February 28th, 2010
The Sunday Times YouGov poll today giving the Tories a mere 2% sliver of a lead over Labour shouldn’t be taken at face value, for 3 reasons:
1 Until, or if, it is corroborated by at least two or three other polls, it may simply be a rogue poll outlier. Clearly there continues to be an edging back towards Labour (or rather away from the Tories), but a swingback from a 10% Tory lead in January to 6% a mere week ago and then to just 2% now is difficult to credit objectively.
2 There are marked differences between nationwide polls and those in marginal seats where the final result will largely be decided. Labour could still win on the national figures, and yet lose the election in the marginals.
3 The millions that Lord Ashcroft has been piling into the most vulnerable Labour marginals could still have a decisive impact. It is remarkable that Labour, despite Gordon Prentice MP’s constant chivvying over this scandal of a peer/businessman who is apparently not tax-registered in the UK being allowed to get away with trying to pervert the election though his foreign wealth, has still done next to nothing to stop him. Presumably New Labour too is more dependent on non-doms than they care to admit.
Perhaps the most curious thing about this latest poll, if there is any truth in it, is why this remarkable collapse in the Tory lead (from 26% less than 2 years ago to 2% now) should have happened. As so often in politics, the side that benefits may claim the credit for the shift, but big swings in political sentiment nearly always reflect own goals by the losers – and the Tories really have been doing badly recently – constant opportunistic changes of stance and no stability in what they really stand for, if indeed they know.
February 7th, 2010
The three concurrent inquiries at present – into the Iraq war, the corruption alleged to be behind the £43bn al-Yamamah arms deal, and democratic reform of the House of Commons – don’t seeem to have much connection. In fact they are all probing one single fundamental issue: how can the wielding of unbridled power be held to account by checks and balances which preserve the democratic rights of the majority over fundamental decision-making? Blair could only take Britain into an illegal war of aggression because he had crushed or manipulated the countervailing forces in the Cabinet, Parliament and in society at large. BAE was only able to carry through what is now widely seen as one of the biggest and most corrupt arms deals in history because it colluded with the Government, and Downing Street in particular, in evading all the normal mechanisms of transparency and accountability. The Wright select committee which recently reported on reforming parliamentary procedures was primarily concerned with limiting the overweening power of the Executive to get its way on everything irrespective of Parliament and the electorate.
February 6th, 2010
The stench of corruption in the long-running BAE saga over the al-Yamamah and other massive arms deals is almost suffocating, and now to cap it all BAE (for the moment at least) has escaped criminal prosecution. Just about everything in this episode stinks:
* Kickbacks for securing these gigantic deals (£43bn revenue to BAE for the Saudi deal) were channelled through offshore shell entities to disguise where these payments came from and who to, as MOD defence sales must have been aware,
* The SFO corruption inquiry launched in 2004 revealed huge sums paid into Swiss bank accounts associated with middlemen like the Syrian billionaire Wafic Said, a close friend of the Thatcher family, but as the Swiss prepared to disclose bank records to the SFO which might implicate the Saudi royal family, Blair ordered Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, in a secret and personal letter to stop the investigation,
* The inquiry was then only resurrected when the US Justice Department discovered that BAE had been paying Prince Bandar, son of the Saudi Defence Minister, over £1bn through the previous decade in £30m quarterly payments, apparently through an MOD account, yet the British government refused to hand over documents about these Bandar payments, no doubt because Ministers had been insisting for 20 years that there had been no secret commission payments,
* Other BAE deals now being uncovered include the sale of hugely expensive radar to poverty-stricken Tanzania, with a third of the £28m contract price now revealed to have been diverted into secret offshore bank accounts, yet the deal was forced through by Blair who, in the words of Clare Short, “absolutely, adamantly, favoured all proposals for arms deals”.
February 5th, 2010
Having for months advocated a strong State stake in energy supply, I was pleased – if admittedly rather surprised – to see that Ofgem is now recommending exactly that. It’s almost as though it was recommending rolling up the unfettered free market system of liberalised energy and replacing it with the Central Electricity Generating Board. And about time too. Privatisation of gas in 1986 and electricity in 1989 certainly lowered prices, but at the expense of strategic long-term planning. Three consequences have followed from the wild marketising frenzy of the 1980s which are now seen even by the Energy Establishment to be lethal drawbacks. First, gas storage capacity when left to the market scarcely materialised , which left the UK with dangerously low reserves in cold snaps like the recent one and increasingly dependent on imported gas. Second, the disinterest in ownership of strategic national assets put the UK at the maercy of foreign power behemoths which again mattered at times of shortages and rationing when they would prioritise their own domestic consumers. And third, having sucked the short-term profits out of the industry, privatised companies are much less interested in investing to meet national energy supply targets.
