The Thick of It


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Poor to pay for the Tories

I love Channel 4's Fact Check. IT provides independent analysis of political rhetoric and gets behind the crap and tells it like it is. Like most politicians find it difficult to do. 

Housing Minister Grant Schapps suggested a few weeks ago that councils that make the biggest cuts must be badly managed and those who cut less must be more inefficient. Tosh. What that ignores is that councils like Islington have to pay out more to those on benefits and get less tax in return from council tax payers (as there are fewer of them) than in a place like Richmond. Richer areas have more council tax payers and few benefit recipients. That means Richmond receives a smaller central government subsidy than somewhere like Islington. Thast is quite basic and something I learnt very early on at university. 

Fact Checker sets this and Schapps straight. Councils like Islington and Manchester are facing far more cuts than just that to the main central government grant. This means they have no choice but to cut more severely than councils in better off areas. They say:

"it’s clear that deprived areas are worst affected.

"As a poor inner-city authority that gets more Government money than council tax, Manchester’s spending power is down 8.8 per cent in this financial year and 6.7 per cent in 2012/13. In Trafford it’s only 3.8 per cent this year and 3.4 next year."

The poorest pay most under the Tories. Despicable.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

AV: We all dream of a team of Nick Cleggs

I've found the campaign for the alternative vote underwhelming. I really should care much more than I do. Growing up in the 1980s with a dominant Tory party governing on 40% of the vote like they had 100% I looked to a "fairer" voting system to stop that happening again. Labour wanted it, Labour won and no longer cared. I'm not caring that much. I probably should.

The vote presents us a with a critical juncture, to go with change and start to create a much vaunted "new politics" or stick with the status quo. In principle giving more people a little bit of what they want is a good thing. Making more parliamentary seats realistically contested is also a good thing.

On the downside, AV will mean Nick Clegg will always be in power even though he is the least popular of the three leaders Does he deserve to be kingmaker? Neither the Tories or Labour are likely to ever get more than 50% of the total vote ever again, which means the third party will always hold the balance of power. I don't like the idea of smaller parties holding others to ransom.

From a partisan political point of view I like the idea of the referendum failing because it will land a huge blow to the Lib Dems, who have staked their reputation on this single issue. Why do the Lib Dems care so much? Only because it suits their own partisan political ends. They would be the only winners from reform.

I'll vote no because I don't believe that Nick Clegg's desire for AV is one for genuine fairness. I believe it is for selfish political gain. We would be much better off with a full and proper review and the prospect of a truly fair voting system. AV isn't it. AV was a rushed compromise given to the Lib Dems by the Tories to bribe them into coalition.

Nick Clegg put it best himself when he dubbed AV a "miserable little compromise."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Policing of TUC march

Yesterday I gave my comments to the Sunday Times and praised the way that the Metropolitan Police managed Saturday's main TUC march. I know there are other issues regarding the UK Uncut protesters and how they were policed. One problem with the latter is that some people were committing crimes which gave the police an excuse to arrest many of them. Back on the main march there was a family, almost carnival, but serious, atmosphere.
The police clearly tried harder here than they did with previous protests. The Met also tried to embrace social media to give marchers the opportunity to feed back their views on how they were being policed. Commendable, but it didn't work as the survey that they tweeted went down on Saturday morning. It only went up again when the Sunday Times contacted the company running the survey.

The police have moved on and demonstrated willing by opening themselves up to feedback. However, when an organisation takes first steps into social media they have to do it properly. Now the Met have paint on their face, just like their officers, as their foray failed.

If you pay for The Times you can read the article. If you don't, here is what I said:

Labour blogger and social media expert Tim McLoughlin, who was on Saturday’s march and praised the way it was policed, said the Met had much to learn about using the internet to communicate with the public.

“As someone who helps companies embrace social media getting the police to use it to better communicate with the public is commendable. However it is only worth doing if you know how to use it and that the survey site was down at the weekend suggests a lack of thought went into the Met's efforts,” he said.

McLoughlin also criticised the nature of the survey, which is based around multiplechoice questions and offers no opportunity for written answers.

