Sunday, 31 October 2010

John Rentoul on Ed Miliband

Excellent piece by arch Blairite John Rentoul in the Independent on Sunday.

On every single issue, the Prime Minister is on the side of the voters, and Ed Miliband, when he is visible, is on the wrong side, defending the sectional interest of benefit claimants, rich parents, Labour MPs or students. David Cameron and George Osborne ought to be vulnerable. They look too pleased with themselves, too much as if they are enjoying the student politics of it all. But, on the evidence of Miliband's first five weeks, they have nothing to fear.

Well worth reading

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Covenants, boarders & the military

Tory plan to axe school fees 'breaks the military covenant' reads the Telegraph headline.

For many years the children of British servicemen have been able to go to private boarding schools through something called the boarding school allowance. This is a fund designed to pay part of the cost of private school fees, which service personnel on fairly meagre salaries would otherwise be unable to afford. The fund provides around £180 million a year for 7,400 military children. £5,621 is allowed per term, with the remainder - usually around £4000 after including uniforms, books & sundry school trips - being paid from regular servicemen's pay. 58% of recipients are officers, 42% soldiers.

It is paid because military units - and hence the families which staff, support and maintain them - are posted to new jobs every two years throughout their military service. More frequently if wars and disputes like Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq become the norm.

Why is it considered part of the military covenant? Because moving servicemen's children every two years - or even less - from school to school as families rotate around military bases across the world is completely incompatible with good education. Helping to provide a place at a UK based boarding school allows those children the stability and long term educational support that is necessary.

More than that, many military families provide their professionalism and commitment to public service - and let us not forget what a service they provide in places like Helmand, Goose Green or the streets of Belfast - precisely because their children's education is additionally provided. It could hardly be for the pay. That is why the government's move to stop the boarding school allowance for service families is considered a breach of the military covenant. 

As the son of a young army Captain posted to Bielefeld in 1965, who was able to attend just two schools from the age of seven to eighteen, I am living proof the system works.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Boris, cleansing & fairness

I find it unbelievable that Boris Johnson chooses the words 'Balkan' and 'cleansing' to describe capping housing benefits at nearly £21,000 per year. No doubt he has his reasons. And will soon be apologising. Again.

This is not about singling out low income and welfare dependent people - it's just about treating them exactly the same as everyone else explains Alex Morton in an blog for the Spectator. Worth reading.

Gummer on morality

I had been putting off listening to a Start the Week podcast from 10th October and finally got round to listening to it on a walk through Holland Park on Wednesday afternoon.

In it, John - now Lord - Gummer described where morality comes from as a deep understanding of being a 'steward'.

"Nothing in this world is mine. I have been given it. I havn't created it. I may have done things to it and therefore have a duty to look after it. To hand it on in a better condition than I received it. That I should be grateful to God for it. And that at the heart of my morality is ...a drive to 'do' things."

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Labour's social cleansing

Ed Miliband asks what an estimated 80,000 housing benefit recipients will do when their rent payments are capped at £20,000 pa in Prime Ministers Questions as if they will be left homeless.

Furthermore, Labour MP Chris Bryant described it as 'social cleansing' in an effort to compare it with Balkan attrocities which ended in the massacre of thousands of ethnic Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995. Polly Toynbee - in the same context - has talked of a Tory 'final solution' to welfare.

No Mr Miliband. Capping something at £20,000 means exactly that. Not leaving them with nothing. Or murdering them.

The question you need to be asking is how many of these families are unable to live on £20,000 per year in housing benefit?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Labour spin

Good piece from Tim Montgomery in today's Guardian on Labour's sloppy caricature of Conservatism. He writes, 'The idea that Conservatives want to take Britain back to a world of the Victorian workhouse was espoused by a Labour MP in yesterday's Mirror. Tristram Hunt is supposed to be one of Labour's bright new prospects and a distinguished historian. God help Ed Miliband if he is typical. Hunt abandoned any pretence of intellectual engagement with the coalition's deficit reduction arguments and suggested the Conservatives wanted to take Britain back to a Dickensian horror house. His extraordinary article talked of starving people surviving on gruel, rotten bones and putrid horseflesh.'

