The Thick of It


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The challenge for Cameron

With criticism of his 'new' direction from the Tories ringing in from all directions, the real challenge for David Cameron is whether he can ride the challenge and see off the threat from his critics. He failed to do so on grammar schools, can he now see off Saatchi, Miraj et al?

Tubelines not keen on Metronet contracts

Reading about Tubeline's apprehension in taking on Metronet's failed Tube PPP contracts one thing seemed remarkable to me. It appears that much of th eprescribed work laid out in the PPP contracts omitted some crucial details. Terry Morgan of Tubelines cites the upgrading of Arsenal station, my nearest station:

"He cites an upgrade at Arsenal station as an example of the complexity of deciding the scope of work. Tube Lines undertook to put "a new cover on the station", but found it could not build on the existing roof. "So we had to strip the existing roof," he said - at Tube Lines' own cost."

It is remarkable that despite £500m of public money spent on drawing up these contracts that 'unforseen' situations like this could occur.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Hornsey and Wood Green - just two years out of date

I stumbled upon the Hornsey and Wood Green Labour Party website a few moments ago. I clicked on the "your MP" option, a little unsure as to what I'd find. Of course Barbara Roche lost in 2005 to Lynne Featherstone, but according to this site she is still running surgeries...Someone take it down please!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Metronet to become next Network Rail?

I read the headline "London mayor's transport team in talks to take charge of failed tube contractor" and so into the article where it was mooted that Metronet's contract will be taken over by TfL. However, half way through one notes that this story was driven by (my own) trade union Unite's statement that the Mayor had proposed to "limit the period that Metronet remains in administration and instead bring the operation under the control of TfL." This was withdrawn after Livingstone said it didn't reflect reality. I can't see Prime Minister Brown yielding to this either after the PPP was pushed through at his behest.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Lib Dem cllr and stripper

I picked this up from the Mail today: The woman who is a stripogram, kissogram and a Lib Dem councillor. Three Devon cllr colleagues of Cllr Myrna Bushell have resigned in protest that Bushell is running a sex phone line from her home in addition to appearing on Escort Magazine.

According to the Mail: "beneath several saucy photographs a price list says a kissogram is £85, stripogram (lingerie and strip) £95, topless strip stripogram £110, stripogram (full or g-string strip £125 or Strip Show (2x strips with a change of costume) £160."

Langham trial

Chris Langham, on trial for sex offences, has had four charges dropped against him today and told the Court he had been sexually abused as a child. It looks like this case will continue to unfold.

Black still set for life in jail?

According to legal experts quoted his old stable Telegraph, convicted fraudster and former Lord Crossharbour Conrad Black could still be sentenced to over 20 years inside. At least food and shelter is free in jail, as I was saddened to read that he also faces losing his Florida mansion - not that he'll be needing it - after failing to pay the $5m mortgage on it.

Of course it is worth noting that Black was nominated for his peerage by then Tory leafed and now Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Twenty years of Tory mess

I'm not actually talking about their often ruinous tenure in power from the year of my birth until the moment when our Tony stated "a new dawn has broken has it not?" to the Royal Festival hall in the early hours of 2 May 1997. No, actually about the turmoil that followed the ousting of Maggie and what followed.

Edward Pearce is a prolific writer and journalist. His comment is free column today is well worth a read. He makes some wonderful historical and slightly tongue in cheek comparisons between Tories and historical figures. Thatcher as Pope Pius IX the infallible. Good to look back on what theyhave been up to while all us Labour folk think about ourselves all the time.

Metronet: Atkins and Balfour Beatty keen to keep on

Reading statements from Metronet partners Atkins and Balfour Beatty recently suggesting that they take part in a new PPP contract surprised me somewhat. Especially the quote from the BB spokesperson that "we have all the staff, equipment and know-how there already." Is this the same know-how that led to £2bn of cost over runs and repeatedly missed deadlines for engineering work blighting Monday morning commutes?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The next 50 years of Tory mishaps?

