Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Some Quotes on the EU Treaty/Treaty Amendment/Whatever it is...

"I said before coming to Brussels that if I couldn't get adequate safeguards for Britain in a new European treaty then I wouldn't agree to it.  What is on offer isn't in Britain's interests so I didn't agree to it." - Cameron just after deploying his "veto"

"Clearly the prime minister and I worked together on the request for the safeguards which we were seeking.  Let's be clear. We were not seeking some great repatriation of powers from Europe back to Britain, we were not even seeking some great exceptional treatment for the City of London." - Clegg on Friday

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Independence From Europe

Huh!  Defending British interests my arse.

True, there was no way that any British Prime Minister would have signed that treaty/treaty amendment (delete appropriate description).  However no British Prime Minister would have willingly negotiated that treaty, which involves amongst other things the placing of the Eurozone members within a very tight financial straight-jacket.  No British Prime Minister would have flounced out of talks on the miniscule issue of regulation of the banking sector – not as has been claimed in some sections the issue of the “Tobin Tax”.  In short, Cameron did not show the necessary behaviours befitting a British Prime Minister, putting the interests of his paymasters in the City before the country.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Independence... in Europe?


Peter Schrank
It’s a word that would last have been heard in Fourth Year History when the subject of either the end of the First World War or the seeds of the Second World War came up.  Yet this word that has connotations of old Europe – of punishing (harshly) Germany for its role in the First World War.  It sums up the opposite of being magnanimous in victory.  Yet this is a word that cropped up in today’s I newspaper – who quoted a column in the Portuguese newspaper “Publico” – in relation to the Sarkosy/Merkel plan to keep the Euro off the rocks.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A Country With Balls

In these tough times with the banking elites hand in hand with the polititcians who baled out their mistakes, it's refreshing to see people stand up for not having to sacrifice their services and their livelyhoods to pay for the mistakes made by others.

You can imagine the panic in Downing Street and in the City if this began to take root in this country...

Monday, 21 November 2011

The More Things Change...

Having been away for a week, it doesn’t look as if I’ve missed much.  The Euro-zone is still on the brink, of what I’m not sure.  The UK economy is still tanking, with Osborne still intent on blaming all sundry… except his own insane debt reduction plans.  Worse still, Osborne last week decided to sell Northern Rock (or at least the half of it that is profitable) to Virgin Money.  If the timing was somewhat amiss, then the price revealed the full extent of Osborne’s misjudgement.

Even if, as the Treasury suggests, there was a deadline for the sale of Northern Rock, then there was still over 2 years left until this deadline, 2 years to get a better deal than the £747 million (plus a possible £280 million).  This is an issue worth returning too.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Dodo's Voting For Extinction

There are two thoughts that spring to mind with the election of Ruth Davidson as the new Scottish Tory leader. The first thought was jeez political leaders are getting younger.  I think that Davidson is now the first party leader anywhere in the UK younger than me.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Just What Is Labour Hame's Problem?

“Scottish” Labour is in big trouble. 

In the six months since the Scottish election they have been rudderless, visionless and desperately in need of direction.  The last time Labour were on the receiving end of such a drubbing at the polls, they elected the “dream ticket” of Kinnock and Hattersley within 4 months, before finding out how much of a mountain they had to climb to supplant Thatcher and her Tories.  There seems to be no sign of any haste or speed emanating from the red corner of Scottish politics.
Ready or not here I come...

You would have thought that there would even have been some sort of discussion on the future direction of Scottish Labour – a discussion of sorts has taken place with the UK wide party.  Nope, nada, squid, whistling Dixie on that score.  There was even some hope that with the advent of the cringetastic Labour Hame blog (Tartan cringe that name if ever there was one) that there would be a serious debate about the future direction of “Scottish” Labour – in a similar fashion to the way "The Orange Book" seemed to provoke debate within the Lib Dems 5 years ago.  Should they re-position themselves slightly to the left of the SNP, or should they try and take the SNP on in the position that they occupy – which is as close to the Scottish equivalent to New Labour as you can get.  I personally think they would get more millage from being slightly to the left of the SNP.  Has there been that debate?  No.

Monday, 24 October 2011

TINA & The Slow Death Of The Union

At the start of September, I did a post about the pro-Independence camp and the questions that they need to answer to win the Independence referendum.  Since that post, two things have happened that makes a yes vote possible.

The first is that there has now been two surveys published that show that more people support Independence that support the status quo.  The first survey was published the week that my original post appeared, on September 5.  This survey showed a lead for the pro-independence group of 1%.  Various psepologists would point to this survey as being a rogue survey, with further polling evidence required to see if this would be part of a trend.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Scotland's Greatest Album?

Listening to last weeks news coming from the Tory Party Conference was depressing and dispiriting.  Rather than write a post, which will be re-cycled again and again in the months to come, I though I would write about something else that caught my eye. Last Tuesday, STV began a search to try and find the 12 best singles/tracks produced by Scottish rock/pop artistes, which is not as easy as it sounds and has the potential to stray into controversial grounds.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Time on Cameron’s Side?

The strange thing about this years party conference season is that all of the parties do not have their troubles to seek.  While the Lib Dems suffered an electoral massacre in May’s elections, while Labour have been struggling to find a new direction post election defeat, The Tories have seen things begin to go against them.  As a result, their conference at the G-Mex in Manchester provides an ideal opportunity to re-group.