“The survey doesn't give much scope for people to deviate from the small number of set questions asked or to give other feedback. For that the traditional, non-social, channels are the only means to communicate this to the Met.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Marching on together

I marched on Saturday for the first time in my life. I doubt anything will change, the Tories will hold their nerve and carry on cutting regardless. What Saturday did show was a great resolve and commitment to show that the country doesn't support what is happening.

Living standards are falling substantially. Taxes are going up, which will hit the poorest hardest. The government is putting thousands of people onto the dole. That won't help as taxpayers then become a burden on the state. It is clear that the burden of paying for the deficit to be reduced won't be borne by those with the "broadest shoulders". How can it be when VAT is up and the top rate of income tax will be cut?

I got the feeling that large numbers of the people marching on Saturday, like myself, were not natural protesters. There was a fantastic family atmosphere on the main march with lots of fancy dress and music. That belied the serious issues behind the march but showed that it was nothing like the previous student protests.

What now? There'll be more of the same from the Tories while Nick Clegg will continue to make himself unpopular. In an interview with the Financial Times today he says that a Liberal Democrat budget would have been "very close" to last week's. This hot on the tails of Clegg being caught on microphone saying that there is little for his party and their Tory chums to disagree on.

Labour needs to take advantage of the swell of support for an alternative to the government agenda. According to a YouGov survey the public backs the TUC and the march, with 52% in favour and 31% against. That shows a country divided but one in which the majority is against what is happening. The biggest question is whether this translates to election results in May. It probably will and the government will brush it off as mid-term blues and say they expected the result.

For the march and the elections to mean anything they have to be the start of consistent knock-backs for the government. If that happens their confidence might suffer and the next general election would be much more interesting. Protest was the easy part. The hardest part is keeping public confidence for an alternative and winning that support in the long term.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dirty Den Dover

The European Parliament gravy train hit the buffers with a huge bang today for disgraced Tory MEP Den Dover. He has stolen £345,000 from the taxpayer. That is fraud on a huge scale. Theft. Dover should be
locked up, though that will cost taxpayers even more money.

After being found guilty two years ago thief Dover refused to pay the money back. Of course he should pay it back. That isn't enough. I can't quite understand how officials, whether they are politicians or other public servants, can steal from the public purse and then just offer to pay it back. I'm quite sure most shoplifters get prosecuted when they get caught rather than just saying: "fair enough, you caught me, I'll just give all that stuff I nicked back and we'll call it quits." Somehow these people think that is OK. It isn't.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Budget 2011: plus ca change

Today's budget has done little more than tinker around the edges of plans already announced by the Tories' emergency budget. The Tories are not about to change tack on the economy and today's budget demonstrated that. There was some window dressing, such as painting changes to personal and fuel tax as reductions when they are far from that. Tomorrow's newspapers with personal budget calculators will show that.

Pickpocket Gideon Osborne has some nerve. When he claims that moving personal allowances for tax will mean we will be better off. We're all paying more in VAT, higher fuel costs and the inflation it causes. Everyone pays VAT. VAT goes on fuel so even though some items like food are excluded the cost of food goes up as the fuel required to get food to consumers costs more. VAT on fuel means any tinkering with fuel duty is more than wiped out.

Ed Miliband's response highlighted the holes in the Tories' strategy. Their medicine is painful. Disposable income, earnings and living standards are falling while unemployment and inflation are rising. Gideon wants people to thank him once this aggressive treatment has worked. I'm not sure it will and whatever happens most people won't thank him for hitting them in the pocket.

If ever there was an example of why you can't afford the Tories, this is it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lembit Opik is a joke

Lembit Opik's "Citizen Lem" video is meant to promote his bid to become London mayor next year. It is meant in jest but unfortunately the joke is on and not with Lem.

Citizen Lem from Mancha Productions on Vimeo.

The Lib Dems have never been serious contenders in any of the London mayoral elections and Lembit's "bid" symbolises a party lurching from disaster to laughing stock.

