Friday, 31 December 2010

Tory MP warns government against NHS privatisation

After a huge pre-election advertising campaign by the Tories that included claiming that the NHS was safe in their hands, that they will 'cut the deficit, not the NHS', 2010 ends with a Tory MP warning the government that their NHS reforms may lead to rapid privatisation of the organisation.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Tories finish 2010 behind Labour in every major poll

The final YouGov poll for 2010 has Labour continuing its lead over the Conservative Party. Government approval is also at the lowest since the coalition was formed.

This follows on from positive polls for Labour (and particularly bad ones for the Liberal Democrats) from Angus Reid, from ICM, from Ipsos/MORI, and from phone and online polls from ComRes.

The picture for 2010 can be summed up as follows:

  • The Liberal Democrats have lost vast swathes of their support since the election. In both Yougov and Angus Reid they are polling in the single digits. On a uniform national swing (which never happens, of course, but is a useful approximation) they would be reduced to a rump party of around 16 seats (over forty fewer than they have now);
  • Nick Clegg's personal popularity ratings have seen a spectacular rise and fall - almost certainly he is the big loser so far. He and his party must be concerned that it is they (and not the Tories) that have been the focus for much of the anger, not least from students. One theory that is blindly obvious to many outside their party is this: it is the Liberal Democrats, through their decision to support a Tory government that, let us not forget, failed to win a majority at the election, that has allowed the frankly dramatic programme of privatisation of the public sphere that we are now beginning to see.
  • Labour has, as some predicted, established a lead in polls. Ed Miliband will be pleased that he ends 2010 leading a party that is now clearly ahead according to every polling firm (something that wasn't apparent as little as a month ago).
  • It is worth mentioning that the turn-around in fortune for Labour is dramatic compared with the last change of government. Tony Blair's Labour Party managed to maintain a clear lead over the Tories in both ICM and MORI polling from their 1997 general election landslide until the summer of 2003 - six years - with only a temporary blip in September 2000 during the fuel tax blockades. David Cameron, by contrast, has managed to lose his party's lead within six months.
  • Miliband's party appear to have picked up significant support from those that voted Liberal Democrat in the General Election. Consequently, Labour have seen a significant jump in their position, from a general election share of less than 30% of the vote, to almost exactly 40% now - enough to win them a small but comfortable majority under current electoral boundaries.
  • The Conservatives have pretty much exactly maintained their position from the May election. This isn't a bad position for them to be in and suggests that they may have picked up support from some other areas (whether this is defectors from UKIP, the Lib Dems or other non-aligned voters is hard to tell).
  • However, it is worth noting that they have maintained a position that failed to win them a majority in the last election - something that should concern them and no doubt is a factor in Cameron's warm embrace of Clegg.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Rue the decision by Clegg to join the Tories? Maybe you should have read the Telegraph...

This article in 2007 in the Telegraph offers a very prescient view on Clegg and Cameron's attitudes to each other.

Fair enough, Clegg may have said this the following year, but it was clear from very early on that when Clegg won the Liberal Democrat leadership election, their party took a hard right turn.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Is this what 2011 will look like?

As council after council announces swinging cuts to services in response to their dreadful funding settlements, much focus has, quite rightly, has been on the steep cuts to services for the poorest - meals on wheels, after-school clubs and other services.

But these are, to a certain extent, invisible cuts to many people. They hurt those in need, sure, and they almost certainly result in long-term damage to society and contribute to rising crime. But, nevertheless, their short-term impact is not necesarily felt by wider society, at least initially.

However, will 2011 see the start of a more visible manifestation of the cuts? As Westminster Council announces plans to switch of street lights, Sefton Council reduces fly-tipping cleaning squads and others look to reduce rubbish and recycling collections, it is highly likely urban areas in particular will start to look visibly more run down, dirty and darker.

Will it be this visible impact of draconian cuts that finally starts to hit Conservative (and not just Lib Dem) support?

Back to the 19th Century...

Over at Comment is Free, John Harris has penned an excellent piece pointing out what is becoming increasingly evident - that across its policy agenda, from health care to the role the state plays in community life and eduction - we are returning to a pre-war, Victorian approach to policy... the state exists to protect the property of home owners, to keep order and to defend the borders and the poor are kept fed by the occasional indulgence by the rich in a little noblesse oblige (with possibly a little help from the Church and other bastions of traditional Englishness).

More here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Labour hit 43% with YouGov

YouGov's latest poll makes good reading for Miliband, and less positive reading for Osborne and co.

In the wake of similar trends from other polling firms, in YouGov's latest Labour has now established what appears to be a clear lead over the Conservative party, and at 43% are at their highest level since the election-that-never-was in 2007.

There are a couple of particularly interesting parts of the poll worth noting:
  • Labour are now ahead of the conservatives amongst every age group, bar the over 60s. Cameron's focus on protecting (clearly to the detriment of other services) universal benefits for pensioners looks a little different in this light.
  • The Conservatives are behind in London and in every region of the country bar one - the south, outside the capital.
  • There has been a noticeable shift in recent weeks regarding the Conservatives' ability to handle the economy and taxation. Labour now lead the Tories on the following issues: taxation, the NHS, education and dealing with unemployment. The Tories remain narrowly ahead on the economy in general and further ahead on law and order and immigration.
Full details are here.

REVEALED: Cable versus Murdoch - the story the Telegraph buried

It appears the Telegraph was selective in its 'full transcript' of the secretly-taped Cable meeting.

The BBC has published some, previously hidden, remarks on Murdoch.

