Monday, 31 October 2011

The only way is ethics
The latest to depart from the ongoing soap that is the running of St Paul’s is the Dean. There is increasing anxiety among the cathedral authorities that the Met will be violent (they do have form) and that will reflect badly on them. In this they are right. Their handling of the protest has been almost unanimously condemned. The backlash created by a violent clampdown will damage the church. Where the church should be seen to support the poor and the oppressed it will be seen to have nailed its colours to the flag of mammon. 
Even some bankers are not happy. It is worth repeating that, even some bankers are not happy! Ken Costa who is an immensely rich banker and who funded the Alpha Course wrote the following in the Financial Times.(29/10/11) “I have been in the City since before the Big Bang whose 25th anniversary came this week. I have been through several recessions but I cannot recall the underlying sustained anger across all social levels – from dinner parties to demonstrations – aimed at bankers and the market economy as a whole.”
"When such a wide range of people are singing a tune perhaps discordant to a City worker's ears but seemingly in tune with the global view that the market economy has failed to deliver growth, jobs and hope, we need to listen. The cure is not more legislation, or increased regulation. It is the pressing need to reconnect the financial with the ethical." (My emphasis)
As Andrew Brown concluded in a Guardian online article today,  "This need to reconnect the financial with the ethical is precisely the cause on which the protesters and the chapter of St Paul's are united, even when they disagree. It would be an act of insane folly if the Church of England were to disconnect them once again, and to take the side of money against ethics.” 
Insane folly indeed.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

St Paul’s: Bad Timing and Bad Values
The Independent had a front page spread revealing that a report into the attitudes of city workers had been suppressed. It should have come out last Thursday but the clergy in charge of the current debacle thought it would look like they were on the side of the protestors. Now why would that be such a bad thing? 
A clue lay in the depths of the article where the Rev Studdert-Kennedy, who had been asked to write a piece accompanying the launch of the report, revealed that he had been ‘astonished’ by the attitudes some city workers displayed. “I did speak to many people about morality. I was amazed by how many banking crises there had been and how sanguine people were about them. A number of people said ‘ this is just what happens - it’s the nature of banking, it’s the nature of capitalism.’ I was astonished that people didn’t try to learn a bit more.” Independent on Sunday 30/10/11
Why should they ‘try to learn a bit more’ when their mistakes are paid for by the rest of us? Why should they change their ways when those with the power are in hock to them and their money? Why should anything change in the current cosy world of high finance and why should they give a toss about the rest when they can pay each other massive rises? 
Those who condemn the protestors as having no idea what to do should stand back and look at just how feeble (or corrupt) our system. 
Listening to the Bishop of London patronising the protestors today further reinforced what an out of touch, arrogant and ineffective bunch the hierarchy at St Paul’s are. It is no wonder they suppressed the report. It would embarrass them in their dealings with their financial pals who support St Paul’s. That they are in bed with many in the city comes as no surprise but it shows just how far their values have travelled from those set out by Jesus.
It has been a PR disaster for the church but that is as nothing should the Met be unchained and let loose. There are many christians who are willing to form a ‘wall of prayer’ to defend the camp. Now that will cause some hand-wringing in the upper echelons.

Friday, 28 October 2011

99%, 1% and 49%
We are the 99% who are paying for the greed, stupidity and arrogance of the 1%. Now we find that in these austere times the 1% have been paying each other 49% pay rises! Talk about two fingers to the lot of you. 
Listening to one typical fat cat attempting to justify his massive income on the Today programme was very frustrating. Would that we could reach into the radio and give him a slap. Or many, many slaps being as they are so thick-skinned they would not notice to begin with. Or a ‘Goodbye and Good Riddance’ card. 
Their argument is that they are sooooo talented they can whizz off around the world and will be welcomed with open arms........ Oh yeah. 
It is what they always say. Do not hold your breath waiting for millionaire Cameron, millionaire Clegg or millionaire Osborne to do anything. They are of the same stock.
The atmosphere in the UK would be a lot sweeter without these parasites.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Dave Hartnett: Tax Supremo, Imbecile or Bent?
Massive corporations employ the brightest brains to minimise the amount they pay in taxes. There are occasions when the use of such clever clogs is unnecessary. All that is apparently needed to save millions is to wine and dine the head of Tax at HM Revenue. 
