Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Getting You're Retaliation In First

With the news of OFCOM's decision to regulate against BSkyB, with the regulator telling the pay TV channel to lower the price their competitors pay to show premium channels, most of the coverage has centred on OFCOM finally tackling the dominant player in the pay-TV market in this country.  Some of the coverage has also centred on sporting bodies concerns at revenue drying up, with, no hint of irony. the richest sporting organisation in the country, the English Premier League, leading the charge.

Their chief execitive, Richard Scudamore, criticised OFCOM's decision as
"ill-judged and disproportionate... [Ofcom's] proposed action will strip out competition for sports rights and hugely reduce the incentives of all bidders, Sky included, to invest in sports rights

"The effect will be to subsidise companies that have shown little appetite for investing in our content and fundamentally damage the investment models that have helped sport become a successful part of the UK economy and made sport so attractive to UK consumers"

Can't really remember the English Premier League clubs investing in great numbers in Brittish sport, maybe to the bank balances of superannuated footballers and their agents, but not in Brittish sport.

Of course none of the coverage has centred on the possable fate of OFCOM after the Westminster election.  Cameron has commited the Conservitives to scrapping the regulator, and also to curbing the powers of the BBC, the parties Shadow Culture and Media secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed as much in a series of newspaper columns last summer.  These pledges alone seem to have garnered the support of a company who would stand to gain from OFCOM's removal, and from any regulation placed on the BBC.  By sheer coincidence this company came out last September to support Cameron's Conservative's, ditching their public support for New Labour.

OFCOM, in tackling BSkyB and it's owner News International, probably felt it had nothing to lose.  It's a pity they have waited until now to do the right thing.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The New Michael Howard

Many people have the impression that prison is something that works, that locking people away for a short time is punishment enough for people to mend their ways.  The truth is somewhat more complicated than that.  For example did you know that of the 75,000 people in jail, it is estimated that only 50,200 have personality disorders.  Is it any wonder 97% of all crimes do not come to any sort of justice.

Alex Salmond and Kenny MacAskill have rather sensibly decided to scrap short prison sentences, looking instead for other options regarding punishment and rehabilitation. This has not gone well in some quarters, and this prehaps is an example as to why despite their making sensible decisions, the SNP are losing the spin war with New Labour here in Scotland.

In the Paisley Daily Express, dated 29 March, the local MSP Hugh Henry claimed that 12,000 “criminals” will avoid jail if this is passed.  He went on “I know that most reasonable people would agree that low level offences could best be dealt with by avoiding prison…His plans would help people convicted of serious assaults, robbery, indecent assault, housebreaking and (cue the current white horse for the media) even knife crime…  Under these proposals, two thirds of knife criminals would avoid jail”.

Interestingly there is no explanation of what criteria Henry uses to bring serious crimes into the realms of 6 months or less sentences.  The crimes listed above i would have thought would have garnered more of a sentence than 6 months, which maybe shows that New Labour never got to grips with even the tough on crime part of the sound bite which launched Blair.  Something for MacAskill to look at methinks.

Henry’s comments however will resonate in the West of Scotland, where knife crime is synonymous with gang culture and low level organised crime.  Henry has said, without saying it, that the SNP are soft on crime, and that prison works.  I had Henry down as a lot of things, but a fan of Michael Howard, that maybe would have been taking things a bit too far.  Then again New Labour have always been a bit too keen to indulge in political cross-dressing.

When all that MacAskil is looking to do is look for viable alternative’s to locking people up, after all shouldn’t community based schemes like picking up litter and fixing vandalism be a better idea than locking people away for 6 months at a time. But no, according to Henry - “Is this the message we want to send out to criminals?”.

Having said that, Henry might have a point about being soft on crime.  After all under the SNP, Scotland’s largest police force has shown a lack of interest in launching a criminal investigation into the decisions made by the local authority run by a self confessed coke-head.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Why I Stopped Voting Labour

With the General Election around the corner, both of the main (Westminster) parties have been wooing their core voters of late.  New Labour have been pushing the message of targeted cuts, while trying to keep key services (relatively) well funded.  The Tories on the other hand have been getting off the canvas and playing their “Union” bogey-card.  Interestingly enough, the Tax-payers alliance, the Tory supporting value for money lobbying organisation have “produced” a video which pinpoints where they think the cuts should be made.

In theory I should be manning the barricades and getting ready to vote Labour in May.  After all, i live in the West of Scotland, which is classic Labour heartland, and i have a low income.  I should be a stick-on Labour supporter.  So why have I not voted Labour since the first time I voted in an election?
I must admit that I can’t remember why I voted Labour at the European Elections of 1994, come to think about it, i don’t even remember the campaign very much.  I have a vague recollection of going to vote and…  well that’s it.  Well, they say your first time is supposed to be forgettable.

