Monday, 29 November 2010

Pot, kettle, black

Is this the winter of LibDem discontent? writes Left Foot Forward with as much self-satisfied glee at the misfortune of the LibDems as possible. And this from the party who promised no tuition fees in their 1997 manifesto, then introduced them once they came to power. Ah, but that's not a pledge is it? Just a manifesto commitment.

Ednostic therapy

Vacuous was the term that came to mind at Ed Miliband's performance this week, both at Labour's National Policy Forum in Gillingham and his attempted promotion in the media, but the description Ednostic used by Observer journalist Rafael Behr - will do. Matthew d'Ancona describes him less charitably as Gordon Brown 2.0

Why would anyone think this guy was a reformer? Ed Miliband is neither compelling in his oratory, nor does he display the intellectual or passionate conviction of a committed reformer. This man is a healer, an agnostic - one without the 'fierce urgency' implicit in the zeal of true reform. In one word, Ed Miliband offers therapy, not leadership - a succinct comment made by Charles Powell this week. In Tony Benn's well used phrase, he is a weathercock not a signpost.

And every ditheringly contrived performance reminds me that this is not a believer, but an agnostic - one who doubts the possibility of ultimate knowledge.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Lords reform needed

We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well that's not very sensible. Says new Conservative peer Howard Flight in today's Evening Standard.

I don't know why anyone would make this idiot a peer, and I hope there are not more like him. Lets hope the Coalition get their Lord's reform legislation through extremely quickly so we can get rid of people like this.

VAT is progressive - IFS

We believe that increasing the standard VAT rate in the current system is mildly progressive when examined on a lifetime basis. The intuition for this is that, over a lifetime, poorer households spend a higher proportion of their (lifetime) income on goods that are zero or reduced rated in the current VAT system, such as food, children’s clothes and domestic fuel and power, and hence a lower proportion of their lifetime income on items that are subject to the standard VAT rate.

Looking over the lifetime as a whole, what matters is whether the lifetime-rich or the lifetime-poor see a larger share of their lifetime resources taken in VAT, and on that basis VAT is progressive because necessities (consumed disproportionately by the lifetime-poor) are typically subject to zero or reduced rates of VAT.

Thanks to LibDem Voice.

The colour of Wednesday has changed

Labour’s woeful cockup of the public finances is now demonstrably more toxic than Cameron’s marginal involvement in Norman Lamont’s day of shame. So it’s official. The ghost of Black Wednesday has been exorcised writes Lloyd Evans reviewing PMQ's for the Speccie blog

He refers of course to Ed Miliband's jibe at Cameron in PMQ's that, as a young spad on Black Wednesday, the Prime Minister was responsible for the momentous events which took place. As if.

But the more interesting view comes from the comments below the blog, where 'tb' points out that had it not been for Black Wednesday, we'd be in the Euro by now. Ouch.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The politics of selfishness

Really sad scenes in Whitehall today as students - whose intelligence would suggest that they should know better - protesting at increased tuition fees in a package that is not only far more progressive than present arrangements, but nearer to NUS demands than anything Labour enacted in thirteen years of government. Moreover, the 1997 manifesto had promised not to introduce tuition fees.

Students really need to convince the country through reason and argument exactly why people on modest incomes - dinner ladies on ten or twelve thousand say - should pay for the education of students whose degrees will enable them to earn vastly greater sums. This is the politics of selfishness that intelligent students should feel ashamed of. How sad.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Coalition must tell the truth

Interesting post from Douglas Carswell on UK's contribution to the Irish bailout. Despite the Chancellor, George Osborne suggesting on Radio 4's Today program this morning that the UK was acting because Ireland was a 'friend in need', it now seems that article 122 of the Lisbon Treaty requires us to contribute to any bailout, under the European Stabilisation Mechanism.

This mechanism is about granting financial assistance to a Member State in difficulties or seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by exceptional occurrences beyond its control. This financial assistance shall take the form of a loan or of a credit line granted to the Member State concerned.


Sunday, 21 November 2010

Phonetic politics

Interesting blog from Teacher Talks on phonics - or rather how naive Gove and Cameron are to blindly suggest synthetic phonics are the solution to teaching children to read.

My better half - who has taught phonics to 2 1/2 to 5 year olds for more years than is healthy writes:

No single method works by itself. Many four year olds leave my nursery being able to read words and sentences using phonic methods. This is a mechanical and a useful starting point for children who respond well to and enjoy this method. With only twenty six basic letter sounds to begin with, children can read, spell and write hundreds of three letter words. Its like a logical starting kit. Children sound out the three letters and if capable, blend the sounds into a word. However, this method has its limitations. The logical sequence of moving from one word to a phrase or sentence is limited by the lack of range inherent in only twenty six letters - or their sounds. We vary this and make it more interesting by matching words and pictures, objects and words, and creating 'secret' and 'magic' words to engender enthusiasm and encourage them to want to read in the true sense. We make individual reading books for each child based on their own interests. These could be about Batman or a dragon - and anything in between.