The Tories were the clear winners in the May elections, they only dropped 3 seats at Holyrood (where they are at their lowest ebb anyway) but gained 85 councillors and won 4 councils in the local elections.  The Icing on the cake was the defeat of the Lib Dems backed AV referendum.  Yet since then, the Tories have not handled things as well as they could have.  They were slow and ponderous in responding to the Phone hacking scandal and they were slow and ponderous in responding to the riots in English cities.Their reaction towards the current Euro-zone crisis shows the two stools nature of this government – they would love to say “I told you so” but saying so would not be appropriate real-politic.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Touch Of The Blair's

Watching the Milliband speech today, two things struck me.

Firstly, Milliband, despite claiming to be his own man has touches of both his immediate predecessors of him.  He delivered his speech in a kind of Blairesque fashion, all tactical pauses and hand gestures.  Think of those thumb grasps that Blair used to do all the time and you get the picture.  Oh, and like Brown, Milliband is useless at telling gags – no concept of timing at all.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Turning Around The Milliband Drift

While the Lib Dem’s last week coped with their position in the eyes of the electorate of being Tory human shields by… er… ignoring the problem, this week Labour face a not too dissimilar problem in that they have a negative public image of their party to deal with.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Rise of TINA

Came across this rather interesting post yesterday about TINA from the excellent documentry maker Adam Curtis (he of the excelent "The Power of Nightmares" and more recently "All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace"). It is about the rise of think tanks and how while choice is at the heart of political policymakers, in reality there is no choice...

(Hat-tip: Tax Research UK blog)

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Post About The MacBlogosphere

Sorry about the blogging hiatus, been busy over the past couple of weeks...

Firstly can I say that the news about the closure of both Planet Politics and the Will Patterson Notebook is not really welcome news in the Macbloggosphere.  To lose two insightful and interesting bloggers is a sad loss to the Macbloggosphere.

Secondly, both of those blogs touched on the Total Politics annual poll (which I had missed).  I wasn't expecting an appearance for this blog in the list (I think my misbehaving hard drive put paid to that!).  Even so, a couple of the results were slightly perplexing, and the whole polling process seems like, ah what's the phrase...  a quick and dirty exercise.  The culling of the Scottish list to 25 (from 50 last year) also seems unsatisfactory considering the "cottage industry" nature of the Macbloggosphere.  Still, that shouldn't detract from the sucesses of the MacBlogosphere,hearty congratulations to those at Better Nation towers for making the top ten on the Left Wing blogs list.

All in all, an unsatisfactory couple of days for the Macblogosphere.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Referendum & Where It Can Be Lost

In the aftermath of the Scottish Election, commentators were beginning to hedge their bets on the outcome of the likely Independence referendum.  Despite the polling evidence still showing a majority against Independence, commentators were now saying that Salmond could pull of a referendum win.  In the 17 weeks since polling, despite the talk about Independence in the media and the Macblogosphere, the SNP have not seriously began to tackle the issues that will lead to a yes vote.  This leads me to think that at the moment, the referendum will either result in a No vote, or will not take place at all.

Friday, 2 September 2011

The Crisis that Hasn't Gone Away

We like justice, justice is good.  Yet the sentences being handed out to the rioters do not sit right.  Feel free to throw the book at them, though I don’t think putting people behind bar’s is enough of a punishment.  No, the real problem with the sentences is that whatever the government says and thinks, whatever right wing commentators say, the rioters are being picked out and picked on.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

How To Discourage People From Coming To Your City

Watching Scotland’s three representatives in the Europa League fall before the competition proper started was depressing & dispiriting. Yet it wasn’t as depressing as the shockingly small minded and short termist decision made by Edinburgh City Council over the trams debacle.

To be fair to this lot, they have form with terrible decisions on this project.  Whether it is their choice of contractor or whether it is the contract decisions, Edinburgh City Council have not covered themselves in glory with this project.  Come to think of it, not very many of Scotland’s politicians have covered themselves in glory with calls for a public inquiry.  The terms of which must look into how a local council made such a balls up.
What this cock up will do is put our leaders off of any kind of transport projects, unless it relates to roads.  Rather than be put off of these kind of projects, Scotland needs more of these kind of projects.  Take for example Glasgow.  To the uninitiated pedestrian, it is not the most accessible place to get around.  A certain amount of local knowledge is needed to get around Glasgow, what number of bus to get or where exactly the Underground stations are.  Before the mishandled Trams project in Edinburgh, a route from east to west and a route from north to south would have been conceivable.

Not just Glasgow.  It is shocking that a town the size of Paisley does not have a single transport hub.  East Kilbride has a bus station, which is fairly easy to use and find busses that will take you to where you want to go.  Yet Paisley, which is now struggling to hold on to it’s status as Scotland’s largest town has no such facility.  With the added element of their busses effectively stopping after about 7pm, city – you’re having a laugh!

When I visited Manchester (above) to see Depeche Mode just before Christmas 2009, I was very impressed with how easy it was to get around the city.  The trams were easy to use, there was a bus that took us from the train station to the Arndale Centre, and there were no sullen drivers spitting “Twoseventyfiiiivvve” at you.  All in all, a very pleasant experience which is the way it should be.  Yet I don’t remember headlines about how over budget the Manchester tram’s were, I don’t remember stories about how badly run the building of the trams were.  Indeed the trams are undergoing an expansion programme.  Go to places like Amsterdam, Munich or Berlin and it’s exactly the same thing.  So what’s the problem Edinburgh?

For a country that relies so much on tourism, we show no desire to improve the transport infrastructure – which would attract more visitors & help those of us that stay here.  Even the other project our politicians were very keen on – the Glasgow Airport Rail Link – showed a distinct lack of thought.  Had it been a proposal to link up Glasgow Airport to Govan, Braehead Shopping Centre and Renfrew it would have been much more beneficial to those communities and to the West of Scotland as a whole than an express service between Glasgow & the Airport. 

