Yesterday an innocuous little announcement was dribbled out of Whitehall with little or no pick-up in the media. It said that the Government had decided to wind up the Appointments Commission. Since this Commission was set up as an independent body precisely to stop political interference in public appointments, particularly in the health service under the Thatcher Government, it starts to ring alarm bells when this notice of abolition has been issued by the Department of Health whose Minister, Lansley, has just announced ‘reforms’ which will effectively eviscerate the NHS. It strongly suggests the Tories are set on packing the NHS with compliant placemen/women to ram through highly contentious changes to privatise large chunks of the health service. Nor is that the only area where patronage is now being used corruptly for highly partisan political ends. (more…)
As the nomination period for the Labour Leadership contest ends with David Miliband taking 165 CLP nominations to his brother’s 147 with the others far behind, and the prospect of a new era opens up, one sentence reported from the Mandelson memoirs came forcibly to mind about why this hadn’t happened long before – namely that the members of the Brown Cabinet knew for at least 18 months before the election that Labour was headed for a bad defeat, and likely a catastrophe, but believed they could do nothing about it. Why not? That says it all about the state of today’s Labour Party. (more…)
The most remarkable, and disturbing, aspect about the simultaneous release today of 92,000 internal records of US military actions in Afghanistan to the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times is how blind, complacent, negligent or sycophantic the US (and other Western) media have been over a 6-year period (Jan 2004-Dec 2009) in getting anywhere near the truth about the war in that country. Or, putting it another way, how come the US establishment military and political have been able so comprehensively and for so long to conceal the truth? That in itself, apart from the facts which are horrifying enough, deserves detailed investigation and a full-scale inquiry into news management in war situations.
A compass survey has found that Britain tofay has the highest levels of personal debt in the world – a staggering £1,460bn, equal to the entire economic worth of all the products and services that Britain produces in a year. But the levels of indebtedness become so high that debtors accept, or are forced into, any deal with private loan sharks that will roll over their debts for a few weeks or months, even though this will only make things much worse within a very short time. When the Bank of England base rate is at the rock-bottom rate of 0.5%, loan and credit companies have been found exploiting victims with rates as high as 2500%! So what should be done? (more…)
There are two groups in Britain who are above the law – the bankers and the police. Members of both groups have, in very different ways, done immense damage to the economic and social fabric of this country in recent years, and not one has been held to account. Leading bankers in all the main banks have acted with almost unbelievable folly and recklessness which has now cost taxpayers over $650bn, a sum that will rise by 2014 to £1.4 trillion (equal to Britain’s whole GDP), yet not one banker has been prosecuted, imprisoned, demoted, sacked or permanently (or even temporarily) barred from any involvement in the financial sector they virtually destroyed. Now the Tomlinson affair shows that the police are equally immune from public accountability, and can even kill citizens with impunity. For this is not an isolated episode, but comes on top of a long list of similar incidents. (more…)
Just when you thought that things can’t get worse, the screw is turned further. According to the official National Housing Federation, the cuts in housing benefit which slasher Osborne announced in his Budget and which DWP are now about to launch will force over 750,000 people out of their homes, increasing 5-fold the 140,000 persons currently classified as homeless in Britain. What is going to happen to soaring hundreds of thousands of additional rough sleepers when local authorities, facing 25-30% cuts like central Departments, only have a statutory duty to house people in ‘priority need’? (more…)
It would be unfair to call Cameron’s Big Society a “total bollocks”, as one senior Conservative did during the election campaign because it was too vague to mean anything. Cameron himself would have us believe it is a project, to be launched in November, to harness the power of online social networking via a new Your Square Mile website to turn sceptical citizens into enthusiastic community organisers. After the Thatcher decade lionised individuals and rolled back the State, the Big Society provides the positive counterfoil of joining individuals together to take community action. Or does it? (more…)
Listening to William Hague yesterday in Kabul at the ninth international conference on the future of Afghanistan illustrated political doublespeak at its lowest ebb. All local analysts recognise that the military balance is moving steadily away from Nato forces towards the Taliban. Sangin, Musa Qala and Marjah cannot be secured and are constantly taken and retaken like some barren hill in Vietnam to deny it to the enemy. The British casualty rate (322 soldiers killed to date) is now twice as high proportionately as the US rate and as high as the Soviet forces endured in the 1980s, and will certainly not be politically sustainable in the UK for long. So where now? (more…)
The chances of a double-dip recession are growing every day, and are now more than 50-50 likely. The ONS has just announced that the 2008-9 meltdown drained £22bn out of the economy, forced up unemployment by hundreds of thousands, and with a 6.4% slump in UK output was far worse than 5.3% in the Eurozone and 3.8% in the US. The 2.6% pre-budget growth forecast for 2011 was cut post-budget by the OBR to 2.3%, and now has been lowered further still by the IMF to just 2.1%. The faltering rise in UK output in the spring seems to have halted, and the rise in house prices has petered out or even fallen. The key engines of growth – household spending (even before the rise in VAT) and exports – are both down. So what is Osborne’s response? (more…)
The Academies Bill today in the Commons is a particularly brash example of Govian arrogance – the unprecedentedly telescoped parliamentary proceedings for scrutiny of the Bill, the bypassing of constitutional and democratic processes (which on Radio 4 he dismissed as over-concern for processology), the lack of consultation, and the rolling-out nationwide of an inadequately tested and highly contentious system.