Cable: The ideological Tories haven't thought things through

The Telegraph's secret recordings of  Cable reveal much about his views on the Tory-led government. One that shines through is how ideological he sees them - from his talk of a 'Maoist revolution' in the NHS to his clear view that the Tories are opposed (no surprise here) on tougher regulations over banker's pay. He also worries about the pace of change in health and other areas, putting him in the same camp as just about every major health body, doctors group and non-partisan think-tank in the land:

We are trying to do too many things, actually...Some of them are Lib Dem inspired, but a lot of it is Tory inspired. The problem is not that they are Tory inspired, but that they haven’t thought them through. We should be putting a brake on them.”

Monday, 20 December 2010

Universities receive 9% funding cut from April... fund for poorest students slashed by 11%

The government today continued on its relentless mission to decimate public services with a dramatic reduction in funding to higher education to be introduced before the income from higher fees are introduced. This for a sector at the tail end of a programme of efficiency savings introduced by the last government.

There are four interesting points to be made about the latest announcement:

1) Despite the changes to HE funding, including the massive increases in tuition fees, being portrayed by the government as necessary for slashing the deficit, the total cost of the system to the exchequer is forecast to be the same or even higher than the current system. Therefore, one can only conclude that, in this instance, the government's ideological agenda has been exposed for what it is.

2) One of the largest percentage cuts in 2011 will be to the Access to Learning Fund, which will see more than 11% of its funding disappear. This fund, incidentally, is to provide financial support for those on full or part-time courses who are suffering from financial hardship.

3) Although the government has headlined a 6% cut to universities' budgets, the actual figure is 9.4%, taking out 'loans' from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the sector, and including only grants and recurrent funding.

4) There will be a reduction in student numbers by 10,000 places in 2012/13 (the first year of the new tuition fee regime).

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Are the Tories trying to lose in Oldham?

There is a good deal of suspicion in many quarters that Tory central office are trying to engineer a poor campaign to the benefit of the Liberal Democrats in upcoming by-election in the three-way marginal of Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Alongside the breaking of the convention on the setting of the date for the election - driven by the apparent desire of the Lib Dems to have an election whilst most students are away from the constituency - the coalition appears to be doing its best to avoid an embarrassing result for Clegg.

The dangers of this strategy are obvious - that although it may please the liberal-leaning centre-right of the party (although with a policy on the NHS and public spending way to the right of even Margaret Thatcher, it's difficult to identify them as such) - there are a good deal of traditional Conservatives very uneasy about such a strategy.

Friday, 17 December 2010

First government scraps maximum waiting times in hospital.... now it scraps targets for ambulances too.

The media, predictably, has given the Tories an easy ride so far. And they've taken the opportunity, one by one, to scrap targets to ensure timely patient care. Back to the 1990s it is!

Finance speculation - first it caused the crash, then the bailout... and now it helps starve the poor

The Guardian today takes up a theme of the World Development Movement on the increasing role that financial speculation plays in driving up the cost of foodstuffs, and the ripple effect it has on the prices of meat in the west.

Those that suffer the most are those in the developing world, of course, but at home there is a deep irony that average Joe and Joan, having seen their living standards drop considerably as the country pays the cost of the bank bailout and its associated recession, are now forking out extra for their food as a result of the foolish greed of the very same speculators that caused the mess.

Clegg, meanwhile, has promised that he'll be VERY ANGRY if the same guys dole out huge bonuses for themselves. Given his track record, I think this blog isn't exactly going out on a limb by guessing that in practice, that doesn't mean very much.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Lib Dems' celebrity backers desert party

Colin Firth, Jeanette Winterson, Philip Pullman and Richard Sennett are amongst a slew of famous names that backed the Liberal Democrats at the 2010 general election and have now withdrawn their support.

The Evening Standard has the story in full here and the Mirror covers Firth's decision to withdraw support here.

'The greenest government ever'... or, in the end, perhaps not.

The New Statesman has produced a succinct summary of the government's record on the environment to date.

To say it's not great would be an understatement... a bit like saying that the Lib Dems aren't doing brilliantly in the polls.

The greenest government ever - the seven-month summary: forests for sale, a slashed green tech budget, no green bank, flood defence budget hammered, no independent sustainability watchdog. But on the bright side, developers will be allowed to build energy-inefficient houses for a few more years at least, and you can still import illegally logged timber if you like.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The north-south divide

Fresh from a funding settlement that saw Tory councils faring unsurprisingly well compared to their poorer inner-city counterparts, the latest employment data has shown that, between June and October this year, the north-east of England has seen the biggest rise in unemployment.

The north-south divide in all of this has been picked up by numerous media commentators, including here and here.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Lib Dems score lowest ever score in YouGov poll

The story of the polls to date has been big increases in Labour's share of the vote, a consistently solid Tory position and what looks like possible obliteration for the Liberal Democrats.

Last night, YouGov released details of their latest poll - with the Lib Dems on 8% of the vote. On a uniform national swing at an election, this would see 5 out of every 6 of their MPs lose their seats, leaving them with only 10 left sitting in the Commons.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tom Watson speaks for the nation

For those that missed it at the time, a heated exchange in the Commons in July saw Labour MP Tom Watson get fairly passionate about school capital funding cuts.

A little light relief maybe, but on the eve of the government's assault on the UK higher education system, it's only right for people to remind themselves of how important it is for MPs, public figures and ordinary people who oppose these measures to make themselves heard. Thanks to the genuine passion of hundreds of thousands of young people across the country, the last few weeks has seen this start to happen - and surprise many commentators who assumed that apathy was the defining characteristic of this generation's young people.

It's a shame that the cowardly silence of so many Lib Dem MPs is likely to mean that tomorrow the government wins both votes on tuition fees, consigning to history the principle that the country should invest in the higher-level education of its young people.

Want a road cleared of snow? Do it yourself then.

This blog can confidently predict that the Transport Secretary's latest wheeze to encourage the public to start clearing their own roads, presumably starting with side roads and ending with the whole network once government has been successfully rolled back to nothing, is likely to go down an absolute storm.