There are transport projects that are desirable that would help people to get around our towns and cities that little bit easier.  Those projects are the true victims of Edinburgh City Councils ineptitude, as it will now be just that little bit more difficult to get those projects off the ground.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

If It's August, It Must Be Time To Discuss Megrahi (Again)

There are several key indicators that summer is coming to an end.  The football is back, Scottish clubs have embarrassed themselves in European competition, the Oval test match, the silly season and, most of all, talk about how stupid/reckless/immoral/brave/honourable (delete where applicable) Kenny MacAskill was in releasing the man (left) convicted of the Lockerbie bombing.

The latest instalment comes with the background of the ongoing Arab Spring claiming the West’s favourite pantomime dictator, Muammar Gadaffi, as it’s latest victim.  The latest flaring up of this uprising has forced that decision back on to the news cycles as Senators Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand and the US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (Mitt???) have all called for Megrahi not to be brought back to Scotland, but to be brought to the USA for trial.

While those noises continue to rumble from across the pond, a look at Lalland Peat Worrier’s post on the subject makes the point that this claim would contravene the fifth amendment of the United States constitution; our own government continues to dig a deeper hole with its scant mistrust of Holyrood.  Hague, when questioned about Megrahi said “It was, of course, a matter for the Scottish executive (sic)... and so it's not a matter I can control, but if I was a Scottish minister rather than a UK minister I would be looking to urgently review the situation to see what I could do about it."

The utterly galling aspect of this is that all this discussion ignores the very large elephant in the room, that there are severe doubts about the veracity of the conviction.  There is doubt about the route of the bomb into Heathrow, there is doubt about the identification of Megrahi and there is doubt about what type of detonator was used in the bomb.  Wherever you look at the case, there is flimsy evidence against Megrahi creaking under the weight of evidence pointing to Megrahi’s innocence.  There’s even room for MacAskill’s favourite legal tactic, the prosecution withholding evidence – in this case the break in at Heathrow on the morning of the bombing which was not revealed until September 2001.

It’s for these reasons that the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission are rumoured to be set to release a report casting doubt on the conviction of Megrahi.  The American politicians you would expect to be ignorant of this, however for Hague to not take this into account before opening his mouth does not seem like the actions of a senior cabinet minister.  Then again, you can probably guess my opinion of this government. 

However the fear is that Megrahi will not live to see his name being cleared.  Not from the Cancer, but from zealous spooks keen to keep the truth from emerging. When thinking about this one should bear in mind the quote from the American senators speaking after a meeting of the British victims of Lockerbie “Your government and our government know exactly what happened at Lockerbie. But they are not going to tell you”.  One hopes that if a stable Libya emerges, that the day of truth also comes closer.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Some Quotes That Occured To Me About This Week

They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation” – Thatch, September 1987

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit” – Gordon Gekko “Wall Street” (1987)

Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime” – Tony Blair, April 1994

I only wanted something else to do but hang around” – The Pet Shop Boys “Suburbia” – September 1986

Imagine you are 14 years old, and you live in a flat four stories up.  It’s the summer holidays and you don’t have any pocket money.  That’s your life…  you hang about the streets and you look bored bored bored.  And you look around you.  Who isn’t bored?  Who isn’t hanging around because they don’t have any money?” – David Cameron, July 2006

The handwringing apologists on the left relish the opportunity to try to blame the violence on poverty, social depravation and a disaffected black youth.  To blame the cuts is immoral and cynical” – The Daily Mail 10 August 2011

No Future, no future, no future for you” – The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” -  June 1977

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Hackergate Comes to Holyrood for A Day

This week saw the Scottish government attempt to distance themselves from the hackergate scandal threatening to engulf the government at Westminster.  By disclosing correspondence & meetings, the SNP hope that this will put the matter to rest.  With hindsight, it does not look particularly good for Salmond.

The disclosures revealed that Salmond first met the Dirty Digger in October 2007, with Salmond writing afterwards “I enjoyed our conversation and, as ever, found your views both insightful and stimulating”.  Salmond also invited the Digger to the Ryder Cup at Kentucky as part of a Scottish delegation (Murdoch, probably showing more political nous than Salmond at this point declined this invitation) and also to The Gathering, the centrepiece of the Year of Homecoming events – in the hope of securing television coverage on BSkyB.  Salmond also met the son of Digger, James Murdoch in January of this year, ostensibly to discuss “business opportunities for BSkyB in Scotland”.  Whether this evolved into a conversation about what will happen during the election is anyone’s guess.

It’s wrong for SNP supporters to claim that there can be nothing suspicious about Salmond’s meetings with the Murdoch’s because the Scottish Government do not hold the same powers over broadcasting & culture that Westminster does.  What the Scottish Government can do is pull limited economic levers in relation to business rates.  We can also speculate that maybe a future Scottish Government could entice NI to move to Glasgow lock stock and barrel because of the “excellent” corporation tax rates that the SNP are keen to put into place.  I’m not saying that will happen, it is just a possible scenario.

The difference between the SNP’s handling and Labour’s handling has been night and day, which shows that Labour haven’t learned from May.  While the SNP have at least been proactive in trying to convince us that nothing untoward happened, Labour have invited us to think in cynical terms about the SNP.  If we are to do this, let’s extend that cynical thought process to a party who enjoyed the support of the Digger for 12 years before the acrimonious split in 2009, who haven’t exactly been so forthcoming about their own meetings with Murdoch, NI or BSkyB.  What meetings did Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell enjoy with the Murdochs?