Goldman Sachs, that byword for poverty, are one of Mr Hartnett’s beneficiaries. In a remarkable appearance before an irate Public Accounts Committee, Mr Hartnett insisted client confidentiality precluded him from giving the details of an arrangement he had struck with Goldman Sachs which had saved the poor financiers between 10 and 25 million.
This follows another deal with Vodaphone who were allowed to pay £450m of its tax bill over five years - a process usually allowed for ‘troubled businesses.’ With its £7bn plus annual dividend payouts, Vodaphone could hardly be called ‘troubled.’ 
As there are £25bn of disputed taxes with big companies it is more than worrying to have such a plonker as Hartnett in charge of retrieving this money. At a time of national financial crisis £25bn would go quite a long way to ease the pain.
The Committee Chair, Margaret Hodge, angrily noted that Hartnett was, “The guy who does the deals and the guy who is on the board who vets the deals. There is nobody checking that the deals you do represent good value for money. This is an outrageously unprecedented situation for me.” Private Eye 26/10/11 Another committee member, Richard Bacon, was angry that “extremely rich, extremely highly paid people paid less tax on their bankers’ bonuses as a result of the way the case was mishandled.” Ibid
Hartnett is one of several public officials who cost the country and therefore us taxpayers billions through their incompetence. Anyone want to buy two aircraft carriers without any planes....? Or how about the colossal sums spent on IT, none of which have worked? Or the business-friendly contracts worked out under the abominable PFI scheme? 
Call it crap, call it incompetence but don’t call it corruption. That only happens in third world countries doesn’t it?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Occupy London
The news that St Paul’s has been closed because of ‘health and safety’ concerns will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the workings of the Church of England. Giles Frazer rightfully gathered much approbation for his decision to allow the Occupy London protestors to stay on the steps of St. Paul’s. Since then other forces have mobilised. 
Listening to ‘Any Questions’ on Friday night, the tory, Bernard Jenkins, made the astounding claim that, ‘Jesus was not a politician.’ This remark was howled down by the other panelists who mentioned cleansing the temple of money-lenders, rich getting through the eye of a needle, and blessed are the meek etc etc. A caller on the ‘Any Answers’ programme on Saturday pointed out that it costs £14-50 to enter St Paul’s. Yes, £14-50. Mammon is alive and well and living in the C of E. A comment today from some spokesvicar said they were losing £20,000 a day! All because people opposed to greed were taking action. Canon Peter Bruinvels, a member of the General Synod, said the financial losses caused by the closure were a tragedy. "Clearly now the demonstrators should pack up their tents and go. St Paul's is a greater cause than theirs." Observer 23/10/11

There are many entrances to St Paul’s. It is not difficult to carry on with normal proceedings. The tent village on the steps acts as a reminder of how bad the worst excesses of capitalism have become. And it does upset the Tories.
A simple question. What would Jesus have done? It is clear to this correspondent that Jesus would not have voted Conservative. Or New Labour either. Neither were socialist enough to match his values. As for the LibDems.......! Jesus would have pitched his tent with the occupiers - and laid into the bankers and financiers. And their political chums.
The Church of England used to be regarded as ‘the conservative party at prayer.’ Perhaps the powers that be (with the honourable exception of Giles Frazer) would prefer the cathedral to be renamed as St  Mammon's ?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

The Met: A law unto themselves?
In a democracy, the glue that binds the whole shebang together is the ‘Rule of Law.’ It is the cornerstone, the bastion, the spine. Without it there is either anarchy and chaos or the rule of the mighty who impose their will on their citizens by force and fear. The use of cruel and inhuman punishment is the norm, victims have no rights and the tyrants goons fear no reprisal or legal redress. The Rule of Law matters. 
That is why the revelation last night that an undercover policeman had lied on oath and broken defence privilege was staggering. The spy had infiltrated the ‘Retake the Streets’ campaign of the 90’s. Again, quite staggering to think a bunch of cyclists were a threat to civilisation as we know it. A criminal case of assault against a policeman (denied by the convicted activist) now stands as being false. It joins the 20+ activists wrongly charged and sentenced for occupying a power station in Nottingham.
Whoever was running this police spy or agent provocateur  has a lot to answer. Whoever was heading this particular farrago has a lot to answer. Unfortunately, the track record of the Met in coming clean about this and similar matters is worse than poor - it is crap. 
There is a role for undercover police working against crime syndicates and terrorist organisations. There is not a role in infiltrating peaceful protesters and civil disobeyers. That the plods in charge are unable to tell the difference is a concern. 
