were above all the optimists of history. The optimism of 1945 which built the National Health Service and the welfare state. The optimism of Harold Wilson and the white heat of technology and the great social reforms of that government. The optimism of Tony and Gordon who took on the established thinking and reshaped our country. We are the optimists in politics today. So let's be humble about our past. Let's understand the need to change. Let's inspire people with our vision of the good society. Let the message go out, a new generation has taken charge of Labour. Optimistic about our country. Optimistic about our world. Optimistic about the power of politics. We are the optimists and together we will change Britain.
Optimism is a powerful, but simple message. Given the gloom spreading across the public sector, generated by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government, there seems to be nobody else able to offer that ray of hope for a better day to dawn and it makes absolute sense for Labour to colonise that higher ground right now.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Birmingham Council spends £300k and goes nowhere

Sometimes you read a story and sit there open mouthed at the incompetence and waste that it reveals. It appears that Birmingham City Council child social services have handed over £300,000 of council taxpayers' money to consultants and told them to go off and find them an integrated case management system to bring together nine databases.

The outcome has been that the consultants have come back and told the council that this doesn't exist and have had the nerve to present an invoice for that amount. Given the rates that the consultants charge, that equates to at least 70 weeks worth of consultancy 'work.'

To add insult to injury, it also means that the £18 million of savings factored into the Business Transformation Project as a result of the ICMS deployment now won't appear. I think you have to admire a project that sets out a budget for savings without any concept of whether those savings are actually possible. You might even suggest that the figures were simply plucked from thin air and I think you'd be right.

Do you have to be an IT consultant to realise that a project of that size is likely to be beyond the reach of any off the shelf product? This is a bespoke project and - for the right company and a smart council - one that could be sold on elsewhere, for Birmingham is not the only local authority with such needs. If such a package could be created to work for an authority like Birmingham, then it is likely to work virtually anywhere else.

You should also bear in mind that this is a service staggering towards a government takeover if things do not drastically improve. The appointment of Len Clark, the councillor who wrote an excellent report last year exposing the failings of the service, was thought by many - including me - to be a good move, but if he is having any effect, it seems to be at a glacial rate. His commented
We spent considerable time and energy looking for an alternative system, when in fact there wasn’t such a thing on the market. Perhaps we should have recognised that more quickly.

Really? You think that you could have spotted that a few hundreds of thousands of pounds ago?

To round it off, Cllr Les Lawrence - a decent man, to be fair to him, and someone for whom I have had serious respect - added
It has been the cinderella service and never given the attention in the past that it should have been. We are now getting to grips with it and our first priority is the safeguarding of children.
Councillor, you have had six years since you ejected Labour. You have had the benefit of looser rules on borrowing and thumping increases in grants from government. What the hell have you been doing since 2004 that you are only now getting to grips with protecting the children in our city?

In any decent world, those consultants would find their invoice unpaid and told to sling their expensive Gucci loafers and expense accounts, but they will probably be back to bury their snouts in the trough of our money and the councillors will welcome them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lord Cashcroft - morally indefensible?

"There are some people who seem to believe that not paying their fair share of tax is a lifestyle choice that is socially acceptable... Just like the benefit cheat, they take resources from those who need them most. Tax avoidance and evasion are unacceptable in the best of times but in today's circumstances it is morally indefensible."
Thus spoke Danny Alexander at the Liberal Democrat conference a few days ago and I entirely agree with him. So what are we to make of the revelation that Lord Cashcroft was - quite legally - avoiding £3.4 million of tax? Is his behaviour morally indefensible?

Tax is the price we pay for membership of society and I agree with Chris Mullin's article in the Independent when he argued that parties have failed to be honest with the electorate over it. Labour never made enough of a case for the need to pay for the state services that we enjoy. In contrast, the Conservatives hold out an equally improbable future where low tax will still maintain front line services to the standards that we have experienced in recent years.

So, Danny - is Lord Ashcroft 'morally indefensible?'

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Cold War returns

Everybody expected a rapid, full-frontal attack on the new leader of the Labour Party - indeed, the Daily Mail is even now spooling up the hate machine because Ed Miliband has the nerve and effrontery to be the father of a child with a woman to whom he is not married, a fact that is clearly related to his political abilities and a matter of public interest and not at all a vicious attack on someone for blatantly party political reasons. Quite how they can justify digging out his children's birth certificates in the name of journalistic enquiry baffles me - this Glen Owen at the Daily Mail is not going to be challenging Woodward and Bernstein any time soon.