Monday, 25 October 2010

Coalition Pensions

I have never understood why somebody - usually women bringing up children, so probably the most socially useful activity possible - should be penalised for perhaps thirty years in their retirement because they were unable to contribute more in National Insurance contributions during their working lifetime.

Reports today suggest the coalition is considering a universal pension at an increased level to the ninety seven-odd pounds per week currently paid to a single pensioner.

Although at an early stage, and unlikely to be introduced until after the next election, this is an initiative we should applaud. Along with a tapering of such pensions for anyone earning more than £44,000 in their retirement. £97 per week is around £5000 annually - pretty modest really.

Sorry Fred 'the shred' Goodwin, you're just going to have to make do with that £703,000.

Birbalsingh on Eton

Great to see Katharine Birbalsingh writing about Eton and the sense of personal responsibility engendered by such schools. The title of her piece - 'Eton is a wonderful school because of its boys, not its buildings' - is also the perfect answer to Labour's thirteen years of pumping money into education.

You can build as many glass palaces with as many wonderful smart boards as you like - it doesn't provide a single pupil with education.

Learning is about the quality of teaching. Nothing else. And that was the one thing Labour did not reform.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The IFS cannot weigh

In a queue for an expensive lung operation, it would be 'unfair' to put a penniless, jobless and incorrigible chain-smoker ahead of a hard-working young mother who had never smoked - although on the IFS calculation the decision would be 'progressive' because it redistributes income from a richer to a poorer one writes Matthew Parris in his Times column.

“Fairness” is not a morally neutral term, but depends on our idea of deserving. What we think people do or don’t deserve depends on our own ethical framework. Such judgement require us to weigh conflicting claims in the scales of justice. Which way the scales tip depends on how much weight you accord to what you place in them. The IFS cannot help us with that, for though it can count, it cannot weigh. How much weight you accord is a moral question, whose answer depends entirely on your own values. And values differ.

Well worth a read.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Tribalism, hatred & Labour

'George Osborne has just gambled your future on an extreme economic theory that has failed whenever and wherever it has been tried' writes Johann Hari in today's Independent. 'The Bullingdon boys want to finish what Thatcher began' is Seumas Milne's verdict while Polly Toynbee rages yet again 'The glee club on the government benches could hardly contain their delight'. Next we'll have the 'don't dare to be old, don't dare to be ill' speech and all the other ideologically driven false rhetoric that the left has pedalled for years, as if schools, hospitals and welfare did not exist before 1997, and all we need is perpetual Labour government.

I think we all understand that Labour committed itself to delivering £83bn of public expenditure cuts over the next four years - the largest program of cuts since the 1920's. Having left office in May bequeathing the largest budget deficit in our history, Labour additionally committed us to a doubling of the national debt - the total of all borrowings owed by this country - to over £1.4 trillion by the end of this parliament in 2015. That's what 'halving the deficit' - not eliminating it - actually means. The other half continues to grow. What a legacy for 13 years of Labour government.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking that such cuts will produce the greatest social catastrophe in our history. The truth however, is just not so. Total government expenditure as a percentage of GDP will fall. But only back to levels last seen in ...2007. Just three years ago.

I have to say that back in the day - the 'colder and crueller country' of 2007 as Johann Hari might call it - I didn't notice the civil war now being forecast on our streets as our welfare state had been 'dismantled' (as Seumas Milne says). I didn't notice the massed rallies of trade union protesters as Blair, Brown and Labour 'slashed and burned' (as Ed's Miliband and Balls put it) the welfare state to a level that was unacceptable for a decent and compassionate society.