Mark Pack points out that no Lib Dem London assembly members, council leaders or MPs are backing the bid. That doesn't mean much though as there are only three Lib Dem assembly members, two council leaders and seven MPs after poor results for the party in 2010.

Before propping up the Tories nationally the Lib Dems already lost support across London. Before last year's election Lembit could have solicited support from eight council leaders. Give it another year after the regional elections on Soctland and Wales, locals in England and the London assembly elections and we'll see how much is left for the Lib Dems.

Poor Lembit. He makes great video, just not quite on topic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Do problems lurk for Labour?

Which Ed will succeed in making Labour credible again? Ed Miliband is continuing to grow into leadership and fight for his status while Ed Balls is carrying Labour's fight to the Tories.

Last week saw discussion about whether Miliband's lack of support will damage Labour's chances of success under him. The jury is still out. It is clear that the media will continue to paint Miliband fatal to the party's chances of success. This early into the job and with so many unknowns ahead it is hard to say. There is the reduction in the number of MPs, the AV referendum and the risk of a double-dip recession. It is certain the political landscape will change dramatically over the next two to three years. Many paint this is a huge threat to Labour but Miliband should see this as a huge opportunity.

Much of Tim Montgomerie's weekend Telegraph article resonated with me. Yes, he writes for the Telegraph and runs Conservativehome. Yes, he is also right even though he is a Tory. He highlighted several issues that Labour needs to address to succeed, one of which included Miliband himself, but also:

  • Are Labour too reliant on Tory failure to grant them success by default
  • How will Labour win in the South? Just as Cameron had to win outside the South
  • Ed Balls seems to have the answers that (he suggests) Miliband lacks
The Labour Party has to address these problems. The party cannot rely on the other side messing up - that is not a long-term and stable basis for power. It might work in the short term but will only lead to problems. If you win by default you will have nothing positive to offer the country with your power. 

Continuing to highlight falling living standards and hammering home that it doesn't have to be like this is one part of that strategy. There needs to be more, which includes fighting the claim, that currently sticks, that Labour and not the global financial crisis is to blame for the country's deficit.

Which Ed comes out of that struggle with the most to show isn't clear. They can do it together, or one of them could do it alone. Could it be that another Ed scuppers the other Miliband's chances of leading Labour in the future?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is the budget the Tories last chance?

The Spectator has suggested that next week's Tory budget as a last chance saloon to pull this terribly unpopular government from the doldrums. The Tory claims to be boosting the economy certainly sound increasingly hollow to the extent that I don't think even they believe it. The realities that change doesn't always happen that quickly in government are hitting home but perhaps this is a good thing if it shields the country from the worst Tory changes for longer.

The public, 71% of whom think their cuts are too far and too fast, will not like next week's budget, or the effect of Gideon Osborne's austerity that will inevitably follow. The Tory government is already incredibly unpopular but none of that really matters because barring a huge fall out with the Lib Dems this government will go the distance. No matter how unpopular the government is it will survive, until 2015 at least.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Does it matter if Miliband isn't loved?

Looking beyond the headline opinion polls that currently show Labour with a healthy ten point lead over the Tories it appears that Ed Miliband is the least popular of the three main party leaders. Even less than Nick Clegg. He hasn't been in the job very long which is certainly a factor, together with him not having been the most high profile minister in the former government.

As Miliband's recognition grows I expect his rating to improve. He will benefit from not being a Tory or Nick Clegg. That isn't enough to sustain him though. He needs to be liked and must be seen as a credible prime minister if he is to take Labour to victory. He has more time though the media will try and put him on the football manager style pedestal and stir up suggestions that he isn't up to the job.

The forthcoming Scottish, Welsh and English local elections provide the first test. The AV referendum is interesting too, for two reasons. First, if Labour are popular but Miliband less so Labour could "win" the next election much like the Tories did in 2010 - without a majority. Second, under those circumstances but with AV he would have to do a deal with the similarly unpopular Nick Clegg's Lib Dems. Right now that seems like a very odd scenario but it could well come to fruition.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Islington Lib Dems win "opposition group of the year"

That the Lib Dems awarded their rump of councillors in Islington "opposition group of the year" at last weekend's spring conference is laughable.