For the past few days, we've had the Tory news briefers, online sycophants and lazy, tame journalists regurgitating the nickname 'Red Ed' in an attempt to convince us all that Ed Miliband is actually the sleeper part of some deep cover operation and if elected, he will immediately put a call through to Moscow to check in with his Soviet controllers. Obviously, there might be problems getting a connection to the Supreme Soviet, what with the Soviet Union having fallen to bits almost two decades ago, but trying to inspire fear is the best that the Tories can throw at Ed at the moment. I think they've been watching re-runs of A Very British Coup on 4OD and dreaming of the good old certainties of the Cold War. Clearly, they'd be far better off reading some of Chris Mullin's more recent work - particularly this piece in the Independent. The wilder commentators - clearly spurred on by their Conservative cheerleaders - have even been portraying the double election of Ed and Ken Livingstone as equivalent to the election of Michael Foot as leader following the 1979 poll defeat.
You can understand why they are doing it - then, we had an increasingly unpopular Tory government imposing vicious cuts to the public sector and their popularity shrunk over the next couple of years until the Falklands War intervened and allowed the Blessed Margaret to look more Boudicca than Marie Antoinette. The subsequent election was a Tory landslide. This is the narrative that the Conservatives are trying to frame. As Chris Mullin puts it
If there is one thing we surely learned from Mrs Thatcher, it is that repetition of simple messages can pay dividends
What I say three times is true.
The reality of Ed's politics doesn't matter, it is the perception that is all. What you do is almost less important than what you say, if the media prefer to carry your version of the truth - and the print media seems to prefer the Tory version. Hence, we have mute acceptance that deep cuts are essential now, with little consideration of the weight of opinion - not just from Labour, but including serious international economists - that this might be wrong, simply because the Tories and the Lib Dems have shrewdly all sung from exactly the same hymn sheet.
Thus it is with Ed Miliband. He is being painted as 'Red Ed', in an attempt to use lazy journalists with little grasp of actual politics in a rather pathetic attempt to smear him as some sort of crypto-communist. He isn't. He may be a little left of centre, but he's in a long line of social democrats - you know, the sort of people who used to join the Liberal Democrats twenty years ago, before they were captured by their own right wing.
Then we come to Baroness Warsi's ludicrous attack on the process, claiming that Ed owes his position to the votes of the unions - something that some journalists also picked up on, demonstrating a distinct lack of understanding of how the party leadership election actually worked. There were no block votes by the unions, instead, every union member who pays into the Political Fund received a ballot paper. I did, from Unite and even John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, received one from the Musicians' Union and I'm delighted to see that he is happy to pay into the fund and contribute to the future of the Labour Party.
The votes that carried Ed over the finish line came from ordinary union members, like me. As it happens, my union helpfully advised me to vote for him - as indeed did my local party, of which I am an officer - but I followed my own mind and ended up voting for his brother. Am I going to complain about the result? Not a bit of it. We have a process and this is the result it produced - we should celebrate the fact that there is a broad Labour family that includes the unions (who founded the party in the first place and provide a good share of our money) and other affiliated societies and that Ed Miliband was elected thanks to thousands of votes from ordinary people. He ran a strong campaign, coming from behind in the reckoning to just squeeze home at the end - rather as David Cameron overtook the favourite to take the Tory leadership, David Davis, back in 2005. I see no reason for Ed Miliband to be the creature of the unions. I hope he listens to them, but I'm certain that he won't feel bound to accede to their every request.
Mr Cameron, as somebody once said - you were the future once. The game just changed. We've now got a new leader, who has freedom to maneouvre in opposition, given that there is no other party able to be credible in opposition. We now need to unite and heed Ed Balls' words

Winning the votes and applause of party members will count for nothing if we cannot win the attention and trust of people outside the conference zone in Manchester.

By the end of the year, as the cuts begin to bite, economic uncertainty grows and Ed's profile rises further, the likelihood is that we will be ahead in the polls and looking forward to significant gains in the May elections. But if Labour activists see cause for celebration in that prospect, I see warning signs. Protest votes may put us ahead in the polls, but they are dangerously fickle. In 1979, Labour moved back ahead in the polls shortly after losing office but it counted for nothing at the next election. We were defeated in 1983 not only because we were divided as a party, but because we had comprehensively lost the argument on how to run the economy. In 1992, we were united as a party – thanks to Neil Kinnock's leadership. But we still lost because – in the search for credibility – we had shackled ourselves to the Tories' flawed economic consensus and failed to set out a distinctive argument on how to deal with inflation and unemployment....

...This leadership election has shown that there is a remarkable degree of ideological unity within the Labour party and a determination to set out a radical and credible plan around which we can all unite.

But our policies were too often seen as out of touch with the electorate, and over recent months the public will have seen a party that was talking to itself. If we want to show the party has changed, the best demonstration is to get back to talking to the public about the issues that affect their futures, not spending more
time talking to one another about our own. From the doorsteps in our constituencies to debates in the Commons, we must win the argument for our country's future, and persuade people to make a positive vote for the alternative we offer – not just a protest against the coalition. And the whole party will unite behind Ed Miliband as he leads that charge.

Unite we must.
(Part of this originally appeared briefly on Saturday night, owing to me being a little hasty in publishing - apologies to anyone who followed a Twitter link to the new story and couldn't find it. I'm always cheered when somebody asks me about something like that - at least it proves that at least one other person out there reads this blog.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Quangos squashed

This government seems to relish sacking people and particularly enjoys the humiliation of letting them know that the axe is falling through the tried and tested method of the media. This morning's leak of the next phase of the bonfire of the quangos will have filled thousands of people with joy as the weekend approached. As Eric Pickles said back in August

I have had great fun abolishing lots of stuff. It’s been nice to see the steam coming out of the Labour Party’s ears.
Glad to see that putting people out of work is such fun, Eric. (Hat tip to Ed Brown for the picture)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not a bad week...

So, as the conference circus leaves Liverpool and shuffles a few miles east to Manchester, how should the Liberal Democrats feel? Being objective for a moment, they should be quite satisfied with the week.

There have been no real rebellions of any import - the vote against academy schools will feed only into the next manifesto and will have no effect at all on government action, even though Sarah Teather is having to implement a programme that she previously condemned. The Trident vote allowed the membership to affirm a policy which is already the subject of a get-out clause in the coalition agreement. Clegg's speech was workmanlike rather than inspiring, but adequate enough.

