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Showing posts from March, 2009

Jacqui Smith's Expenses

The porn films watched by her husband may only amount to £10 worth of extra expenses, but this is in addition to a few other movies which the Home Secretary 'mistakenly' claimed for, to say nothing of the second home allowance that she claims for her actual home in Redditch. There is more than the whiff of sleaze hanging over the lady; more than the whiff of a public servant ransacking the public purse for all she's worth while she can.

And while the Opposition stays rather quiet - they're worried about their own MPs' expenses after all - David Davis has about got it right when he says there would be less strident calls for her to go if she were actually any good at her job. As remarked here previously, she is a dismally underwhelming performer in one of the top offices of state, over-promoted and incapable. But then, I guess if she'd been any good, she'd have had the wit to avoid her present controversy wouldn't she?

UPDATE: I see that the BBC's

Pickled Politics

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Oh dear! Just as the right-wing blogosphere is getting ever so excited at the knowledge that an elected Tory can make a good speech, along comes another elected Tory to provide something that Conservative Home admitted was a 'trainwreck'!

I missed the BBC's Question Time last night, so the first intimation I got that Tory Chairman Eric Pickles had hit the rails was a text saying concisely that he'd just been 'destroyed'. And they weren't wrong. It seems that Pickles ran into trouble when trying to explain why MPs claimed second home allowances. Now there might not be an easy way, in the current political and economic climate, for any MP to explain why they should have financial perks, paid for by the taxpayer, that are not available for others. Possibly the best approach is to hold your hands up and suggest that perhaps there should be an inquiry. Possibly the worst approach is to try and explain that they're absolutely essential because, if you li…

The Viral Internet

The 'Today' programme has been trying a little experiment in internet video influence, by producing a light little video and seeing how long it takes for it to 'go viral' - i.e. start being seen all round the world, and by large numbers of ordinary, humble net surfers. They needn't have bothered. The Dan Hannan attack on Gordon Brown in the European Parliament the other day appears to have done the trick far more effectively.

Hannan gave a short (3 minutes) but effective and sustained demolition of Brown in reply to Brown's speech to the European Parliament. His speech went unreported by all of the mainstream media; certainly no showing on any broadcast news outlet. As with all of his speeches, Hannan posted it to youtube. It was picked up by a number of widely read Conservative bloggers (Iain Dale, Guido Fawkes etc). By yesterday, it had become the most watched video on youtube and Hannan was being invited onto Fox News in America to comment. So with…

A Euro Attack on the PM

Events in the European Parliament don't get a great deal of coverage, perhaps deservedly so. Gordon Brown, however, is probably quite pleased at their low profile amongst the public at large, as he isn't always subject to the sort of forensic attack in Westminster that he was treated to in Strasbourg by Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan. See whether you think Mr. Hannan deserves a wider audience in the clip below - helpfully placed on you tube by, er, Dan Hannan MEP!

Westminster and Work

Just how hard working are these MPs, that they need to claim all manner of extra expenses? Tony McNulty is merely the latest, but the issue of MPs' allowances for second homes, John Lewis lists etc has been on the front burner for a while now. There has been the suggestion that perhaps they should be paid a higher salary, and then the extra allowances could be abolished altogether. Are they, though, worth extra money from the public purse? The Evening Standard's Paul Waugh has this piece on MPs working hours, written on a Friday afternoon when MPs were distinctly thin on the ground at Westminster.

The PM and Goody

When he became prime minister Gordon Brown was apparently keen to roll back the celebrity obsessions of his predecessor Tony Blair. It seemed somehow inappropriate that the nation's leader should be so obviously in hock to a febrile celebrity culture when, really, didn't he have more significant things to do with his time? So to hear him issue a paean of praise to the deceased Jade Goody, whose sole claim to public attention is to have appeared, foul mouthed and ignorant, on a reality television show, is surely an immersion in celebrity vacuousness too far? There are many, many more sufferers from terminal diseases at too young an age who have given much to others, lived their lives with charity and warmth and suffered their approach to death wih quiet dignity. But, of course, they haven't appeared on television, or screamed about the unfairness of life on cable television channels and in celebrity magazines, so naturally why would Gordon Brown be interested in them?

Policies for a New Tomorrow

Do you think reform of the House of Lords is a good idea? How about granting every young adult £20,000 once they turn 18 as a reflection of the stake they hold in society? Both of these suggested policies for a future Labour manifesto feature on the New Statesman's website. More interestingly, they both come from quite near to home for anyone studying politics at Sutton GS...just have a look at the authorship of the first and seventh policies listed!

School Places and Bottled Mineral Water

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No, hard pressed parents can't win much coveted school places with the gift of a bottle of mineral water for their prospective schools but there is a link in the title nonetheless. The Observer today carries a story about parents of pupils in a high achieving west London state primary who are faced with rejection by all of their preferred secondary schools. The education lottery is becoming worse as the credit crunch forces parents who might once have opted for the private sector to search for appropriate places in the state sector. (There is, interestingly, another story here, to do with how well the state sector could cope with demand if the socialist desire to abolish private education were ever realised, but that's for another time.) Consequently, parents at a well run primary school like the one featured in the Observer's article, becoming more choosy about what they are willing to accept for their children, are finding that the 'top' secondary schools are mas…

Select Committee Extravagance

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Private Eye's 'Gavel Basher' carries an exposure of potential select committee abuse in this fortnight's edition.