This latest revelation added to the other recent unmaskings is disturbing. It is a sinister move by a police force which acts as though it is above the law. It is disquieting in such troubled times for a law enforcement agency to actively undermine the Rule of Law. It needs to be added to the ever-lengthening list of sins committed by our 'premiere' force.
Heads should roll - and swiftly. Failing that, the Met should be disbanded and another force set up without all the corrupt, bent, fascist and dangerous officers. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street movement
This movement is just a month old. Inspired by events in the Arab Spring and the Indignados of Spain, it has struck a chord around the world. Over 900 cities had demonstrations and occupations over the weekend. The Financial Times, not known as a liberal bastion, came out in support in a leader article yesterday.
"Today only the foolhardy would dismiss a movement reflecting the anger and frustration of ordinary citizens from all walks of life around the world … the fundamental call for a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be ignored." (The American dream )"has been shattered by a crisis brought about by financial excess and political cynicism. The consequence has been growing inequality, rising poverty and sacrifice by those least able to bear it – all of which are failing to deliver economic growth......The cry for change is one that must be heeded." The FT agrees that rising inequality is not only unjust, it is also a recipe for economic disaster. 
The occupiers of the steps of St Pauls agreed a communal statement. "We refuse to pay for the banks' crisis. We do not accept the cuts as either necessary or inevitable. We demand an end to global tax injustice and our democracy representing corporations instead of the people. We want regulators to be genuinely independent of the industries they regulate. We support the strike on 30 November and the student action on 9 November, and actions to defend our health services, welfare, education and employment, and to stop wars and arms dealing. We want structural change towards authentic global equality. The world's resources must go towards caring for people and the planet, not the military, corporate profits or the rich." 
Most folks would agree with those sentiments. There are opponents such as Richard Littlejohn, writing in the Daily Hate, who castigates the protestors for drinking Coca-Cola and using the internet. He derided the protestors as, “The usual gormless rent-a-mob you always find on these anti-globalisation demos — Toytown Trots from Mickey Mouse universities, social workers, lecturers, full-time mature students and Swampy wannabes.” No sign of a massively overpaid, smug, nasty and arrogant columnist among them. He did agree that the banks were getting away with it. He wanted the protest to be lead by the owners of small businesses struggling to get credit to help their enterprises to thrive or even survive.  
James Harkin writing in The Independent is also not convinced. “The banks were only the beginning of it. Unless these new anti-capitalists find a way to hitch their demands to the interests of the rest of the population – the 99 per cent they claim to speak for – they're stuck in a self-righteous bubble. And until they do so, their tirades against greed reek of the worst kind of Victorian self-righteous puritanism. It used to be that workers occupied factories, but now these sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie have seen fit to occupy the space outside a church. If there's a spectre haunting capitalism today, it's nothing more than its own self-loathing.”
Bit harsh that ‘self-righteous bubble’ and ‘self-righteous puritanism.’ The principles emerging from the St Pauls occupiers are a good place to start the debate. There is a deal of unfocussed anger around the world . Political parties in hock to the powerful corporations and financial sectors do not speak for the majority. There is a vacuum between the leaders and the lead. It is both an optimistic sign and a worry that people are starting to act. Optimistic because real positive change can be generated on a world-wide basis. A worry because there is a danger of turning to the simple solutions so beloved by fascists. The current crisis has some horrible parallels with the 1930’s which need to be borne in mind.  

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Monsal Trail
Walking this stretch of path cum trail used to be an intermittent delight and an occasional frustration. Several of the tunnels along the old Manchester - London railway line had been sealed with enormous metal doors. They resembled something left on the cutting room floor from 'Lord of the Rings.' Diversions from the trail included a stepping stone path along the River Wye - impassable after heavy rain. 
Tunnels sealed in 1968 when the railway line closed have been opened this year making the Monsal Trail a delight to walk and cycle. Running from Blackwell Mill on the Wye valley  to its conclusion at Coombs viaduct, 1 km south of Bakewell station, the route takes in the best of the White Peak. The length is just over 9 miles. The trail passes through several Nature Reserves. Parking is available at either end and at a couple of places en route (Millers Dale, Hassop). There is also a large cafe and bookshop at Hassop station, originally built as the Duke of Devonshire’s personal station to service Chatsworth House. 
The Midland Railway engineers who built the line through this wonderful scenery did a terrific job. Not everyone agreed. Among them was John Ruskin. He was not impressed when the railway opened in 1863. He went on at some length about the wonders that had been destroyed by ‘Railway Enterprise.’ 
