Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Losers

Labour: Ed Balls - too close. David Miliband - lacking courage. Harriet Harman - PMQless. Jack Straw - even worse. Lord Mandelson - too well rewarded for his disloyalty.

LibDems: David Laws - doh! Vince Cable - past form catching him up.

Conservatives: Liam Fox - completely out of touch. David Davis - off the scale.

Media: Andrew Marr - lost all his friends. Simon Heffer - the lunatics have taken over the asylum and are doing rather well. Polly Toynbee - run out of apologists. This Week - Diane still missing & four idiotic replacements.

Calmly Radical

The summer recess is here and politics is going away on holiday.
'Better than the last lot' was Jeff Randal's verdict. Not difficult really - and what a relief after the forces of anger, hatred and deceit finally left the stage.

So how have they done? Radical, that's for sure.

Eight short weeks into a government program scrambled together whilst assembling the first national coalition in half a century, and the government has embarked on the most radical reform program possible: halving Labours profligate borrowing, deep reforms in welfare, education, the NHS, policing, prisons, and immigration as well as constitutional changes the like of which we have not seen since women's suffrage in the 1920's.

And Labour always told us Cameron was policy light. Naughty Labour.

The most obvious change though has been in attitude. A quiet determination to apply real solutions to pressing problems, with calm and curtesy. None of the frenzy that characterised NewLabour and its spin machine.

And yet the big loser - at least in polling terms - appear to be the Liberal Democrats. The latest polls show them languishing at around 15%. So what, in policy terms, did the LibDems actually secure?

They agreed and are implementing the necessary deficit reductions from their own manifesto. They have secured constitutional reform including AV with a referendum set for 5th May next year. They have secured - through Michael Gove's educational reforms - the 'pupil premium' of their manifesto. They are set to take out a tier of buraucracy - strategic health authorities - from the NHS as outlined in their manifesto. They have secured a prison reform program that was widely criticised in the leader's debates during the election campaign. And perhaps most significantly, the tax threashold was increased towards their much publicised objective of £10,000 in George Osborne's emergency budget. Not a bad haul for a party providing just 59 of the 365 coalition MP's.

Vodka & Madmen

Started watching the first series of Madmen this week. Really baffling. Few good characters - Draper's wife a rare exception - no real storyline. Oddly stylised 1960's environment. And a whole series of seemingly unrelated mini-stories that don't seem to go anywhere: Draper's childhood, a long-lost brother, his wife's hand problem, babysitting loo incident, copy-writing secretary, gun-buying account executive, massed alcoholism. I could go on.

Still, the Bloody Mary's are great, smoking rules and what's the name for a Vodka & Milk?

Friday, 30 July 2010

All you need is a bike

Its summer and I need some exercise. Today - but not in honour of the Mayor's new bicycle scheme - I will buy a bike. A lean and beautiful bike. A road bike. With the thinest tyres I can find and the lightest frame possible.

Not like John Lennon's then.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Labour, principle & AV

Excellent piece by Martin Kettle called Labour is playing fast and loose on AV reform in today's Guardian. He writes:

"When Labour looks at this bill it sees Clegg – whom it now hates – not
electoral reform, which it should and until a few weeks ago did support. Nearly
two centuries after the Chartists, one is bound to ask whether the Labour party
is any longer a party of reform at all."

It is quite extraordinary how unprincipled the Labour party now appears to the electorate.

You've had the cowboys, now try the Indians...

I can't believe I've just heard Laura Kuenssberg - BBC Chief Political correspondent - saying on the 6 o'clock that honesty in foreign relations is part of the new politics and - by implication - very little to do with the old.
Cameron is apparently "determined to persue this new 'frank' style abroad - honesty he believes is the best foreign policy".
She obviously doesn't realise the forces of anger, hatred and deceit left office on 6th May...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Turkey votes for Christmas

Apparently Turkey still wants to join the EU. They really should know better.

So after a decade of New Labour's uncontrolled immigration to the UK 'just to rub the right's nose in it' and the apparent necessity of the coalition's new immigration cap in order to control integration, we now need 74 million young Turks enhancing our diversity.

I can only assume (always a dangerous course) that with so much reported opposition from Germany, Austria & France amongst others, Cameron knows he's on safe ground. Cynical or what?

Friday, 23 July 2010

Hilary Clinton

A North Korean border guard looks suspiciously at US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on a recent visit to the disputed 1953 Military Demarcation Line that is the border.

What struck me was how aged she appeared after just two years in office.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Banksy's farce

Its entertaining. It uses an unlikely or improbable situation. It may involve disguise or mistaken identity. The potential for verbal humour including sexual innuendo and wordplay is enormous. The speed of the plot should increased to an endpoint involving an elaborate chase and unlikely outcome.

Its farce. And Banksy's image provides everything you need to know. Just enough naughtyness. Just that perfect moment representing all those wonderful moments in British farce.

And then there's the perfect positioning of hands. Left of course.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Licensing Heroin

300,000 heroin addicts throughout the UK currently commit more than £14 billion of criminal activity each year. Its an extraordinary total. Yet the fact that we measure drug addiction in terms of criminality and economics shows just how far we are from solving it.

