There's something ironic - and not a little British - about celebrating an organisation like the NHS in the Olympic opening ceremony. The health service's performance, when measured against other health systems from western liberal democracies, is just so incredibly mediocre. That of course is the point Danny Boyle should have been making. The Olympics after all are about excellence - faster, higher, stronger - whilst the NHS has always been about mediocrity. But then, when a public service is run in the interests of powerful producer interests rather than patients, we shouldn't be surprised..
Most Britons will not accept the truth about the NHS. It is not that it produces uniformly terrible results, as its harshest critics say. The truth is that its performance, in terms of comparison with sophisticated mature economies, is middling. Yet, just as the minority of critics tend to overdo it, so its defenders sound completely barmy when they hail it as the best and the envy of the world. It isn’t.
The British make a compromise on health care. For many the NHS is a unifying idea, part of an idealised notion of what it is to be British. In return for that warm, fuzzy feeling they tolerate OK-ish health care (with pockets of disastrous failure and some examples of excellence).
In the opening ceremony Boyle fed the myth, with three giant letters spelling NHS in the middle of the Olympic stadium. For many of those watching, it seems to have been the high point. To me it looked like irrational, smug self-congratulation. Anyone attempting to make the system more responsive to consumer demand – to drive improvement, innovation and productivity and thus deliver better health care for patients – can forget it for another 20 years. more...
"Downing St published a photograph of the Prime Minister chatting to fellow travellers on the Underground as he travelled to east London yesterday afternoon. ... Mr Cameron has been keen to stress how he wanted to use public transport during the Games rather than the special 'Zil lanes' reserved for VIPs travelling to venues by car." - Daily Telegraph
Cameron has "probably had a peek" at the beach volleyball - Daily Telegraph
Spectators are flocking to the Olympic's free sporting events - Daily Telegraph
Graeme Archer: The Games are teaching us who we are — and to be proud of it - Graeme Archer, Daily Telegraph
The Games have put London on the road to transport reform - Christian Wolmar, The Times (£)
...but attracts backbench ire for criticising Aidan Burley
"Mr Cameron’s intervention drew criticism from other Tory backbenchers. ... Nadine Dorries tweeted: ‘If DC can keep quiet when his public school pals have expenses spotlight shone on them, should do the same when new backbencher messes up.’ ... Stewart Jackson said: ‘Surely PM should have risen above criticising his own MP re: Olympics opening ceremony? He may disagree with Aidan Burley MP but why say so?’" - Daily Mail
"UK Trade and Investment has predicted a potential £13bn fillip to the economy over four years. But senior ministers have played down the short-term tourism boost and instead emphasised – in the words last week of Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister – the UK’s 'growth potential'. ... To many Londoners, however, the city is looking and feeling emptier than usual. Tony Travers, a London expert at the London School of Economics, said: 'If it turns out to be the case there is a big drop-off in business because of exaggerated claims on transport, then that would be unfortunate to say the least.'" - Financial Times (£)
Boris calls for more British medals success
"Mr Johnson voiced his fears about Britain's medals as he tried to play down a row over thousands of empty seats during the first few days of the games. ... He promised that empty areas reserved for Olympic 'bureaucrats' who failed to turn up would be re-allocated to the public. ... The thing is going to be to reduce this space,' he said. 'There will be more tickets available.' ... 'The only thing I'm worried about is we need to step up the medal count a bit.'" - Daily Telegraph
Steve Richards: Here's why Boris won't lead the Conservatives
"The return is the problem, the obstacle that is much harder to overcome than it seems. The sole reason Boris will never be leader of his party is that he is not in the House of Commons now and if he were to serve a full term as full-time Mayor, would not be an MP after the next election." - Steve Richards, Independent
A headache for Theresa May? Abu Qatada tries to end his detention while awaiting deportation
" Lawyers for the firebrand will attempt to use the ancient legal procedure of habeas corpus at the High Court to argue that his detention while awaiting deportation is unlawful. ... If they succeed it could mean senior judges ordering the release of the man once dubbed Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe within days." -Daily Telegraph
"Nonsense" welfare payments can't be cut too far or fast - Daily Mail editorial
The NHS regulator proposes relaxing its restrictions on private companies -Guardian
Peers suggest switching all TV to the Internet - Guardian
Lib Dems are warning Nick Clegg to avoid agreeing on new spending cuts
"Nick Clegg is being threatened with a revolt by the grassroots of his party if he shows any sign of agreeing more spending cuts with David Cameron. ... In a move that risks scuppering the next public spending review, which is expected in 2014, influential Liberal Democrats have made clear that their party must decide its own spending plans. The Conservatives are hoping to cut welfare spending but pressure is growing on Mr Clegg to opt for new taxes on the rich." - The Times (£)