Labour have been happy to throw the mud around, but have been less than happy to disclose any of their own meetings.  If Labour are happy to ask us to believe that Salmond supped with the devil, to garner the approval of News International, perhaps we should ask what shape or form the pound of flesh took to pay for, say the noose front page from 3 May 2007?  Or did the Blair government pick up that particular tab?  After all  Rebeckah Wade (as she was at the time) thought of the prime minister as “her Tony”.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Move Along, You've Had Your Fun

I know that the Conservatives are keen on seeing the Phone-hacking story disappear from the news cycle, but on Newsnicht on Thursday Gordon Brewer looked like he was willing the Phonehacking story to disappear (ironically enough, he will have got his wish with the Norwegen terrorist attacks and another inductee to what Mrs Cobain called “The Stupid Club”).  While the possible collapse of the Euro and the unfolding crisis in Somalia are weighty news stories, it’s still wrong for politicians and journalists to will us to concentrate on these matters, like stern teachers.

Yet, last weeks events have signalled an end to the first phase of this scandal.  It was right that after the Murdoch’s & Rebeckah Brooks appeared before the Media select committee and Cameron made his statement before Parliament that there should be an end of a chapter feel.  We now await the police’s findings and any proposed prosecutions.  Phone hacking itself will disappear back to the backburner, unless new revelations are unearthed involving NI or more likely from other newspapers like those under Trinity Mirror or the Daily Mail (who lets not forget according to the What Price Privacy Now report were the biggest clients for illegally obtained personal data).

The focus of this story will possibly now shift to the events surrounding the proposed buy-out of BSkyB by NI.  Before the scandal broke, Jeremy Hunt was due to wave the bid through – giving NI the green light to bid for the satellite company.  All that changed with the scandal and now attention has switched to what conversations went on between Cameron, Hunt & Murdoch since Cable was stripped of his role in December.  At the debate on Wednesday, Cameron said that he had no “inappropriate conversations” in relation to this subject.  Jeremy Hunt contradicted this by saying that “the discussions the prime minister had on the BSkyB deal were irrelevant”. 

It is interesting to note that despite the rush to refer the deal to OFCOM, and the faith everyone places on that regulator regarding a “fit & proper” rule to holding a licence to run a television company.  Private Eye have noted that OFCOM have not applied these “fit & proper” rules in the past – most recently in the case of the acquisition of Channel 5 by Britain’s pornographer in chief (and owner of the Daily Star & Daily Express) Richard Desmond.  The suspicion here is that OFCOM would have waved this deal through as well

Cameron’s performance last week only really limited the damage to him.  Had he suffered as he has done in PMQ’s of late, or had Miliband pitched his response a little better (been a bit more subtle), then the speculation about Cameron’s future may well have grown.  As it is, Cameron should be safe until the Conservatives convene for their conference in Manchester, which makes conference season an interesting one.  But to return to the point made at the start, yes there are stories that deserve our attention, it’s just that Phonehacking and NI’s attempt to pervert the course of democracy is one of them, and should not be dismissed so easily by people with vested interests.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Like A Twisty Spindly Thing...

Hackergate just keeps on running & running.  Just when I thought that the story would run out of steam after the resignation on Friday of Rebekah Brooks & the withdrawal of News Corporation from their bid to buy BSkyB, there came the twin resignations of Paul Stevenson & John Yates.

The strange thing is that both men, from the outside, didn’t appear under that much pressure to resign.  Yes, there were issues surrounding both men’s closeness to News International (see the previous post), and the story that Stevenson had accepted “Thousands of pounds worth of free accommodation at a health spa” had not gained “traction” (despite the appearance once again of Neil Wallis).  Despite this, the announcements on Sunday night and yesterday afternoon do appear strange in the circumstances to say the least.

This should make today very interesting to say the least.  Both men are due up in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, while both The Dirty Digger & little Digger are up in front of the Media & Culture Select Committee.  What the four men say (Brooks is also appearing, but is fully expected to say “No comment” for sub judice reasons), may go a long way to determining the next direction this story will go in, maybe even in the direction of the Prime Minister.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Some Thoughts About The Passing of "The Screws"

As predicted earlier, things have changed. As a result after this Sunday, the News of The Screws is no more.  Murdoch has clearly sacrificed his biggest selling Sunday newspaper, in order to draw a line under this scandal.  If it works, expect Jeremy Hunt to give the go ahead for the buy-out of BSkyB after the Summer recess.  If it doesn't, Murdoch, Brooks, cameron & Hunt are in more trouble than they though...

However, the issues in relation to alledged police corruption have come to the fore.  There are two interesting snippets that deserve to be picked up by the mainstream media, see what you think.

1)  Both the Deputy Commissioner of the Metripolitan Police Paul Stevenson & Inspector Yates had dinner with the Screws deputy editor Neil Wallis in 2006, at the time of the first phone hacking investigation.  Yates also dined with the current Screws editor Colin Myler & their crime editor Lucy Panton in November 2009, not long after the decision not to re-open the Phone hacking investigation was taken.

2) Andy Hayman, the former assistant commissioner to the Metrepolitan police was the main investigating officer for the first enquiry into phone hacking.  Hayman left the Met in 2007 and now works for...  News International as a columnist for The Times.

(Hat-tip: Private Eye issue 1286)

Getting Rid Of The Phone-Hacking Scandal

It has taken four years to come to some sort of denouement but on Monday night the whole phone-hacking scandal exploded out of the Westminster bubble with the revelations that the private eye Glenn Mulcare hacked into the mobile phone of Milly Dowler, days after she went missing.  Yesterday the banks burst as revelation came after revelation, with other victims of crimes finding that they too had their phones hacked by Mr Mulcare.   The revelations have proved to be so shocking, that the News International Chief Executive, Rebekah Brooks has a new nickname.  Toast.