Not only that, serious unaswered questions remain about the funding of Academies, their expansion to primary and special and grammar schools, admissions policy (will banding arrangements introduce selection by the back door?), and the lack of due governance and adequate accountability. To push ahead so precipitately with such an untried system where the limited results so far are at best highly ambivalent is a real abuse of power. What results can be expected? (more…)
Mrs. Thatcher csrried through a huge programme of privatisation of industries, Blair attempted the same (though with only limited success) in respect of services, and now the Tories are hell-bent on achieving what Blair failed to do, but using a different route – the austerity drive. By shrinking the State on the ostensible pretext that the budget deficit makes this ‘unavoidable’, the Tories have the perfect excuse to complete the ideological anti-State revolution to reverse once-and-for-all the post-1945 hegemony of social democracy. They are certainly approaching the task with relish on tghe evidence of just 2 months of coalition government. (more…)
The Gulf of Mexico saga which may – or may not – be now coming to an end has more compelling implications than has been realised. It’s not just that BP has suffered a catastrophic accident, has already paid out £2.5bn in clean-up costs, is facing even bigger compensation claims for years ahead, and has experienced the biggest reputational nosedive in modern history from third largest corporation in the US to public enemy no1. It’s the way its record in so many other respects has been crawled over and found abysmally wanting.
It’s not even just that the Gulf of Mexico disaster comes on top of the worst US industrial disaster of the last decade, also laid at the door of BP, when its Texan oil refinery blew up in 2005 killing 15 workers. It’s the fact that these were not just one-off episodes, but rather typical of a safety and environment-lax, no-holds-barred, gung-ho profits culture which arrogantly accepted no checks on its industrial and financial dominance. As the evidence now coming to light reveals, the abuse of power runs right through the whole BP record. So how should we now respond? (more…)
Vince Cable is to be credited with coming up with new and more radical solutions for resolving the two key dilemmas in higher education – the growing elitism in Britain’s top universities and the unfairness of tuition fees especially if they were to be significantly raised (as the top universities are clamouring for). But his proposals don’t go far enough to break through the class barrier and also contain some notable downsides. (more…)
So BP lobbied the British Government for the release of Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, the alleged Lockerbie bomber, in order to get prior access to Libyan oil – or so say 4 US Senators. Al-Megrahi was almost cetainly not the culprit; the bombing was much more likely to have been carried out by the Iranian-backed Ahmed Gibril’s revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – but that’s another story. The deal that was hatched whereby Libya would give up its nuclear ambitions (which showed no sign of materialising anyway), Al-Megrahi would be released on compassionate grounds that he was in the final stages of a terminal illness (which we now know he wasn’t), and Britain would graciously respond to these magnanimous gestures of goodwill from Libya by opening up its markets to Libyan goods (i.e. grabbing the oil).
Jack Straw, earlier Foreign Secretary, openly admitted as much. He said last year: “We wanted to bring Libya back into the fold. And yes, that included trade…and subsequently there was the BP deal”. No country oozes high-mindedness to cloak its base commercial interests like the UK. Indeed this motif has been played out repeatedly. (more…)
Not another personal memoir, surely. Apart from the obvious motive of trying to retain a drop of fast-fading publicity, this latest wallowing in an orgy of self-importance in Mandelson’s diaries is yet another painful reminder of the personality-obsessed, policy-vacuous utter lack of ideology, direction and vision of the New Labour years. It’s almost as though the waste of more than a decade was merely a paver for a largely trite, always self-centred, stream of personal reminiscences. O Crossman and Crosland, where art thou today? Why have we descended so far to the pygmies? (more…)