Lets look at their achievments in a bit more detail:

  • When I moved to Islington in 2004 Lib Dems outnumbered Labour councillors by 3:1. Last year the Lib Dems were routed and Labour now outnumber the Lib Dem councillors by 3:1, losing what was once their flagship council
  • Islington South and Finsbury was the number one Labour - Lib Dem marginal in the country. After a deluge of leaflets from Bridget Fox this is now a reasonably safe Labour seat for Emily Thornberry
Since losing the council Islington Lib Dems haven't achieved very much:

Leaked document
  • The rump of councillors have rarely been in full attendance at council meetings
  • They have issued what I assume was satirical leaflet stating "Nick Clegg keeps his promises"! - what about tuition fees? Er...
  • Celebrated dirty politics: this was one of the best read blogs of the year, which also made the local media and showed the outside world what most of us who have campaigned for Labour in Islington already knew. They are cynical, opportunist and play dirty, as shown by them having to pay Thornberry compensation for telling lies on their leaflets

Lib Dems winning here? No thanks!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lib Dem bashing: they only have themselves to blame

Nick Clegg shall be hoisted by his own petard. He doesn't want students to graduate with £20,000 of debt. He certainly agrees with that, students will be in at least £27,000 of debt thanks to him. It is so easy to watch video after video of Nick Clegg telling us all before the election of how he wanted to help students and to bring in a new, open politics. It hasn't really happened like that has it?

Latest Voting Intention

The Lib Dems are currently on 9%, behind "other."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ken for mayor?

Ken Livingstone's weekend Politics Show interview gave a taste of the arguments and attacks that will become both more prominent and prevalent as we head towards next year's mayoral election in London.

The Tories will attack and will make it personal. Having been at the top of Labour's London politics for around the same number of years that I have been alive, Ken has a history of achievements and also (perceived) failures. His opponents will attack him and will be quick to highlight that he has already been rejected by London's voters before.

At the Labour mayoral hustings I went to Ken was forthright in stating his campaign would focus on opposing Tory cuts. This will get him so far in picking up votes from anti-Tories and perhaps some from those who deserted him in 2008. Will it be enough? I'm not sure, the media attacks will be strong and will reinforce negative sentiment against him.

Ken was a hate figure for many in 2008 and was tired. To win he needs to get his enthusiasm and energy back. Otherwise he may be too easy to cast off. He says he suffered at association with a then unpopular Labour government. This presents the interesting contrast with Boris Johnson having to fend off attacks of association with an increasingly unpopular Tory government. As Alastair Campbell tweeeted me: the election depends on that - together with Ken having enough energy to convince London he has new ideas.

Ken has a good record, much better than that of the incumbent. Ken has been accused of being a (former) Zone 1 mayor. This is unfair and Ken points out his initiative of neighbourhood policing that gave the same levels of police coverage to all parts of London. Buses got better in the suburbs, particularly night buses. This is something I noticed having grown up in zone 6. Fares were (then) as affordable as they have ever been in London and Ken will seek to do that again. I'd hope that was possible in the face of significant central government cuts though I'm not sure. Having built up a £1.2b of reserves he would use them to protect Londoners from the worst of government cuts.

Fair fares and no cuts to front-line policing will be his flagship policies. These will undoubtedly be popular. That is the easy part. The hard part is convincing a hostile media who have built up several decades of pent up opposition to Ken Livingstone .

Ed Mili-Balls would tax the banks again - divided Britain

I'm sure the headlines will focus on Labour's announcement today that a bankers' bonus tax should be levied for a second time. This was just a part of Eds Miliband and Balls presenting their alternative to the savage cuts of the Tories.

I'm personally interested to see how well this plays with the public. Bankers were a popular and easy target a year ago. The bosses of the main UK banks have called on the media, public and politicians to "move on" and let the industry and economy progress. This has been in the face of fierce and continued criticism from certain politicians, notably Chuka Umuna and Lib Dem Matthew Oakeshott.

