Saturday, 30 October 2010

Housing Benefit - public opinion

It is interesting to note that, in this evening's YouGov poll tables for the Sunday Times, the result for the inevitable additional question regarding the housing benefit cap was almost three-quarters (72%) in favour, and just 16% against, with 13% "don't know". Even more interesting, 52% of Labour supporters agreed with the policy as against 35% disagreeing.

It's not all good news for the Coalition, though. Their overall approval rating is a nett minus one percent; and several percent more believe the deficit reduction should be delayed than those considering it should be tackled now. Those latter results are what I (and a number of others) expected at around this time, and probably to worsen considerably as the public spending restraints start to have an impact on people's lives.

However, on specific policies, I'd expect them to be sufficiently well argued for by the Coalition that the thinking public will understand them and see that, even if not perfect, they are the right approach and necessary. Thus we see an apparent contradiction in the poll results.

Just about everyone nowadays realises how bad our benefits system has been for a number of years and accepts sensible reforms, especially as that will provide more money for better uses than much of what it has been spent on during the Labour years. Thus there is a self-interest in supporting such specific changes. That self-interest opposes the principle of taking away money from "the public sector", though.

Some of this is down to media and political spin, such as the Green Party's assertion (appearing in local newspapers' letters columns this month) that every public sector job 'supports' one private sector job somehow. Their argument is specious and easily demolished, of course, but the less bright and inexperienced in the real world will often be taken in by such suggestions.

I am sure the Greens (and those like them, such as Labour and the Unions) are well aware that they are, of necessity, targeting the ignorant, but that there are enough of them to make a difference in the polls and, ultimately, at actual elections. It's not easy to combat this, but we have to do our best.

For a start, it should be noted that this policy was in Labour's own manifesto, as written by one Ed Miliband...

Tweet of the day - 30 Oct 2010

From Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, after Harriet Harman's frankly ghastly insult branding him a "ginger rodent" in Scotland (Oban) of all places to commit such an idiotic gaffe! Danny's tweet was:
"I am proud to be ginger and rodents do valuable work cleaning up mess others leave behind. Red squirrel deserves to survive, unlike Labour."
I'd go even further: one"ginger rodent", especially in the form of Danny Alexander, is worth at least a million Harriet Harmans. The latter would be (and has been) the real vermin, and perpetually nasty vermin at that!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Tweet of the Day - 29 Oct 2010

From Guido Fawkes, regarding one hugely significant result of Gordon Brown's handling of the nation's economy as Chancellor and PM:
"UK External debt (as % of GDP): 428.8%. Thanks Gordon."

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Tweet of the Day - 28 Oct 2010

The infamous Section 44 powers that were supposedly intended to deal with terrorism suspects, but have instead become an excuse for police to stop anyone and behave like the East German Stasi, came in under Labour.

There have been numerous instances of photographers and others going about their normal activities in non-sensitive, everyday locations, yet being stopped and treated in a completely disproportionate manner using this power as the justification.

Well, now we can see just how effective all of that has been, thanks to this neat summary in a tweet by Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy:
"Out of 101248 police stops under Section 44 anti-terror powers there were 0 terror arrests."
Zero terror arrests! He then goes on:
"But 506 'non-terror' arrests. success?"
(That's half a percent of 'em)

<sarcasm mode on> Well, that makes it all right then! <sarcasm mode off>

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Quote of the Day - 27 Oct 2010

Commenting on John Rentoul's PMQs Cam/Ed Mili encounter, and in particular the government reforms on Housing Benefit, this from Merlin007:
"The idea that denying people rents on the state above £400 a week will make them homeless is like arguing that refusing to feed them at The Dorchester will make them hungry."
Absolutely right! The vast majority of those actually bothering to go out and earn their money couldn't afford that level of rent, yet they are subsidising (through taxes) those who don't yet are living the life of Riley at others' expense. They certainly aren't "poor" by any sensible definition of the word! It's all part of Labour's anti-work pro-state dependency culture that was intended to "bribe" millions of non-working voters to support them at the ballot box.

There are attempts being made by Labour people to muddy the waters by mentioning that many folk in work also receive Housing Benefit (why, though?) but it still doesn't change the underlying argument: a lot of us are subsidising others' enhanced lifestyles on some pretext of necessity; but that has never been a necessity before in our history.

With today's technologies and other advances it is even less significant than it could have been (but apparently wasn't) in the past. It has certainly become apparent that, although there are a fair number of supporters of the status quo who are prepared to state their case publicly (e.g. in such newspaper comments threads), there are far, far more who support the government's reforms.

Interestingly, as this exchange between Iain Duncan Smith and the then Housing Minister, James Purnell, shows (starting half-way down this page), back in 2008 the Labour government of the day was aiming in the same direction as the current proposals, and had even introduced a White Paper!

PMQs on 27 Oct 2010

I hadn't originally intended posting whenever there is a Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) event, though at least there is an Ed-M connection.

However, I have been asked to do so and to link to Guido's live blog and the highlights of that blog/chat by Beware of Geeks.

I suspect that the person asking me to do this really just wants others to see that he has been awarded the "best line of the week" award at the latter site(!)

Anyway, it was very much a so-so affair, and at least David Cameron didn't give his political and media opponents the excuse to label him "Flashman", as some have been trying to paint him. In fact, it was one of his better sessions in that he was being genuinely helpful to questioners from all parts of the House. That for me is the very best part of PMQs, far more so (and more interesting) than the six-question spat between the Prime Minister and the leader of the official opposition.

That said, Ed Miliband did have one good line about Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg being "Glum and Glummer", but failed to deliver it properly so it didn't have that noticeable an effect. Never mind: he's the new boy and still needs to develop his skills at the Despatch Box (assuming he has any; but I am trying to be charitable here). His nasal voice and slight lisp don't help either.

He has time to improve, but not necessarily all that long. There are (admittedly so far isolated) stories of Labour whips having 'gone soft' in the last week or so, and Ed-M's appointment of Alan Johnson as Shadow Chacellor looks to have been a real erro of judhement, so he isn't looking very effective so far.

Although surely no-one could be as bad as Gordon "MacMental" Brown, it is starting to look as though the Labour party has jumped out of the frying pan into an adjacent cooking pot (i.e. not quite as bad as jumping straight into the fire) and Ed-M is really going to have to shape up and soon if he is to survive as party leader.

The real test will come in next May's various elections around the nation. If the results for Labour are bad (and with the coalition government's spending restrictions in several sensitive areas really starting to bite by then, there should be no reason for Labour to do poorly) then his position could become less than tenable!

Even at PMQs, from which most of the voters of Britain will see only the brief clips shown on the evening news, he and his party will be judged to some extent, based on his performance on these Wednesday lunchtimes.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Real Test

One of the only true tests of whether Britain is going to survive as an economy, and not go the way of Greece or ultimately even Zimbabwe, is the confidence shown by the international credit agencies.

Without their belief that we can service our debt, their interest rates would rocket and we would effectively be bankrupt. It was no secret that such an action was very much on the cards prior to last May's General Election, and that only the prospect of a change of government away from Labour stayed the hands of those crucial credit agencies.