Mind you, let's give them credit, from Free Schools to do-it-yourself health care initiatives, this government is nothing if not consistent.

Come on, Boris, go get your shovel.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Why Nick Clegg is bad for politics

Why are young people on the streets? Why is direct action suddenly so prevalent - sit-ins, protests, internet campaigns?

The answer is simple - disillusionment and a sense of betrayal.

Disillusionment, because a generation of young people see their elected (so-called) representatives pouring billions into the coffers of big financial corporations whilst slashing away at the services and jobs of ordinary people, and apparently are rapidly pulling up the ladder behind them.

Betrayal because a man - Nick Clegg - and a party - the Liberal Democrats - that promised them so much, that took the votes of many thousands of first-time voters, has promptly dropped the vast majority of its pledges, apparently for the promise of power.

For the most depressing thing to come from Clegg's "new politics" isn't that it's given a mandate to a Tory government that comprehensively failed to gain one. It is because it has created a whole new generation of people that are now disappointed in politics and politicians.

And, typically, only the anti-government Right has anything to gain as a result.

Simon Hattenstone puts this far more eloquently here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

For Gove, ideology comes first, evidence a distant second

If there is one part of government where neo-liberal ideology is most clearly rampant, it is in education. Michael Gove has attacked universities long-standing role in providing teacher training, driven apparently by his belief that HE is a bastion of wishy-washy left-wing liberalism.

Now, it doesn't appear to matter to him one jot that HE actually has a better record of providing high-quality teacher training than his preferred choice of school-centred training. What is also apparent is that he appeared for a long time to be under the impression that HE-delivered training doesn't involve much school-based placements, which it very much does... it's almost as though he drew up his proposals without bothering to look into what actually takes place at the moment.

Sound familiar? Well, let's consider slow-motion train-crash that is his decision to destroy School Sport Partnerships, despite firm evidence that they have transformed access for state-school children to a wide range of sports (including 'traditional' competitive team sports) and have dramatically improved the numbers of children participating in sport.

Gove has, as many have pointed out, again not concerned himself in even looking properly at how SSPs function - apparently he has never even troubled himself to visit one. Again, his ideological distrust of anything that resembles state support meant that he made his mind up without recourse to facts.

However, with opposition growing and, this week, a march on Westminster on Tuesday, this sledgehammer approach might just backfire.


Peter Mortimore, over at Comment Is Free, on why parent-run Free Schools will lead to the privisation of the schools sytem.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Danny Alexander: I might not vote for my own policy

An excruciating performance by Danny Alexander on BBC's Question Time this week in response to a question on tuition fees.

Worth a watch if you enjoy the sight of a politician sinking.

© Steve Bell

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Not the result Boris hoped for....

... considering he chose to leave London for a jaunt to Zurich during yet another transport crisis.

And even his usual press allies aren't happy:

Devolving blame

Adam Bienkov, aka Tory Troll, has penned a piece over at the New Statesman which will no doubt be on many people's minds over the next few years.

The government, he says, are in effect attempting to devolve blame:
"By giving local authorities new powers over spending but far less money to spend, the government hopes to localise the pain while decentralising the blame".

This is a pertinent point. For it's not just councils that are being granted devolution - the grand 'mutuals' idea that Francis Maude announced with a fanfare last month will also give the government the ability to expand the range of organisations that the public can blame for declining services.

The question is will it work? Will the public blame the local management of their services or will they continue to point the finger at their paymasters in Westminster? The last few decades saw PPP tube contracts, privatised rail services and similar arrangements being established in other transport networks, but arguably transport is still seen, as ever, as a government issue.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

And you thought the Tories were bad...

We all know that the US Republican Party, already dragged to the outer reaches of the political spectrum under Dubya, has now drifted off into the ether. It currently exists in the same kind of limbo in which the profoundly mentally ill reside: only occasionally enjoying periods of lucidity before slipping back into paranoia and madness.

To put it simply, they no longer occupy the same reality as most people. Consequently, their proclamations become ever more weird and extreme and ironically they become more and more like the very 'extremists' over whom they so obsess.

This is illustrated by the reactions of senior Republicans to the Wikileaks saga - calling for executions and for the outfit themselves to be 'hunted' like Osama Bin Laden. This is eerily reminiscent of the treatment given to 'subversives' in autocratic regimes.

Fox News

What kind of environment allows this kind of political culture to thrive? There is, of course, the media to think about - specifically the malign influence of Fox News, a bile-filled, intensely political outfit that make the Daily Express look like a bastion of reasoned impartiality.

It is an intensely partisan organisation, relentlessly churning out propaganda for the political hard right. Its startling recent highlights include portraying the the recent British student protests as a rally in support of spending cuts and claiming that free health care in the UK is responsible for producing Muslim extremists.

The cause of the Republicans (and, of course the Tea Party) is also furthered by numerous very well-funded think-tanks and supposedly grassroots organisations (the Heritage Foundation, FreedomWorks) that basically promote variations on the same theme - low taxation, low regulations, aggressive foreign policy.

All of this poses an obvious problem not just inside, but also outside the US. For in the very near future it is entirely possible that the nations of the world will be at the mercy of ideologues who are content to lump together a diverse range of detractors of American policy, or those who express liberal views, as 'enemies' of the United States.

They will also suffer the consequences of people unwilling to accept basic facts, or even to listen to reasoned argument. Global warming is therefore a 'marxist conspiracy'; the UN some kind of evil plan to subvert the free peoples of America. International co-operation is therefore always a bad thing.

To use a term all-so familiar to these ideologues, God help us.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Lib Dems sink to polling score low

Clegg: not popular

ComRes has been running a series of phone (and now additionally online) polls for the Independent and Independent on Sunday since 2006.