Vince Cable closed the conference with a rabble-rousing speech that was trailed as borderline Marxist, but on reading offers fine words, but little substance. Indeed, it is a strange speech that is spun as an attack on business, but focussed on selling most of Royal Mail straight into the hands of that same business sector. Even stranger, it was announced that the Security Industry Authority is to be abolished, not because of the costs - it is fully-financed by the industry itself - but because it is perceived as unnecessary red tape. Actually, if anything, the SIA needed to be beefed up to deal with an industry sector notorious for the dodgy behaviour designed to rouse Cable's righteous anger. Perhaps that is the quid pro quo for the abolition of wheel-clamping that has proved such a good earner for the security industry.

But the opponents within the party have largely been quiet. Simon Hughes is playing the role of John Prescott in terms of keeping in touch with the party faithful, but Hughes also has some limited licence to channel opposition. The importance of this role cannot be overstated to the coalition and it would be a mistake to think that he is anything other than a key asset at the heart of the coalition project.

The reality is that power is seductive and the Liberal Democrats can soothe themselves with thoughts that they are mediating the excesses of the Tories or that the coalition will deliver some key Liberal policies in exchange for support for some Tory ones. Those senior players who have genuine concerns about the direction that this government is taking have kept their counsel and the few party members who have poked their heads above the parapet have been listened to courteously and then ignored. The Liberal Democrats realise that the conference is a shop window, no longer a talking shop, so dissent isn't part of the etiquette. The Liberal Democrats have also had to endure unprecedented scrutiny and it is little wonder that at conference, they have circled their wagons and demonstrated their unity. It doesn't help that there is as yet nobody prepared to marshall an opposition - and the briefing against Charlie Kennedy will prove a salutary lesson to those who are considering it.

No, Clegg and his team can relax with the warm feeling of a job well done for another year. Next year may be a different story, as the cuts are made flesh, the AV vote may be lost and if Liberal Democrats are put to the sword in the elections. That in particular would be damaging, as it would create an instant constituency of disaffected Liberals only too well-aware that they had been sacrificed for a few crumbs from the top table. If that comes to pass, then this rather lukewarm conference may be seen as a brief blossoming of a golden age of Liberalism. This might well be as good as it ever gets.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still waiting for the great LEP forward

Speaking at an event at the Liberal Democrat conference, Vince Cable has reported that of the 56 Local Enterprise Partnerships bids received by the closing date of the 6th September, only 10-15 of them are any good. He added that most regions are 'hopelessly fragmented and will have to get their acts together.'

This will come as a surprise to precisely nobody. The LEP concept, with a business-led partnership with local authorities, has been cobbled together with entirely inadequate guidance and direction as to what was expected in a bid - the government haven't even been clear as to what the responsibilities of the LEPs are likely to be. I'm puzzled by Cable's criticism of the fragmentation, as that was always going to be the outcome of abolishing the eight RDAs and leaving it up to local businesses and councils to sort themselves out - fragmentation was exactly the aim if Pickles' chaotic vision of localism was to be achieved. Curiously, this vision of localism

If the government wanted a continuation of the regional agenda, then they should have set out to establish replacements for the RDAs. The whole logic behind the scheme is fundamentally flawed in the first place - a regional viewpoint is essential when it comes to large scale regeneration of areas suffering structural economic problems. Reordering an economy is not something best left to a local authority and it actually needs sight of the bigger picture within a region. Most of the LEP bidders will be sent back to the drawing board - whether they are given any blueprints from which to work is a matter of conjecture, although it seems that Cable has some sort of checklist that allows him to dismiss certain applications at this early stage. It would have been of great help to LEP bidders if they had been let on this secret prior to the closing date for submissions, as the bids were submitted with only the vaguest of outlines.

It appears to be a done deal that the Regional Growth Fund, the only game in town when it comes to funding, will be doing its bit for the localism agenda by centralising all the money in the hands of two people who will dole it out directly to businesses. They will only have £1 billion to spend over the course of two years, which is hardly a huge amount, but it is intended to be focussed on areas particularly badly hit by the cuts to public sector jobs. The problem is that one of the two men in charge of this fund isn't in favour of giving any money to the LEPs, even assuming that these bodies are incorporated in a way that allows them to bid for funding from the RGF and are not just loose associations of businesses and local authorities.

Meanwhile, it has become apparent that when Eric 'Pieman' Pickles swept the RDAs away, he failed to consider what was to become of their liabilities, so there is now a bill of at least £1.5 billion floating around, with a serious risk that the costs could escalate beyond the £2 billion mark once all the outstanding costs are tallied up and the final demand will probably end up on the doorstep of Pickles' own Department of Communities and Local Government. The excellent Allister Hayman at the Local Government Chronicle runs through the options that Pickles has to find the money, made even more challenging by the deep cuts that Pickles has already offered up to the axemen from the Treasury - housing and charity programmes look set to all but disappear and the RGF may find that even the promised £1 billion fails to materialise in full.

Another dark cloud on the horizon is the funding provided by the European Regional Development Fund, which has some £1.9 billion to be delivered through England's regions, but with the demise of the RDAs, the match funding required to access this looks to be unavailable. Considerable work is going on to try to get private and public sector bodies to provide matching resources, but it is entirely possible that the Tory/Liberal Democrat government will have to effectively hand back almost £2 billion of European money needed to invest in our regions simply because they cannot match it.

It does look increasingly likely that the LEPs will have no money, no resources and will therefore have no real impact on communities that are about to be hit very hard by economic cuts.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fine words butter no parsnips, Vince

At the weekend, we had Cleggy telling us that the Liberal Democrats had no future as left wing rivals to Labour - which came as news to many of their members and a few of their MPs - and today, we had Comrade Cable bestriding the platform and pronouncing on the evils of capitalism. All meat and drink to those sandal-wearing lefties still hanging on to their party membership cards, but the words are very cheap. Let's see how Vince will deliver on his fine words.