He concluded, “You enterprised a railroad through the valley - you blasted its rocks away, heaped thousands of tons of shale into its lovely stream. The valley is gone and the Gods with it, and now every fool in Buxton can be at Bakewell in half an hour and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange - you Fools everywhere.” 
Thanks to £2.5 million from the Department of Transport, the route has been re-opened this year with the longer tunnels having lighting and an improved surface installed. A there-and-back cycle ride takes approximately 2 hours riding steadily. 
The Trail has three distinct sections. Leaving Bakewell, the scenery is classic undulating farmland and gentle valleys filled with many trees. Emerging from the first tunnel under Monsal Head is delightful and marks the beginning of the dramatic limestone scenery. The trail goes across a viaduct over the River Wye as it loops within a matured gorge. An adjoining embankment provides a superb viewpoint. Industrial archaeology is now to the fore with the Cressbrook Mill (rebuilt in 1815 after a fire ) in the valley on the right. This is followed soon after by Litton Mill. Built early on in the industrial revolution, the mill became notorious for the worst excesses of the age. An account by an orphaned apprentice in 1832 exposed the cruelty and inhuman treatment of child workers at the mill. Not only did the child workers endure beatings, incredible long hours, starvation and avoidable accidents, they also risked their lives. There were many mortalities. The owners hired orphans so no-one would miss their dying or campaign to improve their conditions. They even spread the burials around so their number would not be tallied. it took a long time for their wickedness to be exposed. Not only were the owners cruel and heartless, they were also inept, going bankrupt in 1826.
The final section just after Millers Dale station, is the most grand. There are the remains of several massive quarries here which add a further dimension to the journey. The trail follows the Wye as it curves through an increasingly lowering gorge with a couple of tunnels through limestone spurs and bridges high above the road and river. A favourite for climbers, the cliffs are dramatic and impressive.
The trains are all long gone. Imagine the Pullman express speeding to London though these limestone cuttings on a wet and windy night with smoke and sparks flying. It is all so peaceful today. The scale of the undertaking survives without its harder edges. The trail has been softened by the maturing growth of a variety of trees and other plants along the route. 
Ruskin would probably approve. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Werretty, a can of worms. 
A rather large stone has been turned over. The Werretty affair has revealed a lot more than some powerful people wanted. Dragged into the daylight are the values and actions of a rightwing group who aim to control the way the world operates. By pumping significant amounts of cash into quasi-charities and front organisations they seek to influence governments.  
What is becoming clear, much to the disgust of these shadowy figures, is just how influential they are in the present government. In addition to having Baroness Thatcher as a patron, Hague, Osborne, Gove and Grayling have all been members of the Atlantic Bridge Advisory Board. Funnily enough, Hague was keen to put some distance between himself and Werritty when challenged about it today. Odd that. That’s politics for you. Best mates one week - a pariah the next.
Throw Mossad into the pot and it all becomes very Smiley-esque. Just who is running the UK and who is really behind policy decisions? Ordinary voters do not have one iota of the influence these hedge fund operators and arms dealers* have. 
The government will find the collateral damage from this affair hard to contain. 
It is a reminder to voters just what a sleazy, sneaky and nasty party the Tories are. 
  • Just what sort of people become arms dealers? Car manufacturers make cars in the knowledge that across the world thousands of people will die in car accidents. But that is not their purpose. They aim to move people around as safely as possible and work hard to reduce danger by introducing crumple zones etc. An arms dealer knows he is selling weapons with the sole purpose of killing people. They will try and dress it up as ‘defence’ but the bottom line is killing people. They make money out of the misery of others. They rate among the nastiest specimens on the planet. 

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The B’stard’s are back!
One of the features of the Fox affair has been the way the airwaves have been filled by the  rightwing of the Tory Party. Their qualities include an undimmed loyalty to ‘their’ man and the bottle to go to various studios to defend the indefensible. The line they have adopted remained largely consistent until Fox resigned. “He apologised, made mistakes, not a hanging offence, nothing untoward had gone on, effect on our brave boys, media storm, harrumph, harrumph.”
Once Fox resigned the tune shifted slightly. The media were clearly identified as being mainly responsible for the downfall of such an honourable man. These antediluvian creatures represent parts of southern England. They do not exist north of the Midlands. They have a sense of being robbed of their right to rule by the LibDems. The fact that the Tories did not win the last election has still not penetrated their heads of oak. They are a reminder of just how bad the Tories can be.
