The Thick of It


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More racist Tories

When will the Tories learn that racism is bad, immoral and just plain wrong?

The St Andrews University student society burnt an effigy of Barack Obama. The conveyor belt continues.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When politicians and civil servants clash

The toppled head of the UK Border Agency Brodie Clark hit back at his former ministerial boss Theresa May today, claiming that despite her claims, he had never exceeded his authority. This amounts to a stinging attack and suggests that May misled parliament in claiming otherwise, to save her own skin.

Neutral civil servants hate being politicised or being pushed into political storms. I see their point. Secretaries of  state are there to carry the political can, not their servants. In a reversal of historical assumptions that the civil service is naturally conservative, their current Tory masters view their servants with great scepticism.

This row reminds me of one that rumbled on and on in the early days of New Labour's second term.

When Stephen Byers' Labour special advisor Jo Moore famously thought 9-11 a "good day to bury bad news"  the email was leaked and a political row erupted. The neutral head of departmental communications Martin Sixsmith got fed up and later said "Princess Margaret is being buried [on Friday]. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be". 

Sixsmith was eventually forced to quit over the row, together with Moore. 

After quitting the civil service Sixsmith made no secret of his unhappiness at being forced out. His autobiography was blocked, so he turned it into a novel, Spin, released in 2004, two years after he left his job. He has since written several books and contributed to Armando Ianucci's superb political satire The Thick of It. 

Has May created a spurned civil servant and in the process done the very opposite of saving her skin? Time will tell but it seems likely that she will only come out of this row looking worse. 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Tories hitting you in the pocket

Here is an example from 1974 that shows how the Tories have always made life more expensive:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Racist Tory weekly #9

Regular readers will know all about Southend Tory councillor Blaine Robin who was filmed attending an English Defence League meeting recently. He was suspended by his party pending an investigation. That investigation has now closed and Robin has been reinstated.

Worryingly for the Tories this shows that they are happy to be a party that borders on the fringes of such extremist groups, like the EDL. AS the party gets ever more anti immigration and anti European will such liaisons become more frequent?

This can't be what David Cameron had in mind when he tried to create a compassionate conservatism in 2005.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

David Cameron is the new Ramsay MacDonald

At last nights tenth Aneurin Bevan Society lecture, Ed Balls likened David Cameron's economic policy to former Labour then national government PM Ramsay MacDonald. Piling austerity measures onto a struggling economy stifled and lengthened recovery from depression then and threatens to do so again.

Cameron won't end up with the same fate as MacDonald, hated for history by almost all in his party. At the moment Cameron is only riled by some of his party but not to the extent that MacDonald is by Labour people.

Balls suggested that the binding nature of the Tory Lib Dem coalition agreement, that prioritises deficit reduction over all else, is creating an inflexibility stopping the government from being able to change path. Further, their ideological attachment to shrinking the state means that whatever the economic indicators tell us, the coalition won't change policy.

Politically, Balls said, the Tories are fuelling cynicism and pessimism because they tell us that there is no alternative to their chosen path. That means we should accept that stagnation, falling living standards and rising unemployment are an unavoidable medicine we all have to endure.

If people believe there to be no alternative to their lives getting worse thanks to government policy that will only turn them away from politics. What is the point in voting if it doesn't achieve anything?

Progress of UK recessions
It doesn't have to be like that, argued Balls. Government is capable of making people's lives easier and managing the deficit at the same time. This is the Labour alternative.

The chart above shows the UK economy improving until the middle of 2010 when the Tories got in. Since then growth has been non existent. Without people in jobs, shopping, paying taxes and contributing to GDP as unemployment rises the deficit will get bigger, as demonstrated by the extra £46bn of borrowing under the Cameron-Osborne axis. This is simply because former tax payers and shoppers are now being paid benefits and are not paying tax or creating anything for the economy. Simple stuff.

Bevan understood that nothing was possible without power. Balls gets that too. He needs to get his message across to the country to ensure voters get it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

VAT hits the poorest hardest

The Tories and their Lib Dem pals would never admit it, but we all know that VAT costs poorer people harder than rich. As a flat tax, paying the same fee as a sales tax will always be a greater portion of a lower paid person's income than someone with higher earnings.

George Eaton at the New Statesman aptly demonstrates:


Spending patterns differ between people with different earnings. That was the riposte I received from both Tories and Lib Dems when debating this after the election. Their smugness shielded them from the reality.

Eaton's analysis of the ONS work shows that the poorest 20% of earners are spending the equivalent of 10% on their income on VAT. Thise in the top 20% pay just 6%.

The Tories are a risk you cannot afford. They cost you more. We're not all in this together.

The attack of the Trip Advisors

Last night's Channel 4 documentary the "Attack of the Trip Advisors" showed a ranged of disgruntled businesses who felt unfairly treated by customer review sites.

This probably strikes a chord with politicians who frequently complain about media attention, some fairly, sometimes not so. Social media has increased the intensity by widening the scope of people who comment and hold both businesses and politicians to account.

Recent complaints about the media from politicians include Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Liam Fox.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs complaining about social media review sites publicly airing criticism of their businesses strikes me as rather out of touch. In the past people would have had no redress if they didn't like the service. Now they can stop others from suffering the same fate. It also gives businesses more opportunity to rectify problems because they get feedback they wouldn't otherwise have had.

Hotels, restaurants, shops or politicians should be no different from each other. Feedback and being held to account should enable you to become stronger, offer a better service, closer to what people actually want.

For people in positions of authority, or business owners, social media can seem like the extension of the surveillance society. I'm sure there are unfair or unrepresentative reviews, just as there are in any situation. For the bigger brands and well known politicians there tends to be a critical mass where those that offer a good service tend to be highly regarded online. Those with customer service problems tend to suffer negative sentiment.

The hotels, restaurants or banks that tend to get it right tend to get good reviews. Most reviews are positive, with an average Trip Advisor score of 4/5. Politically most blogs are partisan, with each side attacking the other and defending their own.

I don't have a problem with it and I don't think anyone else should. All of those under scrutiny need to get with the times.