In an article from Times 2 today - whose URL I am unable to link to because (a) you now need to subscribe for online content and (b) I read it on an iPad without any address bar - talks about an experiment that has been running in Zurich since 1994 to provide heroin for regular users in an effort to tackle street drugs and their associated criminality. The organisers say it costs £33.50 per patient per day, but produces a net saving of £27.60 per day after factoring in the reduction in crime & criminal justice system costs.

More importantly, 30% of Swiss users find jobs and pay taxes. A remarkable total. As Dr Adrian Kormann - Zoki 2's clinical director - suggests, '...their health and welbeing improve, they stop committing crimes and many can get back into education or work. They rebuild relations with their families and friends. And all of it comes at a saving to the state.' A similar limited experiment has apparently been tried in this country, with results so far unknown.

This is just the sort of bold, but vital initiative we need in the UK to start turning the tide against decades of ignorant attempts to treat, usually through the prison system, the symptoms of heroin addiction which blight families and communities up and down the country - street crime, burglary and prostitution. We must start returning addicts back to families and communities able to properly support them. Without the blight of criminal activity that so divides them from society.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Prison Reform

Just read Ben Gummer's maiden speech on penal reform. This really is an important area for the coalition - central to their vision of a 'broken society'. Prisons remain the main repository of family breakdown, educational underachievement and substance abuse in Britain.

With the exception of a small number of high security jails for serious long-term offenders, our prisons should be turned into adult education centres providing both basic reading, writing & arithmatic as well as vocationally-based qualifications allowing all inmates the chance of a future on release.

They must also be drug-free zones in which all detainees know before entry that drugs will not be tolerated and all warders change into prison uniforms on entry.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Swine Flu

The governments £1.2bn response to swine flu was apparently 'proportionate and effective' we learned from a report published this week and commissioned by that same government. It used just 5 million of 132 million doses of anti-viral drugs ordered (thats 3.8%) despite forcasting at one stage that 65,000 UK citizens could die from the worldwide pandemic. The outcome was 457 deaths (thats 0.7%).

No possibility then that Gordon Brown's nasty, incompetent, angry, spiteful and unpopular Labour government might have been feeling just a little vulnerable at the time?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Where's Labour?

Iain Martin writes witheringly of David Miliband's inability to engage in foreign policy debate. But it is no irony that the favourite for Labour leadership, foreign secretary for the last three years, leading Labour reformist and keeper of the Blairite flame, simply dismisses William Hague's speech as 'vacuous'. Brother Ed meanwhile (another leadership candidate), lazily attacks serious attempts at welfare reform as 'on yer bike Toryism'.

Time and again senior Labour figures - cabinet ministers up until a few short weeks ago - simply do not get it. From Harriet Harman's PMQ's performance downwards, the arguments have moved on. Labour has not.

Last nights Question Time reflected the same impoverished performance from Alan Johnson. 'I dont want to make it an Iain Duncan Smith benefit night' said David Dimbleby at one point as all four questions - on the budget, prison reform, immigration caps and job mobility -went unanswered by the former home secretary. Meanwhile Iain Duncan Smith argued lucidly on the geographic nature of poverty, its roots, the rehabilitation of first-time offenders and successfully absorbing immigration. No tribalism. No point scoring. Just intelligent and purposeful debate.

Later on This Week, Andy Burnham - yet another Labour leadership contender - could only muster the line 'it reminds me of the 1980s' as Michael Portillo (who left front-line politics five years ago) and a twenty-something indy folk singer (Roy Stride of Scouting For Girls), accurately took the pulse at the heart of coalition politics. Where's Labour?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Your Freedom

Entitled Your Ideas For Freedom this site is well worth a visit. I found it painfully slow to load, but nicely laid out with great ideas being voted on. But will it lead to reform?


Its extraordinary how outraged the comment on increasing VAT to 20% becomes. Its £3 a week for the average person for heavens sake. It excludes food, children's shoes & clothing, books, newspapers and includes a reduced rate on heating bills. Just how outraged do you think you should appear? Yes its not as progressive as increasing income tax, but its a lot cheaper to collect (retailers & businesses do all the work) and its collected every quarter on the dot - or serious fines ensue.

The coalition's mistake was not increasing VAT, but not to use that increase for a specific purpose. It should have been used as a locally-based sales tax covering all local government expenditure. Amounts raised in VAT and those spent by local authorities (roads, transport, care services etc) are remarkably similar in this country - around £90bn - and a whole layer of local bureaucracy could be saved in the process. This involves valuing properties, calculating council tax, printing & sending demands, collecting & enforcing late payers, legal fees etc. I'm sure you get the picture.

Throughout the US a local sales tax is used to pay for local services. It enhances democracy because local people become interested when their money is on the line and it puts people at the centre of local government. After all, the only way to increase local government revenues under such a system, is to increase either businesses or consumers in your area. Not exactly a nimby's charter then, and rather responsive to demographic changes from immigration, no?