Some children are not ready or interested. No method works well by itself and it is the job of the teacher to match different types of learners with tools to suit. Teachers also need to introduce children to the pleasures of stories - for depth, emotion and sheer interest - and poetry - for rhyme, metre and rhythm - all of which stretch their imaginations, vocabulary and the child's longing to read by themselves.

I think it unlikely a teacher would stick to just one method of learning to read. Pretty much common sense really.

Janet Daly on Coalition reforms & Big Society

Two truly radical initiatives were announced by the Government last week argues Janet Daly in a convincing piece for today's Sunday Telegraph.

The first, an attempt to widen educational excellence - 'best practice' in the jargon - by Michael Gove in allowing poorly performing schools to link with highly rated ones in order to gain Academy status. And the second an announcement by Francis Maude - fast becoming the Coalition's minister for the Big Society - that public sector workers can set up co-operatives (the John Lewis option) to run their own areas of expertise as independent enterprises, giving them a real stake in their own future.

She concludes the article with the words, From its welfare and education reforms to a revolution in the running of public services, the Government has a Big Idea which involves personal freedom within the bounds of community responsibility.

Now the personal freedom part may well be a Big Idea, but the concomitant community responsibility side sounds remarkably like Big Society to me.

PostScript: Gove appearing on Andrew Marr's show this morning, explained that school funds specifically allocated for sport, about which the Guardian (and Ed Balls of course) is predictably outraged, will now no longer be silo'd but available for spending as educationalists want. That's government trusting teachers. What a breathe of fresh air.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The great leader is angry

More revelations from today's Times on new Labour - this time the behaviour of one Gordon Brown.

The Times leader(£) comments "When someone comes to write an epic poem about those years, they will run out of words that rhyme with bonkers." Priceless.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The fall of the house of Labour

The Times has been running a great series on New Labour this week and today's episode entitled 'As the share prices tumbled, so did Labour's reputation for competence' relates the rising Brown terror as New Labour died.

Lord Turnbull, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury through the Brown years, suggests his old boss could not admit his own mistakes, "On fiscal policy, he fell into the trap of buying into his own story too heavily, of rejecting other points of view, still less criticism... This was more delusion or wishful thinking than a deliberate attempt to mislead. The failure of new Labour was a failure of self-questioning."

And from the Times leader -

Three pillars supported Labour’s attempts to build economic credibility. Fiscal discipline, supporting the aspirational middle class and its committment to wealth creation - that the business and regulatory environment was designed to encourage economic growth not just to punish its winners.

Each of those three pillars crumbled under the direction of Gordon Brown. When growth stopped, he refused to admit that he had to reduce public spending. When the top rate of tax was raised to 50 per cent in 2009, Tony Blair remarked to friends that it was “the moment new Labour died”. Labour’s relations with business soured to the extent that David Miliband could lament that the party fought the last election without the support of a single business leader.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

ConDem'd in hatred

You would have thought after the Lib Dems showed their true colours by creating a reactionary coalition government with the Tories, abandoning all their key pledges and voting for catastrophic cuts to public services, that the entire Labour Party would have woken up to them being our enemies - and the enemies of ordinary working people - not our potential allies. Luke Akehurst gives the game away in LabourList.

He continues - I support AV but because I see it as a way of killing the Lib Dems, not resuscitating them - because it will mean they can no longer persuade Labour people to vote tactically for them in areas like the South West (there is no need for tactical votes under AV), so the true weakness of the Lib Dem core vote will be exposed.

And the real deal? The opportunity exists for a fundamental realignment of British politics where all progressive opinion unites behind Labour and the LDs are left as a tiny right-wing rump in permanent alliance with the Tories.

The nasty party rolls on, and on, and on, and on...

Gove & Burnham on funding & school reform

Just watching an impressive performance by Michael Gove in this afternoon's opposition motion on funding and school reform. How lightweight is Andy Burnham? Not one idea for reform of education on the day that Katharine Birbalsingh amply demonstrates the fundamental importance of discipline to all levels of learning, the desperate need for aspiration in our educational system, the unforgivable weakness of Ofsted inspections, and the introduction of a £2.5bn pupil premium by the Coalition aimed at re-dressing spending on the poorest and most vulnerable pupils in our society.

Which side of the argument do Labour want to be on? The bog standard comprehensive? Or progress?

Simon Jenkins gets it

Coalition means not getting what you want, let alone what in a rash moment you promised. It means finding a line of least resistance through the mess of an indecisive assembly. It means making the alliances all centre parties must make if they are to enjoy power says Simon Jenkins in an excellent article in today's Guardian.

And if you wade through the reams of comment beneath, you quickly realise that the left just don't get it.