It is therefore a considerable relief that Standard and Poor (who along with Moodys form the Big Two in this arena), having previously retained Britain's AAA rating (which had been at severe risk of downgrading at the beginning of this year), today show that AAA rating as being stable.

This is the real test; and although other organisations have parts to play, do be careful or contrary pronouncements by those who are paid for out of the public purse. Their views cannot be trusted if they go against what S&P and Moodys are deciding and how they act, and the latter duo have actual financial expertise and represent the real world, not the (generally lefty) public sector.

Therefore let the real experts indicate what is true, and (if they are up to it) others such as the IFS flesh out the details in an attempt to be helpful and of value. If they can't or won't do that, then I can't see any value in having them and perhaps they could be scrapped.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Poor old Tom Harris, who is a quite decent Scottish Labour MP representing Glasgow South. Some Labourites have been branding him a "right-winger", which he is not averse to, but now he has apparently had suggestions that he jump ship and join the Conservatives!

It must have been getting a bit tiresome, as he has today put his case for the defence, as he calls it, listing his views. It turns out that most of what he has been supporting policy-wise has been Labour party policy and broadly accepted by people in the country. Even I would agree with much of it, though not the 42-day detention without charge policy.

The comments to his post are interesting, dividing into two distinct camps - the traditional wings of the Labour party that go back decades. The broad consensus is that Tom H is correct in his assertion of speaking with the majority of the country, not against or in spite of it.

At least he "gets it", unlike the more rabid (and obviously so!) lefty types who so often come across as if they inhabit in a completely different world from the rest of us.

A negative comment on another site comes from councillor Bob Piper of Sandwell, who calls him the Scottish C-nut,which I take to be an abbreviation for "Conservative-nutter". Well, it's a lot better than being a Labour-nutter (L-nut, perhaps) as at least Mr Harris is speaking and acting for those who elected him, not his own warped view of the job of an elected member.

Piper piped up, but got it wrong, quoting a short section and following it up with his only contribution:
"Yes, Tom… did you actually notice we lost the election by any chance?"
Of course, the rest of us are well aware why Labour lost the election this year, and that was because they had reverted to type in government under Gordon Brown. All the by-elections in the Brown years (apart from those with mysterious and suspected fraudulent outcomes) showed a significant swing away from Labour. Tony Blair would have had a different impact on the voters of Britain this past May, and the rest of us all know that. Piper doesn't seem to.

So, why doesn't Bob Piper at long last realise that he is the odd one out in this post of his, and along with others of similar mind are the dinosaurs that Britain will never need or want again? We, the people of Britain, have learned from our own history, and (like Tom H but unlike Bob P) we too "get it"!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Strike me pink!

As the more sensible match in the Swan Vestas factory said to its more militant colleague: "If we strike we've had it!"

The subject of whether strike action (or inaction!) should be permitted in essentially lines of work is in the news after almost a complete absence for many years, owing to the current threats in response to the so-called "public spending cuts". As we all know by now, they are nothing of the kind, but are a reform of many public services and a slowing down of the expansion of state spending.

However, should strikes be banned in some areas not currently covered in UK rules and/or legislation?

Iain Dale has today taken a very reasonable and well-informed look at this topic, including the international conventions to which we are one of the signatory nations. It is very interesting, actually, and I suspect very few people are aware of the oddities in them, including what is or isn't considered an "essential" service.

It is instructive to look at the record by region of number of days per employee lost through strikes for a year. The Office for National Statistics has these figures for 2008, and I reproduce them here in order of decreasing number, i.e. the biggest striking region first:
  • 60 - Scotland
  • 54 - North-East England
  • 48 - Wales
  • 38 - North-West England
  • 24 - Yorkshire and the Humber
  • 22 - West Midlands
  • 17 - East Midlands
  • 13 - London
  • 12 - South-West England
  •  7  - East of England
  •  7  - South-East of England
  •  4  - Northern Ireland
So, what can we deduce from this? It seems that the regions most heavily dependant upon public sector employment are the greatest strikers by a long way. Interestingly, these are also the parts of the UK that have the greatest need for more jobs to be provided.

As Burning Our Money reports, using the same information in graph form (though not in any hierarchical order), this track record is hardly likely to attract inward investment to those regions, who are the places that could do with it most of all. Yet again we see how militant public sector Unions actually do "the workers" the most harm, rather than being beneficial.

Those of us around in the '70s and '80s will well recall what Unions in general did then, especially but not only in the public sector, and what came out of that as a result. Lefties tried (and still try) to blame it all on Mrs Thatcher; but most of the job losses were a consequence of the way the Unions behaved, as has been very well written up by many far more expert in the field than I.

All one has to do is to imagine how it would have been for then current and potential employers to see why those parts of Britain went the way they did at that time. It's not difficult to work out; and of course we can (with a little research) watch what happens in other countries when similar circumstances arise, for comparison.

In the final analysis, cause-and-effect are broadly at play in such situations, and usually there is little if anything that can be done once a region gains a reputation for being apparently "difficult" and liable to down tools at the slightest provocation. That might be an exaggeration, but it is how a potential investor sees it, and will generally go elsewhere, not necessarily even in this country at all.

We are in a competitive market for real (i.e. directly wealth-generating) jobs, and we all have to face up to that fact of life. Even Labour-supporting entrepreneurs operate on the same principles as everyone else (Alan Sugar, anyone?) so don't be fooled into thinking they are at all interested in a strike-happy workforce - they are not!

Thus we must all make ourselves, singly and collectively, attractive to those who are the only people and organisations capable of providing genuine jobs that put money into the nation's economy, as distinct from those that are paid out of the public purse, which are not. There will always be legitimate reasons for having a public sector, but it is now so bloated that it needs to be severely cut back over the coming years.

It will take time to do; but eventually it really should end up just a tint fraction of its present size. Instead of several millions of direct (and a couple or so million indirect) publicly-paid for employees, the total size ought to be no more than a few hundred thousand by the end of this coming decade. I bet it won't be achieved; but if it's well on the way and the voting public understand and can share in the resultant benefit, then the trend will be both established and broadly accepted and can continue as long as is necessary.

Last week's Comprehensive Spending Review, for all its apparent faults, was the first step this country in the right direction has seen for a very long time. We all need to support what is being done done, and to expect more of the same in the annual Budgets and other future spending reviews.

BBC bias message goes mainstream

After all these years of dedicated individuals monitoring and cataloguing the BBC's blatant left-wing bias, such as the Biased-BBC team or Not-A-Sheep, with this past Thursday's Question Time it was so extreme that even the national press has taken notice.

This Daily Mail article is very telling indeed; and while the programme is still available via the BBC's time-limited iPlayer we can all see what was going on for ourselves. One has to take mental step back from the action and suss out what is really going on - not with a pre-conceived notion or expectation, but just watch how events are manipulated in pursuit of the Beeb's left-wing, anti-Tory agenda. It's quite obvious!

