Monday, 22 June 2009

Shuts Newer Schools

On Friday, the South Primary School will shut its doors for the last time. By the looks of it though, this will not be the end of the most controversial episode in the current SNP/Lib Dem administrations short time in office at Cotton Street, and shaping up to be the most controversial school closure since the aborted attempt to close Paisley Grammar 20 years ago.

Last week, the Paisley Express reported (not in a breaking news style, this story is 14 days old, but hey at least they reported it) on the guerrilla tactics employed by disgruntled parents, tactics which are the reason behind some of the comments on this blog (there is also a blog, the link to which can be found on the blogroll). These include placards under official SNP placards which read “SNP – Shuts Newer Primaries” which were only on view on Euro-election day, and a large poster at the South which reads “Paisley – Proud Past Promising No Future”.

All of which is perfectly legal, we live in a free country and are perfectly free to demonstrate against injustices, except those against the USA but that’s another blog. Except our council leader Derek “boy” Mackay clearly disagrees with the democratic process. In an astonishingly petulant interview, the boy Mackay warned that any further displays of disorder would result in him throwing his rattle out of the pram. I’m paraphrasing of course, what he actually said was…

We had a successful day in the Euro Elections and those activists behind the rogue posters have revealed another face of the South Primary campaign – that they would rather have us shut Lochfield Primary”

Lochfield is far more viable than South Primary, even if it is an older building. Lochfield Primary has 414 pupils and is 75% occupied, compared to South, which was two thirds empty and had just over 100 pupils

Gee, Paolo Nutini got a warmer response for being more scathing (and spot on) about Paisley, even if the boy MacKay was deeply patronising about his parents, respected members of Paisley’s business community for as long as I can remember. However there are 2 questions which spring to mind, which were sadly remiss from Cameron Hay’s PDE article, questions which should really have been put to the boy MacKay. These are

1) Have you fully looked at every alternative to closing a 22 year old facility, compared to amalgamating school rolls into a 50+ year old building, a decision which is clearly ill thought out and very poorly explained?


2) Do you have any plans for the South Primary site? Do you have plans to sell the site to the owners of the Ex Vita-foam factory – Aldi, or do you have other buyers lined up?

Remember kid’s, answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Most Offensive British Advertisement since…

We’ve had about 6 months of stories about expenses fraud, and news about poor judgement in the highest reaches of the economy. So is now really a good time to start showing these highly stereotyped advertisements about benefit fraud?

Bearing in mind that the former Work and Pensions minister, James Purnell, would have been the person to have commissioned this public information film, isn’t it ironic that Purnell has been accused of fraud himself.

For the record, the last advertisement I was offended at was one for Nuts magazine (or was it Zoo?).

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why Has Gordon Brown Failed?

There were points on Friday where he looked like he wouldn’t survive the day as Prime Minister. Hell he is still hanging on in there, and appears to have weathered the storm for the time being. However, the question has to be asked. Why has Gordon Brown failed as Prime Minister?

The first thing to say is that he has failed. There are people, even members of my own family who would say that Brown has been unlucky. This is just burying your head in the sand. So far his failures have taken us to the brink of the nightmare scenario for many normal Scottish people, a Thatcherite Conservative government. So apart from being a general klutz, and being Scottish (which offends the Daily Mail/Torygraph/Times reading mindset who think that British Prime Ministers should be upstanding Home Counties type who speak with an East Ren accent), we should establish the key reasons for Browns failure in Number 10.

1) It’s the Economy Stupid – For a man who spent the previous decade ensconced in Number 11, Brown has been remarkably poor in handling the economy since he took over. His sureness of touch even deserted him in the months before becoming PM, when he took the remarkable decision to raise taxes for the poorest paid.