I was mildly amused to read this about the Tories future incompetance - and be reminded of the potential for the future. I'm not getting carried away but it would be nice...

The future for the Tories

As I stated last week, yesterday's Housing Green Paper is a good start towards sorting out Britain's property crisis. Politically it creates a critical juncture at which the Tories must decide whether they believe in social mobility or protecting the interests of those who have wealth.

The Tories will either opt for nimbyism as illustrated by Grant Schapps or will they embrace the spirit of Thatcherism and support plans to extend property ownership to those who can't afford it any more with spiralling prices, like myself? Not that I'd ever vote Tory anyway. Remember that they sold all the social housing off in the first place.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Tebbit test

I was fortunate enough to be given a free ticket to yesterday's play at Lord's for the First Test between England and India. I went with some Asian friends who were supporting England and India. I had a great day and saw some great cricket, Pietersen's 134, RP Singh's five wickets and then some great early bowling from England. It was disappointing that Sachin Tendulkar didn't make a big score though I was delighted with Panesar's wicket and subsequent celebration. Unfortunately some of the British Asians in the crowd seemed to take offence to Luton born Panesar playing for England. There were some racial taunts aimed at him in Punjab when he fielded near the Mound Stand which my friends objected to. Some unsightly scenes followed but without any major incident ocurring.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Ruth Turner

I just have to say how pleased I am that no charges will be made against anyone involved in the cash for honours (or not as it turned out) case. I'm absolutely delighted for Ruth Turner. I have worked for her, taken her advice and found her to be a generally inspiring, honest and super person.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Metronet: taypayer pays again

The taxpayer paid £500m for Metronet and Tubelines respective PPP contracts to be set up. Now Metronet are unable to manage their finances properly, the taxpayers pay again. It appears to me that this stems from Metronet's greed in attempting to award all contracts to their constituent companies thereby keeping all money within the cycle. However they couldn't even make this work when they were running it all themselves. So we'll probably have Tubelines running the whole PPP.

One night, two Labour meetings

Last night I went to two Labour Party meetings. The first was the Progress debate in Parliament: How can Labour Win. The second was Islington North CLP's monthly General Committee.

Progress: How can Labour Win was invigorating and motivating. Speaking were Roger Mortimer from MORI, Chris Leslie from NLGN, Polly Toynbee, Yvette Cooper and personal favourite, James Purnell. The "usual" topics were covered. Mortimer stated that there is a gap between voters' local experiences of public services (very good) and their views of the national picture (less so good). Importantly though he stated that for Labour to win, we need middle class votes. To win in the coming years around two thirds of Labours voters need to be from the middle classes. We can no longer rely on C2DEs. This is why James Purnell is right that the only way Labour can be successful is by staying loyal to New Labour.

The main out-take from this event is that Labour has a good story to tell - and we need to go out there, campaign hard and ensure that everyone knows about it.

Housing repeatedly arose as an issue. Here we have a real opportunity. In the 1980s the Tories were the party of the home owning masses. Today Labour has the chance to seize that territory. More social housing but more shared ownership schemes are needed. I await the Housing Green Paper on Monday with baited breath. This is also something that has been consistently debates at Islington North's GC.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Tube bans Gay Times ad

I was disappointed to read that the Tube had rejected a Gay Times advert (shown here)celebrating 40 years since being homosexual ceased to be a criminal offence. It will be interesting to see what the London Paper and Gay Times poll finds. Do people still think this sort of image inappropriate? I hope not, I hope we've moved on and that the Tube can be shamed into their backward thinking of this. We should be celebrating 40 years of a progressive law change under a Labour Government and this sort of petty behaviour really doesn't help.

Black versus Maxwell

So today The Guardian's Michael White wrote a thought provoking article touching on some of the same points I raised no Friday following Conrad Black's conviction for fraud. Read it.

Metronet going bust

Yesterday's post about the Tube PPP Arbiter's decision not to cave in to Metronet's demands for more Government hand outs attracted attention to this blog from both PPP contractors, Metronet themselves and Tubelines. It is of course interesting to note that Tubelines hasn't faced the same problems as Metronet.