Even the seating layout of the panel, quite apart from who is frequently interrupted and questioned in a manner different from certain other panel members, and the "I can see it coming" ambushes for the lone Tory on the panel, Philip Hammond, are there for anyone to see, once one is in the right frame of mind.

Of course, most viewers will just suck it up in the way they are meant to: remember, these are experienced media people operating here, and they know how to produce an outcome they want, not an honest one. They are corrupt, abusing their access to mass media (as tax-payers' legally-enforced expense) to peddle their own propaganda under the guise of "impartial reporting".

It is no less dishonest and dishonourable than Pravda famously was during the USSR years, and no-one with any integrity would have anything to do with it.

Remember that whenever watching or listening to any BBC output, and not only news and current affairs - even children's TV on the Beeb is infested with their political agenda!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Hoist with their own petard

So, Labour lost the Tower Hamlets mayoral election last night, to their former candidate whom they expelled and who stood as an independent, also supported by Ken Livingstone which must have carried some weight. Turnout was a fraction over a quarter.

To the Labour party's credit, they did get rid of Lutfur Rahman once they (and we) knew of his connections to Islamic supremacists (though that does not in and of itself indicate that he is one himself); but by then he seems to have amassed a strong personal vote which he took with him and has no doubt added to since.

They also expelled local Labour councillors who supported Rahman, as in the party's rule book it is (apparently) necessary to expel any member who opposes the official Labour candidate. Ken Livingstone has not suffered the same fate, for some reason...

Although there have been issues in the Tower Hamlets mayoral election regarding postal voters not all being entirely valid (i.e. non-existent in some cases), the sheer size of his majority surely outweighs any possible effect of that: it was some 52%, so the election count didn't even have to take second preferences into account (yes, it was one of those elections, as introduced by the previous Labour government).

Perhaps most interestingly, the result could conceivably have been different if Rahman's first preference vote had been just that little bit lower, under 51%, so that second preferences had been counted after all. Those might have resulted in Labour's (replacement) candidate winning instead, though even the full results don't make that clear one way or the other (at least not to me). We saw this effect with Ed Miliband only recently, beating his brother because of a peculiar and non-straightforward electoral methodology.

Labour's opposition to the coalition government's reforms to our electoral system would have suited them up until yesterday. Today, they have in effect been hoist with their own petard. I wonder whether they'll now support those reforms?

Probably not, as the manipulations they made to what was once a great democracy have benefited them so hugely that they can't afford, politically, to have them reformed. Paul Weston's lengthy but oh-so-true post on this whole topic, from earlier this month, is a must-read.

Spending Review - the response

What has happened in much of the national media since the Comprehensive Spending Review statement and debate on Wednesday has been predictable.

Labour have condemned the public spending reductions, conveniently forgetting who it was who created the current mess and what their own stated plans were. Many of them do not even understand the way public finances work: not only Alan Johnson (the shadow chancellor) but also Andy Burnham has come unstuck in being shown not to understand the difference between debt and deficit, let alone grasping the nature of a structural deficit and the fact that this doesn't diminish during periods of growth.

The BBC and the obvious left/Labour-supporting national newspapers slanted their reporting as expected, making all manner of wild claims, even contradicting each other. For example, one of them claimed that "the poorest" would be hardest hit whereas another was convinced it would be "the squeezed middle" of society to bear the brunt. Even the dreaded Polly Toynbee was rather put on the spot on the BBC's Question Time that began an hour or so ago as I write this, and was uncharacteristically quiet in between her turns to speak, on nearly every such occasion.

That was a very interesting QT, coming from Labour heartlands and with an audience that David Dimbleby for once openly admitted was made up of public sector employees and the like (it always is: they bus them in from other areas, just as they admitted doing on this occasion). Despite all of this and the obvious "planted" questions and the inevitable pre-planned ambush for the Conservative on the panel, it didn't really work all that powerfully, and was if anything quite a lot tamer than other QTs in recent weeks.

As usual I kept an eye on the Biased-BBC Live Blog; and these are interesting to look back on for the comments that contributors made. Perhaps I might join in myself one of these weeks!

This media bias does work, of course: if it didn't those behind it would be trying something that did work instead. Tonight's YouGov poll - the first since the CSR - has voting intention figures of 41% (Con), 40% (Lab), 10% (Lib Dem);  and government approval of minus five percent. The Labour figure has been consistently close to the Conservative figure for weeks, and it really doesn't warrant it/ Are people in the country so stupid? Surely they can't be!

Update: if such people were to read this, they should understand the truth far better, twenty times over.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Comprehensive Spending Review

The Chancellor's arguments and announcements are here. Peter Hoskin has the background to our current plight, along with a collection of useful graphs. A series of short "highlights" clips is George Osborne CSR 2010 highlights; though I intend to post the whole thing once it is available.

Following is Sky's Joey Jones, providing some analysis.

Former postman, now Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson is trying to respond to George Osborne's hour-long statement as I write, but isn't being very good, to be honest. He knows, and we know, that he has no idea about how the public finances work or why.

If we look back at previous and current years' budgets and CSR announcements and debates, they were generally of a far better class than Johnson's struggling script-reading (i.e. probably written in the main, if not entirely, by advisers), though he is at least using a few original humorous devices.

Johnson's hesitant and repetitive speaking detracts significantly from his credibility, though at least he is ploughing on regardless, now admitting that he indulges in "Punch and Judy politics". I can't perceive a coherent message, as he seems to be meandering quite a lot without making any solid points; and I think that anyone watching this will reach the same conclusion.

Johnson is well out of his depth, and he knows it, as do we. He has no idea about the difference between fiscal and structural deficits, for one thing. He is floundering with the subject, diverting instead onto topics such as Sure Start, sticking to core Labour social engineering projects, because he does not understand the real issues facing the country.

It's bordering on being embarrassing; and the faces of the opposition front bench reflect their obvious discomfort at what is going on, Johnson completely wasting this major opportunity to regain at least an element of credibility. Osborne's reply was vastly superior, and batted away Johnson's three questions very easily. He is easily one of the best MPs/Ministers I have ever encountered at answering questions, from all sides.

Public sector job cuts of 490,000 are expected over the life of this Parliament. Much of this will be achieved by not replacing those who retire or resign (there is a high turnover in the public sector so is a feasible methodology). Interestingly this is just a tenth of their number, i.e. there are around five million public sector employees. Nearly half as many again are also paid from public money via outsourcing, PFI projects and other "external" government-sponsored projects. That is one of the really serious pair of statistics, along with the £120 million we are paying every day in repayment of the nation's debt.

Unsurprisingly, Labour MPs are trying to claim that these are being "taken out of the economy", usually citing the "income tax" they contribute. Of course, it is nothing of the sort: that "tax" is only a book transfer of funds from one part of the public purse to another compartment. The nett salaries will be a saving.

Labour are, as always, wrong, and often deliberately misleading. Sometimes they (probably inadvertently) admit to the truth, especially newcomers. Even the seasoned Michael Meacher admitted, during the debate, admitted that the top earners "saw their wealth quadrupled during the past decade". It is interesting that this was entirely (apart from the last few months) on Labour's watch as the government of that period.