The sense that the red top tabloids are out of control, in particular the News of the Screws, is not new.  We have been here before urging controls on the conduct of the press.  Remember the days after the death of the Princess of Wales.  The press acted contrite, and the mid market tabloids vowed to never use pictures from paparazzi again.  Well that lasted didn’t it.  This isn’t very different, remember the public weren’t interested when it was the likes of Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant being hacked.  After all, they are celebrities, they are fair game aren’t they?  They might have very famous jobs, but that does not make them fair game.

People have said that this is the product of a macho news-room mentality.  Sorry, but all news-rooms have a macho mentality.  Kelvin MacKenzie was no shrinking violet when he edited The S*n from 1981 onwards, while several of today’s editors have a reputation for being serious swearers.  What this is a product of is the voracious appetite for flim flam & gossip dressed up as news, cleaned up and put out there in a very short space of time with very little time spent checking.

What is ironic is how this has blown up so soon since the controversy surrounding Super-injunctions was news. As we have discussed before, the stories being pursued by the red-tops were very much of the “no sex please” variety, the stories very much in the public interest were ignored.  This mind-set is very much in evidence here, and does the case for greater press freedoms no favours.

The other great irony is that this has exploded just as deliberations are due to end regarding News International’s proposed buy-out of BSkyB.  There are two on-line petitions running against this proposed sale (see the links below to 38degrees and Avaaz petitions).  I think that News International have shown themselves to be unfit for full ownership of this company.  However I think that when Jeremy Hunt announces his decision, he will announce that he has no objections to NI buying BSkyB.  He’ll fluster and bluster his way through, but the real reasons are obvious.  Cameron still owes Murdoch for The S*n’s support at the last elections.  He and Hunt wrote columns in the summer of 2009 promising to curb the BBC and to abolish OFCOM.  The BBC have been curbed, through cuts to funding.  OFCOM however survives, so the Digger probably feels that this particular chip should be cashed instead.

Yet Milliband the Younger is also tainted by association.  He has been on the attack for the past couple of days, but with all the conviction of a huffy teenager being torn away from his Playstation.  Perhaps it was the influence of his Spin Doctor, the former News International employee Tom Baldwin.  He was perfectly happy to attack Brooks – a fan of Blair – but pulled his punches today at PMQ’s.

Murdoch, Cameron, Hunt, Brooks and to a certain extent Milliband make up a powerful quintet.  All more or less would like this to go away, Cameron has already announced an inquiry – a sure-fire way to kick the subject into the long grass.  The Independent has said that this is the opportunity to curb Murdoch’s powers.  Bearing in mind how much influence Murdoch still holds which is less than what Cameron & Milliband think he has, I suspect that those two will still try to keep the Digger onside.  Things will change because of this, Brooks might be a casualty.  But as the saying goes, the more things change the more things stay the same.
Sign the petition here, or here

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Resisting The Urge To Say I Told You So

"I told you I was good at Monoply"
Private Eye has several nicknames for politicians which over time have proved to be accurate parodies of their subject.  The Grocer (Heath) and the Vicar (Blair) to go with their targets in Fleet Street Brillo-pad (Andrew Neil), Thirsty (Will Lewis, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph and News International executive who is rumoured to be Robert Peston’s source for NI stories) and Bighead for Mary Ann Sieghart.  That last one, on her appearances on Question Time, I thought was a little unfair.  Until yesterday when her column in the Independent was essentially a page saying I told you so about the Euro.

The true subject of her ire was those politicians who all thought that joining the Euro was such a good idea.  Blair, Kenneth Clarke, Mandelson, Heseltine, Clegg, Huhne and Alexander (Danny?, Douglas?) were all in her sights as she asked why, since the Euro was such a disaster none of those mentioned had felt the urge to apologise.

Yep, the arguments for the Euro were sound ones.  Conversion costs would be removed and costs would become more transparent.  However, the arguments against the Euro overshadow any advantages to joining.  Even more so since the wholesale failure of the banking system four years ago.

What is interesting though is that thinking back to the Major government, most of the prominent Euro-sceptics were on the right of the Tory party.  The main argument against entry to the Euro was that it would be a loss of sovereignty, it would see the removal of economic levers and see them transferred to Brussels/Frankfurt.  In short, we’re English we know best.  I don’t remember the economic reasoning being very high up in the mix.  The threat of monetary union being followed by political & fiscal union was being talked up (fiscal union is already with Eurozone members, witness Ireland’s treatment when they pursued their policy of aggressive Corporation Tax rates), however the arguments that bigger countries would bail out poorer countries and that some sort of external shock would hit smaller countries causing some sort of dislocation were not the arguments keenly pursued at the time.

This is ironic for two reasons.  Firstly, the first act of the next government’s (ie Blair’s first government) leading Eurosceptic (even though he never came out as one) was to remove some of those levers and hand them over, not to Frankfurt but to Threadneedle Street.  Brown was perfectly happy to remove political influence from decision making on Interest rates.

Secondly, the promoters of the Thatcher vision of Freedman economics cannot be found in the various parliaments across Europe, or in high offices.  Nope, the keenest promoters of Thatcherism in Europe are working for the European Central Bank and for the EU.  How else can you explain the list of terms & conditions attached to the Greek loan, including privatisation of their public services on a more radical scale than that attempted by Thatcher, Lawson & co in the mid 80’s, with no clause forcing tightening of their tax laws.  The Shock Doctrine is alive and well in Europe.