Compromise shouldn't mean selling out and appearing more tory than the tories being a typical example. Oh dear. Lets try again. Compromise means the settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions...

Monday, 15 November 2010

NUS & tuition fees

Thanks to @OllyGrender for pointing ot this excellent blog on tuition fees. Reasons why the NUS's protest is wrong:

  • It is impossible for all the students on the march and everyone commenting to have voted Lib Dem, if they had we probably would have been in Government. Surely the argument about the pledge is then a Lib Dem problem?
  • Tuition rises is a Coalition policy, so why should Nick Clegg be hounded out?
  • Tuition fees were introduced by Labour (as I understand it, even though they promised NO tuition fees) did NUS react the same then?
  • Browne report was commissioned by Labour (and before I get comments on it, I know that they didn’t have to implement its findings)
  • The pledge was signed and policies were Lib Dem policy, yes and if we were in sole Government would have been adopted. We are not, we are part of a Coalition Government and are a junior partner at that.
  • An intelligent guess, may I suggest that without LD influence there may have not been a cap put in place, as I was told yesterday though, I can’t prove it.
  • The majority of the students on that march will not be affected by the tuition fees rise as they will have left before they are brought in. A noble gesture or a chance for NUS to ‘have a go’?
Read it here.

The myth of Thatcherism

On the twentieth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's resignation as Prime Minister, Laurie Penny writes in the New Statesman This is what the "big society" is all about: not cuddly One-Nation Toryism, but the logical conclusion of Thatcherism, with the corporate iconography of society replacing the social even as the welfare state is destroyed. It is no accident the Camerons have employed a stylist and a photographer at public expense, while it has been decided that "wasteful" quangos such as the Youth Justice Board ought to be axed. In personality politics, image is everything. 

You could not be more wrong. If personality were the basis of criticism, then Thatcher is the wrong target. Almost alone amongst post-war Prime Ministers - although I would also make the case for John Major in this respect - you have chosen the least personality-obsessed Prime Minister, primarily known for her ideologically-driven record on policy implementation. In that respect strikingly similar to a left-dominated administration. Most of which was carefully and deliberately maintained throughout the New Labour years - as well as being something she persuaded the British electorate to back with sometimes huge majorities for three consecutive elections throughout the 1980's.

One result of that? A doubling of the health budget over the eleven years of her tenure - bet you didn't expect that from Mrs Thatcher. Doesn't really fit with the mythology does it?

Equal size constituencies

John Humphreys interviews Lords Falconer & McNally over the AV voting bill on Today. Once again Labour is on the wrong side of the argument. Making constituencies of equal size is not gerrymandering the electoral system. It's making it fairer. The hint is in the word 'equal' - meaning the same as, same rank, ability, merit or means. We could go on. Lets hope Labour get it sometime soon.

England remembers

To Datchet for remembrance and the weekly televised procession through Wootton Bassett has done it's work. St. Mary the virgin is full to bursting and the old regimental comrades keep us on the straight and narrow. Allen, Butler, Chisholm, Dent - a list of names so English you could hear the batsman cut through cover point. Eddington, Fry, Garnett, Hughes - a generation who gave their today that we could live in our tomorrow. Jenkins, Kettle, Lyttleton, Moore. What date I wonder did multiculturalism begin? And why did no-one tell them? Nicholson, Orpen, Rowley, Smith. A time it seems when diversity was not so essential to build a strong community. Turner, Unwin, Vickery, Wardle. The cream of English youth.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

IDS & Welfare reform

IDS is not trying to play political chess. He is advancing an agenda that he believes in with all his heart – and the public are willing to give him a try. Labour is intellectually exhausted, and Toynbee knows it. The result is the best chance we’ve had in a generation to make British poverty history writes Fraser Nelson in an excellent Spectator blog.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Jesse Norman on Big Society

What is Big Society? A political philosophy that says there are unimaginable reserves of social energy beneith society and that government can play an important role in liberating them - helping people to help themselves and developing social capital says Jesse Norman in this week's Politics Weekly podcast from the Guardian.

Man's natural state is to be in society. Man is a social animal, and that's where you get that linkage to social habit for example, and the missing ingredient you get if you follow that line of thought through is that it starts with 'habits', continues with 'practices' and ends up with 'institutions'.

The criticism is therefore that the state versus individual - or traditional view - misses out this crucial third element of 'institutions' - and those are the things which give people's lives point, purpose, energy and meaning - whether its the local church school you send your children to, or Manchester United football club.

All explained in his book The Big Society.

Drugs Harris about John

"Cocaine, the perfect drug for a brittle and anxious Britain" writes John Harris in one of the most fatuous articles I have ever read.

His point? "Cocaine is not a drug to plug you into the collective consciousness; instead it leaves you marooned on your own tedious island, little caring about what anyone else has to contribute. Unlike ecstasy, cannabis, or acid, it is not contemplative or mind-expanding."