This also follows a Prime Minister's Questions session this lunch-time in which David Cameron wiped the floor with Ed Miliband. Overall, this really hasn't been Labour's best day, by a long chalk!

Another issue that has arisen is that, both at PMQs and in the Spending Review debate, there were more Scottish Labour questioners than all the other Labour MPs involved in these debates put together. The "West Lothian question" raises its head whenever this kind of thing happens.


Deficit Deniers are pinky dinosaurs, as this shortish clip from Guy News shows!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Social or affordable housing

These two categories of housing have been around for a long time. The idea of "social housing", originally council housing but later extended to Registered Social Landlords (typically Housing Associations), was well-intentioned but perhaps inevitably led to the so-called sink estates of recent decades.

Then, along came New Labour, and they devised a new category of "affordable housing", which was intended partially to offset the huge housing price bubble they had encouraged, making housing unaffordable for the lower-paid. The rest of this idea, which includes not only rented by part-owndership of one's home, was in reality to skew cheaper housing toward those who were a large part of Labour's core vote - the public-sector, highly unionised typically left-leaning employees within education, the NHS and others, whom Labour termed "key workers".

Now, if one just looks at this superficially, one can be forgiven for thinking this is a Good Idea. Some of it wasn't bad in a way, but far more deserving cases missed out because of the "key worker" priority.

Of course, as nothing comes free, it means (as always) that others are having to subsidise these people. In effect it is a hidden effective increase to their often already-inflated incomes (quite apart from gold-plated and generous final salary pensions and other perks) as has been very well documented in recent years.

With a little research, I could provide dozens of links to authoritative online resources confirming this. I well recall from my own (short) time working in a central government department how well known this was there.

My blogging mentor, John Ward, has already blown much of the fabricated arguments out of the water anyway, some four years ago. In his council area, the local Labour councillors wanted forty percent of all new housing to be subsidised by the taxpayer and the other sixty percent of house sales (which would obviously be over-priced to pay for the subsidy to those other 40%).

Thus making provision for "affordable housing" is a kind of tax on the rest of us to make Labour's core vote within the ranks of the employed (i.e. distinct from the benefits dependants) eternally grateful for Labour's largesse and reliant upon it, if not any longer for themselves then probably for their offspring. It also helped to inflate market-based housing pricing, which explains some of what happened in the market during the past decade or so.

Michael Meacher MP today decries the expected (though not confirmed) cutting of public expenditure on "affordable" housing (though the term is erroneous, as if the properties had not been affordable no-one would be buying them, yet how many stand empty?) and inadvertently reminds us of all of the above facts when we think about what he really means. He is in reality decrying the turning-off of the tap from the taxpayer to subsidise a large chunk of Labour's tribal electorate.

His rant is full of transparent rhetoric, though much of his target audience will not be alert enough to realise it, so he'll get away with it there, preaching to his choir. The rest of us should, though, realise what is really going on with "affordable" (a.k.a. "social") housing, and not be taken in by "Meacher the [lefty] Preacher".

The scrapping of a poor and very expensive purely politically-motivated system designed for self-gain by Labour is, overall, a good move. With housing costs starting to head back to where they should be, the artificiality of the last dozen years will be unravelled and we shall all be on the same footing of having to earn the appropriate level of housing for ourselves. Now that is real "fairness"!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

In defence of defence

This is a very good blog post from the often-derided Nadine Dorries MP, regarding our national defence and related matters.

I strongly recommend reading this relatively short post and, hopefully, then realise that the lady's heart is very much in the right place, despite what some (mostly lefties and some in the media) would try to have us believe!

The elephant in the, er, zoo?

Geoffrey Lean at The Telegraph writes about the time he was invited to head up a Quango for licensing zoos. The headline is a rather sensationalised version of what really happened, so don't read as much into this story as the headline seems to want you to!

However it does raise a valid point: what are the criteria used by those seeking heads of Quangos? Knowledge or experience of the organisation's proposed area of activity does not appear to be one of them.

Snuffy out, but not snuffed out!

A week ago I posted the clip of Miss Snuffy at the Conservative party conference.

With follow-up information there, I related how Katharine Birbalsingh had been sent home by her school, and was then permitted to return to work the following Monday - which was five days ago.

Now, I had realised that this wouldn't be the end of the story, but I was quiet while events were unfolding in order to give all sides a chance to reconcile their differences and find a sensible way forward.

Alas, that has turned out not to be the case, and Miss Snuffy has now resigned from the academy school in Camberwell - or (as Cranmer believes) was probably pushed. This is a real pity, because as any follower of Miss Snuffy's now-defunct blog will know, the lady was the best thing to impact inner city schools such as those found in London's Camberwell.

Indeed, that very school's most recent Ofsted report makes for unhappy reading: its "Inspection judgements", found a couple of pages in, rated it the lowest possible score for overall performance (i.e. how good a school it is) and the next to bottom rating for prospects for improvement. That assessment was dated April of this year, several months before Ms Birbalsingh joined as Deputy Headteacher in September.

Their best hope for tipping the balance toward that improvement has now gone; and it does rather suggest that the powers-that-be who are running the school have no desire for actual improvement. They were probably able to tick a lot of politically-correct boxes under the previous government, so perhaps had previously been spared such a condemnatory Ofsted assessment until the truth eventually caught up with them.

I don't know: I haven't delved into the school's full history, but whatever the story is, there is clearly something very much amiss at that establishment and it isn't going to fixed any time soon, from the way Ofsted judged its prospects for sustained improvement, though I hear that had been some improvement even before Snuffy arrived, so perhaps all is not lost.

What will happen next no-one is likely to know as yet. His Grace is "angered beyond words" and had already promised to act in such an eventuality. That will probably turn out to be something quite remarkable, I strongly suspect. However he will be facing some very powerful forces, if the first comment to an earlier Cranmer post on the same subject is accurate: Common Purpose involvement (which seems likely, by the way).

As for Ms Birbalsingh: it will be difficult for her to find a new job in this Socialist-dominated area of work. Once her book is out, perhaps it will be possible for Snuffy to start her own school, a "free school" under Michael Gove's new scheme, drawing like-minded teachers from elsewhere to join her and become the flagship inner London school and staff to whom all others will thenceforth be compared. With all the publicity and political credibility that the lady and her cause have now garnered, it would become more-or-less impossible to avoid showing-up schools that fail to provide at least a comparable standard and methodology.

Now that would be a real achievement, not only directly in her own school but also indirectly through dragging others up to a similar standard and thus benefiting far more children than would have been possible any other way. If Miss Snuffy goes down this route, it could well end up being the single most effective element in the correction and improvement of this nation's education for at least a generation!

Friday, 15 October 2010

A quiet day

I have been otherwise occupied today, and one of my main sources for the "daily news" had also taken the day off. Fortunately, there seems to have been little political news of interest today anyway.