Metronet failed to competitively tender work, preferring to offer it to it's member companies, including Balfour Beatty, WS Atkins and Bombardier. They obviously saw this as a way to make more money at the public expense from themselves by running a closed shop. Tubelines have offered contracts competitively.

More seriously though the public purse looks likely to pick up th ebill from Metronet's chronic failure to deliver. The transfer of risk from public to private sector was one of the strongest arguments made at the time the PPP was being proposed. At the time I thought the cost of drawing up the PPP high. The vast sums, around £500m, spent on lawyers and management consultants to draw up these contracts failed to envisage this. This money could have been invested in the system directly. However, I was happy to see the PPP go through if it was going to deliver real investment into the network at effectively a fixed price to the public purse.

Now it is likely that Transport for London will have to arrange a re-financing package. This isn't how it was meant to work. Something was clearly lost between the Government's argument at the time and what was put into place. I'm sorry to my Dad as I remember saying to him at the time that the PPP was nothing to worry about when clearly this is proving a big waste of time and money.

The National Audit Office's 2003 report into the PPP "London Underground PPP: Were they good deals?" will make for more interesting reading now.

Monday, July 16, 2007


So Metronet look like going bust. The only people who seem to have benefited from the PPP on London Underground are management consultants and lawyers who drew up the preoposterous idea in the first place. The whole point of the PPP was to transfer the financial risk away from the public sector. Yet when things go wrong, Metronet simply hold out a begging bowl to the public purse. Asking TfL for £551m to cover extra costs wasn't on and I'm pleased that Chris Bolt, the PPP Arbiter, only offered them £121m.

I'm not sure what this means for the future upgrading of the tube but what it says about poor decisions made in the past is stark. Transferring risk to the private sctor doesn't always work - just look at the rest of the railways. Metronet have shown little regard for the public purse and I'm pleased that they are being stood up to. London Underground's MD, Tim O-Toole, said “I’m determined to make the case that the public should not be forced to pay a penny for Metronet’s inefficiencies.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Conrad Black guilty of fraud

I was pleased to read that Conrad Black, made Lord Black at the request of WIlliam Hague, has been found guilty of fraud. He is looking at 15-20 years inside for plundering $6m from Hollinger's funds, including the pension fund. Sometimes I feel that the USA for all its unbounded corporatism gets it right where the UK seems toothless. Shame he couldn't quite manage to take the Daily Telegraph down with him...Chicago remains my favourite US city. This case shows that sometimes, if you really are very guilty, it doesn't matter how much you spend on the best lawyers.

You can't polish a turd.

I wonder how William Rees-Mogg of The Times now feels after he wrote of his support for fraudster Black a few months ago? Rees-Mogg talked of the lavish parties, which were at the expense of Hollinger which Black did not own, and not of the charges against him. He said "risk-taking entrepreneurs are essential to the development of the economy." I suppose Robert Maxwell was a "risk taker" as were those in charge of Enron.

Arizona State Government

I've had several hits from Arizona's State Government since my blog about their Department of Corrections selling prisoners uniforms. Good to see they care about their image.

Grange Grove's finest to run for Mayor?

Accoding to this, Boris Johnson now seems likely to run for Mayor. About a week ago he said he wasn't interested. Next time I pass his house on my way home from work I'll have to knock and ask him.

Hanworth Park by-election

I noted that last night Labour's vote increased slightly in the Hanworth Park by-election, Hounslow, next to where I grew up. I hope to see a similar boost in Ealing Southall shortly.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Alistair Campbell at Foyles

Next Thursday at Foyles on Charing Cross Road Alistair Campbell is giving a talk promoting his book. Right now watching his diaries on BBC2 I'm looking forward to hearing him speak again, getting a signed copy and reading it. On Tuesday I was talking to a close friend, a former City Editor of The Observer and Sunday Times and he said to me: "Am I the only person who really likes Alistair Campbell?" I replied, not at all, perhaps it is just the both of us. Next Thursday I look forward to finding out if there are others.