In the latest poll, the Liberal Democrats have scored their joint lowest score since the beginning of the partnership with the paper, of just 12%. Labour, meanwhile, have reached their highest level yet in this series - 40%.

This means the Tories are behind Labour in the most recent survey from every major recognised polling firm, except YouGov, who have them neck-and-neck.

Every polling firm has shown the same basic trend since the General Election - Labour have been on an upward climb, steady except for a wobble during the summer. The Tories have also improved their polling share since May, albeit by a smaller amount than Labour and with a very recent change in fortunes according to most polling firms.

The effect of these changes means that Labour can be fairly confident that they finally pulled ahead of the Tories in terms of voting intention in early November. The Tories can comfort themselves with the apparent fact that their support in real terms in still higher, or at about the same level than it was May. 

The Liberal Democrats have a different story to tell. They have seen their share of voting intention suffer from what appears to be an inexorable decline. Prior to the tuition fees protests, it appeared that this decline might have reached a plateau, but the party has recently hit new lows in various polls (as low as 9% in the case of recent poll from YouGov). Their support has halved since the General Election, which generally speaking looks to have benefited Labour the most. 

Left-Right Divide

A favourite cliche from many commentators is that 'the era of traditional left-right politics is over'. But the polls are pointing to a quite different picture: left-leaning Liberal Democrats drifting away from Nick Clegg and towards a more openly centre-left Labour Party, with the Tories maintaining support amongst right-leaning voters. YouGov's latest poll has joint support for the two traditional main parties back up to 80%, from 65% at the General Election.

Meanwhile, with the return of street protests (complete with chants of "Tory Scum") and a public apparently almost evenly divided over support spending cuts, it looks like the right-left divide is, if anything, stronger than it has been for many years.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Boris Johnson to be investigated for alleged misconduct

Over at Torytroll, Adam Bienkov has (quite rightly) pointed people to a story that, were it concerning the previous London Mayor, would be front page news in the Evening Standard: Boris Johnson is to be investigated for alleged misconduct.

Update 1.15pm: The Standard are now running the story on their web site.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Tories and Lib Dems losing support at local level

There is a useful round-up over at Politicalbetting of the performance of the three main parties in the local by-elections held since the General Election (there have been over 100).
Although local elections are subject to numerous factors that in isolation can produce some unexpected results, such a large number of elections gives a useful barometer of public opinion. They also provide an opportunity to test whether political polls are providing an accurate picture of the health of support for the government and opposition parties.

So, what's the picture? Well, since the election the Tories have received an average of 29% of the vote, down 8% on the 37% share they received in local elections back in May. Their coalition partners, meanwhile, are fairing equally badly. The Liberal Democrats' average vote share has been 14% - down from 22% in May. Prety poor for a party accustomed in recent years for a growing share of the vote at local level.

Labour, meanwhile, have received an average 33% of the vote. This is up 6% on their May share of 27%. Not a barnstorming performance, but a respectable one for a party that so recently lost power.

There is, incidentally, a blog dedicated to recording (in forensic detail) the results of local by-elections - Britain Votes.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Monday, 22 November 2010

Teacher training - the RIGHT way!

As Michael Gove outlines his assault on what he sees as the breeding grounds of left-wing liberal thought - university teacher training departments - the higher education sector is clearly worried about this latest attack on their long-standing role in this field.

But what can be done to counter the threat to the historical role that HE has played in teacher training? This blog has found a compromise - a deal, to be reached between the sector and our glorious leaders to ensure that year after year universities churn out thousands of new teachers guaranteed to make Norman Tebbit look like a namby-pamby sandal-wearing lefty. Factories producing true-blue Conservatives, the length and breadth of the country, thus securing the sectors role in this field.

The deal is simple: each teacher training department shall promise to refocus its activities to be more compatible with those deemed most acceptable by Telegraph readers. An example of such a refocused (and renamed) department is below, which universities shall be encouraged to use as a template for their restructuring.


A traditional approach to teaching, underlined by the strong principles of swift and brutal discipline, traditional family values and general tea-drinking, cricket-playing Britishness.


The Cecil Rhodes Postgraduate Certificate in History Education
A one week intensive course covering the whole spectrum of the correct periods of British history, focusing primarily on the unquestionable good that the British Empire bestowed upon the ungrateful masses in the Near East, Rhodesia and other parts of the uncivilised world. This course will be taught primarily in Latin.

The Milton Friedman Diploma in Economic Education
A three day, highly exclusive course (available only to those of the right social standing) that eschews the socialistic ethos of thought so prevalent in mainstream teaching in favour of a rigorous study of the most sensible strands of economic thinking, including Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Sarah Palin and a misrepresented version of Adam Smith. This course will be taught primarily in Latin.

The Glenn Beck Certificate in Science Education
A one-day programme that focuses exclusively on the indisputable fact that global warming is, without question, definitely not happening, except in the minds of Marxists. Featuring contributions from a range of commentators from all parts of society, with the exception of anyone not working for the Spectator, Daily Mail or Fox News or anyone that has any understanding of basic science. This course will be taught primarily in intelligible ranting.

Littlejohn Studies
In addition to core courses outlined above, all students will be required to undertake Littlejohn Studies, a compulsory module that focuses obsessively on the modern evils of social justice, political correctness, multiculturalism and health and safety legislation. This course will be taught primarily in two-syllable words.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

"The end of the NHS as we currently know it"

In a passionate attack on Tory health policy, the new Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has joined almost every other major independent health group in criticising both the speed and scope of Andrew Lansley's NHS reforms.

The strength of this latest attack is striking, not least as such individuals normally couch their arguments in more restrained language. However, this intervention is certainly welcome. The Tories' dramatic health care reforms weren't even hinted at prior to the election, and the effects of the reform will almost certainly see the privatisation of both health care delivery and increasingly health care commissioning. It is, without a doubt, the beginning of the end of the National Health Service.