Touchy, aren't they?

Nick Clegg's Sunday question and answer session saw him criticise the media for their coverage of the Liberal Democrats, blaming the Labour press for the party's media profile. As the 'Labour press' currently consists of the Daily Mirror, although the Guardian appears to be realising the error it made in backing Clegg in May as the 'Liberal moment' has passed, this was a remarkable assertion on his part in complete defiance of the facts.

Today, Paul Burstow, keen to make new enemies turned on the Guardian, saying he
would encourage people to ... stop reading the Guardian, because the Guardian is a spreader of misinformation and lies ... We as a party advocated greater choice and control in public services ... Do not be misled by editors of the Guardian who have not read the white paper [on NHS reform], who have not the coalition programme for government, who have not read our manifesto. Do not believe them.

And to round off the day, Alistair Carmichael took the opportunity of an interview on BBC News 24 to round on the BBC for 'disgraceful' coverage of the conference, unhappy that it does not highlight the support for St Nick amongst the party faithful.

Anyone would think that they are trying to control the media....

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Timing of cuts merely a technical issue

This is a central claim of Nick Clegg as he tours the media studios, trying to deflect attention from his party's vocal support for delaying cuts before the election. The story about being convinced by a phone call from Mervyn King has slipped into history, perhaps because King has denied that the call contained anything new. As Left Foot Forward reminds us, just five days before polling day, with the Greek sovereign debt crisis raging, Clegg said

"It's siding with common sense. My eight year old ought to be able to work this out - you shouldn't start slamming on the brakes when the economy is barely growing."
The timing of cuts isn't a technical question at all - it is central to the whole debate. Cutting before the private sector is able to pick up the slack is lunacy, it is not an issue of minor technical importance.

If Nick's child can work that out, you have to wonder what has changed his father's mind, with growth for the last quarter at 1.1% - a good result and one not bettered since 1999 - but hardly evidence that the economy has lifted off again, given that growth in the first quarter was 0.3%. The IoD don't think that this level can be maintained and I do have to point out that this growth was achieved under the policies set out by the last government, not the current incumbents. The third quarter figures will be most revealing.

But don't rely on my dubious grasp of economics, let's take the views of a Nobel prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz
"If Europe goes down the route it’s going, which is austerity measures, the result will be a growth slowdown, which will mean tax revenues will go down... When that happens, markets will react. This austerity approach poses a great deal of risk."

Here he is again
"If we spend the money on investment, infrastructure, the long-term national debt will actually be lower. The focus on the deficit is in my mind extraordinarily short-sighted.”
And the key point is that deficit cuts in the UK will have effects well beyond our borders.
Mr Stiglitz said historical evidence showed that increased state spending helped economies emerge from recession. He added that the example of Ireland showed
that austerity leads to declining output, rising unemployment and high bond spreads, instead of renewed investment. "I feel sorry for the Irish people who have to suffer from this policy... but it doesn't have global or European consequences. If the UK, Germany or other countries do it, then it is going to have systemic consequences for Europe and the whole world."

And then there is Clegg's glib statement about not letting your children pay your debts, building on his inane comparison of the British economy with the household budget. Neither comparison works. Did Churchill and Attlee consider at the start of World War Two that Britain would be paying the debt down until 2006? As Ed Miliband pointed out, in 1945, Attlee didn't think to hold back for better financial weather, he got on with building the welfare state that this current government seeks to dismantle.

Monday, September 20, 2010

We can't build growth on sands of debt

So spake Nick Clegg as he explained the highly flawed logic of cutting back public spending just at the time that the private sector remains unable to take up the slack.

In today's speech, he's promised to allow local councils to borrow against future business rate income to fund capital projects today. For a number of years, councils have been indulging in 'prudential borrowing' - money borrowed without government support and Birmingham has taken full advantage of this, with the Tories and the Liberals spending freely on capital projects.

It isn't clear what the difference is between local authority borrowing and that from central government, other than one is good and the other now bad.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vince squirms

Watching Vince Cable squirming on The Politics Show was a painful moment. He refused to say that he was enjoying working with the Tories, dodging the question and saying only that he was enjoying being in government.

When challenged over his Damascene conversion to the belief that cuts now were essential, he claimed that this occurred during the negotiations over the coalition - allegedly because of the threat of a sovereign debt crisis. And nothing to do with the offer of a ministerial seat. This brings into question his economic competence, as the Greek, Spanish and Italian economies had all seen significant rises in default risk since late 2009, while the UK economy's risk level remained unchanged. Further, UK government bond issues remained oversubscribed and rates continued to fall. Essentially, the markets showed no fear of UK debt. There never was a risk of a UK sovereign debt crisis. It appears that one cost of government has been Cable's intellect. His claim that his economic hero is the great John Maynard Keynes must leave that giant spinning in his grave.

Finally, Vince was challenged over his opposition to the immigration cap - a position where he finds himself in agreement with British business and Boris Johnson. At the end of last week, he said that it had pushed him to the limits of cabinet collective responsibility - which he now says was taken out of context, as these embarrassing quotes invariably are. He was then slapped down by No 10, which Vince dismissed as an unnamed source. Actually, it was the Prime Minister's official spokesman, very far from a dodgy source.

Vince Cable is currently the bookies' favourite to be the next Lib Dem to quit. His discomfort is visible and painful. I wonder if he'll be shuffled out or decide to run for Mayor of London instead.

