If you think that the election campaign has been a roller-coaster of surprises and shocks, just wait for the constitutional manoeuvrings which will begin at about 5am on Friday morning when the results of the election are beginning to become clear. Assuming that the Tories don’t get an overall majority, i.e. a total of at least 326 seats or at least 130 more than they hold at present, several constitutional chasms will open up:
If there is any hope of doing a deal with Clegg to stay in power and if Clegg states, as he has already done, that (in addition to electoral reform) he will do a deal with Labour but not with Brown, the Cabinet will likely have an early meeting on Friday and select another leader from among themselves.
Read more “Constitutional crises ahoy!” »
Chilcot is a ticking time bomb, dormant for the moment, but still primed to explode within a few months. And then what?
Three central issues arise out of Chilcot. The first is what happens if in accordance with the known facts the inquiry concludes that Tony Blair committed without consultation to a war in Iraq 11 months before the invasion, played down intelligence briefings that evidence of Saddam’s WMD was sporadic and patchy, invented or inflated claims to show that the threat was much greater than he knew it to be, and tried to prevent the Attorney General’s judgement reaching the Cabinet that the war was illegal without a second UN resolution and then leant on him to change his mind?
Read more “Chilcot leading to what?” »
There are several remarkable aspects to Osborne’s statement to his party’s conference yesterday – its dramatic candour, its shortfall far below what he himself said was required – but the most extraordinary thing about it was that it was made at all. The Tories could easily have stuck close to Labour’s spending plans in order to avoid being too frank about their real intentions on handling the budget deficit. Grtuitously to throw away this option whilst at the same time revealing so close to the election that one intends to impose a pay freeze on 5 million public sector workers as well as to raise the age for entitlement to the State pension to 66 shows just how cockily sure the Tories have become thathtye’ve got the election in the bag. And it also shows how pathetically imitative the Government have become of Tory initiatives that Liam Byrne, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, actually hurried out his public sector pay freeze first a few hours earlier in order to pre-empt Osborne’s main announcement — all the more contemptible when it is completely the wrong policy. Nor is this the first time this has happened.
Read more “Osborne’s tricky striptease” »
The latest child poverty figures make sober reading. They show that the proportion of children living in poverty has doubled in the past generation, and the UK now has proportionately more poor children than most other rich countries. This is not what was promised or expected. In 1969, Thatcher having tripled child poverty in the 1980s, Tony Blair committed Labour to halving it by 2010 and eliminating it altogether by 2020. By 2005 there were still 3.4 million children living in poverty (i.e. living in households whose income was less than 60% of full-time median earnings), the number having been reduced by 600,000 since the pledge was made. However, this was well short of the cut rrquired since the reduction was just 17% whereas the target was 25%. What is more disturbing is that the total, having been cut inadequately, is now starting to rise again significantly. This is freversible, but not on current policies.
Read more “Child poverty : Labour’s acid test” »
It is far too readily assumed that a Tory victory at the next election is a foregone conclusion. In fact, if the LibDems perform as well as they did at the 2005 election, then Cameron will need an 11-point lead over Labour in the popular vote just to get an overall Commons majority of 2. Maybe the LibDems will do less well, but even if Clegg’s vote halved, Cameron would still need to beat Labour by 7 points to get a bare majority. That’s because the Tories still today hold only 197 seats, less even than Michael Foot had after the massive defeat of 1983, a very long way short of the 324 seats they would need to have an overall majority. Moreover, as is widely recognised, there’s no great enthusiasm for either Cameron or the Tories: their 28% vote in the Euro elections was well short of the 36% they secured even at the peak of Tony Blair’s power a decade ago. The problem is entirely with Labour which is why, theoretically at least, the situation is not irreparable. But it will require a fundamental re-directioning of the party. No mere tweaking of policies (or lack of policies) will do.
Read more “Programme for a Labour recovery” »
The Iraq inquiry, which the PM announced today, is obviously welcome, but just about eveything about the way it is to be conducted is wrong. It is far too late, since it should have been set up shortly after hostilities finished on 30 April 2003, i.e. at leat 5-6 years ago. It is being established in the time-honoured way by the PM, without proper prior consultation with the leaders of the other parties, and without any real likelihood that Parliament can alter either the chair, membership or terms of reference of the committee the PM has personally approved. We can be quite sure that the civil servant drafters made their choices in the manner they thought most likely (which had to be approved by the PM) would lead to an uncontroversial, even consensual, conclusion which would enable the Gopvernment to slip round the outstanding issues on the floor of the House and thus gain the space finally to move on. On that score the conclusion must be that the PM succeeded, by often evading the question and constantly repeating his well-rehearsed defensive mantra, in sloughing off several threatening lines of scrutiny. But that will not fend off the determination of the majority to get at the truth, wherever it may lead, on many still outstanding issues.
Read more “The Iraq inquiry: why has it got to be secret?” »
The resignations of the Blairite current and previous Ministers – Patricia Hewitt, Bev Hughes, and Hazel Blears – and possibly also the premature leaking of Jacqui Smith’s resignation, all immediately before key elections known to be critical for Labour, appear part of a coordinated de-stabilisation of Gordon Brown. They also illustrate how deep is the animus between the two feuding factions, and bring to the surface the rancour which has been latent ever since Tony Blair was forced out two years ago. And, deeply depressingly, they reveal just how far the Labour Party, in its bowdlerised nemesis as New Labour, has now become the cockpit for the struggle between ambitious factions, devoid of ideology or wider inspiration. The lesson is that this is the fate of any political party that merely apes its rival and loses all touch with the wider social and economic interests it is meant to represent.
Read more “The Blairite-Brownite vendetta is destroying Labour” »
In all the maelstrom leading up to Michael Martin’s resignation, the real issue was not MPs’ expenses, horrendous though some of them were, but rather the very rationale for Parliament itself. What is it for? It’s one thing that MPs made greedy claims, for which they should now be held fully to account; it’s quite another as to whether they were performing any function for which they deserved payment at all. Their fundamental role is to hold the Government to account. It is a task which they have manifestly failed to achieve for several years now, even a decade or two. What is now needed is not only very tight control over a moderate level of expenses explicitly specified as strictly necessary for the job, but a major redrawing of the role to give real substance to the job in order to justify payment by the electorate/taxpayer in the first place. How should that be done?
Read more “Speaker Martin’s departure might just spark a mini-revolution” »
Whilst nobody would deny that the retention of DNA information on a national DMA database has a legitimate role in the prevention of crime, it is a question of where the balance is drawn so as to minimize the loss of fundamental rights in protecting personal data, and once again the Government is found to be acting, not proportionately, but using ‘blanket and indiscriminate’ powers according to the ECHR. The decision announced today by the Home Office to retain for 6 years the DNA profiles of innocent people arrested but not convicted of minor offences is surely excessive and unreasonable. Equally, to retain for 12 years the DNA data of innocent people suspected of more serious violent or sexual crime, but not convicted, contrasts sharply with decisions taken in other EU countries, and in Scotland it is 5 years. The decision smells of overkill,
Read more “Criminalising the innocent on the DNA database” »