Lib Dems plot revolt over Tory plans for more welfare cuts - Independent
Alistair Darling attacks Alex Salmond — and calls for compromise too
"Alex Salmond 'does not speak for Scotland' when it comes to dictating terms for his independence referendum, according to Alistair Darling. In an interview with The Times, the former Chancellor accused Mr Salmond of 'playing fast and loose' with the Scottish people by delaying the date of a referendum and by appearing to favour having a second question rather than just a straight 'yes or no' on independence. ... Mr Darling also warned David Cameron not to intervene by bringing forward his own referendum. 'I think it would be much better to have a constructive discussion and negotiation and let’s get the matter concluded,' Mr Darling said." -The Times (£)
Alex Salmond is spending £25,000 of taxpayers’ money a day to hire out a London club for the duration of the Olympic Games - Daily Telegraph
Richard Littlejohn: Harriet Harman's Equality Act was a bridge too far - Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
HMRC has paid out over £1million, over the past four years, in rewards for "tax snitches" - The Sun
one account of the meeting Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, was said to
have scored the ceremony just four out 10, a claim his spokesman denied last
night. Mr Gove was also said to have objected to the absence of Winston
Churchill from the ceremony. According to this version, Jeremy Hunt, the Culture
Secretary, was also sceptical about some of the scenes, while Theresa May, the
Home Secretary, was said to have intervened to defend Boyle and to have told her
colleagues it was unfair to judge the ceremony in such a crude way." - Daily Telegraph
15% thought show "too political", 12% thought NHS tribute inappropriate - Survation
Opening ceremony was a Trojan horse for socialist values, says Labour MP
Paul Flynn - The Guardian
critics should be reassured that the meaning of the Mary Poppins-Dementors clash
has been widely misunderstood. I am told by one figure close to proceedings that
the bellicose nanny figure was intended by Danny Boyle to stand for Mrs Thatcher
in her struggles with the NUM and other militant trade unionists. So that’s all
right, then, eh!…James Bond and the Monarchy – not to mention The Eton Boating
Song… How can anyone call that Lefty propaganda?" - Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph
of local Conservative associations are losing activists as the party suffers a
recruitment crisis which has seen membership halve since David Cameron became
leader. The latest estimates put Conservative membership at between 130,000 and
170,000, compared with almost 300,000 shortly after Mr Cameron succeeded Michael
Howard. There are fears within the party that on current trends it could soon
fall below 100,000." - The Independent
Trevor Kavanagh asks: Is it really so bad for the economy after
few people believe the notoriously erratic statistics showing a big 0.7 per cent
fall in national output. They do not tally with a robust 800,000 new jobs and a
surprise surge in tax revenues… Second, Mr Osborne won rare applause for the
debt-busting programme so bitterly opposed in yesterday’s Sun by Labour’s Ed
Balls. Indeed, OECD chief Angel Gurria warned the greatest risk of a slump would
be if Mr Osborne changed course and followed Ed. The Chancellor’s third boost
came from one of those “weakness-seeking missiles” — the credit ratings agency
Standard & Poor’s." - Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun
Merkel, Monti: We will do all we can to protect the Eurozone - BBC
were last night under pressure to tighten border controls for EU citizens after
Spain demanded ‘proof of income’ from expats hoping to live in the country. The
move – taken in response to the country’s economic crisis – was said by one Tory
MP to have ‘driven a coach and horses’ through the EU’s cherished principle of
the free movement of peoples, and immediately triggered calls for David Cameron
to adopt tougher measures." - Daily
benefits system faces a fresh blitz after figures today reveal nearly 900,000
people have claimed sickness handouts for more than a decade. Taxpayers shelled
out around £4billion last year alone to long-term benefit claimants for a vast
number of ailments, the new statistics show. Employment Minister Chris Grayling
said the statistics underlined why drastic action is needed to make sure funds
only go to those who have genuine health reasons for not working. The sick pay
system has been blamed for keeping millions of families mired in benefit
dependency." - Daily Express
Scandal of 10 years' disability handouts for acne - The Sun
Cameron eyes possible Olympics
bounce... "David Cameron has played down the prospect of a big political bounce from
the London Olympics, telling colleagues: “People are too sensible to confuse a
sporting event with their day-to-day lives.” Nevertheless the prime minister
will not overlook the political opportunities afforded by the games to project
what he claims is not just Britain’s illustrious past but its “exciting
future”….George Osborne is also expecting an economic lift from the games when