'Tax avoidance and evasion is morally indefensible'

So said Danny Alexander at the Liberal Democrat conference, as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Admirable sentiments - we do have a moral duty to pay our way in society. He's in pursuit of some £6-£7 billion of unpaid tax - whether that includes the £1.5 billion underpaid thanks to errors by HMRC isn't clear.

Perhaps Mr Alexander could explain exactly why Vodafone, a massive global company, has been allowed to escape its moral duty to pay a whopping £6 billion tax bill. Or perhaps he should investigate just how much tax News International should be paying. And then he can explain why HMRC tax collectors are being cut, despite their demonstrable capacity to raise tax several times in excess of their pay.

Because Danny couldn't just be spouting platitudes, could he?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Welcome to the party, comrade

Another Liberal Democrat councillor renounces his errors and joins the Labour Party. A local lad, Cllr Simon Slater serves the Shirley West ward on Solihull council and was the Liberal Democrat sacrificial lamb PPC before the Caroline Spelman machine in Meriden in May. He's had enough, even if it might offend his mother.

Before the election Nick Clegg talked about not cutting too fast or too deep, he talked about protecting the most vulnerable in society, fairness for students and meaningful constitutional reform, and he fought against a Tory VAT bombshell. But now in government he has betrayed everything he said he believed in and everyone who voted for him. The national Liberal Democrat leadership seem more interested in securing the top jobs with their new Tory friends in government than any principle.

Welcome, Simon. And without pausing for breath, here comes another one.

Ben Curran, a new councillor in Sheffield has also seen the light and decided to cross the floor.
"I was bitterly disappointed with where the party was going nationally with Nick Clegg and I was also left disillusioned with the lack of resistance shown by the Lib Dems locally with all the savage cuts that have hit this city. The disgraceful decision to cancel the Forgemasters loan is a case in point. As Sheffield Lib Dem councillors, we were asked to defend what turned out to be a completely unjustifiable decision and it soon transpired that all the reasons in favour of cancelling the loan were just a pack of lies. My personal values haven't changed but the political landscape has."
They won't be the last.

There's even one here that's led the way and joined the Conservatives, Cllr Ron Cockings has rejoined the party that he left in the 1970s and abandoned the Liberal Democrats, apparently because they too are having issues with the national coalition. I wonder if Nick agrees with him.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The price of heroism

The Imperial War Museum has a new exhibit - the twisted metal remains of a car bomb and this was covered on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. They interviewed a former EOD operator, who calmly told his story - and the personal cost attached to it.

He was called to an incident where his friend and colleague had already been killed, he arrived knowing that his remote-controlled robot was faulty and found out that the electronic countermeasures to stop a radio signal triggering a bomb had also failed. Around him, Iraqi rioters were throwing petrol bombs and snipers were a constant threat. He was so certain that his own death was imminent that he told his colleague to pass on his love to his family.

Despite all of that, this man still suited up and walked towards an IED to defuse it. If there's a better definition of courage, I haven't heard it. Whatever you may think about the war, you cannot deny the everyday courage of the men and women who serve. Since then, he has suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder, a striking reminder of the price they pay.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown

What was the reason behind the smearing of Hague last week?

Was it a pre-emptive strike by Coulson to defuse his little local difficulty with mobile phones? Was it a nasty Labour smear? Did a couple of hacks just get lucky and did Guido pick up on the story to feed his adoring minions?

Or is there something else behind it?

Right now, with a new baby, solid Tory standing in the opinion polls and his feet under the desk at Number 10, Cameron looks master of all he surveys and in control, but he must be aware that things will not look always look so good. The cuts will start to fall over the next twelve months, VAT will rise in 2011 and Tory councillors may start to feel the heat at next year's elections. It looks highly likely that Liberal Democrat councillor base will suffer some serious pain and that will be a challenge to the coalition. If the economy tips back into recession - and I suspect that it will during the first two quarters of 2011 - then the pressure will be all the harder to take and cracks may appear in the Tory ranks, a significant number of whom really aren't happy at the concessions made to the Liberal Democrats and think that Cameron has gone a bit native as a result of hanging around with Nick and the boys.

You never know, but if there is dissatisfaction, then there might be calls for Cameron to go and Hague would be an ideal interim - or even permanent replacement. He remains popular within the party and is a fine political performer - I suspect that he might have been able to deliver a narrow majority in Cameron's place. Could last week's shenanigans have been a deniable operation to scupper any future potential challenge to put Hague in place? These sort of personal attacks have a nasty habit of emanating from within parties, rather than from outside. John Bercow had to suffer a vicious whispering campaign about his personal life and he's by far the only one. Many of the personal peccadilloes of politicians are tolerated within the Westminster Village and aren't reported outside because they simply aren't news. For years nobody bothered reporting the fact that Peter Mandelson was gay, not because journalists were scared that he would hunt them down and bury their bodies, but because it was such an open secret that nobody really cared. It only becomes an issue when somebody wants it to be out in the open and you should always ask why a story breaks at any particular time.

Of course, the one who should really worry Cameron - if the wheels start coming off - isn't Hague, but the prince across the water, the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. He's a man who has peccadilloes aplenty - usually blonde and decidedly female - but his image seems untarnished by human failings that would wreck other careers. In that sense, he is rather like the late Alan Clark, a lounge lizard lothario whose track record of seduction surprises nobody - we expect our cads to behave in exactly that way, just as we don't really blame the fox when the hen house door is left open. Don't ask me to explain why the British public and media will shred one politician's career and leave another's untouched, but for a golden few, the rules are different.