I suspect that the extra bankers' tax will come in for some media and political criticism from those on the right. The timing is also interesting though, coming just a couple of weeks before thousands take to the London streets to protest against the current government's programme of cuts.

This all points us in the direction of partisan politics and a divided country. It feels like politics is getting argumentative and Ed Balls will be central to this - a role I'm sure he is relishing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Does anyone even know what an Oyster Extension Permit is?

Apparently London's train companies have agreed to abolish the totally confusing and bureaucratic Oyster Extension Permit. For those that don't know, if you are travelling through London on an Oyster season ticket and want to use some pay as you go money to top up your journey beyond your zones you have to get one of these permits if your extended journey is on a train. If you stick to the tube or Overground you are fine. Most people didn't know as how would anyone sensible expect to have to do such a thing?

It would be easier to know whether this insane system has been abolished had mayor Boris Johnson stuck to his 2008 manifesto pledge to hold a "public" rail summit. Instead it was held in private so we only know about this from whatever has leaked out. If it is true then it signals progress.

Hopefully getting around London will be much easier and less confusing. Soon. Perhaps. Probably. Bring on 2012.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lib Dem bashing

Medhi Hasan suggests that the coalition has exposed "Labour's worst tribalist tendencies". To some extent this is true. The party has enjoyed baiting the Lib Dems as a diversion from its own problems: losing power. I admit that I've enjoyed taking part, though that emanates more from having campaigned directly against the Lib Dems in Islington for many years. Locally they have always been my foe.

Hasan argues that Lib Dem baiting is a problem for Labour because it ignores the common ground between the two parties. He highlights rebels in the Lib Dem ranks, such as Charles Kennedy and Lord Oakeshott. Labour should extend an olive branch to disaffected Lib Dems, because the social democratic arm of that party historically derives from Labour and there is some common ground.  That isn't enough for me. Just as the Lib Dems held the Labour Party accountable for the actions of the leadership when in power, I feel we must do the same. We're involved in a competitive electoral fight. The Lib Dems know where we are.

If the "natural home for Lib Dems is on the left" they need to start proving that by their actions in government, at their conferences and if that doesn't work they should find themselves a new home while they still have the chance.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Miliband's momentum?

I had been waiting for Ed Miliband to grow into his role as Labour leader. Watching PMQs today positive signs were apparent. He comes across clearer that in his early days in charge, though there was no killer punch. He has a little bit to go before he is able to match Cameron's wit and ease at the despatch box. None of this matters too much as we can all remember William Hague repeatedly getting the better of Tony Blair at PMQs yet he got nowhere because he just wasn't credible.

What matters for Ed Miliband is whether he and his team can take advantage of the Tories' unpopularity. For that to make an impact a clear and consistent narrative has be repeatedly communicated. His media image is improving with a real test around the corner in May's local elections. That is his first opportunity to gain momentum. All successful opposition leaders need to gain that to show that are heading towards power and that the government is on the way out.

Latest Voting Intention
  Labour has opened up a consistent five plus point lead over the Tories. That is the kind of killer punch and momentum Ed Miliband needs. I hope it is reflected in the real opinion poll in May.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Lib Dem wipeout?

Much has been made of the Lib Dems' latest low in finishing sixth in this week's Barnsley by-election. Does this really signal the descent into oblivion for the Tory lap-dogs? The prospects don't look good for them. All those who were duped into thinking Clegg's party were actually of the progressive left and voted for them instead of Labour at the election will surely continue to desert the yellow.

That prognosis could be too simplistic. Boundary changes will take many seats away from Labour at the next election. Couple that with unclear prospects for the AV referendum and there could be a very different political landscape in the near future. The Tories are likely to suffer from being a very unpopiular government.

This presents a huge political opportunity for Ed Miliband. He has to highlight splits within the Lib Dem support, Barnsley showed that many of these will come back to Labour. More crucially he and Ed Balls have to gain credibility for alternative economic policies to the slash and burn from the Tories.

At the moment there is so much uncertainty with the only certainty that the Lib Dems will wretch to more new lows before an election in four years that could be anyone's.