the third quarter gross domestic product figures are assembled." - Financial Times (£) ...As the row over Danny Boyle's opening
ceremony rumbles on: Gove was unhappy when he saw a preview and Hunt had
The Mail remains pro-Boyle. Melanie
Phillips: he showed modern Britain as it is "Danny Boyle has given them Caliban’s dream — a Utopian vision of Britain. He
gave them the brilliance and wit of his spectacle. He also gave them something
else: the fantasy of an inclusive, generous, warm-hearted, joyful image of
themselves. Boyle’s genius was to create this fantasy of goodness, this triumph
of hope over experience, of heart over head. This was patriotism as a feelgood
movie. Oscars all round." - Daily Mail
As, unsurprisingly, does Boris: How, he
asks, can anyone call the Eton Boating Song left-wing
The London Mayor tops ConHome poll of
candidates to succeed Cameron "The Mayor of London, who is enjoying a high profile during the Olympics, is
favoured by 32 per cent of party members, according to the poll of 1,419
activists conducted by the ConservativeHome website. His nearest rivals are
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary and a former party leader, who is backed by
24 per cent, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, on 19 per cent. George
Osborne, who was widely seen as Mr Johnson's main rival in the future leadership
stakes, is supported by a derisory 2 per cent" - The Independent
Tim Montgomerie: Be upbeat, hug modern
Britain and embrace the state - that's what all Tories should learn from
London's Mayor "Whatever the next few years might hold for Boris personally, his compelling
world view should be at the heart of tomorrow’s Conservatism. Making peace with
the NHS, the welfare state and the State’s role in delivering big projects does
not equal surrender. It simply gives Conservatives the freedom to meet necessary
challenges such as restarting social mobility and strengthening the family. The
things we need the courage to change." - The Times (£) Party membership "could soon fall below
Man due in court after Stewart Jackson
bus shelter assault - Daily Express Business groups call for interest rates
to be slashed to zero... "The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) urged the Bank of England to take
immediate action to slash the cost of borrowing to homeowners and business,
following shock growth figures last week showing the economic downturn is
accelerating. Economists at the Ernst & Young Item Club also backed the
call, saying an interest rate cut was ‘not the only answer, but it would help’."
- Daily Mail
Spain "drives coach and horses" through
EU movement of peoples, Clappison and Carswell urge Cameron to follow
Romney "would not stop Israel attacking
Iran" - The Sun Medvedev: We’ve seen the preview, now
world must prevent a civil war in Syria - The Times (£) Grayling: New figures show scale of
BREAKING: Vince Cable has just been on the Today programme discussing what the Coalition is planning to do get growth back on track.
He acknowledged that house building and infrastructure investment is needed to boost growth, but insisted that this is “coming through” and that it’s not too little too late.
He also recognised that “there is a link” between spending cuts and growth prospects, but said “right to have budget discipline”.
On his admission last night on Newsnight that he’d be a good Chancellor, he said “he’s not pushing for the job”, and if he were Chancellor he wouldn’t propose a plan “radically different” from George Osborne’s. (But it would be a bit different.) He would “be looking to build on” what George is doing (again, different).
On the accusation that George is a “part-time” Chancellor, Vince said “he’s not doing two jobs,” because “we all contribute to the decisions of the Coalition”. That said, he did say he was a “I’m a full-time Business Secretary”, subtly drawing the pair into to comparison again.
ROSE GARDEN SUNSHINE
Meanwhile, David Cameron has just given an interview on BBC Breakfast in a sunny Rose Garden. He admits that the “cloud hanging over” the beautiful morning and the Olympics is yesterday’s GDP figures:
“They’re very disappointing figures, and they show extent of damage done to economy in the boom and bust years. We had the biggest budget deficit of almost any country in the world. But it does show that we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and get business going,” he says. He finds room for some optimism on employment: “We have created 800,000 private sector jobs. We’ve lost some public sector jobs as well, but still there are half a million more people working.” We mustn’t “scrap plans to deal with the debt”, he says. So Plan A it is, then.
He’s talking ahead of his speech this afternoon at the Global Investment Conference, in which he’ll be making a case for British business. “We have so much to offer,” he says, pointing to stable government, low business tax, and an entrepreneurial spirit. “We’ve even got good weather,” he adds, and says that our place in European markets but outside the euro is very advantageous.
Asked about the Olympics, he says that Locog was “let down badly” by G4S, but that troops were “always going to be involved” in security for the Games. On the “brand police”, he says, “You can see why the Olympic sponsors have to protect their brand. But you need to have a bit of common sense in how it's applied.”
Oh, and he wants to watch the middle- and long-distance runners. He was a big fan of Coe and Ovett in Moscow 1980, apparently.