Yet it is the credit crunch which has destroyed Browns reputation in one fell swoop. Despite the protests, there are 3 actions Brown could have taken which would have slowed the onset of recession and made it a less severe downturn. Brown could have raised the top rate of Income Tax sooner. Indeed, he could have done this in 1997 when the Institute of Fiscal Studies claimed that there was a black hole in the finances, during the Election campaign. Instead Brown decided to raid the pension funds. He could have imposed a tighter regulatory regime on the financial services rather than the disastrous “light touch” regime which is similar to the Tories Lazez Faire approach to the Financial Industry in this country. More recently he could have insisted that our banks are less strict with their lending in order to aid the liquid economy.

2) No Clean Break from Blair – Despite being one of the key architects of the “New Labour Project”, Brown has always cultivated an image of being more of a believer in socialism than Blair or Mandelson. Yet this doesn’t really bear any scrutiny, with many examples of his time in the Treasury coming to mind. This didn’t stop many members of the Scottish press trumpeting Brown as being one of us. People who really should have known better.

Browns promotion should have seen a range of policies designed to take New Labour into the post-Blair era in a more comfortable manner. Though personally I would have liked to have seen an end of the Thatcherism-Lite era, and seen a revival of real Labour values. Instead of which, Brown has carried on the New Labour mantra without putting his own stamp on things, and by stealing policies from the Tories. The main policy stolen from the Tories was the intention to look at Inheritance Tax… weeks after “boy” George Osborne announced that a Conservative government would raise the Inheritance Tax threshold, thus spiking Browns plan to hold a General Election in the autumn of 2007.

The key point here though is that Brown has singularly failed to promote any vision of where he would like the UK to be going, far less a roadmap to take us there. The “Blairite” outriders who would like the removal of Brown despair at the lack of “New Labour” policies – policies which saw 3 consecutive election wins but shed 3.95 million votes in the process.

3) Lack of Clear Communication – Brown is not the best communicator, his image as a dour Scotsman is probably an accurate one, speaking as a dour Scotsman. It does seem as though he struggles to empathize with people, something his predecessor (whatever you say about Blair) had in buckets. Sorry, but this is a perceived failing when his version of sympathy sounds like reading the phone book.

4) Slow Reaction to the Expenses Crisis – Perception is everything in politics, and the perceived wisdom is that Cameron has had a better expenses crisis than Brown. Sure he had to get rid of one of his advisors (Andrew Mackay) and his fellow MP (Wife and contender to be in Cameron’s first cabinet) Julie Kirkbride, but he did get rid of them. On the other hand, Brown held on to Darling, but more crucially he kept Hazel Blears and James Purnell in their posts, until they decided to knife Brown in the front. Can’t remember whether Caroline Flint had been accused of expense fraud, if she had it would have been an awful hat trick of assassins who should have been sacked first.

Politicians have to regain our trust after this scandal, and there has been nowhere near the required justice for MP’s actions. Brown’s response to the scandal was to announce, not that he was going to make Westminster’s expenses system as transparent as Holyrood’s, but that he was looking into the way we vote for MP’s. Ridiculous, and completely the wrong time to bring this up. Still at least he didn’t re-employ any disgraced former ministers like Peter Hain. Ooops!

If Brown is to recover, there are several steps he needs to take to remedy these problems. He needs to come up with some policies which will appeal to the common 5/8ths; he needs to stand up more for the ordinary man in the street. He needs to stop being an apologist for the banks, and get them to start lending to small/medium size businesses. Most of all, he needs to listen, and show that he has listened instead of patronising us all. As Geoff at SNP Tactical Voting observed at the start of the week, Brown could still pull off a remarkable election win. Cameron is still the most likely victor in the next General Election, but he is not home al Votingand hosed yet.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

None Of The Above

Pah! Or at least it would have been had there been space at the bottom.

I went to vote about 8-ish without being sure how I would vote. In the end, there were several questions which the competing candidates completely failed to answer.

Firstly, this is elections for the European Parliament. Yet none of the key players were able to expand on vague unsubstantiated sound-bites regarding the key question of why we should vote for your party. The New Labour (outgoing) MEP Catherine Stihler gave the pledge that (New) Labour would stand up for Scotland and for Scottish jobs. Well New Labour did a fantastic job with the closure of the Compaq/Hewlet Packard facility didn’t they, and how fantastic a job have they done standing up for our fishermen?