The admirably named Philip Bone appeared on Newsnight and matched his name. Despite massive concerns emerging about Werritty being funded by arms dealers, he stuck to the line with extra patriotism and honour thrown in. Real sick bag stuff. Facts, evidence and rational thought are as nothing to these knuckle-draggers. Even when Gus O’Donald brings out his  inevitably incriminatory report they will stick to their guns. 
As for Fox? A combination of arrogance, avarice and chutzpah could not prevent his downfall. As Michael Portillo said on ‘This Week,’ “How did he think this remarkable arrangement could go on unnoticed?” 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Dr Fox ‘insinuations’
Throughout this developing scandal there has been an underlying rumble of hints and insinuations. Foxy Dr Fox has muttered about dark forces and smears. As each day unfolds the insinuations grow and are more overt.
For instance, The Sun has a story this morning about a burglary at Dr Fox’s apartment last year during the general election. There was a ‘young man’ staying at the flat who was not mentioned by Tory spinners when the news broke about the burglary, claiming Dr Fox was on his own at the time, as his wife was trapped in Hong Kong by the ash cloud. Dr Fox says he is ‘baffled’ by the omission as he has nothing to hide. He also added that the young man was not Werritty. but someone who he had a few drinks with. The insinuation behind all this is that Dr Fox is gay. He got married while he was embroiled in the Tory leadership race. There were suggestions made at the time that the marriage was a smokescreen to add respectability. Similar claims were made against William Hague.
It would explain why Werritty travelled all over the world to be at his side. It does not explain why Werritty handed out business cards describing himself as an advisor to Dr Fox. It does not explain why Werritty should claim his address in hotel registers as a Parliamentary one. It does not explain who paid for all these jaunts when the man himself is reported to have earned barely £20000. Estimates of air fares alone vary between £50,000 and £80,000. All the hotels were 5* and expensive. Nick Robinson on Today claimed that Dr Fox did not trust his civil servants and wanted a close confidant as a sounding board. Robinson thought Werritty was being paid for this role by a group of right wing supporters. Hmmm. Now why would they do that?
Afghanistan alone is costing UK taxpayers £12 million a day. The MOD has an appalling procurement record with waste and overspend on a colossal scale. All the murky rumblings about gay activities are as nothing when put alongside corruption. All the insinuations about Dr Fox's private life are as nothing when it comes to buying influence. 

The incredible ‘arrangement’ between Dr Fox and Werritty made corruption so much more straightforward. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Fantastic Dr Fox
Dr Fox has added yet another wriggly phrase to the lexicon of liars. By utilising a line from Blackadder he hopes to throw off the shackles of truth and fact with a cunning plan. “As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?” 
He apologised last night for, “Giving the impression of wrongdoing.” Savour that ‘impression of.’ It is quite delicious. Think of all the ne’er do wells, thieves and vagabonds who could have walked free from the clutches of the law with a simple, “Sorry your Honour, I apologise for giving the impression of breaking and entering.”
It joins a memorable list:
“Terminological inexactitude.” Winston Churchill using a euphemism for lying.
“Economical with the actualite.” Alan Clarke being interviewed in the Matrix Churchill inquiry.
“I did not have sex with that woman.” Bill Clinton talking about Monica Lewinski
“I misspoke.” George W Bush - several times
"Sword of truth and trusty shield of fair play". Jonathon Aitken v The Guardian
The last is apposite in the current hoo-hah. Tory slimeball Aitken was so confident that his skullduggery would not be found out he went on the attack only to be undone by a receipt proving he was a liar. When the case went to court he entered a guilty plea.
The airwaves have been full of tory chums lining up to tell us what an absolutely splendid chap Dr Fox is and now that he has apologised, all is well inside the political bubble. 
Aitken’s financial wrongdoings involved arms dealers and bribery and corruption. Fox’s best mate Wherrety has apparently been acting as a fixer putting arms dealers in touch with the fantastic Dr Fox in off the record briefings without any MOD officials being present. Hmmm. Can anyone spot the similarities?
The Oxford Thesaurus defines ‘Fantastic’ in addition to its usual usage as ‘unbelievable, incredible, implausible and nonsensical.’