One item of significance, though, concerns our good buddy Ed Miliband, who has claimed that in order to be credible he has to set out his own plans for dealing with Britain's deficit. Matthew Hancock MP has been looking into the state of play on this very matter.

We already know that Ed-M has committed to former Chancellor Alistair Darling's plan "as a starting point", and was thereby in need of finding some £44 billion per year.

On top of that, during the Labour leadership campaign (and possibly since, as well) he promised additional spending totally a further £33 billion. This makes £77 billion in all. So far, though, he has provided no inkling of where all this money is to be found, even for one year let alone for every year.

Normally, this soon after a General Election, an opposition leader doesn't really need to make policy decisions and lay out plans. However, our Ed has made a rod for his own back, so now needs to tackle this if, as he himself says, he is to achieve credibility. He is expected to lay out his plans (seemingly for higher taxes) on Sunday.

Anyway, that's it for today. Hopefully, after taking the weekend off, I shall be back on the daily news briefing on Monday. There will also be news on what has been decided on defence (I have some early indications, which are interesting!) and of course the much-anticipated spending review. Meanwhile, I shall post any separate items of note as per normal.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

News in briefs - 14 October 2010

Here is some of today's political news as it comes to me (i.e. not necessarily in strict chronological order of events). It is an experiment I am trying; and if it is successful I shall make it a regular feature, wearing my briefs specially for this purpose!

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has formally announced that 192 quangos are to be scrapped completely, and a further 481 are to be reformed in some way, a number of them by being merged with others, reducing their number by a further 61. The full list is here. The TUC's Brendan Barber has the cheek to suggest that this move reduces democratic accountability!

Just about everyone else apart from the Unions seems to be pleased with what has been announced today.

Responding to an amendment by Douglas Carswell MP, 37 Eurosceptic Conservative MPs voted for a cut in Britain's contribution to the EU, which wants more of our money (as is typical for a self-serving dictatorship). The amendment was defeated, unfortunately.

Labour MP Denis MacShane, a former Europe minister, is the latest parliamentarian to be reported to the police regarding his expenses claims, and has been suspended from the Labour Party. Perhaps he should now be called "Mac-Shame"! Tory Bill Wiggin is also in trouble over second homes allowance claims including council tax. Also, six former Labour MPs have not repaid alleged incorrect expenses payments.

Former Secretary to the Treasury David Laws has disclosed to a hearing about the forming of the coalition government that "Labour had not prepared properly" for the talks they had with the Liberal Democrats, and that Ed Balls has publicly admitted this.

Vince Cable admits that the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was cancelled "on affordability grounds". It's hardly surprising news, of course, and as always we must remember why the country is unable to afford such things and who is actually to blame - yes, Labour!

Baroness Thatcher has the 'flu and will be unable to attend this evening's party at Number Ten to celebrate her 85th birthday; but has insisted that the evnt goes ahead without her. There will be a separate event later, again at Number Ten, after the Baroness has recovered from her illness.

David Cameron greets the "Governator" with the quip that big Arnie is going to help Cam to "terminate" Britain's debt.

Possibly more to follow during the evening...

Garbage goes in the bin

Perhaps as many as a hundred and eighty (update: we now know it will be 192) quangos are to be scrapped shortly, and many others reformed/combined. The full list of this wave will be published tomorrow, but it looks almost certain to include such wastrels as the Health Protection Agency, the School Food Trust and the Sustainable Development Commission.

There are plenty more.

Good riddance to what will be largely if not entirely rubbish, I say! We have survived as a species for untold generations without needing an "agency" to tell us what to do and to override the democratically-elected representatives of communities with their diktats.

Regional Assemblies, nannying outfits and similar can therefore go without anyone in those communities mourning their passing, as well as all those sector-specific intrusive outfits that no sensible society needs or wants. No-one elected them, and they cannot therefore be kicked out of office by the populace, at the ballot box.

All we'll need to do next is to get out of the EU and that will be the end of nannying and dictatorial busybodies trying to rule our lives and costing a fortune in the process.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ed at PMQs in pictures

"First, this is my serene look."

"Hang on a mo, I've forgotten my next line..."

"My stopwatch has stopped. Perhaps if I shake it?"

"See, I can do 'angry' too, Mister Cameron!"

"Live long and prosper."

"Calm down, dear! It's only PMQs."

"Goodness, is that really the time?"

"How d'you like my sneery look, eh? Expect to see it a lot!"

"What's wrong with this watch? It still doesn't work, and it's Russian too!"

Well, all that was one way of looking at this event!

Happy 85th, Maggie!

A (rather short - just a minute and a half) BBC video to mark Baroness Thatcher's 85th birthday, looking back at a remarkable career.

So, how did it go at PMQs?

The Miliband/Cameron encounter (13 minutes long, as in the above video clip) was more or less as I predicted, though Ed-M concentrated on the (slightly old news) child benefit changes, rather than this week's news.

The views of those who have commented, whether in newspapers or on the BBC's Daily Politics Show (audience as much as studio guests and Nick "Toenails" Robinson), seem to be to read from the encounter what they wanted to see. Some say Ed did well, others say he was very poor. Some say one or the other about David Cameron.

The truth appears to be partly somewhere in between, and partly not as clear-cut as "did well" or "did poorly". Neither was all that brilliant, in the final analysis; though I thought I detected a conscious attempt by Cameron not to come across as "bullying" the new boy facing him, and pulled his punches somewhat.

To be fair to that "new boy", who was perhaps a little shaky and nervous, tripping over the occasional word - all those I have seen over the years suffer much the same on their first PMQs outing, whichever party they are in effect representing and whichever side of the Despatch Box they are on (i.e. Government side or Opposition side).

Ed did try to remain solemn and quiet until the last question, when he unleashed both barrels at Cameron, to some effect though obviously nowhere near as much as he had clearly intended. He still has much to learn - but he also has plenty of time to learn, presumably at any rate! It seems likely that, come what may, he'll be given several months to make his mark before there is any real likelihood of being deposed if it doesn't work out, as I have written before.

The psychology of the two protagonists is interesting. On the one hand we have David Cameron, the political heavyweight who is so comfortable within himself and as a party leader, and has been for years. He is also very comfortable as Prime Minister, as these past few months have shown. He has had several years of practice at the Despatch Box, facing Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Alistair Darling (at Budget times under the last government), whereas Ed's experience in the House has been entirely at a much lower level.

Thus Ed's mental approach was to take on this political master, in much the same way that an underdog in the boxing or wrestling ring takes on an established champion: cunning and craftiness are the weapons of choice. By specifically targeting precise cases of those who would lose out on child benefit as against those in seemingly equally or even less worthy situations who would not, Ed gave himself a handle to grasp for this encounter.

The main problem with this was that it was an argument that had been around the media, especially online media and blogs, for days, so the pro's and con's and all the rest of it had already been dealt with. Cameron was unsurprisingly ready for whatever Ed could throw at him and deflected it reasonably effectively.

He also had the advantage of not only knowing the true state of our public finances, which Labour had kept hidden for years, but being perfectly happy to state it openly. No doubt that still stings with Labour, even though they continue to try to pretend it is not as the government claims. I do wish that absolutely everything non-classified were to be put into the public domain: it would be conclusive proof to all of us. Perhaps one day it will be done.