February 4th, 2010
If in the hackneyed phrase information is power, and it is, the rules governing this power need to be far more tightly drawn than at present, as several current issues illustrate. It is dreadful that the FOI requests made to the scientists at the UEA climactic research unit were so disgracefully blocked (albeit that some of the climate change sceptics demanding the information may have been obsessive and partisan themselves). Some of the data, for example concerning the location of 42 rural Chinese weather stations or the width of annual growth rings of trees in frozen Siberian bogs, might be arcane and of minute relevance to fundamental climate change questions, but it should still have been made readily available. The evidence about the ‘hockey stick’ is much more serious and should certainly have been provided in full. Scientific data should be a free resource to all who seek it. But that of course applies much more widely than just to contentions about climate change.
John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist, called on scientists today to share data freely “so that people can do the challenging in an unhindered way”. He should apply his strictures to the Government’s own use of data about GM crops and food (which he supports) where the GM companies only publish trials data favourable to their cause and prevent researchers getting access to any data that undermines their commercial interests. Indeed where scientific claims are being made, FOI transparency should be made applicable equally throughout the private sector, especially in the field of pharmaceuticals. Recent cases about the use of injunctions to prevent disclosure, and in addition super-injunctions as in the Trafigura case, also reveal the need for strengthening the law to open up access where there is a clear public interest to do so.
February 3rd, 2010
Ed Miliband has been tasked by Gordon Brown to take responsibility for preparing Labour’s manifesto for the coming election and has invited contributions and advice from within the party for this purpose. Some 45 Labour MPs, supported by dozens of Constituency parties and trade unionists, as well as Compass and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, are now launching a Coalition for a Labour Victory based on a radical redistributive programme which we believe will resonate with Labour voters whose loyalties have been strained. We are therefore pressing Ed Miliband to focus Labour’s campaigning for the election around the following 5 key principles:
1 The recession should be tackled, not with cuts in essential public spending, but by a massive public investment programme in job creation in house-building, infrastructure improvement, public services, and the new green digital economy, in order steadily to reduce the deficit by getting people off dependence on benefit and into work paying tax, national insurance contributions and VAT.
2 Banks should be split up with their casino investment arms hived off. Publicly-owned retail banks should be required to meet new social and community objectives and support manufacturing, with lending to businesses and homeowners restored to 2007 levels. Pay and bonuses should be tightly regulated.
In addition there are 3 other key policy priorities:
February 2nd, 2010
The Tory full-scale retreat from their blood-curdling threat to cut and cut again, straightaway and savagely, because Britain’s revival depended on it, is degenerating into farce. This is not just a tweaking of the tempo or scale of their proposed cuts, it is a wholesale withdrawal from what they themselves previously insisted was the essential core of their policy to save Britain from a spiralling deficit that would prompt a bond strike in the financial markets and precipitate a downgrading of the country’s triple A credit status. So what has changed? The recovery in the real economy is still very fragile, but then it was before too.
What has changed is the politics reflecting greater caution about the basis of the recovery, plus a gradual but steady narrowing of the Tory poll lead. So Cameron is covering his tracks with some neat re-positioning, but only at a substantial price. It does not inspire confidence to build economic policy on the shifting sands of political sentiment. It risks an explosion from the Tory Right. And it leaves the wreckage of Tory economic policy floating aimlessly rather close to Labour’s position, suggesting that if the key dividing line between the parties is thus kicked away, there’s little incentive or rationale to change governments.
February 1st, 2010
The Democrats’ shock defeat in Massachusetts plus the deepening impact of the recession on US jobs and incomes are having a devastating impact on US foreign policy. Having started with a welcome post-Bush drive to conciliate long-standing opponents in an effort to ease tensions where aggressive threatening had previously merely hardened enmities, Obama’s original welcome intentions, which required far beyond a single year to realise, are now being swamped by declining polls in US domestic politics. He is certainly right to make his first priority winning back domestic support by focusing on reversing the ravages of the deep recession, but that does not require a foreign policy beginning to veer wildly in contrary directions. He has sent almost 40,000 extra troops into Afghanistan, but then almost immediately signs up to a phased withdrawal. He extended an unclenched fist to Iran, which probably helped to stimulate the ‘green’ proto-revolution there after the stolen presidential election, but now is quite suddenly ratcheting up the arms race without apparent provocation in the highly combustible cauldron of the Middle East.