The fantastic Dr Fox may convince  his bubble mates. He convinces no-one in the real world.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Stop the War Coalition:£12 Million a Day
That is what it is costing the UK to be involved in Afghanistan. This at a time when the financial sector is on the verge of meltdown. It is obscene and shaming for so much money to be spent in such a brutally futile way. The weak, poor and elderly in our society are paying the price for the vainglorious follies of Blair, Brown and now Cameron. Not forgetting the lives of over 300 troops and uncounted (shame) civilians in Afghanistan.
It is not just the financial cost which has now gone on for 10 years (“Over by Christmas” Jack Straw; “No shots will be fired in anger,” John Reid) it is the lies. As Hetty Blower said at the Stop The War Coalition rally in London yesterday, “I was nine years old in 1914 and when war was declared my father said ‘ Now the lies will begin.’ And so they did and have continued ever since.” For the hard of maths, Hetty is 106 and an inspirational human being.
The corrosion in public trust in governance is accelerated by the avarice of the elites who rule us. This mornings revelation that Fox’s ‘best mate’ was acting as a conduit for arms dealers comes as no surprise. ‘Off the record’ meetings and briefings, all seen as perfectly normal by the slimy Dr Fox. 
And let us never forget Tony Blair, so beloved by the Murdochs he became godfather to two little diggers on the banks of the River Jordan while dressed all in white....The same Reverend Blair who forced the Serious Fraud Office to drop their case into massive corruption at BAE and who just happen to be our biggest arms dealers. 
With costs of £12 million per day being paid by the taxpayers of the UK it is little wonder that our arms dealers are tucked up in bed with our rulers.
Heard for the first time at a protest, the chant ‘Revolution’ arose during the march down Whitehall. As our crisis deepens, it is a call that is likely to grow.
Now that would bring the troops home!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Peter Oborne on the Tory Conference
Peter Oborne has written at length about the growth of a political class in our system. His latest observations in the Telegraph show how little influence ordinary Conservative members have. This is nothing new in the Tory party. The LibDems and Labour now behave in a similar way. The real influence peddlers are the lobbyists and financiers who pour millions into party coffers. They do not do that for altruistic motives, they do it to improve their financial lot. In some countries it is seen as bribery and corruption. It is a thin line. 
“Go back 60 years, and the Conservative Party had almost three million members. It was part of our national fabric, as was Labour. Approximately 20 per cent of all voters were members of one of the big three political parties and a large number of them canvassed, distributed political literature, attended meetings, and generally threw themselves into public life. Even as recently as 1990, the year Margaret Thatcher was deposed, the Tory party boasted a million members. Since then, they have melted away. David Cameron inherited only 250,000 in 2005, since when the official total has sunk by more than a quarter to 177,000, though I’d guess that the true number may well be considerably lower.
The consequences of this could hardly be more pernicious. On the one hand, the Conservative Party (like other parties) no longer has the troops on the ground to put out its message door to door. Much of that task falls instead to an elite congregation of highly paid advertising men and political experts. They in turn need to be paid, but the collapse in membership means that the party no longer has the means to afford them without outside help. Hence the need to appeal to business donors, many of whom were extremely visible at last week’s conference, and few of whom have the interests of the Conservative Party at heart.”
 “The party itself says that only 4,000 of the 11,500 men and women who were accredited to attend last week were members, although I bet the real total is much lower. Whatever the true figures, at least two thirds of those attending were outsiders, radically changing the character of the event. It is now dominated by business lobbyists and special interest groups, with state-funded charities particularly strongly represented. The voice of the party member gets obscured. The once lively fringe has been given over to technocratic discussion between ministers and experts. Inside the hall, it is worse. The reason for the empty seats when David Cameron spoke was revealing – the leader’s speech is the final event, so there’s no point in the lobbyists hanging about, because they know there’ll be no further opportunities to schmooze ministers.
Sadly, Cameron himself has made matters much worse. Just as Tony Blair did with Labour, the Prime Minister has treated his party as merely an instrument. This can be seen from his handling of the chairmanship – a key role. In the last century, the Tory chairman was a big beast, outspoken in defence of the government, while making sure that the concerns of ordinary members were heard in Downing Street – a function superbly carried out by such potent figures as Peter Thorneycroft, Norman Tebbit and Willie Whitelaw.