NHS - Efficient and fair and accessible

Meanwhile, yet again, the independent Commonwealth Fund have given a glowing report on the NHS, something this blog has covered before. In the latest report, predictably ignored by the bulk of the UK press, the NHS performs favourably against other leading industrialised health care systems, including the US, Norway and Canada, in terms of the speed of access to medical care and cost effectiveness.

Once again scoring highly on efficiency, the UK  is also singled out as the only industrialised nation where wealth is not a key determining factor in access to medical care. It is, quite simply, the fairest of health system of those included in the survey.

Yet this report will certainly be ignored, for a common theme of the Coalition's unfolding policy programme is this: an ideological zeal to cut back the state trumps evidence and rational argument every time.

Tories suffer more local election defeats

Britain Votes has details of the continuing trend for large swings against the Tory party in local by-elections across the country, including a huge swing against them in a previously safe Tory ward.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mutuals and the privatisation of public services

The do-it-yourself, Big Society British project took another great leap forwards yesterday when Francis Maude announced another massive step away from state-run services (like the dismantling of the NHS, this has so far received disappointingly small media coverage, maybe because media bosses think it's too complicated for their readers and viewers. Tragic really).

This blog has talked before about the elastic use of language by the Coalition - 'freedom' so often appears to equate to reductions in public services or the axing of often sensible regulations. There are numerous questions as to whether giving whole swathes of the public sector the right to run their own outfits is really about freedom, or merely cover for brutal spending cuts. In particular, the following is worth thinking about:
  • A postcode lottery. Dismantling centralised services will result in a proliferation of local organisations. The result will significantly increase the chances of a postcode lottery developing in services across the piece, with a real danger that richer areas will benefit to the detriment of those most in need of good public provision of services.
  • Accountability and communication. A problem hugely fragmented services is around accountability, duplication of services and joined-up thinking:
    • Who is responsible when something goes wrong? Anyone who has ever had a delayed train knows that the various parts of the network (train companies, Network Rail, private sub-contractors) invariably blame one another. Mind you, for ministers in Westminster wielding an axe, this lack of accountability might be a blessing.
    • Will those individuals who most need good communication between different parts of the public sector suffer as large numbers of competing services inevitably fail to communicate and, more problematically, fail to work together?  To make matters worse, so many of the organisations designed to encourage existing public sector services to work together are simultaneously being dismantled. Primary Care Trusts, for example, which were explicitly created to encourage the various parts of the health and social care systems to collaborate in the interests of the public.
  • Corruption and Inefficiency. As public money flows to countless Free Schools, Academies, social enterprises and mutuals, the danger of inefficiency and, worse, corruption increases. How, for example, do thousands of public mutuals, each with their own finance, IT and HR needs make better value for money than larger outfits with centralised back-room functions? This is exactly the opposite of how the private sector would act to find efficiencies. More importantly, how can new mutuals and for that matter Free Schools be expected to find the expertise to run specialist parts of their businesses such as these?
Which leads us on to the obvious answer:
  • Privatisation. When Michael Gove first floated his Free Schools proposals, a number of commentators questioned how a group of parents, most likely without relevant experience, could run a school and undertake to successfully navigate through the various legal and financial obligations that go with it. the answer is simple - they won't. As Toby Young himself acknowledged, the most likely result is that they will contract out such activities to the private sector. 
With mutuals the danger is the privatisation of delivery of public services like those related to Free Schools noted above will be accompanied by the privatisation of the ownership of services. Interestingly The Social Enterprise Coalition, who you would expect to be ecstatic about these proposals, have sounded just this alarm:

"Without the necessary safeguards there is a danger that the mutuals could be demutualised and sold off to the private sector, reminiscent of what happened to British building societies in the 1980s.... It would be criminal to see that happen to our public services. To prevent this from occurring, all mutuals need to be asset locked to ensure that they operate for the benefit of the public, forever".

UPDATE 19 NOVEMBER: For two different takes on this topic, Seumas Milne over at the Guardian has written this excellent piece on the creeping corporate takeover of government policy, whilst you can read another take on mutualism and the government's appropriation of left-wing language here.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

David Laws attacks 'slash and burn' Tory cuts

... in his local area.

It's difficult to square this with his apparent enthusiasm for national spending cuts (not to mention the green light from government for ideologic experiments such as this). But, just maybe, it is dawning on some senior Lib Dems that the cold reality of the cuts will hit society - and their support - very hard indeed.

Labour take firm lead over Tories in poll

UK Polling Report is reporting that Labour has now taken a 5-point lead over the Conservatives in the latest daily YouGov poll.

Although any individual poll can be subject to random variations and therefore have a margin of error, the fact that Labour has now been ahead in the last three consecutive polls suggests that they have now genuinely taken the lead.

The reasons behind the change in fortunes for the main parties are difficult to judge. It could be the increasing realisation amongst members of the public of the reality of spending reductions; it may be the negative publicity surrounding the various ex-Tory staff that have been parachuted into supposedly impartial civil service roles during a pay and recruitment freeze for existing staff; it might also be the impact of the recent controversy over the dramatic proposed increases in tuition fees.

Incidentally, this is the best position for Labour since 2007's election-that-never-was.

UPDATE 17 NOVEMBER: The latest poll from Ipsos/MORI shows a similar picture. This now means that the most recent voting intention survey from every major polling firm has Labour ahead, bar one - ICM - which should be publishing a new poll soon.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The dangers of austerity

So, all-out austerity works, does it? Ireland's story is a telling one.

Like the ancient gods, 'the market' (as currency speculators are routinely referred to in excessively reverential terms by sections of the media) will probably never be satisfied, no matter how many sacrifices are lobbed their way.

