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.