Cameron has savagely weakened the role. First, he has made the mistake of handing responsibility for political strategy (a core function of the party chairman) to the Chancellor, thus creating a dangerous conflict of interest. George Osborne cannot remain the sober guardian of the public finances while simultaneously plotting election victory. Cameron’s second error was, last year, to split the chairmanship. His friend Andrew Feldman, who has no political profile but exercises a considerable (though malign) influence, performs the anti-democratic function of managing the big donors – I am told that he deserves much of the blame for the planning fiasco. Meanwhile, his co-chairman, Baroness Warsi, has been reduced to a cheerleading role. She has been widely criticised, unfairly in my view. Her situation is impossible.
The events of this week do need to be put into perspective. Plenty of other conferences have been even worse. As Christopher Hollis wrote in The Spectator in 1960, “a Tory conference is intended to be, and is, the dullest thing that ever happened”. Most party historians have concurred: ever since the first conference was held in the Freemasons’ Tavern in Cambridge on November 12, 1867, it has been intended to be uninteresting. One called it a “show body”, another “a transparent sham”. Notoriously, the Edwardian prime minister A J Balfour said that he would rather take advice from his valet than from the party conference.
Fundamentally, what we saw last week – and not just in the Conservative Party – was a return to these ancient structures. It is as if the era of mass democratic participation never happened: instead, politics is once again a matter for the top 2 per cent, with the rest looking on. (My emphasis) But by taking the Tory party back to the elite politics of the early 20th century, David Cameron is saying goodbye to something truly valuable.” Peter Oborne Telegraph 7/10/11

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Party Conferences operate in an unreality bubble.
Our political class are operating on another planet if the evidence from all three conferences is anything to go by. John Harris had the unenviable task of visiting all three but he went further and took his discoveries out onto the streets of Britain. Where he met real people.
“Having been to all three events, I agree that all was probably for the best in their utterly surreal version of reality. Now the parties have abandoned the old seaside conference venues like Blackpool with their cheap B&Bs, troublesome activists from the provinces find that four days of networking costs the same as a high-end foreign holiday, and conveniently stay away.
By way of reinforcements, a strange breed of pasty-looking young men in dark suits – aspiring political insiders, who actually look borderline unemployable – has affixed itself to all three parties. Some fringe meetings offer a break from the tedium, but even in the case of the admirably democratic Lib Dems, the spectacle in the main hall is often deathly. With the absence of natural light, the whole hurly-burly engenders a feeling of latent unease: after a few days, you feel as if you are going mad.
Since 2009, my conference work has been built around making a series of Guardian films, each part of which ends with a trip into the real world to divine how messages from the bubble play with the public. And here is the real news: though political disconnection is hardly new, and the conference ritual not exactly designed to engage people outside, I have never sampled public scepticism so deep and seemingly immovable. The point was underlined by a day in the suburban Tory/Labour marginal of Wirral West, where no one expressed the slightest faith in politics.
Abstention was rampant. Even those who did vote did so out of weary duty rather than any positive belief – and if it was like that in relatively comfy Merseyside dormitory towns, what of Toxteth, or Speke?
Most notably, there was a pretty much unanimous view that Britain was in decline, in every conceivable way. At one point, I spoke to a loquacious, level-headed twentysomething woman, who had two things to say: that if the minimum wage went up, she could hold down two jobs rather than her current three; and that she felt so bleak about the country's future that she had decided not to have children.
The analysis people tend to come out with is not the standard-issue hell-in-a-handcart stuff that has probably always been built into the national psyche. Most of the people I have met have very good reasons for their pessimism and disconnection: their accounts of how grim they feel have been detailed and completely rational. The prospects for the economy barely need mentioning. Nor do the cruelties of rising prices. Most remarkably, there is an all-pervading sense that some fundamental compact with power has been broken. Speak to anyone with kids, and out it all comes. How will they afford a house? How is the £20,000-plus price-tag on higher education meant to pull anyone towards university? How can you remain content on a stagnating low-to-middle salary when the rewards for those who landed us in this mess remain so insane?
Even if he was lamentably short on convincing answers some of that was mentioned in Cameron's speech. But plenty wasn't. The whole political class extols the soul-cleansing wonders of work, but stays largely silent about what it actually entails. Yet the supposed benefits of flexible labour markets have long since curdled, as evidenced by a freshly demobbed soldier I met in New Street in Birmingham, five minutes' walk from the Lib Dems. Thanks to an employer who ensures all his staff are technically self-employed, he was selling paintball sessions for commission, which currently pays him not much more than £1 an hour. If I understand the Tories' latest welfare plans correctly, people will now be compelled to search for such non-jobs for most of their waking hours, and travel for up to 90 minutes to do them – grotesque proposals that Labour will presumably be too craven to oppose. Meanwhile, many of those in slightly better jobs are haunted by the constant fear of being undercut by work-hungry people from abroad.