And so, with the vultures still circling, those voices that warned of internationally concerted austerity, including Barack Obama and the economist Joseph Stiglitz (who warned of 'deficit-cut fetishism') look increasingly like they called it right.

[For more on this subject, here is an interesting post over at Next Left]

Monday, 15 November 2010

All in this together? Osborne plans to CUT bank tax

Now, we know that some senior figures in the banking industry aren't on planet earth. A few are, and recognise the fact that the public is, quite rightly, more than a tad annoyed about the mess they've left us in.

Gideon Osborne, however, occupies a distinct rocky outpost that is depressingly familiar to followers of modern politics - Planet PR. When it comes to regulation or taxation of large corporations, one of the key policy preferences for those occupying this sphere of the political world is how to neutralise public clamouring for action with the very minimum of actual change. So, for example, Osborne is introducing a bank levy to (supposedly) rein in bonuses and try to recoup some of the vast swathes of public cash spent bailing out the industry. All very laudable.

However, we now learn that he'll actually act to reduce the levy if it brings in too much money.

Is it just this blog, or is the fact that the levy may bring in so much cash a telling sign that, as far as bonuses are concerned, it really is back to business as usual? And is this a politician acting out of fear of an exodus of financial firms from the UK or is this a Conservative acting cynically to ensure that his populist measure doesn't actually have the teeth that it is so publicly billed as having?

A Big Mac a day keeps the doctor away

Well, we always knew that Lansley was not keen on regulations on private companies, but handing some of the largest producers of junk food the power to help dictate UK public health policy is something else.

Update 16 November: More on this over at the Guadian's Comment Is Free.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Why Dave loves 'localism'...

One of the more ambiguous terms (and, with "national interest, potentially the most disingenuous) deployed by the Coalition is 'localism'.

For all its positive connotations (boosting local democracy, bringing accountability closer to the people, empowering communities) there is the cold reality - the decimation of national standards and protections and the creation of a commercial free-for-all in major parts of society.

So, for example, in health care, the body that does more than most to keep medical treatment costs down and protect taxpayers from funding ineffective medicines (NICE) is neutered in the name of 'freeing' doctors to make local decisions, but in reality significantly tipping the balance of power in the direction of big pharma.

And, in the case of our national parks, it appears that 'localism' could also mean scrapping safeguards against commercial development of sites of important natural heritage.

The political Right is very astute at deploying friendly-sounding language - 'freedom', 'empowerment' - to smooth the transition to an unfettered free market.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Yet more jobs for the boys (and girls)

Continuing the noble Tory tradition of ditching fair and open competition for nepotism and old-boy networks, Cameron's appointments of friends and associates to civil service roles, without open competition, continues.

The Daily Mail has gone to town on the latest to be hired and has also suggested that senior civil servants are (quite understandably) not totally happy about all of this.

The most disgraceful thing about this is that it betrays the central coalition promise to promote the value of hard work and meritocracy, ditching it instead for cronyism and nepotism. It remains to be seen whether rules have been broken.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Speed cameras and photographers

So, the continuing stream of friends and colleagues of Tory ministers onto the Civil Service payroll continues, the latest being two of Dave Cameron's own - something that has angered even close Tory supporters.
This follows on from similar appointments made by other members of the Tory cabinet, which of course has resulted in some of the more unfortunate stories of the new regime.

What is so striking about this is that they don't seem to see the glaringly unfair situation that whilst the civil service undergoes a massive recruitment freeze and huge impending job cuts, Tory ministers think it's perfectly fine to not only bypass normal recruitment procedures but also to fill what should be frozen posts with chums. In an era of austerity, every one of these appointments potentially costs another person their job.

Why can't they see this? The answer is a particular facet of the Tory mindset, and is encapsulated in one object - the speed camera.

This particular (upper class) Tory mindset , of which David Cameron and George Osborne are prime examples, is simple...the law is there for one reason: to protect them (and their property) from others. The courts, police and prisons are all therefore a very good thing, catching thieves, arresting yobs and other undesirables and generally keeping order.

However, when the law encroaches upon their own liberty, that is a quite different matter. In some cases this can be avoidable.  Taxes, for example, can be sorted by a good accountant and an offshore bank account. Speed cameras, though, are a different matter. They affect everyone, and don't recognise wealth or background. Therefore, they are a relentless target of the Tory press. The same applies to congestion charges, traffic wardens and other aspects of traffic control.

It's this mindset that blinds these particular individuals to what many would see as a particularly unfair situation. Because when David Cameron talks about a recruitment freeze and job losses in the civil service, and when others talk about due process and fair and open appointments, it's all irrelevant, because these rules aren't meant to apply to people like him.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

NICE neutered by Lansley

This blog has written before about NICE at length - and one of the central themes in the last post on the matter was the suggestion that Andrew Lansley was prepared to withdraw the ability for NICE to make enforceable decisions regarding the efficacy and cost effectiveness of medical treatments.

Well, after much lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry and the the right-wing tabloid press, he's done just that.

Until now NICE has had the power to make nationally-binding recommendations where there is uncertainty in the apparent value of a medical treatment. Not any longer.

These changes mark another step in this government's aims to fragment the NHS. With this fragmentation comes the acute danger that the balance of power will shift significantly in the direction of large private corporations, who don't always work in the best interests of patients - as recent experiences in the UK and US have demonstrated.

Needless to say, Big Pharma are happy.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Murdoch and the Tories

Not really a surprise this one... but something that people should be aware of, especially considering the recent BBC licence fee 'deal'.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

More jobs for the boys (and girls)

You'd think, what with all the problems that William Hague brought on himself when he undertook a bit of nepotism, that the Tories would learn.