CAM ON INCOME
And so he’s already started pushing through the horrific GDP headlines today - and they’re really quite something: the FT highlights the “Threat to UK triple A rating”, the Sun calls on him to “sack work experience Chancellor”, and the Guardian warns “Osborne reeling as economy enters the disaster zone”. It is potent stuff, but then again, so was yesterday’s 0.7 per cent GDP plunge (the Bank of England is expected to be stepping in with further emergency measures).
The business speech (mentioned above) will be at 10am alongside Vince Cable and Lord Green - hardly the best people to be sharing a stage with. Questions about Lord Green’s involvement in the HSBC scandal are mounting and yesterday, as mentioned above, Vince said he’d make a good chancellor. He insisted that George wouldn’t be replaced, brushing off Lord Oakeshott's call for him to take over, but his comment is a telling admission (those keen for the latest gossip on his game plan should read Sue Cameron’s column today - more below).
The Times reports that he’ll “plead” for investment in the UK, making the case for business in front of 180 of the world’s leading chief executives. Apparently, his message will be upbeat about Britain’s outlook, which is brave, given that it’ll contrast so sharply with the GDP figure.
The PM will also be giving Mitt Romney the “full treatment” at Downing Street. We report that No 10 is trying to make up for snubbing him in America earlier this year. He needs to, not least because - as we report - Mitt’s advisers think he worships Obama, and they’re not pleased.
No doubt there will also be plenty of questions for Mr Cameron to answer on Jerry del Missier’s £8.75 million payoff. You can read more about it here.
There is no shortage of advice for George Osborne in the papers.Our leader has had it with his double-jobbing: "he devotes too much time to politics and not enough to economics. That is a problem that can only be resolved by the Prime Minister, and it is time he did so." The Guardian goes further, saying he “now has to make the case for why he is chancellor".
The Mail calls on him to draw up an emergency Budget "to sweep away red tape, slash taxes to stimulate spending, get serious about slimming a bloated state – and get those infrastructure projects moving". Meanwhile, the FT continues to encourage him to adopt their long-held view that he should relax his deficit-reduction programme and bring forward investment spending.
The Times doesn't offer a specific plan, but urges the government to "revisit all the assumptions that lie behind its economic policy... to set out a plan that retains confidence in the public finances but also finally offers a meaningful agenda for growth."
I suspect whatever they do it’ll be framed in terms of “Plan A”, or an extension thereof, since any substantial change of course would play directly into Ed Balls’ hands.
THE COMING RESHUFFLE
Could George be reshuffled? Unlikely, but some high-profile characters will be in September, according to Sue Cameron in her column today.
She says there’s some speculation that Vince might step down to make a bid for leader of the Lib Dems (the Lib Dem leader doesn’t have to be in the Cabinet even in coalition, and Nick Clegg could continue to be Deputy PM).
His party is clearly ambitious on his behalf - he’s been encouraged to take over as Chancellor and thought to be in the running for party leadership in the same week.
Elsewhere in the Coalition, rumour has it that Ken Clarke is on his way out, but won’t go quietly unless he likes his successor (no “bang ‘em ups”, then). George Young is thought to have not done enough to keep his spot. And Michael Gove could be moved to party chairman. (Grant Shapps seems to no longer be the favourite for that role, then.)
If so, Mr Shapps shouldn’t lose heart. Sue Cameron says he, Greg Clark and Chris Grayling are all tipped for promotion.
At an event at Downing Street last night, Dave vowed that he’s still committed to pushing through gay marriage.
The Times reportsthat he said: “I am absolutely determined that this Coalition government will follow in that tradition by legislating for gay marriage in this Parliament. I make that point not only as someone who believes in equality but as someone who believes passionately in marriage. If it’s good enough for straight people like me, its good enough for everybody and that’s why we should have gay marriage, and we will.”
After this week’s wind farm fiasco, this will test his backbenchers’ patience.Andrew Pierce in the Mail goes further, suggesting it could be the end of the Conservative Party: the number of members has fallen below 130,000, a drop of around 60 per cent since Mr Cameron took over.
SUMMER HOUSEKEEPING And finally, the morning briefing is taking a break. Back in a few weeks. Enjoy the summer.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Labour MP Jamie Reed tweets:
“@jreedmp: Anyone know if Mickey 'Handbag' Fallon is on le twitter? Would like him to confirm his 'Handbag' nickname from Tory HQ...”
Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 33%, Labour 44%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 7%
BREAKING: Jeremy Hunt just spoke to Jim Naughtie on the Today programme about how the government is dealing with the Olympic security challenges and the planned strike action by border staff. He said the deployment of further troops to guard the security of the Games was not promoted by further failures by G4S, but simply because he didn’t want to “leave anything to chance”.