He may be an excellent performer on Have I Got News For You, but under that shock of blonde hair is a very sharp brain. The character of Boris as the overgrown schoolboy is just that - a role he plays exceptionally well - but I would urge you to watch some of his interviews about the current Tube strike. Gone was the overblown accent and language and in its place was a much sharper and more serious Boris, an entirely different beast that we have rarely seen in public.

Johnson is currently safe from national criticism - he won't be held to blame for the economy if it all goes hideously wrong next year and is actually ideally placed to run a headline-grabbing defence of London's budgets against the Chancellor. He will gain credit for the 2012 Olympics, even if he loses the mayoral election just before and should be well-placed at the fore of the national mood. Cameron will be the bad news boy, leading his shock troops into slashing public services and it may be felt that the Tory party needs a little decontamination of its own prior to the 2015 election. Johnson could be the perfect choice - especially if a tame MP with a safe seat can be prevailed upon to decide to spend more time with his or her family in return for a promised peerage when Boris ascends.

To set the right narrative, Boris is reported to be threatening to resign if funding for Crossrail is slashed or if he can't get enough money to support the improvements to the Underground - something that he later denies, but it is telling that he still won't announce a plan to run again. And in a speech, he makes a surprising admission of concern about the direction that the government are taking on the economy, even admitting the economic knowledge of Ed Balls
You may remember that during the election and in the run-up to the June budget, we were told that it was necessary to avoid a Greek-style sovereign debt crisis. We were told we would have to slash the deficit or else the markets would punish us with cripplingly high interest rates. Well, the deficit is still more or less what it was, and yet interest rates and bond yields are at historic lows. Of course it is a good thing to bear down on wasteful public spending, and the deficit must certainly be reduced. The question is how far and how fast this can be done without provoking a double-dip recession – and the risk is that if there is a serious downturn at the end of the year, it is the coalition that will cop the blame.

Don't worry about Hague, David. Boris is the one to watch.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Does Chris Huhne still think hiring Coulson was a Cameron misjudgement?

Very odd silence from the Liberal Democrats, given Chris Huhne's piece in the Guardian last year.

The key issue now involves a dispute over the facts between News International, which owns the News of the World, and the Guardian. News International has argued that the conviction of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire is as far as the story went. It found no other evidence that its journalists were involved in phone tapping, and its chief Les Hinton told the Commons' culture media and sport committee in March 2007 that this was an isolated case
He points out that a settlement to Gordon Taylor gives the lie to that claim, as does a settlement with Max Clifford and there are others now known to be involved.
Charlotte Harris of JMW Solicitors, who is representing around 25 alleged victims of the phone-hacking scandal, believes the newsroom's culture owed much to senior management.... On Friday, the law firm Bindmans announced it was seeking a judicial review into the police investigation on behalf of three clients: Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda, Brian Paddick, former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, and Brendan Montague, a journalist and author

Chris Huhne went on
Davies gave further evidence to the committee. He produced a contract promising Mulcaire a bonus for acquiring information, which implies senior executives at the paper knew his work.... Davies's evidence suggests that other journalists were complicit in the illegal phone tapping, which in turn is clear prima facie evidence that should be investigated by the police as a contravention of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 carrying a maximum custodial sentence of two years. It is extraordinary that Assistant Commissioner John Yates summarily refused to look at the evidence again, and that David Hanson, the police minister, has so meekly accepted this

Even then, Huhne claimed that it was a misjudgement by Cameronto hire Coulson as director of communications. Does he think that it was a further misjudgement to bring Coulson into the heart of government and the civil service?
I have complained to the Independent Police Complaints Commission because the Met department that conducted the original investigation should not be judge and jury in its own trial for potential neglect of duty. There is a clear public interest that the Met reopens this inquiry, so that we can establish whether there have been systematic and illegal invasions of privacy. Nothing else will ensure that they stop.
Silence has reigned from Chris - perhaps the NotW story about his marriage was punishment by them for transgressing against News International.

Gradually, this story is building, despite the attempts by elements of the media to avoid discussing it. Partly this is because of their own involvement in some of the shadier elements of journalistic research
Significantly, Harris suggests she has seen evidence confirming the phone-hacking culture was not simply confined to the NoW. "I think I can say without breaching any confidences that Glenn Mulcaire wasn't working for just one newspaper," Harris said. Indeed, Fleet Street's use of private eyes – sometimes for legitimate purposes – is extensive. In 2006, Richard Thomas, the then information commissioner, published the findings of "Operation Motorman", which had targeted a private investigator, Stephen Whittamore. According to Thomas's investigation, more than 50 Daily Mail journalists had bought material from Whittamore on 952 occasions. Other newspapers that had paid Whittamore included the Daily Mirror, the NoW, the Observer and the Sunday Times.
Oddly, although the BBC, the Guardian, the Independent and Channel 4 News all covered the story to a greater or lesser degree, readers of the Times, Sun, Telegraph and the Daily Mail have been spectacularly uninformed about a scandal breaking over the bows of the Coalition administration.

There is a new defence being raised to distract from the meat of the story - seized upon by Iain Dale in a controversial post yesterday, drawing upon the 'knowledge' of the other loyal Tory blogger, DizzyThinks
* Calling someone's mobile, waiting for it to go to voicemail and then entering their four digit pin (0000) is not hacking. Hacking is about circumventing security, not being presented with them and passing them.
** Calling someone's mobile, waiting for it to go to voicemail and then entering their four digit pin (0000) is not tapping. Tapping is the covert act of real-time interception of active communication links.
While we could have a semantic argument about the meaning of specific words - and hackers the world over will tell you that trying obvious passwords is a very effective way of getting past poor security, but is still a subset of hacking activities. Hacking is commonly taken to mean circumventing security measures to go to an electronic place where you should not be. As for tapping, the only important definition is the legal one, which handily encompasses what actually happened - and the CPS managed to sustain two convictions, so unless Iain and Dizzy have struck upon a defence missed by the lawyers for Mulcaire and Goodman, we'll go with what the law actually says:

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Section 2. Meaning and location of ‘interception’ etc.