For now, though, this was an interesting PMQs for the Ed-M/DC encounter, from which we can look forward to their shaping up into something more engrossing in the weeks and months to come.

Ed's First PMQs

Today's Prime Minister's Questions session (PMQs) is the first with Ed Miliband as the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition - or at least that's what they are supposed to be, loyal I mean. I have my doubts about that...

Anyway, he will be facing (and questioning) David Cameron. I wonder what he will choose as topics? Obviously the higher education tuition fees, for England only, will feature heavily; though it should be noted that what has hit the news this week has come from a review that the previous Labour government commissioned, after having introduced tuition fees in the first place.

Also, there is some good news in what the Coalition is proposing, such as raising the threshold for repayment from £15,000 to (I believe the figure is) £21,500.

Hopefully, Ed-M will make today's session more interesting than that by also tackling at least one other subject. After all, he does have (up to) six questions, and it isn't as if he has had an easy time of it on this issue at his first Shadow Cabinet meeting recently.

When the boot was on the other foot for Cameron, and he was in opposition, he generally asked questions of Blair or Brown on at least two different issues, though there were a few exceptions among those scores of encounters.

I shall be monitoring the Guido Live Blog of PMQs as I usually do, though I don't participate in that event myself. I expect to report on how it went and provide links to others' appraisals during the afternoon.

In the meantime are thirty facts about PMQs and its history that you might not have known. I knew of a few, recalled a couple more, and learned some new stuff into the bargain.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Austin (on) Powers

Austin Mitchell meets Tory Bear? Surely not!

The long-serving Labour MP Austin Mitchell has issues with Ed Miliband's appointments to the Shadow Cabinet, including Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor. He starts well enough, and I can understand and agree with both these sentiments...
"The PLP dealt you a poor hand in the Shadow Cabinet shower. No reason for turning a problem into a disaster."
 Then he goes a bit egocentric...
"You should have consulted me."
Why him, of all people? He continues a little later with...
"There’s now more talent on the backbenches – me, Blunkett, Hain, Darling, Woodward, and Straw."
Note who is first in that list: "me"!

Oh well, I'm sure he's only trying to be helpful to the new Dear Leader!

Pseudoscientific fraud

Thus Harold "Hal" Lewis, Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California (among numerous other titles and credits), has described the Climate Change agenda in his resignation letter, reproduced at the NotASheep blog. In fact, he calls it:
"the greatest and most successful pseudo-scientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist."
Of course, anyone who has been paying attention over the last several years would also have realised much the same, if not necessarily in those precise terms! Originally it was called "man-made global warming", then it was found that the world wasn't warming after all. So the name was switched to "climate change". By the time of the most recent Bilderberg event, it was put on the agenda as "global cooling"!

Most people I think now realise that the whole thing was an attempt to extract further tax money from us all and to dictate additional rules, regulations and all of that, as the political left do as a matter of course - and it was them who were and are driving this approach, especially the Green Party who haven't yet caught up with the fact that the rest of society has now learned at least some of the truth  and moved on.

Obviously we don't want to take senseless chances with our living place, so avoiding pollution where possible has always been sensible, just on basic principle. It doesn't need taxes or regulations and laws to deal with that; and some of us have been good in that regard and in other "green" areas for decades now.

Technology is the answer to much of this, and forward-looking not retrogressive technology at that. Fuel cells and clean electricity (nuclear and beyond) are practical and competent potential solutions: wind farms never can be!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Other Shadow positions

Some junior shadow ministerial positions and personal secretary appointments have now been announced.

The dozen named today are: Rachel Reeves, Johnny Reynolds, Tom Greatrex, Luciana Berger and Gloria De Piero, who have been given junior positions; also some longer serving MPs including Diane Abbott, Wayne David, Andy Slaughter, Karen Buck and Alison Sebeck have been given roles and Chuka Umunna and Anne McGuire have been appointed as private parliamentary secretaries (PPS) to Ed Miliband.

This means that, apart from Ed-M's own brother who has opted to step down from front-line politics, all the unsuccessful party leadership contenders have now been given jobs on the Labour front benches.

It seems that Phil Woolas can now be added to the above list; though as Political Betting shows, this looks like a bad choice, especially for the Home Office shadow team!

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Guest Post - Party Membership

This is a guest post from John Ward of Medway in Kent, who incidentally has been kindly offering me guidance and advice during these past two weeks.

Party Membership

Prompted by a post from a Labour blogger in my own area that is suggesting that "the Tory party is dying", I decided to check the facts for myself. The question arose from Conservative party co-chairman Baroness Warsi being unable to state, when asked, whether the party's membership had risen or fallen since David Cameron became party leader in 2005. It later turned out that it had fallen, quite substantially over those five years, which is admittedly quite a long period, especially in politics.

Now, as a former Conservative party member myself, I am aware that the question isn't as black-and-white as that, as Baroness Warsi tried to explain when asked; but it isn't an easy concept to put across (there are associate members as well as full members, paying a smaller subscription: do they count?) and it isn't helped by the party having apparently been poor at keeping and publishing accurate records over the years.

 I consulted the Parliamentary document on party membership (PDF file), which currently goes up to 2008 only; but that's near enough to show what has been going on in recent years. I decided to concentrate on the post-Thatcher years, and even there I am suspicious of the "oh, around a million" kind of figure that was being put out by her party in those years. The graph below shows that, and several other things, quite clearly...

It is obvious, once one ignores those early Conservative figures, that their true membership was likely to have been little more than it was once more likely to be at least reasonably close figures became available from 1993, and even more from 2000 when the figures were accurate. The other parties' figures seem to be usable as provided.

Therefore the real trend has been that all parties have seen their membership decline over the past decade and a half, though proportion-wise the Liberal Democrats have had far less of a fall-off, though starting from a much lower level.

Labour had a boost in the years leading up to Tony Blair's huge success in 1997; but interestingly the Conservatives' (estimated) fall in membership also seems to have halted during the same period. For one year, Labour had a fractionally higher membership than the Conservatives; but the situation soon reverted to the norm of being in second place, where they have remained ever since.

The Conservatives had their own membership boost during the Michael Howard years, and (in common with the other parties) a gradual tail-off thereafter. By 2008, which is the last year for which figures have been included in the House of Commons document, the by-then Cameron-led party still had half as many members again as the Blair/Brown crowd.

The current Coalition Government has split Liberal Democrat membership, and it is known that a chunk of them have since switched loyalty to Labour, some of those even joining that party. However, if one looks at the numbers, it still isn't going to make much difference: perhaps a few thousand, probably not even that many. From now on, the election of Ed rather than David Miliband as Labour leader will make waverers (who were probably waiting for the Labour leadership to be decided before jumping ship) very wary of Labour. They might leave the Lib Dems, but are very unlikely to sign up with a "Red Ed at the head" Labour party.