The truth is that even with the reductions in public expenditure bequeathed by Labour, valued front line services - hospitals, schools etc - are being protected, whilst the essential reforms to public service delivery that Brown and Labour ducked, are now being undertaken by the most radical government of the last 100 years.

Like any government they will get things wrong. They will make mistakes. The last Labour government certainly did. But they deserve better than this torrent of 'emotion and prejudice' that is tribal hatred. The nasty party is still alive and well. It is called Labour.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Managing expectations

What a truly extraordinary performance in managing expectations from the Coalition government.

Labour completely wrong-footed after months of dire warnings of the greatest cuts for a century. Alan Johnson looking as if he delivered the wrong script. Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander desperately defending - yes defending Labour's toxic legacy - not attacking the cuts of more than £80bn in addition to those already announced in the Coalition's emergency budget in July.

And having done so, able to claim that at an overall reduction of 19%, is even less than Labour proposed cutting front line services in their election manifesto. Quite extraordinary.

And to think they called him 'boy George' for his naivety. How times change.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Listen children...

35 of the country's most influential and important businessmen running the largest companies in the land come out to support George Osborne's deficit cuts two days before being announced. Totally planned, choreographed and PR'd by Conservative Central Office. Do we really need to be treated like children?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Politics, tribalism & coalition

'Britain's political tribes are determined as much by emotion and prejudice as any absolute sets of policy' writes Julian Glover in tomorrow's Guardian. In a thoughtful piece which demands reading, he suggests 'the old world has been blown inside out. the people who never had power suddenly have lots of it, and those who assumed it was theirs to keep can only complain'.

And how they do.

'This mindset does not judge the coalition for its actions but condemns (where have you heard that before?) the fact that it exists. The fury - far beyond the scale of anything the LibDems expected - is rooted in a hostility to pluralism that regards Conservatism as something approaching an evil, and any LibDem associated with it an unnatural compromise. Presumably, the only acceptable outcome would be ceaseless Labour rule'.

'Riled, Lib Dems are making a poor job of defending themselves. They are embarrassed to speak confidently – not so much because of the deal they did, but because they never presented themselves as deal-makers. Instead, they presented themselves as tellers of fantastical truths, signing pledges on tuition fees the leadership never thought they'd need to return to. That was the worst of the Lib Dems: indulging an unworkable policy that amounted to an unaffordable middle-class subsidy dressed up as principle.'

'Oppositionalist purists will rant against the compromises of power. Nobody knows better than the LibDems how easy that is to do. But they've taken the decision to stop copping out. The neurotic rage of those who still want to is entirely predictable.' Brilliant.

The danger of irrelevance

What a contrast on today's Andrew Marr show between the way he interviewed Alan Johnson and George Osborne - Shadow and Chancellor respectively. The former sounded like a fireside chat between two luvvies whilst Osborne got the full Marr treatment. Not that the response was anything but a confident and comprehensive narrative to this weeks CSR - but I guess you'd expect that.

Looks like the BBC has decided that Labour's increasing irrelevance in economic policy should bring them an easy ride.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Katharine Birbalsingh

Disappointed to read that Katharine Birbalsingh has lost her teaching post for addressing the Conservative conference on the failings of our educational system. I wish her well and know she will find a better post in time.

Her Executive Headteacher Irene Bishop however, should be suspended immediately whilst her role in this sorry saga is investigated. My guess - and it is no more - is that her role has been entirely politically motivated. If this were so, Education Secretary Michael Gove, should remove her and not allow her near another child again.

That our educational system is broken and in need of fundamental repair can no longer be in doubt. Passing the new educational bill within weeks of taking government speaks volumes. Education is about opportunity. Without fear or favour. Not holding children back or consigning them to a life without hope. Dinosaurs like Irene Bishop have no place in the future education of our children.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Coalition, compromise & wish-lists

Interesting discussion on the Guardian's Politics Weekly podcast today - given that coalition government is likely to become more common under AV and other more proportional systems, should party manifesto's be merely wish-lists? To be used only to select policies that will withstand the compromises inherent in coalition politics?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


So looking forward to Ed Miliband's first PMQ's this afternoon - one of the great theatrical rituals in politics. And one that terrified Tony Blair, despite consistently being one of its greatest performers.