(8) For the purposes of this section the cases in which any contents of a communication are to be taken to be made available to a person while being transmitted shall include any case in which any of the contents of the communication, while being transmitted, are diverted or recorded so as to be available to a person subsequently.

Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads covers this nicely.

And just a reminder of what Chris Huhne said to the BBC when Andy Coulson faced the DCMS committee
"Andy Coulson's defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking. Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron."

So which is it - incompetent or complicit?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Top Sandwell Tory - so ashamed of Gove, she defects to Labour

Following Michael Gove's abandonment of the Building Schools for the Future and his dismissal of the pupils and parents of Sandwell, who had their entire plans for school restructuring thrown into disarray by his sudden decision, the former deputy leader of the Tory group on the council, Elaine Costigan, has resigned from the party and crossed the floor to Labour.
This community has been treated with utter contempt by the government over the slashing of the school building programme and when Michael Gove backed out of his promise to come and apologise to the parents, pupils and staff he had so badly let down, I felt ashamed to be a Conservative.

In her resignation letter, she added
Sandwell desperately needs new investment in its schools yet this government has not only abandoned the children of my community but it has treated them disgracefully. The sudden withdrawal of funding for new schools the day after it was confirmed, the refusal to listen to local people and the Secretary of State’s breaking of his promise to apologise to the parents, pupils and staff, all show a government that to say does not seem to care about this community. I can no longer bite my lip and pretend that the way the Conservative-led coalition has treated Sandwell is OK. It is not, and I cannot be a member of a party that condones their actions.

Always nice when they see the light.

Anyone from the Coventry Tory group feel the same?

The blame game

A joy of outsourcing is that you have someone else to blame for everything that goes wrong, so Cllr Neville Summerfield (Con, Brandwood) wins an early prize for chutzpah, as he attacks Amey - the proprietors since June of Birmingham's outsourced roads - for not repairing Allens Croft Road in Kings Heath, which is, like many other roads, covered in cracks and pot holes.

This has come to a head because National Express West Midlands are threatening to remove a bus service because of persistent damage being caused to the vehicles by the appalling condition of the road surface.

Cllr Summerfield comments

We have waited several months for basic repairs to be carried out and feel totally ignored. Amey has promised to transform Birmingham’s roads and pavements and so far we have seen very little evidence of this.

It makes you wonder who has been responsible for repairs to the City's roads for the past six years, years that have seen the quality of road surfaces decline massively, as the City Council chose to hold repairs back to let the private contractors carry the cost. Rather than accepting the weight of blame for more than 320 weeks of inaction by his Tory colleagues, Cllr Summerfield chooses to blame a contractor who has been in charge for just 12 weeks.

Expect lots more of this from the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, but do remember who let the roads decay to their current, dangerous state.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Woe, woe and thrice woe

"The huge scale of the retrenchment that the government wants to implement, and the decision to cut the fiscal deficit at an accelerated pace, will inevitably increase dangers of double-dip recession... In spite of the relatively strong recent UK performance in the second quarter, the recovery is still fragile and risks of a relapse are high.”

David Kern - economist at the British Chambers of Commerce

Prof David Blanchflower talks Balls.

Balls said Osborne's speech was wrong in its analysis of the past, reckless in its diagnosis of the current situation, and dangerous in its prescription for the future.

By contrast, he carefully laid out the historical evidence showing that austerity programmes have not worked in the past but have led to low growth, social unrest and high levels of unemployment. He argued that the coalition government is not only leaving the UK badly exposed to the coming economic storm but is "undermining the very goals of market stability and deficit reduction, which their policies are designed to achieve". I couldn't agree more.

In a challenge to Osborne, whom he calls a "growth denier", Balls said: "I would like him to point to the precedent, from British economic history, which says that, with slowing growth in our main trading partners and companies deleveraging, it is possible for public-sector retrenchment to stimulate private-sector growth and job creation." There is none. The slower, steadier path to deficit reduction that Balls has proposed is the right path.

Then came the revelation that Balls opposed Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit in four years, and continues to do so. For many months in this column, I have made clear the dangers of falling back into recession. I have never believed it was appropriate to set out a plan to reduce the deficit by a certain date, principally because of the high levels of uncertainty we face. Economic policy in these circumstances has to be path-dependent. Much rests on the extent to which the world economy slows and whether the banks start lending and firms begin investing and hiring again. Plus, it remains an open question whether consumers will start spending again.

It has to be said that Ed Balls has been excellent in challenging the Tories, driving home his point comparing the government's current policies with those that dragged us into the depression in the 1930s.

Oh - and house prices fell again last month, the first drop in two consecutive months since February 2009.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Don't read all about it!

Odd thing, that while the media can find pages of space to discuss the fact that an unknown advisor has resigned and a senior minister is not having a gay affair, few can find any space to mention the New York Times and their story about Andy Coulson, who remains the media supremo in Downing Street, but was the editor of the News of the World when various reporters were illegally accessing mobile voicemail for celebrities and those in the public eye. Coulson has always denied knowing anything about it, but the New York Times claims that the paper had
...a frantic, sometimes degrading atmosphere in which some reporters openly pursued hacking or other improper tactics to satisfy demanding editors. Andy
Coulson, the top editor at the time, had imposed a hypercompetitive ethos, even by tabloid standards. One former reporter called it a “do whatever it takes” mentality. The reporter was one of two people who said Coulson was present during discussions about phone hacking. Coulson ultimately resigned but denied any knowledge of hacking...