Sieghart’s closing shot – “How dare they sneer at us for being little Englander’s or xenophobic when we could just see that the economics were so obviously wrong” shows how much of the pre-Blair era has been forgotten.  Most of the right wing Euro-sceptics, the much praised Jimmy Fishpaste (to use another Private Eye nickname, for James Goldsmith) were perfectly happy to use rhetoric that made them look like little Englanders.  The people espousing the economic argument against entering the Euro were Tony Benn and Peter Shore, Euro-sceptic members of Harold Wilson & James Callaghan’s cabinet from 20 years previously.

Parallel to all of this is of course that the arguments about sovereignty have been re-ignited here in Scotland because of the Independence referendum, with the SNP favouring entry to the EU for an independent Scotland.  If the economics were “so obviously wrong”, no one has told the SNP.  Yet those same independence supporters who are pro-EU should really take note of what is happening across the water, not just in Greece or Ireland, but in Portugal and Spain.  The real paradox is that an independent Scotland fully signed up to the EU and the Eurozone would be too wee and too helpless to deal with the current crisis, while a fully independent Scotland outwith the EU could conceivably survive & flourish.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The End Of The SNP Bandwagon

Labour won the Inverclyde By-election on Thursday by 5,838 votes, down from the majority of over 14,000 David Cairns won by 14 months ago.  It was a bigger win than was anticipated, even though there was a swing of under 9% to the SNP.  Turnout was 45%, down by under 18% from the General Election (not great but not as bad as other By-Elections).  However once again the SNP have failed to capitalise on an opportunity presented to them by their opponents.

The centrepiece of the campaign was jobs, and both of the main candidates were promising to campaign on the platform of trying to provide jobs for a severely deprived area.  Yet the Labour candidate, Iain McKenzie ducked and dived over the activities of the Council he (now) previously led.  For he failed to give any concrete assurances that there would be no redundances at Inverclyde Council.  I suppose it's someone elses problem now.

Had this been a Holyrood by-election, I think the SNP would have won this election hands down, like they did last month.  The problem for the SNP, and this has been a problem for them since Devolution, is that they don't really have a diferent narative for Westminster elections.  They ran a good campaign, focused on job prospects of the area, and put pressure on the Labour challenger.  Yet Anne McLaughlin (or the blogger also known as Indygal) lost by a larger margin than I think she deserved.

I think what this result emphasises is that Labour have the well worked out narative that play's well in Westminster elections, and that the SNP have still to work out how to play Westminster elections.  The mantra of "It's only Labour that can stop the (evil) Tories" still resonates in terms of sending representitives to Westminster. For Holyrood elections, the exact reverse is true, that the SNP have worked out a winning narative and Labour are left floundering (as has been discussed ad nausium). 

Of course, this might all be bunkum.  That what this result has told us is that despite Salmond's claims of a new nation, when it comes to Westminster elections people in the west coast former working class areas still cling to their favourtie comfort blanket.  Rather than indicate the end of the SNP bandwagon, as McKenzie and other members of the Labour heirarchy indicated, it might have given the SNP a rather timely reality check.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Miliband Drift

I am currently reading Andrew Marr’s “History of Modern Britain” book.  During the most recent part there is several pages given over to a figure that most Scots will have forgotten, or have been completely unaware of. Yet had he not died of a massive heart attack on the morning of May 12 1994, it might well have been John Smith striding up Downing Street just under three years later rather than his (at the time) Shadow Home Secretary.
I mention Smith because I seem to recall that he had a horrific baptism of fire as Labour leader, with a series of underwhelming performances in the House of Commons.  I think that despite the unpopularity of the Major government, Smith did not really put behind him and the party the disappointment of the 1992 General Election defeat until he won the vote to adopt One Member One Vote at the Labour conference of 1993.  So we had a party leader struggling to make an impression despite the government enacting unpopular policies.  Sound familiar?

It’s not as if the Coalition government are particularly popular, its just that Milliband the younger (above) and his colleagues seem inept at changing people’s perceptions of what has happened.  As a result the perceived wisdom has been that the deficit has been caused by Labour overspending, and that this is the reason for Osborne’s Scorched Earth Policy, where nothing is immune from cuts.  This perception has resulted in public support for Osborne’s Scorched Earth policy.  Of course, the truth is slightly different in that there is the absence of the estimated £1.2 Trillion in spending on baling out the failing banking sector.  New Labour used to have a unit to combat this kind of spin, the rapid rebuttal unit.  It looks to have gone to seed if this kind of untruth has become perceived wisdom.

That’s not the only problem with the current positioning of Labour.  While I can understand their reasoning, their stance on the public service strikes taking place today is somewhat puzzling and a little worrying.  Yes, there is an element of picking the fights that will cause the coalition damage, and yes there is public disquiet about “Gold Plated” pensions (© Nick Clegg 2010).  However, there are a lot of people who will suffer because of the way these reforms have been structured.  New Labour’s tactic of sitting on their hands will not go down well, and shows an element of fear.  Fear of “Swing” voters and fear of what the New Labour/Blairite constituency will think of politicians siding with the troublesome Unions.

There are other examples of the Miliband drift as well, the one that is most deserving of exposure is the attitude of his shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, that “Light Touch Regulation” is an ideal to return to.  Balls, it seems has been making speeches intimating a return to the policies that led to the credit crunch/financial shocks of 2007-09, and the subsequent recession.  These speeches are mostly to city insiders, but it does seem that lessons have not been learned.