So, all parties have decreasing memberships, with occasionally "wobbles" affecting the broad trend for a time, but if any party is actually dying it sure ain't the Conservatives! Their membership is currently some 177,000: Labour's was just 60,000 or so in May (I can't find anything more recent, but it won't be in six figures or anywhere near!) which is little more than a third as many. Perhaps some Labour bloggers need to get the beam out of their own eye before pontificating on the motes in others' eyes...

The conference season

So, now that it's all over for another year and the dust has settled, just what effect did the three big party conferences have?

Okay, let's look at the opinion polls conducted the conference season. As Dr Wells shows at UK Polling Report, there were small changes during each party's conference week, producing a modest boost to their "voting intention" figures; but at the end of it all everything seems to be back more or less as it was before the conference season started.

The graph in Dr Wells' post shows these boosts during each conference (note the background colour for the dates of each event) and then the slow fall-back to how they had been before. If the same had happened outside of the conference season it is all just about within normal sample variations anyway - it really wasn't that significant.

However, it is by looking at other aspects of the opinion polls, which include a number of varied questions, that a different message emerges. There it seems that the Conservatives did best in regard to how the public view their approach to public spending reductions (or at least an initial slowing, to bring it under control). The shifts (both pro-Tory and anti-Labour) have resulted in the best results for the Blues in this area for something like four months.

Overall, then, it has been a bit like watching some of the traffic on a three-lane road switch lanes for a while and then going back to their original lanes; but with the main policy issues telling a different story. It also has to be said that the Tory conference was by far the best this year, and really came alive on several occasions which the other two rarely came even close to doing.

The Tee-Bee Gee-Bees

The TB (Tony Blair) / GB (Gordon Brown) relationship during the ten years they were in government together is well known, with books by Blair and Mandelson having confirmed what many already knew.

Now yet another memoir is about to be published, and is being serialised in the weekend Guardian. The headline there this evening is based on the claim that Blair was behind David Cameron becoming Tory party leader five years ago. There seems to be a suggestion of some kind of promise that David Davis was to get that job, though how Blair was supposed to have engineered that is not disclosed. It was probably just one of Gordon's (many) fantasies.

There are mentions of Brown's efforts to bring down Tony Blair, even taking rare delight in the news that Blair was under personal terrorist threat to his life. The Gorgon seems to have hated just about everyone, though only because they were obstacles or opposition to his ultimate goal of power for himself and himself alone.

He must have been (perhaps still is) close to clinical insanity. His known mood swings, temper and strange behaviour / body language are very good indicators of a very much troubled individual. Guido always called him "bonkers", and he probably wasn't far off the mark. It would seem that this book will only serve to reinforce that assessment.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Explaining the Big Society

Well, I "got it" a long time ago, but for anyone who didn't, David Cameron's aide Ian Birrell has explained it in some detail in The Guardian, of all places to pick. Here is the crucial paragraph:
"At its core, the big society is an attempt to connect the civic institutions that lie between the individual and the state – and these range from the family and neighbourhood to churches, charities, libraries, local schools and hospitals. It is born out of recognition that our centralised state has become too big, too bureaucratic and just too distant to support many of those most in need of help, and that it deters people from playing a more active role in public life."
Sounds straightforward enough to me!

The Cameron Rap

Well, I suppose it had to be done, and someone has! It's definitely much better than David Steel's deliberate attempt at a record some years ago, and this one wasn't even intended to come out in this form!

Shadow Cabinet elections

Here, in alphabetical order of surname, are the nineteen Labour MPs who have been elected to be appointed by party leader Ed Miliband to vacant posts within his Shadow Cabinet (six posts are already filled, including the Shadow Leader himself, hence just the 19 vacancies):
  • Douglas Alexander
  • Ed Balls
  • Hilary Benn
  • Andy Burnham
  • Liam Byrne
  • Yvette Cooper
  • Mary Creagh
  • John Denham
  • Angela Eagle
  • Maria Eagle
  • Caroline Flint
  • John Healey
  • Meg Hillier
  • Alan Johnson
  • Tessa Jowell
  • Sadiq Khan
  • Ivan Lewis
  • Ann McKechin
  • Jim Murphy
 Nothing very exciting there, though it is interesting to see the return of Caroline Flint to the front bench, also that all surnames begin with a letter from the first half of the alphabet - there are no N's to Z's at all. The eagle-eyed (ahem!) will also have noticed two Eagle's: perhaps they are "high fliers" in the party? They are twins, I understand. Well, at least it's consistent with the Miliband brothers and Mr & Mrs Balls - just keeping it in the family!

It is notable that all of those in the list were on the former Labour government's payroll (eighteen ministers and a whip), so there isn't exactly anything of Ed Miliband's so-called - and oft-stated in his conference speech - "new generation" about any of them.

As the Telegraph's Toby Young mentions, they are all white apart from Sadiq Khan, apparently nearly half are Oxford or Cambridge educated, and only a minority of them went to comprehensive schools.

Guido reports that Jack Straw has his own "interesting" views on the (Shadow) Labour Cabinet in general.

UPDATE: We now know who has been appointed to which post, as well as the six incumbents, as follows:
  • Leader of the Opposition     Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband MP
  • Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development     Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP
  • Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer     Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities     Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department     Rt Hon Ed Balls MP
  • Chief Whip     Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Election Coordinator     Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP
  • Shadow Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice (with responsibility for political and constitutional reform)     Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions     Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills     Rt Hon John Denham MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Health     Rt Hon John Healey MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government     Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Defence     Rt Hon Jim Murphy
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change     Meg Hillier MP
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Commons     Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Transport     Maria Eagle MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs     Mary Creagh MP
  • Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury     Angela Eagle MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for orthern Ireland     Rt Hon Shaun Woodward MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland     Ann McKechin MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Wales     Rt Hon Peter Hain MP
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport     Ivan Lewis MP
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Lords     Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
  • Shadow Minister for the Olympics     Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP
  • Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office     Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP
  • Lords Chief Whip     Lord Bassam of Brighton
  • Shadow Attorney-General     Baroness Scotland
There are some interesting choices in who is to face whom across the Dispatch Box, such as Alan Johnson to face George Osborne, Yvette Cooper (also taking over Women and Equalities from Harriet Harman, note!) to face William Hague, Sadiq Khan opposite Ken Clarke, Ed Balls against Theresa May (Balls is the stronger but loses out by not having Ms May's taste in shoes), Andy Burnham shadowing Michael Gove, and Caroline Flint taking on the might of Eric Pickles.

Even David Jones MP is pleased (I think!) at the news of Peter Hain's appointment.

It looks like interesting times lie ahead!

Clip of the conference

Now this is telling it how it really is in Britain's education system after Labour got at it!

This truly amazing lady turns out to be Miss Snuffleupagus or Snuffy for short, which at the time I watched this (live) I had not realised. Her blog, "From Miss with love", has had to be taken down (though some of it is cached here) and the lady herself is now on what some call gardening leave while her future is decided by her employing school's governors and Head.