Most commentary about the political ritual offers no clue that this is how bad things are. Consider, for example, the media reaction to Ed Miliband's speech in Liverpool: a cynical, shrill chorus focused on questions – Is he weird? Did he swallow his lines? Where's his brother? – that are surely only discussed with any enthusiasm in the backstage media bunkers. Most of the public are light years away from any considerations so personal. Right now, in keeping with the nationwide political switch-off, they have no idea what Labour stands for. The conversation about whether its leader is "weird" is part of the arcane white noise from which millions of people are completely cut off. Miliband's challenge is more fundamental: even if his message is broadly right – and I think it is – the medium may be broken beyond repair.
I watched as Cameron did his best to cut through to the public. He managed to alchemise populist thwack and patriotic optimism out of a desperate set of circumstances. But the vast crack in his rhetoric was self-evident: in effect, he was approximating the nothing-to-fear approach of Roosevelt, while extolling the fiscal stupidities of Herbert Hoover. "So many of our communities are thriving – let's make the rest like them," he implored, as if mere derring-do could turn South Shields into Cambridge, and Nottingham into Notting Hill. His pop at "can't-do sogginess" surely amounted to the grim spectacle of silver-spooned millionaire telling the rest of us to awaken an optimism completely contradicted by events. That's what millions of people feel like, and they have every right to.
Even in the hands of its more deft practitioners, politics is failing, at speed. The corrosion of trust that took root under New Labour and the catastrophic effects of the expenses crisis are obvious; perhaps even more crucially, the economic articles of faith that have so dominated the past 30 years are broken. The result is a vacuum that could be filled by one of three things: a reinvented one-nation Conservatism that amounts to more than the inexplicable credo of the "big society" bolted on to unreconstructed Thatcherism; a bold, modernised kind of social democracy; or a nasty, pinched populism that will reach for achingly predictable remedies. We all know the drill: raise the flag, pull up the drawbridge, send home the Poles, turn the screw on the poor. (my emphasis)
The murky id of the Conservative party is defined by those ideas, but parts of Labour are surprisingly open to a similar approach. On left and right, politicians who fear that kind of future should realise the urgency of the moment. Politics needs new ideas, language and voices. The bubble that has defined the past three weeks must be burst – before it's far, far too late." Guardian 6/10/11

Monday, 3 October 2011

Trust the Tories on the NHS?
With no mention of the monumental NHS upheaval in their manifesto, the tories are asking us to trust them over their so-called ‘reforms.’ As today’s Guardian leader put it succinctly. 
“Take the question of competition. The Bubb report, which the government commissioned to calm fears of privatisation, proposed that the delicate balance between choice and planning should be settled by bureaucrats working up a "model" under a undefined "mandate" to be set out by the health secretary of the day. In other words: we've had the debate, so let's get the bill through and leave it to nice Mr Lansley to make sure the objections are dealt with.”
“An even more foundational question for the English NHS is the responsibilities of the secretary of state – the very duties which put the "national" into the health service. It is no secret that Andrew Lansley wants to do away with the idea of the state as medical provider, and move towards a regulated market that the state finances. This was reflected in the original bill: Whitehall's old obligations to "provide" hospitals were largely replaced with requirements to "promote" services....”
“A pithy report from the Lords constitution committee last week warned that breaking the chain of responsibility that connects Whitehall with NHS wards could threaten the right to a judicial review where a service is not available. With acuity, the committee asks why a government that claims no desire to curtail the health secretary's powers does not simply leave the existing statutes as they are. Its members, who include eminent figures of all stripes, including Conservatives, plainly don't think "trust us" is a good enough defence for this botched rewrite of crucial laws. The house as a whole should pay attention before second reading next week.” 
Trust the Tories? After they misled the electorate? After they broke their promise ‘not to introduce any major change in the NHS?  Trust Lansley* and his desire to privatise the NHS?
Trust the Tories? You must be joking.

*Lansley was the shadow minister who incurred the jeers and contempt of the Question Time audience when he revealed he 'earned' over £20k for "8-10" hours work a year, in addition to his salary as an MP. As several pithily pointed out he was getting more than most workers earn in a year. He is also the lobbyists friend. The private medicine lobby is highly effective at pushing at an open door and Lansley to be obliging has taken his door off it's hinges.