This is not a critique of Ed Miliband himself, more one of the Labour hierarchy and the schoolboy errors they have made since the election.  To go back to the comparison with John Smith, Milliband the younger is incredibly fortunate not to have someone as formidable in his team as Gordon Brown, Tony Blair or Robin Cook.  I suspect that if he had, then his position would be much more precarious than it currently is.  As it is, the next six months are crucial to Labour’s chances for 2015.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Never Again

In 1983 the United States of America went to war against the tiny Caribbean island of Greneda.  This, however, was a far more equal battle than the British General Election of the same year.  It was said that the Labour campaign started badly and then fell away, but this is being generous.  It was the worst campaign in electoral history, and it hurt to watch it.  There are various things that can lose a party votes in elections.  You might have a leader who does not look like prime ministerial material, you might have a manifesto that alienates many of the electorate, you might have a hostile media, you might appear hopelessly divided as a political party, or your campaign might be poorly organised and unfocused.  Or, like Labour in 1983, you might manage all of the above” – extract from “Things Can Only Get Better” by John O’Farrell  

Yep, the events leading up to June 9 1983 is something seared into the consciousness of every Labour supporter, so much so that they vowed never again.  So why did it happen again last month with the Holyrood elections?  Leader that didn’t look First Minister material – check, though Grey was a dab hand at jumping into sandwich shops.  Manifesto that alienates many of the electorate - well what manifesto apart from the pledges stolen from the SNP.  Hostile media - are you kidding!  Yoda that resides in my bookcase is more hostile than most of the political “interrogators” within the Scottish media (Isobel Fraser apart).  Hopelessly divided – I don’t think any of the shadow cabinet has the intelligence to voice a different point of view from their leader.  Poorly organised & unfocused campaign – check.  In spades.

Labours rank performance has returned to the public consciousness as a report has been published looking into the details of who voted for what party on May 5.  It showed that the SNP hovered up working class voters and voters from all religious groups, with more “Catholic” voters opting to vote SNP than Labour for the first time.  Working class voters & “Catholic” voters were previously seen as the bedrock of Labour support.  What this survey also showed was that the lie being peddled by Labour on election night, that the SNP were beneficiaries of a straight swing from the Lib Dems and that their vote held up, was that.  According to the report, half of that drop switched to the SNP, while the other half made its way to the other parties.  This means that the Labour vote dropped by more than the final figure of 17,766.  Presumably those votes went straight to the SNP.  All of which  brings us back to the analogy with 1983, which presented that Labour party with similar problems.

In 1983, the parties taking votes from Labour were Thatcher’s Conservatives and the fledgling Social Democratic Party that came within 650,000 votes of supplanting Labour from second place in the popular vote. In Labour’s way this time were the Scottish National Party, who alongside being a competent government gunning for their second term have developed a successful Scottish take on Clinton’s “TheThird Way” and New Labour – ironic considering that many of the influences for New Labour policies came from the old SDP – many of the advisors of New Labour were originally SDP people while Roy Jenkins was a friend and influence on Tony Blair.

This defeat has led some to call for Labour in Holyrood to go down the New Labour route.  In a post for the Labour Hame blog, New Labour loyalist John McTiernan outlines this route –

Where do they start? With tone – and Tone. From first to last, from “A new dawn has broken has it not” at the Royal Festival Hall to “This is the greatest nation in the world” in Trimdon…  Scottish Labour should start there. And for Blair, it was always about values. 

Start with education. This is core to our sense of self; we are known worldwide for the quality of our education. Except that’s just not true now…  Or take law and order. You can’t go far wrong with tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.  Labour’s knife crime policy was one of the most popular single policies of any party at the election. They should stick to it.  But they should brigade it with a prevention strategy. The restoration of the Future Jobs Fund was one leg of that, apprenticeships another. This is a key battleground…  And then there’s health. At the core of Nicola Sturgeon’s health strategy is an opposition to hospital reorganisation…  

The future not the past. The many not the few. Leadership not drift. There’s life in the old songs still  Who dares wins

The problem with that synopsis is twofold.  Firstly, currently parked on the New Labour part of the political spectrum are the SNP – a party currently advocating Corporation Tax cuts and investment in public services in the same breath.  A party not afraid to do business with the most famous capitalist raider on the planet and simultaneously not afraid to pledge to keep Scottish Water within public ownership.  In short, the SNP have read the New Labour handbook (itself adapted from the prototype SDP, Clinton’s “The Third Way”) and adapted it to Holyrood.  Scottish problems for Scottish solutions.

Allied to this is the second problem facing Labour, that they are a party bereft of any vote winning policies.  The SNP had their policy on freezing Council tax, the policy on retaining funding for the NHS, their policy on free education.  All policies that would have been advocated by a past version of the Labour party but were either derided by this version, with no alternatives put forward, or shamelessly stolen and re-packaged immediately before the election.  Because of this, the impression given at the election was that there was no alternative but a second SNP term, which is what we have.

So where next for Labour in Holyrood?  There won’t be any lurch to the left, as the current Labour group do not strike me as firebrand socialists in the best traditions of Jimmy Reid or…  er um…  nope can’t think of anyone else.  The problem may well be a lurch to the right, which would take Labour further away from the “Scottish Sensibility”, thus leaving the SNP with more space to pick their ideas from.

While Iain Gray remains as leader, Labour in Holyrood have time to assess where they want to go, and to try and work out viable positions to take over the next five years, and to mull over possible replacements.  With this in mind, their choice as next leader needs to be a viable candidate for First Minister come 2016.  Whoever it is must recognise that the bar for First Minister has been raised since the position was held by Dewar, McLeish and McConnell.  They must develop a vision, and yet be consistent enough not to come across as opportunistic.  It’s a tall order, and a task that in 1983 Labour did not totally get to grips with until one of the new intake took the reigns himself 11 years later.  To paraphrase another of Blair’s slogans, time for the Scottish party to reform or die.