He stressed that G4S’s failings were with the management not the workers, and that it was important not to “demonise” those working at the Games.
On the border strike, he said “we can be very confident of the provisions we have in place”, but added that he thought the eve of the Olympics was “the wrong time to strike”.
HOME OFFICE PLEAS
The Mail has splashed on the potential border agency and tube driver strikes with the headline: “A gold medal for cynicism”. We report that the Home Office is attempting to make a late legal challenge to block the border strikes. Last night, they said they believed the strike might not be lawful because of the way the PCS Union conducted the ballot that backed industrial action.
The Mail’s leader is calling for tougher legislation on unions: “The Tories should seize the moment, ignore their junior partners – and introduce a simple law, insisting no union can hold the country to ransom without the support of at least half its members.” A lot of Tory backbenchers will agree.
Mitt Romney touches down in London today ahead of his meeting with David Cameron at Downing Street tomorrow. His advisers have told the Telegraph that he wants to abandon Mr Obama’s “Left-wing” coolness towards Britain, bringing an "Anglo-Saxon" understanding to the special relationship, and that he’d return the Churchill bust to the Oval Office. Bold stuff. President Obama’s team, meanwhile, are calling on Mr Romney to use his first overseas tour as the Republican presidential candidate to define a foreign policy that amounts to more than criticising them.
A BIG HOLLANDE
Mitt Romney is also meeting Ed Miliband, adding to the Labour leader’s week of being in the international limelight. The Times reports that François Hollande yesterday breached French protocol by greeting Ed on the steps of the presidential residence (something reserved for heads of state and leaders of governments). Mr Hollande is clearly very fond of Ed.
One reason could be that, according to the Times, Ed talked down any chance of Labour offering the British an EU referendum. To applause, he told a meeting of French socialists: “I want to say very, very clearly that we consider Britain’s place to be in Europe and firmly in Europe.” Later, asked if he would never endorse an in-out referendum, Mr Miliband said that it was not the priority. So much for that vote-winning strategy then.
But the admiration for Ed is not far-reaching yet. The Sun reports that he cut a rather lonely figure at the Élysée Palace. There weren’t many photographers waiting for him when he arrived. In fact, one French snapper confused Bob Roberts, Ed’s spinner, for the great man himself. Not quite the publicity coup Ed had hoped for.
This didn’t stop Ed and Mr Hollande proclaiming that “the tide is turning” on austerity economics, though. Our leader column is unconvinced: “Ed Miliband should note that François Hollande's promises of jobs and growth are looking ever more empty.”
That said, things are certainly looking worse in the eurozone. Today we report that Greece may run out of money and go bankrupt by Aug 20, according to a British government analysis. Dave must have an opinion: he’s getting this analysis delivered to him daily.
But the PM will probably have his mind on the GDP figures released at 9.30am today, which are expected to show that we’re still in recession. Not to mention the charges faced by his former director of communications. Nick Watt says this “casts a long shadow” over Dave in his analysis, which can be read here.
It looks like a wind farm deal has been struck between George Osborne and Ed Davey (The FT says Mr Davey will make a statement in Parliament today). George has backed down on tougher cuts to subsidies and settled for a 10 per cent cut, and Mr Davey has conceded that the government’s statement will include a commitment to “unabated” gas supplies as part of Britain’s energy mix. Mr Davey was on the Today programme earlier. He said he can hold the subsidies cut at 10 per cent and insisted that his view was held across government.
It’s a risky position for George. The decision will anger a lot of backbenchers (100-odd MPs wrote a letter to No 10 earlier in the year opposing the subsidies earlier this year). Could he be more concerned about shoring up Nick Clegg’s position?
CASH IN HAND
David Gauke didn’t find many supporters for his view that paying tradesmen cash in hand was “immoral” yesterday. Dave, Nick, Ed Miliband and Boris all lined up to say they’ve done it before.
We’ve got a feature by Dan Hodges calling the affair “another attack on the middle classes” ; he warns politicians about the hazards of moralising on tax.
Naturally, all the papers cover the Queen’s Jubilee lunch at Downing Street with her former prime ministers, but the Times reveals some of the seating plan, including this delightful nugget of information: Gordon Brown was seated between Sir Jeremy Heywood and Dame Norma Major — two of the most neutral figures in the room. Now what does that say?
TWEETS AND TWITS
Tom Harris tweets:
“@TomHarrisMP: Beginning to regret writing to Ipsa asking if they could pay my wages in cash in future.”
Don’t. It made me laugh.
Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 33%, Labour 44%, Lib Dems 9%, UKIP 7%