2020 Vision

After all the furore over Charles Clarke and Alan Milburn's website launch a couple of months ago, little else seems to have happened. Perhaps they have got out of their respective prams and are crawling around on the floor looking for their toys?

The Thick of It

Armando Ianucci's The Thick of It is my favourite comedy of many a year. It annoys me that many of my politico friends haven't seen it. Shame on them. The last two episodes have not featured Chris Langham's character, Minister for Social Affairs Hugh Abbott after Langham is now on trial for child porn and abuse allegations. The trial is now underway and Ianucci said he didn't want to make another series without Langham. We'll see what happens.

Labour Watch - Lib Dem candidate for Sedgefield

I have to say, good spot to Suz Lamido. I've been a regular reader of Labour Watch for a long time. I'm a Labour loyalist but the gossip on his blog and some of the mishaps made me laugh - and he was always very close to much that was going on. So like many others I noticed that invited readers only can now access this. Good spot to Islington Lib Dem blogger Suz that Greg Stone, the author, is the Lib Dem candidate for Sedgefield.

Fancy an Orange jumpsuit for your birthday?

USA's penal system frequently sickens me. They have harsh penalties, high crime rates and a racially unbalanced prison population. Since reading Jon's Jail Journal for the last few years, I've become particularly interested in Arizona's system and the harsh system of remand in Maricopa county under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I discovered the Arizona Department of Corrections website and didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I saw that it is possible to buy the full range of prisoner uniforms.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Some interesting under-hand activity from the Tories in Ealing-Southall it seems. I first read Tom Watson's blog about underdog parties betting on their candidate to shorten the odds on them, then release campaign material saying "it is neck and neck here." Then I read the Lib Dems response. They must be furious that it appears that E-S Tory campaign head is posting YouTube videos claiming to be from the Lib Dems. I'm not convinced but I'll keep an eye out if the truth is unravelled.

London Oratory School and Alistair Campbell

I was interested to read in Alistair Campbell's diary that Neil Kinnock dubbed the London Oratory School a "waffen SS academy" whileCampbell himself held strong reservations about the school. I have a number of friends who went there and I could never get over the ridiculous rules and discipline of the place. It always reminded me of a private boarding school, without the fees, though pupils are expected to pay for lunch there, by the school magazine, pay for school events and buy an extensive uniform...Saturday detentions for 6th formers etc.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Come back to Labour

I know that many of my contemporaries who wold naturally support Labour have been put off voting for the Party because of student tuition fees. I wonder whether any of these might consider the Party again in the light of today's announcement that two thirds of all undergraduates will now qualify for a grant?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A few snippets

I was trying to see whether Cuddly Dave's Tories actually had any published policies on their website and perhaps they are starting to get there. I thought I'd see what they were proposing in 1997 and a few of that manifesto's promises made me chuckle. Were they never to be, well actually, though Labour has been in power, I found one that definitely has.

In 1997 John Major's Tories wanted to:

"Over the next parliament, our aim will be to achieve our target of a 20p basic rate of income tax, while maintaining a maximum tax rate of no more than 40p."

This was a feature of Brown's last budget as Chancellor.

Further, from this year on Corporation Tax Major's mob proposed:

"We will cut the small companies rate of corporation tax in line with personal taxation as we move towards a 20p basic rate."

This was enacted this year too.

But of course, I don't want to be doing the Tories' job for them, they are bad enough at that already. There is much they opposed in 1997 and after that I wanted Tony Blair's government to do and they did.

Major proposed that:

"No Conservative government will sign up to the Social Chapter or introduce a national minimum wage We will insist at the Intergovernmental Conference in Amsterdam that our opt-out is honoured and that Britain is exempted from the Working Time Directive: if old agreements are broken, we do not see how new ones can be made."

Of course, we signed the Social Chapter and this has made drastic improvements to the quality of life of millions with more holiday, better paternity and maternity rights and an end to poverty pay with the National Minimum Wage.