May 1995 saw the break, and i remember this occasion a lot clearer.  We were voting for a new council, Renfrewshire Council was going to be formed out of Renfrewshire District Council and the massive Strathclyde Regional Council, a particular target of Tory politicians at the time.  I was undecided at the time, but was umming towards the Lib Dems.  When I went to vote, the local candidate was canvassing outside the Polling station urging us to vote Labour “to improve Glenburn”.  Now Labour had power at regional level for goodness knows how long, and had power at district level for a similar period, and even I could see the entropy which had infected Glenburn.  I went in determined not to vote Labour and was astonished at the ballot paper which had only 2 candidates, the Labour candidate and an SNP candidate.  I voted SNP.  And they won the seat.

Since 1997 however the reason for not voting Labour is that…  well… it no longer exists as a centre/left party that believes in equality, re-distribution of wealth and helping the poor/low paid parts of our society.  The successor party to the Labour Party, New Labour, won power by on the surface appearing to be all things to all people.  But scratch the surface they were nothing more than Thatcherites with a red rosette. They were relaxed about the prospect of people being seriously rich, whatever the consequences.  For the guilty parties, you do not have to look very far for the leading suspects.  Blair, Mandelson…  and Brown.
Several examples spring to mind.  Blair flying half-way around the world to suck up to The Dirty Digger, so that his publications would support New Labour in the ‘97 election.  All Cameron’s bunch had to do to get Murdoch’s blessing this time around was give a commitment to curb the BBC and scrap OFCOM.  New Labour were also extremely reticent to enact “old” Labour pledges.  Devolution arrived, but only after a Referendum, and the Minimum Wage was set at a low level.  Then there is of course Brown’s policy of a “light touch” regulatory regime for the financial services sector, which encouraged the banks to get so greedy, and take one too many risks to get that extra profit, their implosion caused the credit crunch and the current recession.

It is unlikely that i will be voting New Labour at this election, Brown has been a disaster as Prime Minister and I can’t quite forgive his last act as Chancellor, the doubling of income tax for low earners.  However, the real problem for New Labour might be where to go next.  Does it stay on the New Labour path, and go for one of the Millipede brothers, or does it pretend to be a Centre/Left party and go for Balls.

That however is another blog post for another time.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Purcell: The Lessons

The unravelling of the political career of the one time leader of Glasgow City council, Steven Purcell, has been dramatic as the skeletons (no pun intended) fall out of the closet.  This has been the worst handled political crisis since… well the expenses row last year.  However Purcell is not the only person who should be looking at their performance or their actions.

The first thing to say about Purcell, and this is a personal opinion, is that I do not understand why he was touted for great things by those in the know.  Excluding his personal troubles, Purcell made too many political mistakes, and has stored up problems for his successors.  His part-privatisation of key council services, turning them into “Arms-Length companies” has the potential to undermine democracy in Scotland as people look at these companies and question the relevance of electing councillors. 

His council, like others across the country is also in debt, with schools having to be closed in order to make PPP re-payments, which brings into question his £60,000 wage for being Glasgow City Council’s leader.  The decision to offer the former head of Education, Margaret Doran, some £278,000 in “redundancy payments” also raised questions about Purcell’s judgement.  Then there is his “Anti-Glasgow” comments which struck a chord with core Labour voters but no one else.  Scratch the surface and you find someone falling far short of the hype.

Yet Purcell was protected as if he was going to be the next big thing in Scottish New Labour.  It is this protection which has exacerbated Purcell's problems.  It’s not as if the warning signs were there, after all Inspector Knacker visited Purcell in May 2009, supposedly because a dealer had footage of Purcell on his mobile.  The fact that Purcell does not seem to have been given a warning over his behaviour seems to have backfired on the New Labour group.  Alarm bells should have been ringing anyway with the revelation that he used Cocaine in the past.  Either he should have been “protected” better, or contingency strategies should have been contemplated.

The other way the desire to protect their leader backfired so spectacularly was the fashion which the New Labour group so suddenly were so defensive in the immediate aftermath of Purcell’s resignation.  The hope that Purcell could recover from this and salvage his reputation evaporated the moment he employed Scotland’s Uber-Spin Doctors Media House and employed the Lawyers Levy & McRae.  From here on the story was why did he really resign.

The main moral of the story is thus – stop anointing greatness on someone early on.  Every news report parroted the line that Purcell was “a rising star” and “was tipped to be a future First Minister”, that kind of pressure or expectation must get to people, especially as, well, there’s not really anyone else on the up escalator for New Labour.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

A Taxing Question

The announcement by Michael Ashcroft (right) yesterday has certainly elevated to the spotlight the issue of Non-Doms, and to a lesser extent Tax avoidance.  It has also lit up a fairly dull period of pre-election jostling, as accusations fly across the MSM.

The first thing to say is that Ashcrofts behavior has been unacceptable.  In trying to hide his true tax status for 10 years, he has shown disrespect to this country.  However, Ashcroft is not the only person to have shown disrespect to the normal hard working people of this country.  And at least he isn’t a hypocryte about it.