But, for those well-versed in a jobs for the boys culture, old habits die hard. So, news today that Michael Gove's department has lobbed half a million pounds in the direction of a 25-year old former advisor of his, without it being advertised or other groups being asked to tender for it, shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Same old, same old...

Top CEOs now earn 200 times the average wage - and soar 55% in a year

As the Civil Service juggles with a 34% cut in income, universities across the country stare into the abyss, the news has come that the pay of top company directors rose a staggering 55% in 12 months.

It's worth noting that over the last year, the minimum wage rose 2%. And even that will look generous after 5 more years of this government.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The risk of Lansley's reforms

The NHS Confederation has attacked the pace and nature of the government's health reforms, arguing that they create the "real danger of failures in quality of care or finances" in the NHS. Meanwhile, a poll of doctors has revealed these fears are shared by the vast majority of doctors working in the system.

As independent studies have demonstrated, the NHS in its current form does deliver efficient health care by international standards - yet, in his ruthless pursuit of his free-market ideal, Andrew Lansley is potentially putting the whole system at risk.

In all of this, it's worth remembering who the Secretary of State's key backers were in the run-up to the election, and the company he keeps.  

Brooker on Clegg

Charlie Brooker's witty take on the Deputy PM is worth a read.

Whatever the reasons, it is the Lib Dems, and not the Tories, that have suffered damage in the polls since the election, falling to just 10% in the latest YouGov polls.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Boris screws outer-London public transport users

Ironic really that a Mayor elected in the most part by voters in the outer regions of the capital should then hit them with the highest travel cost increases, but that's exactly what he's done.

Hardest hits will be those that buy daily, weekly and monthly travel cards that exclude Zone 1.

But then, Boris has (no kidding) declared next year the "year of walking". For some, that might be the only option...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Coalition threatens BBC with 26% reduction in income

Indications are that in the Spending Review Osborne may force the cost of providing TV licences for the over-75s onto the BBC,thus depriving it of more than half a billion pounds annually.

Tomorrow, we'll see if Murdoch will gets his payback that soon...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Senior Tories accused of tax dodging

Whether or not Channel 4 will have cold feet (in the same manner as the BBC's Panorama programme did recently) remains to be seen, but tomorrow Dispatches is scheduled to make allegations regarding the tax affairs of Transport Minister Philip Hammond, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and George Osborne.

There would be a rich irony (if you'll excuse the pun) that the week Gideon announces a crack down on benefit cheats, he and his colleagues are being accused of being complicit in forms of tax avoidance - something that a senior tax expert recently estimated costs the UK a staggering £120bn per year, which is significantly more than the planning reductions in public spending.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Daily Mail, Telegraph and Guardian agree on something...

... following on from the BBC's concerns about the proposed full takeover of Sky by News Corporation, the owners of the Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian, Mirror and broadcasters including Channel 4 and BT have written to Vince Cable to lobby against what one commentator has described as Britain's 'Berlusconi moment'.

The Times, Murdoch's daily UK broadsheet, has taken the extraordinary step of coming out with this, a nakedly partisan leading article.

Still, on the plus side, thanks to the paywall, no-one reads it anymore... no doubt something Murdoch is trying to rectify with his takeover plans.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Quango cull: Big business 2, Public 0

The Coalition is continuing on its noble drive to ensure that competition rules and consumer protection rights are pushed by the wayside, furthered today with the announced closures of Consumer Focus and the Office of Fair Trading.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Free Schools (part III)


Coalition Minister: "Hooray! Somehow we've managed to get a massive mandate to dismantle just about everything without even winning the General Election. Right, first up, Free Schools... who wants to start one?"

Senior civil servant: "I have a few submissions of interest here".

Submission 1
"I really, genuinely respect and admire the... erm, diversity of my local state school. I know it's got good facilities, teaching has been ranked very highly, results are above average but it's, erm... you know... not the, erm.... right environment for my children. That's why I would like to set a school up myself, which I promise to put my heart and soul into... until my children go off to university, after which I won't give a toss".

Minister: "Great. Approved!"

Senior civil servant: "And here is another one".

Submission 2
"I realy wont to set up a free School. I am fed up of goverments like NuLieBore and the EUSSR telling us what too do in this Great Country. We need a return of Christian Values, the cane and no Political Correctness and immigration. I am going to set up a school to teach this and also to help with making sure that Our Children learn proper subjects like Grammer and not islam and homosexuality".

Minster: "Fantastic. No more lefty wishy-washy feminazi, BBC-loving rubbish in that one. Approved!"


Minister: "Sir Humphrey, how are my Free Schools getting on? Please tell me it's not just that objectionable pillock Toby Young that's opening one?"

Disillusioned senior civil servant: "Um.... yeah, about that...."

Meanwhile, on planet Banknote...

Language is a funny old thing. The way in which words are used - and their meanings to different people - can tell you a huge amount.

Take this quote by a representative from a City law firm, made in response to the idea being floated of capping bonuses to a certain multiplier of base salary - the way he uses the word "acceptable" is startling, and points yet again to the bubble of unreality that many of these individuals live in:

"Whether this would achieve the desired risk-aware behaviour from traders is doubtful, as there would be more pressure to put up salaries so that proposed bonuses fall within acceptable levels"

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Another day, another (massive load of) dollars

When, many years from now, historians write about the latter years of the 20th century and the early decades of the 21st, one narrative (apart from the 'war on terror') will dominate - the overbearing influence that a tiny banking elite has over the levers of power throughout the developed world.

First, a massive and unprecedented bail-out and accompanying recession left a generation of people saddled with debt and a huge range of countries with a future of declining investment in public services and infrastructure.

Then, the very same elite -  rich from billions of taxpayer pounds and, for others, from the ability to borrow money at hysterically low rates of interest as a result of the guarantee that they are 'too big to fail' - resisted any attempts to reform or regulate them

And now, well, they are just taking the p*ss. You could write a blog entirely composed of examples to give credence to this statement - but, for today, let's give three examples:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

How NOT to manage a party conference...