Friday, 17 June 2011

More on Supremecourtgate

Not content with helping his justice secretary to dig a hole, Alex Salmond appears to have taken over full hole digging duties.

To recap, a couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court – the successor body to the Law Lords – asked the Scottish courts to look again at the conviction of Nat Fraser for the alleged murder of his wife.  Alleged because Fraser was convicted without the presence of Arlene Fraser’s body, though that wasn’t the issue.  The Issue was that the prosecution held evidence that may have influenced the trial against the prosecution.  This practice might be ingrained into the fabric of Scots law, but there is no place for this in a post-human rights country. 

The trial of Nat Fraser is not the only prosecution where the withholding of evidence by the prosecution teams is not the first case – this practice is one of the many issues surrounding the conviction of Abdelbasset Al Medgrahi.  However, it is the first case to be taken to the Supreme Court, which quashed his conviction on this technicality.

However, rather than accept the verdict and look at ways to modernise Scots Law, Salmond has decided to lash out at the Supreme Court, arguing that “Scotland's distinct legal system, including our criminal law, has served our country well for centuries, ensuring justice for victims while also protecting the rights of those accused of a crime.  We believe the UK Supreme Court should have no role in matters of Scots criminal law - a view supported by Scotland's leading legal figures.”  Except, Scots Law has not served our country well, and as we have established above it does not protect innocent people accused of a crime.  In the race to criminalise many parts of society, the proof threshold has fallen to dangerous levels, only two witnesses are required for a successful prosecution.

Salmond’s plan though has nothing to do with human rights or modernising Scots Law.  His pledge to hold an Independence referendum will not be fulfilled if the polls continue to show that a majority of people are still against Independence.  Rather than combat the drip feed of pro-union stories (the New Labour term for it was “rapid rebuttal” – except the SNP despite reading most of the New Labour handbook look to have ignored the chapter on media relations.), Salmond has decided to go on the attack on Independence related subjects.  Hence his new found enthusiasm for the findings of the Calman Commission – which is currently going through Westminster, and his two footed tackle on the Supreme Court.

Salmond’s latest bout of digging coincided with the publication of an interview with the Holyrood magazine were Salmond said

All I would say to Lord Hope is that I probably know a wee bit about the legal system and he probably knows a wee bit about politics.  But politics and the law intertwine, and the political consequences of Lord Hope's judgements are extreme and when the citizens of Scotland understandably vent their fury about the prospect of some of the vilest people on the planet getting lots of money off the public purse, they don't go chapping at Lord Hope's door, they ask their parliament what they are doing about it.”

Which completely ignores the issue at stake here, that of modernisation of the Scottish Law System.  Salmond was again unrepentant today at First Ministers questions, continuing with the line that the Supreme Court was undermining Scot’s Law and that he “think(s) it's a real issue. The integrity of the criminal law of Scotland is a matter of public concern.”.  Again, the Supreme Court would not quash this case if fundamental technicalities were followed.  As a result of these practices, the criminal law of Scotland is already compromised.

How Salmond gets out of this hole is anyone’s guess.  I would suggest a tactical retreat would be the best option.  I don’t think that this will happen though, which is why I think that this will rumble on until some sort of stalemate emerges.  However, why the Pro-Independence camp see this as being beneficial to their cause is anyone’s guess as I think that more harm than good will come of it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

An SNP Voter Writes...

Last year, I posted about Labour’s ability to read the mind’s of people who voted Lib Dem at the Westminster Election.  In particular, their assumption that Lib Dem voter’s were disappointed about their jumping into bed with the Tories.  This year’s post election Mystic Meg award winner is Alex Salmond who seems to think that he has a new mandate to contribute to the current Scotland Bill and to propose extended powers for Holyrood.

The SNP won on a ticket of freezing Council Tax for the next five years, free education and protecting investment in the NHS.  All laudable policies, which were more than the other main parties were offering (though I did like the look of the Green’s property tax – which is why they got my “list” vote).  The SNP were proposing to hold a referendum on Independence, something the other parties were fearful of, and the SNP had a decent in the circumstances kind of a record in government.  Grey, Goldie and …  um…  you know the other one really failed to make themselves look remotely First Minister material.  Yet since the election, the SNP’s judgement has been questionable to say the least.

Before we come to Salmond’s mind reading act, we really should touch on Supremecourtgate.  Salmond’s criticism of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Nat Fraser case was wrong, and was a rare sighting of the most unsightly thing in Scottish politics – Salmond the Smirk.  Instead of Salmond & MacAskill’s gracelessness, they should have pledged to look at the irregularity within Scot’s law that lead to this verdict.  Scots law is not fit for purpose, and this was an opportunity lost not to reform it.

Since the Election, the SNP have pushed for further extensions to the current Scotland Bill.  In pushing for control of the Crown estates, for control over alcohol duty and, controversially, control over Corporation Tax rates, the SNP have claimed that they now have a mandate to push for these measures.  Having looked again at the election literature received during the campaign, I can’t see why this claim is being made.  There is no mention of pushing for these powers.  There is mention of “Win new job creating powers for the Scottish Parliament”, which is pretty vague and at the bottom of the leaflet – not a huge priority then!

I don’t quite understand the claim of a new mandate, as I’m sure that a lot of people voted SNP for reasons other than constitutional issues.  That’s not to say that the SNP are wrong in pursuing changes to the Scotland Act, after all the Calman proposals are flawed and continue the disincentive to tax raising powers that the current powers have.  The SNP have exactly the same “mandate” to push for change as they had on May 4th.  They could have commented on Calman as it was being drawn up.  It’s just that they had no desire to contribute to the Calman Commission in the last parliament.