He has continued to deny that, even to a Commons committee,
“I have never condoned the use of phone hacking, and nor do I have any recollection of incidences where phone hacking took place,”

but the NYT continues
A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. “Everyone knew,” one longtime reporter said. “The office cat knew.” One former editor said Coulson talked freely with colleagues about the dark arts, including hacking. “I’ve been to dozens if not hundreds of meetings with Andy” when the subject came up, said the former editor, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The editor added that when Coulson would ask where a story came from, editors would reply, “We’ve pulled the phone records” or “I’ve listened to the phone messages.” Sean Hoare, a former reporter and onetime close friend of Coulson’s, also recalled discussing hacking. The two men first worked together at The Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson. At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits. Coulson “actively encouraged me to do it,” Hoare said.

It is frankly unbelievable that Andy Coulson could have been unaware of what was a standard practice in the tabloid business. Tom Watson, a member of the culture, media and sport select committee has called for a judicial enquiry with powers of subpoena to investigate this very murky affair.

Perhaps more disturbing still is the revelation that the police enquiry may have been influenced by a need to keep the News of the World on side
The police sometimes built high-profile cases out of the paper’s exclusives, and News of the World reciprocated with fawning stories of arrests. Within days of the raids, several senior detectives said they began feeling internal pressure. One senior investigator said he was approached by Chris Webb, from the department’s press office, who was “waving his arms up in the air, saying, ‘Wait a minute — let’s talk about this.’ ” The investigator, who has since left Scotland Yard, added that Webb stressed the department’s “long-term relationship with News International.” The investigator recalled becoming furious at the suggestion, responding, “There’s illegality here, and we’ll pursue it like we do any other case.” In a statement, Webb said: ‘‘I cannot recall these events. Police officers make operational decisions, not press officers. That is the policy of the Metropolitan Police Service and the policy that I and all police press officers follow."

Later on
Scotland Yard officials consulted with the Crown Prosecution Service on how broadly to investigate. But the officials didn’t discuss certain evidence with senior prosecutors, including the notes suggesting the involvement of other reporters, according to a senior prosecutor on the case. The prosecutor was stunned to discover later that the police had not shared everything. “I would have said we need to see how far this goes” and “whether we have a serious problem of criminality on this news desk,” said the former prosecutor, who declined to speak on the record.

This story takes the lid off how our free press operates - not in pursuit of criminality or corruption in high places, where some leeway might be allowed, but solely to fill pages with drivel about inconsequential 'celebrities' and the like. We need to know if the police took their foot off the accelerator to appease News International and we also need to know if Andy Coulson, the man who shapes the message for the government, can be trusted in any way at all.

Definitely not vague

William Hague's statement yesterday, following years of innuendo and snide comment, was as unequivocal as you could want
Any suggestion that his appointment was due to an improper relationship between us is utterly false, as is any suggestion that I have ever been involved in a relationship with any man.

He is either possessed of steel cojones or is telling the unvarnished truth, for I have no doubt that the tabloids are off and running to see if that last phrase can be demonstrated to be untrue. Crispin Blunt came out only a week ago, announcing that he was gay and was also leaving his wife and he remains in his post as prisons minister, so I would hazard a guess that the Tory party has changed sufficiently that even a very senior minister could weather that little personal storm and keep his job. What would terminate Hague's career at this level would be a lie of that magnitude - there is no offence in being gay (even in the modern Conservative Party).

His sexuality, his marriage and the revelation that his wife has suffered a series of miscarriages are all entirely irrelevant - they have no place in the political story and frankly, I don't even care if he choses to sleep in a twin bedded room with another man. It may come as a great surprise to those living the sheltered lives of tabloid journalists that two people can be in the same space and not have sex. I appreciate that they have lives packed full of innuendo and euphemism, but human beings are sometimes able to control their lustful animal instincts and just sleep. It is, to my mind, a marginal lapse of judgement.

More serious is Hague's judgement in appointing an inexperienced 25 year old Durham graduate, with a couple of years behind him acting as a gofer, to a special advisor post within the Foreign Office - somewhere entirely unsuited as a training ground. Hague took with him two experienced advisors, with considerable knowledge of the field, but felt the need to appoint a third to assist him with the non-existent workload of 'First Minister' and to advise on matters relating to the Falkland Islands. It is all extremely odd and comes on the heels of the revelation that Lord Ashcroft had renegotiated an agreement to secure his peerage and left Hague looking like a halfwit.

I have to say that I'm not convinced that the story is yet over. I'm puzzled by the inclusion of the details regarding Ffion's miscarriages - is that being used cynically to provide an additional layer of protection against any further questioning and to generate public support? I hope not, but with Andy Coulson at the centre of the Downing Street web, nothing is impossible.

The other point to make, as Conservative bloggers and politicians alike have been wringing their hands over the slurs made by Paul 'Guido Fawkes' Staines, is that few of them were running to defend the Labour and Liberal politicians who felt the bile and poison spewed at them by that purveyor of sewage and tittle-tattle, masquerading as a political blogger. While I feel genuine sympathy for the Hagues and even some for Christopher Myers, who has lost an opportunity that many would love to have, I can't help but feel that those who helped create the beast that is Guido Fawkes are now realising that it cannot be controlled and that they can also look forward to some years of abuse from the sidelines.