It's only the end of Tuesday, but it's been a great conference for the Tories so far... if you count 'great' as meaning totally rubbish.

Whilst Gove has been spending his time announcing new policies that already exist, Dave and Gideon are now making up policies as they go along.

Now, to be fair to the Tories (and this blog is nothing but fair... hence the balanced and impartial name of site) they are tackling a difficult subject - welfare is a thorny, multi-faceted issue. But, looking at the hash that has been made of this so far it doesn't take one to be wildly cynical to conclude that a number of these policies have been announced without much background work, and quite possibly for the purposes of a few headlines and an early attempt to wrong-foot Miliband.

Mind you, at least Andy Coulson is out of the news for a day or two...

Top banker: Please regulate us

As the banks prepare to shell out silly money in bonuses for the umpteenth year running, ensuring at the same time that London retains its valued spot at the top of the 'stupidly expensive property league', the Chairman of RBS has, startlingly, suggested many bankers aren't worth the lorry-loads of money they get handed twice a year and can't be trusted to regulate themselves.

It's over to Slasher now to see if his threat to 'do' something about all this will materialise into something practical or will end up yet another vacuous piece of PR to fill space in the comment pages of the Sunday papers.  

When even the Daily Mail is backing some kind of action, then surely some kind of action must be on the cards...

Monday, 4 October 2010

Andy Coulson is the story. Again.

It took Alastair Campbell a full 9 years in the job before he became the story... Coulson managed to become the story before he even took up the post. No doubt another one to add to Dave's 'list'.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Baronss Warsi outed as Labour mole

... ok, she wasn't ACTUALLY outed as a double-agent for Labour, although she is doing her utmost to make her own party look bad.

However, she did - in a pretty catastrophic interview with the BBC this morning - clearly demonstrate the following:

  • that she hasn't visited planet Earth for a fair few years;
  • she is a terrible interviewee under pressure;
  • she now resides somewhere near the top of Cameron's "to fire" list (no doubt along with Liam Fox)

Friday, 1 October 2010

BMA attacks NHS reforms

The blog has highlighted before the fallacy promoted by many commentators here that the NHS is particularly inefficient by international standards... in fact, the independent Commonwealth Fund has undertaken significant amounts of research and concluded it is among the more efficient systems in the developed world.

This actually makes sense: the NHS has economies of scale and, relatively speaking, similar standards and procedures in the way it treats its staff and patients. Insurance-based models of health care delivery and those that routinely deal with paying patients require far more localised bureaucracy (to deal with financial transactions, for example) and can become hugely complex to administer.

There is a significant danger that an ideological desire to seek the privatisation and localisation of the health service in the UK will undermine it significantly - and the BMA today expressed a similar concern.

Now, the BMA doesn't necessarily have the greatest track record of putting patients first - like many other trade unions, it in effect lobbies to protect the pay and conditions of its members - but many of the points it makes are of genuine concern to those that value the UK's fair, equitable (and relatively efficient) health system.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

50% of Tory voters don't want a Tory government

The latest ICM poll for the Guardian (from the pollster that was rated most accurate in the May 2010 election) has the Tories two points behind Labour. This, incidentally, is the first time since September 2007 (just before the-election-that-never-was) that Labour has had a lead with this polling firm.

Most amusingly, though, is the statistic picked out in by Julian Glover in his Guardian report - that only 50% of Tory voters actually want a majority Tory government. Go figure...

Tory voters want to tax the rich, a higher minimum wage and better workers rights


Which group of voters massively favour the following?

• A higher levy on the banks

• Making people who can afford it pay more in taxation

• Giving more employment rights to temporary workers employed through agencies

• Introducing a higher minimum wage


Conservative voters (and everyone else)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Defence: cuts and leaks

Another day, another leak from our lords and masters.

These leaks seem to fall into two categories:

a) those that are intentionally leaked by Number 10 to the press, normally about quango x being shut or public sector outfit z being downsized, and ordinarily without said organisation being given advance warning;
b) those that are leaked by disgruntled civil servants, who are fed up for members of the ruling coalition telling (normally Tories) telling the media how rubbish the civil service is.

This leak (complete now with spectacularly over-the-top response) is likely to be an example to file under category b... although some cynical souls are claiming it is Liam Fox trying to do the dirty on Osborne and Dave.

Whichever it is, it's looking increasingly like the government are going to be fighting on all fronts over the coming years (unlike the army, by the looks of it).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Labour go ahead in the polls (and Tories slip at local level)

In the first poll as Labour leader, Ed Miliband has pulled the party ahead of the Tories for the first time since the election that never was in 2007.

Meanwhile, local by-election results over the last few months are pointing to an 11% drop in the share of the vote for the Tory party, which, if continued, would see the party lose numerous seats to Labour in next year's local elections (and may see the latter gain full control of the Welsh Assembly).

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Sink or swim continued: School Food Trust

An post on this blog last week lamented the Government's total lack of interest in public health care. Well, further evidence was provided in the recent leaked list of quangos to be culled. Slotted in amongst a host of health-related organisations, was the School Food Trust.

The short-lived body was given the 'unique' remit to "promote the education and health of children and young people by improving the quality of food supplied and consumed in schools", which includes taking action to "reduce diet-related inequalities in childhood". Along with likely cuts to other initatives to tackle poor diet, this decision is another sobering example of what is in store for the future of whole sections of British society.

Five departments reach deal with Osborne

It looks like the Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DEFRA and the Department of Communities and Local Government have reached a deal with slasher on their budget reductions.

The size of their agreed reductions are not yet known, but with the serious leaks that have emerged over the last few months, no doubt we will know soon enough...