New Labour have their own questions to answer about Tax and Non-Doms.  Ashcroft and the Tories have pinpointed New Labour’s own list of Non Dom backers, including Swarj Paul, Ronald Cohen and Lakshmi Mittal (and others as Iain Dale lists here…).  What it does expose prehaps are the seasons for the mini arm’s race in the Autumn 2007 surrounding tax laws regarding Non Domiciled tax residents (or Non Dom’s) and Inheritance tax, the spat that lead to Brown finally ruling out an Election in the Autumn of 2007.  These people have a clear conflict of interest with the workings of government, yet no one bats an eye-lid.

New Labour have other skeletons in the tax avoidance closet though.  They have built upon the tolerance of tax avoidance, where this is the sin that is not mentioned in stark contrast to the countless public information films warning against benefits fraud.  The Tax avoidance department of most large accountancy firms is normally the first choice of most people who leave the Treasury, and to top it all we have the scandal of Mapeley Steps, the Bermuda based company who now own, and lease back, the office buildings which house Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.  Oh the Irony!  Added to the fact that Brown and Darling have obstipated the tax haven parts of the G20 settlements from April last year, despite trumpeting their part in cracking down on tax havens (Obama was the key driver for these agreements, not Brown). 

Taken together we have the picture of a government not at all unhappy to see vital revenue not be paid for the upkeep of UK-plc.  We are not talking about pennies here either.  Estimates place 1/3rd of global GDP as being channelled through offshore tax havens, while in 2003, British corporations avoided paying £20,000 million in tax.  Today that amount would go some way to closing our deficit, tracking down that amount would be much more cost effective than the cuts which will come.

Yet the strange thing is, with all of this ammunition, the Tories and Conservative bloggers like Iain Dale and Guido are perfectly content to attack just the New Labour Non-Doms and…  well pretty much it.  So dear reader, who is more unpatriotic, a Tory wannabe grandee who avoids paying full tax by claiming Non-Dom status…  or a party who secretly have been condoning tax avoidance?

Monday, 1 March 2010

State Of Play – Pre Election

With an election due at any time within the next 3 months, and this week the latest that an election can be called for March 25th.  I felt that it was time we looked at the state of play of all the parties.

In this time last year, the Conservatives looked as if they were heading to power.  As recently as November, their average lead over New Labour was 12-13%.  Since then their lead in the polls have dropped to an average of 8-9% over February, with a poll today showing a lead of just 2%.  The Conservatives need a poll lead of about 8% to win a working majority.

The reasons for the Tories sudden drop in the polls could be down to one or two reasons.  Chief among those is Clinton’s Law: It’s the economy stupid.  Of late Osborne and Cameron have appeared to be giving out mixed messages about how they would handle the UK’s crippling debt.  Osborne has been giving the message that they would cut public spending.  This might be fine to calm the nerves of the City or other key economic figures, but his claim that untargeted cuts has undoubtedly scared a lot of voters away.  How would you feel if someone who is likely to be the next Chancellor was saying effectively vote for me and I'll take away your livelihood.

These jitters have also affected other parts of Tory policymaking.  They made errors when unveiling tax proposals regarding married couples, and have given mixed messages over other policies.  There are also the obligatory rumours regarding Cameron’s future, which will be unclear even if he reaches No 10 as the leader of the largest party.  It is this that has possably led to Cameron’s shift in tactics, in pointing up New Labour’s perceived Achilles Heel, Gordon Brown.

New Labour have still been struggling, making mistake after mistake, and providing open goals for Cameron (which like a St Mirren striker, he has done his best to miss).  Yet for all their unpopularity, the possibility of a fourth consecutive term in office has suddenly appeared.  While we can point to the Conservatives and say Hmmm they’ve not done this and have clearly been in two minds over that, it’s more difficult to explain why New Labour have put on 5-8 % in the polls.  The recession might be over, but the after-effects will continue.  The banks are still not helping uphold a liquid economy and Brown is perceived to have acted slowly in the expenses scandal.  That after all that Cameron is not looking forward to a landslide victory shows that many people still do not find the Conservatives trustworthy.  The one thing that might explain some movement in the polls is Browns insistence that front line public services would be spared any cuts, which differs from Osborne's Scorched earth policy of appeasing the economic gods.

In the game of “My Cut’s Bigger Than You're Cut”, the Tories appear to have lost this battle.  The Lib Dems have claimed that it’s not that simple, while the SNP have disappeared from this particular argument.  Only appearing when it impacts on Scottish Government spending.  The SNP as a whole appear to have disappeared from the pre-election sparring, having been bogged down with their own problems.  Certain polls have placed them level pegging with the Tories in Scotland in fighting for Second.  In the fight between the Tories and New Labour, both parties have been painting the SNP as an irrelevance in Westminster elections.  This appears to have fed into some of the polls.  As I have argued before, one of the ways the SNP could make themselves relevant and put the other parties on the back foot would be to turn the election into a campaign against the Union.

This election is shaping up to be too close to call.  I still think the election will be on May 6th, New Labour are in debt, they can’t afford to fight two elections within weeks of each other, and I think that Brown has planned for this date too.  Brown doesn’t do anything unless he is 1000% sure he knows he is doing.  At least we’ll find out this week if March 25th is out of the question.