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.