The end of 2014 has certainly brought home some hard economic truths. Osborne told us he had a long-term economic plan and it was working because the UK had the fastest-growing economy in the G7. Well, it isn’t: the UK economy is now growing at only half the rate of the US economy, and even Australia is now growing faster than the UK. Worse, the UK economy is slowing, David Kern, chief economist at the British Chambers of Commerce, comments that “the stark revision (downward) in annual growth confirms that the pace of recovery is slowing.” The budget deficit, which according to Osborne’s long-term economic plan, was supposed now to be £40bn is actually £100bn. Worse, the deficit is now beginning to rise, not fall at all. The re-balancing of the economy, another key part of the government’s long-term economic plan, hasn’t materialised and in fact has got much worse. Kern again: “the current balance of payments deficit has risen to an unsustainably high level….owing to the fall in net investment”. Business investors clearly don’t believe Osborne either. Read more “Will 2015 be the year when the UK awakes to how disastrous right-wing economic, political, military ideology has been?” »
By any standards the Tories must be odds-on to lose the next election. They have not won an election with an overall majority for 22 years, and if they couldn’t win an overall majority in 2010 in the aftermath of the crash and against one of the most unpopular prime ministers in modern times, they won’t win one now when their position is much worse. Ashcroft’s polling finds that one-third of the people who voted Conservative in 2010 are not planning to do so now, and clearly Tory votes are haemorrhaging badly to UKIP. In particular Ashcroft has found that Labour’s position is significantly stronger in the marginals and overall he believes that “the number of Conservative losses could extend to the point where Labour have a confortable working majority”. Even Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader in Scotland, admitted during the Scottish referendum campaign that she didn’t believe the Tories could win in 2015. And given the latest evidence of UKIP defections (with likely more to come) plus sleaze again rearing its ugly head plus deep Tory divisions over Europe and an ungovernable Tory Right in full-scale rebellion against Cameron, the Tory party today lacks unity, vision and discipline. Read more “The next election is a race that both main parties seem anxious to lose” »
Here we go again. The undoubted threat represented by ISIS and the return of its recruits to the UK is leading to calls for new banning orders for extremist groups, new civil powers to target extremists, and measures to target persons even when have actually not broken the law. It has also led to proposals to revoke the passports of returning British citizens, a power already being used after it was introduced in April this year via royal prerogative executive powers – an anachronistic means of acquiring new powers without explicit parliamentary authority. The emphasis is being put on strengthening terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) which replaced control orders and are almost identical with them, when the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson has recommended stronger ‘locational constraints’ and required attendance at probation service meetings, though these are unlikely to make a decisive difference. Read more “Rushing into new anti-extremist powers has a troublesome history” »
The Blairites never wanted Ed Miliband to win the leadership and when he unexpectedly did, they have never missed an opportunity to gossip against him from the sidelines. Some like Dan Hodges (son of Glenda Jackson) regularly spit out their vitriol and bile against Ed in the in the Tory press, others more insidiously give unattributed briefings to the media which Blairite journalists, like Nicholas Watt in the Guardian today, shamefully repeat without naming the source. The bitter irony in all this is that Ed has bent over backwards to placate Progress (the Blairite Tendency) in order to maintain party unity. They gladly swallow all the concessions he makes to them, but that never earns their loyalty- they always return to bait him at the next available opportunity. But what is particularly contemptible about this latest bad-mouthing of the Leader is that they are indulging their prejudices at the expense of seriously damaging the party’s prospects with the general election only 10 months away.
What is so galling about this latest febrile outbreak is that it is based on such trivia and wholly ignores the real underlying stature of Ed Miliband who is by any standards one of the most under-rated Leaders in modern times. He rightly took on Murdoch over his attempted takeover of BSkyB, which was a high-risk call, and triumphed. Cameron on the other hand was so much in hock to Murdoch that he did all he could to wave the deal through, and Blair (and let’s be honest, David Miliband) would certainly have done the same. Miliband deserves enormous credit for the courage he displayed then since a Murdock takeover would have delivered Britain to the kind of Berlusconi-style monopolisation of the media which no democracy should ever contemplate. Read more “The rats have come out of the woodwork again” »
The fifth anniversary of the Daily Telegraph exposures about MPs’ expenses once again brings to mind that, like so many other cases involving the Establishment, it was the little people that got done over while the real culprits escaped free. No-one can condone the offences for which half a dozen lesser known MPs were sent to prison, but they were the small fry compared with the front-benchers of all the main parties who have never been booked. As indeed that paragon of virtue, Maria Miller, was the first to remind us. As she slowly twisted in the wind as a result of enriching herself from taxpayers’ generosity over housing allowances, one of her ploys to try to hang on was digging up precedents of well-known MPs who maxed up mortgages on properties they had bought at much lower prices or even owned outright. It makes interesting reading. Read more “One law for the big name MPs & another for the small fry” »
Cameron’s obstinate defence of Maria Miller against the large majority of his own party and the public who want to be rid of her for her greed, arrogance and sheer callous disregard for decent standards in public life needs some explaining. Maybe he doesn’t want to be pushed, he wants to put in the knife himself in his own time in the reshuffle after the European elections. Maybe he doesn’t want to be pushed around by the media or his own party (again), and prefers to tough it out. But he’s shedding political goodwill by the gallon over this shoddy episode. Sooner or later he’ll call it a day. The rule for Prime Ministers is, if the media keep up a barrage for 5 days or more and if the political hostility in Westminster is still growing, he’ll staunch his losses and cut her loose.