David Blackburn writes an excellent preview in Spectator blogs, but I feel Miliband will need to strike a much more original line to stand out and appear with any gravitas.

Gender agenda

Louise Bagshawe - MP for Corby - arguing the coalition's case for gender balance in cuts on radio 4 this morning shows how ridiculous this agenda has become. Siting the equality act introduced in the dying days of the last Labour government, her opponent asks what impact assessments were undertaken to see how the emergency budget would affect women. As if any such assessment were carried out by the Machiavellian Gordon Brown when he abolished the 10p tax band so as to wrong-foot the opposition.

Like the act requiring the government to halve the budget deficit over its lifetime - something Mr Balls now appears to have forgotten - the equality act is yet another of Labour's amusing tactical agenda's designed to impede government. Whatever happened to Nick Clegg's great reform bill?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Shadow boxing

Ed Miliband was scared of his shadow - or at least the notion of making either Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper his Shadow Chancellor. So the timid new Labour leader fluffed his first big call and played safe with Alan Johnson.

Writes Kevin Maguire in today's Mirror.

A few more tax iniquities

I just heard the end of Any Questions on radio 4 and one caller struck me as interesting.

She pointed out that under the normal  tax system a single earner on £60,000 would have a large proportion of their income taxed at the higher rate, 40% tax band. Whilst two earners both on £30,000 (and therefore jointly earning £60,000) would both be taxed at the standard 20% rate of tax.

Havn't heard any Mumsnet users complaining about that...

Brooks on Miliband

I hadn't noticed quite how close Wallace was to Ed Miliband - despite his conference speech - until I saw this Brooks cartoon today. Brilliant.

Friday, 8 October 2010

The wisdom of Brittan

"There is indeed not all that much urgency to cut the deficit, when economic recovery is far from assured and output is well below optimal capacity rates. But government expenditure is probably too bloated and needs to be curbed on its own merits or rather demerits. The logic of this position is that expenditure curbs should be offset by tax cuts."

Samuel Brittan writing in todays FT.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The universalism of welfare

Now Liberal Conspiracy are piling in on the child benefit cuts:

Thus the Tories get the best of both worlds: they get to look tough but fair, while actually doing something that profoundly undermines fairness and the entire Beveridge/Attlee agenda. Truly a masterstroke.


Lefties/greenies etc need to stop gloating on about how the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot and about those poor stay-at-home Mums, and start talking simply about defending the principle of welfare state universalism.

So the principle of universalism in benefits 'needs to be defended', and stopping such benefits for the wealthiest of our society 'profoundly undermines fairness'.

So where's the morality in that?

Osborne plays Brown

Interesting piece from James Forsyth in this weeks Spectator on the loss in Child Benefit for higher rate tax payers - accessed via ipad, so no link.

Titled 'If Cameron is heir to Blair, Osborne is heir to Brown' it looks at the tactical nature of George Osborne suggesting that the Child Benefit move was a tactical attempt to wrong-foot Labour - straight out of the Gordon Brown political guide.

If they accept that people earning over £44,000 should shoulder more responsibility, they are accepting an end to universal benefits and the enormous client base built up over 13 years of Labour government. If they object and defend the 15%  most wealthy, they become morally indefensible.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Teaching Unions Kill Innovation

"the (teaching) unions constitute an inflexible brake which is "killing" the innovation necessary to transform children's lives, and they "cover up" for failing teachers" says Geoffrey Canada in a remarkable speech to the Conservative conference in Birmingham yesterday.

Read the details from Allegra Stratton in today's Guardian.