Those points aside, and this was a claim made by the Tories, the SNP and the Lib Dem’s, it wasn’t explained how Scottish jobs were to be defended. I’m sure that these points would be explained in the election literature… except as I have been reporting I only received propaganda from the unholy trinity of the BNP, UKIP and the Tories. I might be wrong but I don’t remember any town centre hustings in Paisley either. And, despite what candidates tell you about what is said canvassing people on the doorstep, I have never EVER had a candidate come to my door. Swimps. The job of candidates is to promote and explain their policies in the hope of being elected. In this respect, the Scottish candidates have been singularly useless at this part of the job.

In exasperation, I turned to the EU profiler, which suggested I vote Green, probably down to my mild euro-sceptisism. I might have done, were it not for their thoroughly patronising reasons for various airport taxes.

Of course, this is no ordinary election campaign thanks in no small measure to the Daily Torygraph’s expose of the fraud and criminal activity related to MP’s expenses. In the light of the moats, the duck-ponds and the “flipping”, it is incredible to think that the European Parliament has the scope to be an even bigger gravy train than Westminster. That would be the (unlikely given the secrecy of the place) mother of all scoops. The backpedalling from various candidates has been astounding, with several revealing that they would put their expenses on-line from now on if elected. For those who were in the last parliament, what’s wrong with revealing your expenses going back to 2004?

The main question I asked myself before voting is thus. Can I trust this party to deliver (on their promises) and not to join in with the snouts in the trough culture in Brussels & Strasbourg? The answer I came to was no.

Before any candidate or politician complains about apathy or low voter turnout, they should think about what they did to remedy this. When thinking about that, they should also think about whether we will be able to trust a single word that they say ever again.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The Missing Villians

While the country and the blogosphere appears to have set about the crooks and fraudsters currently residing within the House of Commons, there seems to be some sort of trappist silence regarding the people who killed our banks.

Fred and Tom, Andy and Dennis appear to have vanished into thin air with their (unearned) pensions, while Paul Myners, the minister who’s failure to sack these people should have seen… er Paul Myners sacked, is still the City Minister. It seems that the Daily Torygraph’s 3 week assault on the Common’s expense system has let these people exit the public stage, stage right.

Now Private Eye (dated May 29) is reporting that a report into “UK International Financial Services – The Future” written by Win Bisschoff – a former Citibank chairman – which is for Alistair Darling, is set to recommend that no change to the UK financial industry is necessary and that the report “even pretends nothing has really gone wrong – its all just a matter of perception”. The report also recommends that “regulation should not stifle responsible financial innovation”. I have heard buying bad debts from British and American companies (or as the report called it – “collaterised debt obligations”) called many things but “responsible financial innovation”… ummm... nope sorry that’s a new one, even for me.

Meanwhile our banks have been continuing to show their unwillingness to lend money. This is nothing new, mortgages have had £1000 arrangement fees added to them for no apparent reason other than naked greed. These fees have been in place since last year, but nothing has been done despite their obvious role in blocking new homes being bought.

The New Labour MP Tom Harris asked a question about the banks reluctance to lend money to small and medium sized businesses at Prime Ministers questions a couple of weeks ago. The response from Brown was essentially to tell the constituent to try again, there’s nothing to see so move along. Except there is something to see.

One of the key weapons in the recovery is a liquid economy, which is an economy where, according to my partner, people need money in their pocket to buy things, where shops need money to buy more products and to pay wages. Essentially, according to Ange’s theory, money need’s to circulate in the economy to keep the economy running. Our banks have been somewhat negligent in facilitating this process, and the government have been standing back letting this happen. There is no indication that this will change under Cameron.

While Cameron has been taunted as the “Do Nothing” party, New Labour has shown that they are the “All Talk and No Trousers” party. They are unwilling to crack down on our errant financial services, and have stood back while the banks we own suffocate lots of businesses. It’s this scandal which is proving to be the iceberg under the sea.