The select committees could be a crowning triumph of the parliamentary system. Introduced in 1979 by Conservative Leader of the House Norman St. John Stevas (did Margaret Thatcher, his PM, really understand what he was doing I wonder?), they are there to call government departments to account. Manned and chaired by backbenchers, they are an opportunity for MP's to assert their legislative independence and do a bit of decent scrutiny. Unfortunately, much of the would-be independence of the committees is undermined by the ferocious activity of party whips in ensuring representation on them by tame lobby fodder MP's. Now, according to Private Eye, the government have set up seven new regional select committees as a way of rewarding loyal followers. The committees - designed to scrutinise regional spending that is already scrutinised by other commi…

The Tories' Nightmare - Winning in 2010

Over on the 'skipper' blog, Bill Jones examines the polling evidence in yesterday's Guardian, suggesting that if any sign of recovery can be perceived by 2010 then Gordon Brown could still win. He looks back at the situation for the Major government in 1992, which squeaked a victory against all odds for precisely that reason. The analogy offers little comfort for the Tories.

In 1992, even the Tories were expecting to lose. Had they done so, Neil Kinnock would have become Prime Minister. His Chancellor would have been John Smith, who at that time was following a remarkably similar path to Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont, esepcially with relation to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. As PM, Kinnock would have thus been the man to preside over 'Black Wednesday', and the subsequent collapse of economic confidence. He would have lost the next election, and Labour's reputation for economic competence would have sunk into the earth's crust, probably not to e…

Burstow on Liberalism

Paul Burstow was the latest guest to grace the 6th. Form Lecture programme at SGS. The Lib Dem Chief Whip - and local MP of course - focused on the defence of freedom for his speech. He gave an eloquent survey of what he saw as the overweening power of the state threatening individual freedoms, and it is not surprising that his talk should have generated some good questions from the audience. His view of freedom is certainly classically liberal - to the extent that he was happy to accept that freedom must come with risks; that some 'anti-terror' measures should be consigned to the waste bin because their impact on individual freedom is more significant than whether they might protect us from external attack. He was clear about not wanting to live in Voltaire's "gilded cage".

The key question for any modern liberal, of course, is how to resolve that tension between protecting individual liberties and promoting empowerment for all. Opposing the power of the sta…

Binge Whinge

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If the Sunday papers are to be believed, Britain is drowning under a deluge of alcohol abuse. There are binge drinkers on every corner, corner shops are being besieged by under-age buyers of alcohol, and virtually every adult in England is taking advantage of phenomenally low prices to consume as much as possible.

Or is it possible that there were lots of blank pages to fill and yet another piece about alcoholism is (a) easy, and (b) guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of middle England?

There may or may not be a binge drinking issue to be addressed - the sensationalist nature of all news coverage of the topic actually makes it quite difficult to genuinely decide. If there is, we can be pretty sure that it is not universal, that it is confined to certain groups in society, and that it is nothing new. Which makes the constant attempts to squeeze it onto the news agenda both depressing and suspicious. The chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, is the man who pushed the story out th…

Quality? Just Select a Woman!

The Labour Party undoubtedly transformed the look of the House of Commons after 1997 with the admission of a large number of women MPs, thanks almost entirely to the success of the all-women shortlists. This was a comsiderable move forward for female equality in a parliamentary world that had been clearly biased against it. Naturally, such an advance also came at a price, most notably the price of quality. Very few of the women who entered parliament then established themselves as effective, weighty politicians. Labour continues to suffer - and the cause of female equality certainly suffers - from the promotion of clearly inadequate women to senior positions purely on account of their gender. No better example than Jacqui Smith, the woefully underwhelming Home Secretary, serves as clear evidence of this. And Labour encountered growing opposition amongst its grassroots to the continued use of all-women shortlists, which seemed increasingly to be imposed on ultra safe seats that l…

Immigration - The ESU Debate

Was at the English Speaking Union's grand headquarters in London, Dartmouth House, last night to hear a debate on immigration. Dartmouth House has, in the past, been the scene of great public speaking nearly triumphs from the SGS speaking teams, but last night it hosted Damian Green MP, Phillippe LeGrain, Dr. Mark Pennington and Jim Black. The motion was that "This House Believes in a Liberal Immigration Policy", which means uncontrolled. Damian Green - still on bail for the heinous crime of trying to hold the government to account - was opposing, and made in fact the most eloquent and practical of the four cases. Acknowledging that the proposition had "better tunes to play" he nonetheless warned against leaving the case for any sort of control on immigration to extremist politicians, proceeding to make a pretty level headed one of his own.

One aspect of the debate was that each side's speakers seemed to come to their position from a different perspecti…

Lib-Con Pact?

It seems the Lib Dems may be preparing to look at a Liberal Conservative Pact in the event of a hung parliament after the next election. That, at least, is the substance of a report on Nick Robinson's blog, and an FT report as well. The problem for the Liberals is that, whatever the logic of a Tory pact, most of their activists hate the Tories, and the Liberal party as a whole is far more sympathetic to Labour. You can find plenty of examples of Lib-Lab pacts in both local government and, until the nationalists kyboshed the idea, in the devolved assemblies. There are, however, precious few examples of Lib-Con deals in any governmental organisation in the UK. And the reason, of course, is that the two parties are simply not natural allies. Although both may be in opposition at present, it is all too easy to forget that the Liberal Democrats are a left of centre party and the Tories are a right of centre party. They exist in clear opposition to each other, and that is the re…