That news is hardly surprising: the Head Teacher (rather pretentiously called "Executive Headteacher" - perhaps "Commissar" might be more accurate) was previously the head of the school that, during that time, the same lady gave her permission for it (St Saviour's and St Olave's) to be used to launch Labour's 2001 General Election campaign, and those two schools have other aspects in common too, as Woman on a Raft reports.

Yet it was not about this school that Snuffy was writing on her blog, having moved there just three weeks ago, and having kept all school and pupil identities hidden through descriptive pseudonyms. The anecdotes were from years ago, and the faces shown no longer exist (they've changed with age). It is notable that Snuffy's current school is situated within Harriet Harman's parliamentary constituency. The school's action is political vindictiveness, nothing else, though there will no doubt be convenient excuses made for it.

Snuffy's school's web site now has several pages that are blank apart from a message saying: "This page is currently been updated, check back again soon." Well, that's a really impressive standard of English for an Academy!

Do read Cranmer's pieces on what Miss Snuffy has done and has had done to her, and the comments to each, from some of which I have lifted snippets/links to help make this post more complete.

The Mail also has quite a good, factual write-up.

UPDATE: Katharine is to return to work! There has been a Facebook campaign started with the aim of achieving just this result, which I was thinking of joining, but there doesn't seem to be any point or need now.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Ed Miliband - is he still there?

Is that where Red Ed writes his speaking notes?
Labour party leader Ed Miliband has been trying to get some media coverage for the last week or so, but there has been little coming from him that has been worthy of mention, and certainly nothing of sufficient significance to warrant being compiled into one of my daily round-ups, which is why there haven't been any for a while.

Now, admittedly media attention has been concentrated on the Conservative conference during the past five days, and will continue to some extent for a few more days. Despite that, Ed-M could have been bolder and more leader-like and not limited to cautious comments regarding seemingly threatened public sector strikes.

I have been watching every day for something worthwhile to report, but there has either been nothing or I have managed to miss it! Of course, we have the new Shadow Cabinet to be formed: nineteen  from a pool of 49 Labour MPs who have put themselves forward, to be elected before Ed places them into his "Shad Cab". That will be news, and rightly so, whatever shape it takes, and there should be inferences observers can draw from those appointments by "Red Ed".

It's a fair assumption that the nineteen names elected will be some kind of mixture of left and centre-right, Brownites, Blairites and others not in or from either of those camps. The numbers from each wing of the party will be significant, as will the posts to which they are then appointed by the new Dear Leader.

Suitability versus cronyism/favours will be looked at by commentators, and I might produce my own assessment here, either before reading anyone else's or evaluating a range of other views - possibly both (a before-and-after double-post, perhaps).

In the meantime, I have just seen what Iain Martin has written today about Ed. He states that Ed is "starting at rock bottom" with "low expectations", and "needs a brilliant few months, starting now" if he is to survive as party leader beyond the end of this year. That last bit (the short time scale) seems unrealistic to me, but that view doesn't come from Iain himself and he is just passing it on.

I'd have thought, personally, that Ed would have until at least next spring's local and other elections (such as Holyrood) before any rumblings begin in earnest. It tends to be poor electoral results that cause a party to look severely at its leadership, as party members, including surviving MPs and councillors, feel their own positions are under threat and they really don't like that.

There has been some good news for Labour in recent months, including in by-elections. As public spending is reigned in during coming months, and the Liberal Democrats are perceived to be as much a part of the cause of that as the Tories, I am expecting that good news to continue and to grow for quite a while yet.

The so-called cuts will be a strong recruitment aid for Labour, and an electoral advantage in elections during the next two or three years; but it will pass as the country gets back on its feet. Thus Ed Miliband should be able to find a way to survive, as he has a number of good cards in his hand at the moment, with more yet to be dealt to him. It is my hope that he does stay as Labour leader, as it will make it easier to keep his party out of government at the 2015 General Election.

Child Benefits changes

The ever-sharp Mark Wallace (yes, he of Tax-Payers' Alliance fame) seems to have sussed out the real reaction to the government's changes to child benefit eligibility, and believes they will turn out to be vote-winning.

Yes, there were slip-ups in the rush to get everything ready in time for party conference - and I have a strong feeling that was the real cause, especially after hearing David Cameron's rapid-fire list of the coalition's achievements during the last five months - but the public-at-large are hugely in support of the idea, even if the policy needs some tweaking in places.

As "Crash Bang" Wallace reveals, part of the disproportionate media attacks on the government probably stem from their own writers' incomes placing them into the affected bracket, which he found at Guido's site. Oh yes, a lot of those names we see in newspapers and in other parts of the media are paid very well indeed. It isn't just the Guardian's Polly Toynbee and her now-(in)famous villa in Tuscany, and the Mirror's chauffeur-driven Kevin Maguire living in London's Mayfair: it is widespread.

Five out of six ordinary people polled by YouGov recently are in favour of this benefits change idea, and there are sixty million of us. There is even some pressure for full means-testing of child benefit, but that would be expensive to administer so it would be better if it could be avoided via a set of clear and sensible rules/thresholds. Dizzy has his own take on this, incorporating some of the above (in his inimitable style, of course) and adding his own thoughts as well.

I don't think the views of a hundred or so self-interested media hacks count for much in the real-world context, and they ought to be treated accordingly. Money saved on those not needing it (if they were to be honest with themselves and us) will end up back with us all, in one form or another (hopefully reduced taxation), once the country's financial crisis is behind us.

Visualising Quangos

Well done to The Guardian for publishing this graphic illustration of the UK's multitudinous quangos! Use the buttons at the foot of this Scribd (Flash-based) widget to zoom in or out, scroll with the mouse, and see for yourself.

Note that this contains only those quangos ("Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations", to give them their full and correct title: the Guardian's writer missed a bit) that receive £25 million a year or more in direct funding from government, and excludes non UK-wide quangos that are solely concerned with Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

UK Quangos Visualization -

Blog roll

No, not "bog roll" - do pay attention at the back!

Many (most? all?) blogs I visit have a list of other blogs as a kind of recommended reading list or something similar, so I've cautiously started to do the same. It's in the right sidebar (as it's called) and currently has just four entries.

No doubt it will grow over time, but I'll try to keep it manageable. I don't want to end up with a "can't see the wood for the trees" situation, though it will be difficult to keep under really tight control as there are so many good blogs out there. What a dilemma!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Cameron's speech

Below is a video of David Cameron's 53-minute speech to the Conservative conference this afternoon. It did the job on the whole, and seemed appropriate to the circumstances: not a full-blown barnstormer, but with enough meat for the public & media and enough Labour-bashing party politics for the party faithful in the hall.

Watch live streaming video from conservatives at

Benedict Brogan in the Telegraph appears to have the nest assessment of what is really going and what lies in store for us, the government, and David Cameron personally. For example, did you know that he is privately resigned to being a single-term Prime Minister? I didn't.

Here is a collection of reactions to the speech. I don't think there's anything useful to be gained from taking much notice of the Labour people's contributions: they are predictably negative, but are perhaps useful to have included for the sake of breadth of opinion.

Also, here is their latest party political broadcast.