So there you have it. Stick to ecstasy, cannabis, or acid. Thanks for that John.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

The sovereignty of Van Rompuy

'The time of the homogenous nation-state is over… The national and the European interest can no longer be separated; they coincide… We have together to fight the danger of a new Euro-scepticism. This is no longer the monopoly of a few countries. In every Member State, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion: it is a lie!'
European President Herman Van Rompuy in a Berlin speech delivered today.

Archbishop Cranmer reports.

Happy half-birthday to the Coalition

It is now six months since the Coalition was formed and came to power. So what have they achieved in that time?

Dependably, the economy - and specifically a yawning budget deficit inherited from Labour - has been the Coalition's first priority. Indeed it has widely handicapped - as they knew it would - the Coalition's hopes and abilities to develop policies requiring spending in other areas. But George Osborne's emergency Budget back in July and the Comprehensive Spending Review in October have greatly strengthened market confidence in the Coalition's ability to reduce the deficit, keeping medium and long-term lending rates low for the foreseable future. Many will see this as a rather unremarkable achievement based as it is deep in the bowels of the economy. But it provides the very foundation of an efficient and properly functioning economy saving both businesses and families countless billions of pounds in increased prices, currencies and costs that would otherwise have been a huge - and perhaps unbearable - burden. The notable exception to this - and it has to be said, an increasingly isolated one - is the Ballsian view that any lowering of public spending for the next year or more (the timescale appears to be flexibly long) will produce a double-dip recession and a  'lost decade' like the 1930's. How Labour's glee club would love that.

In truth the Coalition's economic narrative has effectively - and rather cleverly - neutralised the economy as an issue after the disaster it became under Labour. The Brown view, that nothing could be touched for fear of depression or worse - Portugal, Ireland and Greece - has now receded. Going forward, there are still major issues over growth and the opposition will continue to land pyrrhic victories by reference to totemic issues like Sheffield Forgemasters - as if an £80m loan would ruin the economy. But an aura of quiet calm and professional dignity has enveloped the Coalition government. Its economic management is now undoubted - remember those Mandelsonian taunts of 'boy George sailing too close to the wind'? - indeed it is widely admired across global financial institutions. And it is George Osborne and his team - including Danny Alexander and even David Laws who prepared the ground - that have played a crucial role here. This will be the Coalition's greatest - though I suspect largely forgotten - legacy.

A cascade of revolutions have also been launched right across government as the pent-up frustration of five lost years under Labour's sclerotically-centralised Brownian bureaucracy which stifled communities, people and business is desperately unwound.

Labour's characterisation of this Coalition as an narrow, arrogantly-entitled ideological elite imposing social engineering on an unwilling country fits only their own record of thirteen years in government. We will still be paying off Labour's legacy of tax and spend for the next thirty years. And what choice did we get as to how our hard earned money was spent? Absolutely none. Labour always knew best. And that is why the largest budget deficit in our peacetime history will remain quite clearly Labour's legacy.

The Coalition by contrast, launches supply-side, bottom-up revolution right across government - putting people at its heart. They call it the 'big society'. I can think of better names, but it really is not an excercise in cutting public services and having them run by volunteers as the Labour election adverts suggested. Its about giving control - and with it responsibility - to us. Ordinary people like you and me. Able to decide and make a real choice about our health, education, welfare or policing. Not being imposed by an arrogant elite who know better then us how we should live our lives. That path leads to an open immigration policy 'just to rub the right's nose in it' which so damaged decent working people; the falacy of multiculturalism that provided the ethnic ghettoes from which the 7/7 bombers emerged; the deeply unfair culture of welfare dependency that continues to blight the lives of over 8 million of our most vulnerable people or the political ideology that led to 42 days detention without trial and a whole host of illiberal and repressive legislation in the name of battling terror.

What a shameful legacy.

The revolution has only just begun. In education - both compulsory and higher - health, welfare, local government and the way our electoral system works it is already underway. In policing, the house of lords, prisons and the great reform bill, the revolution will take a while longer. It will almost certainly require two terms of government, perhaps more. The democratic and accountable reform of the EU for instance, may take longer still. But if the Big Society means anything, it surely will happen.

Happy half-birthday to the Coalition.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Students & the rainbow coalition

Great Tweet on student riots this afternoon. Somone just pointed out they've torched the Tory HQ because the LibDems changed their minds after a report commissioned by Labour.

You really couldn't make this up.

Clegg kept his word on paedophiles then

An intriguing and well written question at PMQ's today asked Nick Clegg which of his manifesto promises - 'apart from giving paedophiles, rapists and muderers the vote' - had the deputy Prime Minister kept?

The put-down came with the words "I'm not sure whether that was a question, or a line he's rehearsed over and over again for the past few days." Priceless.