But it’s not just this tawdry saga itself, it’s the way that judgement on it within Westminster has been manipulated. The Commons Committee on Standards has 10 MPs on it plus 3 lay members (none of whom have a vote), and the MPs split 5 Tory, 4 Labour and 1 LibDem. Why did they deal so excessively leniently with Miller, reducing by nine-tenths the payback required by their own independent standards commissioner? And why was the tone of their admonition of Miller so mild when that can be politically weighted and can carry great influence – their vigorous condemnation of Denis McShane MP for over-claiming £12,000 led to his resignation from the House (and possible imprisonment) while their exoneration of David Laws MP on a pretext for wrongly claiming £40,000 allowed him to stay in Parliament and now return to ministerial office. Read more “MPs, press, police, bankers – none can be left to regulate themselves” »
It is shocking that Cameron, who has repeatedly said in the past that he is cleaning up on MPs’ expenses, now says he is giving “very warm support” to Maria Miller, the disgraced secretary of state for culture, media and sport. Miller, a haughty Tory lady of the grande dame variety, became an MP in 2005 and designated a house in Wimbledon as her second home (and thus eligible under parliamentary expenses) on the grounds that she spent most of her time in a rented house in her constituency (Basingstoke). She then made claims for 4 years on the Wimbledon home, but stopped claiming when the expenses scandal broke in 2009. The Commons committee on standards in their report just published found that she had over-claimed on her mortgage. The standards commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, recommended that Miller be made to pay back more than £44,000. The Commons committee on standards, for reasons not disclosed, did not support Hudson’s recommendation. Instead they merely criticised Miller for frustrating the investigation for over a year by declining to give direct answers to questions about her claims for taxpayers’ money. They ordered her to repay just £5,800. Then to cap it all, her ‘apology’ to the House of Commons yesterday which was minimalist (30 seconds), did not even mention the money she had been ordered to repay, and from her manner clearly lacked sincerity. Read more “Maria Miller should resign or be sacked” »
Together with David Winnick MP and Kelvin Hopkins MP, I’ve just been to protest about the government’s Bedroom Tax at the Prime Minister’s official residence at Chequers in Buckinghamshire. We called on Cameron to pay the Bedroom Tax on his 10 spare bedrooms at Chequers – this is what we said in our letter:
The Rt. Hon. David Cameron MP, Prime Minister, Chequers, Near Ellesborough, Aylesbury, Bucks.
5 April 2013.
Dear Prime Minister,
We have come to protest at the unjust and cruelly vindictive bedroom tax which you have imposed on 660,000 households in publicly rented housing across the country, up to two-thirds of which are estimated to include a disabled member. You have decided to penalise them because you argue that they all have more bedrooms than they need. As a result these families, amongst the poorest in Britain, will be forced to pay from their own subsistence income extra rent amounting to either about £11 a week or about £20-25 a week or, if they cannot afford this extra rent, will be forced out of their homes to find smaller accommodation which is simply not available currently on anywhere near the scale required.
You, on the other hand, are provided by the State for your family’s use with a second home set in 1,000 acres with 10 bedrooms. You have also constantly claimed that “we are all in this together”. In that case we would ask you to show as much compassion towards Britain’s poorest as you have been shown generosity.
We would further ask you, do you not therefore think in these circumstances it would be reasonable, given that most of your 10 bedrooms will remain unoccupied for most of the time, that you make an equally proportionate contribution out of your own income towards the costs of the State in the administration of Chequers?
David Winnick MP Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher MP Kelvin Hopkins MP
Tomorrow we are told that Osborne in his Autumn Statement is going to ratify 30 new gas power sites and will give the green light to major shale gas exploration. The aim is to ensure that gas-fired power provides half of generation capacity by 2030. Some 26 gigawatts of new power capacity will be needed to replace nuclear and coal-fired plants closing down before 2020. But further, if the fourth carbon budget which sets out carbon emission targets is revised up, gas-fired power capacity could rise to 37GW. Such a target emphasises yet again, even more decisively than before, that the government is embarking on a new dash for gas and once again downgrading renewables. It also explains the highly unusual decision of the PM to reject the choice of the economist running the Committee on Climate Change (David Kennedy) who had been selected from the strongest field for many years to head up DECC.
This was hardly noticed at the time, but is highly significant. It is difficult to fault Kennedy’s pedigree. He came from the World Bank where he had worked on energy strategy. Previouslu he had been engaged on infrastructure investment projects at the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), and he holds a PhD in economics from LSE. He was recommended unanimously by DECC and its ministerial head Ed Davey, and his appointment was then regarded as a mere formality. Yet Cameron turned him down. Why? I have put down a PQ to find out, but there can be little doubt that it was because Cameron, veering towards the climate change deniers/downplayers on the Tory Right, wanted to make clear that the green economy was now off the agenda.
This would be to emphasise the priority of growth at all costs. Yet this is a total misunderstanding of the energy landscape. Germany, with its commitment to feed-in tariffs which were notoriously omitted from last week’s government Energy Statement, is strongly pursuing the green agenda, and despite much higher growth than the UK is projecting a 25% drop in electricity demand by 2050. Britain by contrast projects a rise of up to 66%! Why the huge difference? Germany decided to get serious on energy efficiency. The significance of that is that even a modest 10% reduction for the UK by 2030 would mean 5 fewer power stations need to be built, nearly 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved, and no less than £4bn cut from energy bills.