Sunday, February 26, 2012


Will an Elected Lords Avoid a Clash of Democratic Legitimacy?

The House of Lords reform Bill currently at its Report stage in the Lords was just debated by Tory MP Philip Davies and Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott on The Daily Politics. Oakeshott was passionate and persuasive but I couldn't remove from my mind the concern raised by opponents to an elected Lords, that:

i) It will cause a clash of legitimacy between the two chambers taking us back to the early years of the last century. We are, I think, blessed not to have ther kind of conflict between legislature and executive suffered by the USA. As long as our party of government coheres, our government is reasonably efficient. The Lords at present works quite well as a revising and deliberative chamber but if an amendment is debated which reaches to the central principle of a bill, a clash between the chambers will occur and gridlock threatened.

ii) Legitimacy will also be argued by the Lords on grounds of the way in which they are to be elected: proportional representation, arguably a fairer way of reflecting opinion that first past the post.

So even though I usually support reform I'm just not sure this is the way to go. Yet it now seems too difficult to row back from the brink. All three parties committed themselves to an elected Lords in May 2010 and the Coalition Agreement explicitly nailed this point down as a joint commitment. Yet Davies and some of his colleagues disagree and say they won't vote for it. Oh Lor! If this happens the coalition itself might be in further danger and, as Oakeshott warned, Lib Dems will probably withdraw their support for the redistribution of constituencies on which the Conservatives are relying to strengthen their hand in 2015.

Friday, February 24, 2012


Former Greggs Boss Attacks Boardroom Pay While A4e Initiative Falls Apart

Geordie businessman Mike Darrington(pictured), who led Greggs Bakery to prosperity over a 25 year stint with them, is using his retirement to campaign against boardroom pay. Even before his retirement in 2008 he said:

"The quantum of executive pay is excessive and must be reduced … if the current packages were halved, senior executives and bankers would still be overpaid."

Darrington does not believe such a campaign is an 'attack on business'

"It is a smokescreen and a lot of bollocks – it is the greed of the people [at the top] that is anti-business." He has labelled his campaign "pro-business and anti-greed".

Finanacil journalist Simon Bowers reckons

His condemnation of existing arrangements is the most searing criticism from the business establishment since Richard Lambert, then director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, two years ago warned bosses risked being viewed as "aliens [living in] a different galaxy from the rest of the community" because of the ever widening gulf between shopfloor and boardroom wages.

But much more embarrassing for Cameron is the fate of his poster girl. Emma Harrison (pictured) for employing private sector firms to 'sort out' the public sector. With much trumpeting this young lady was drawn into government as the 'back to work tsar' focusing on getting the 120 ooo 'problenm families' back to work. In what must be a huge blow to Cameron's glossy showmanship, the whole initiative has ended down the toilet Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time but Ms Harrison's company, A4e, has made a cool £180m from state contracts last year including an £8m dividend for her own well stocked bank account.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Ten Factors Making Iranian Situation Extremely Delicate

The Iranian crisis has ratcheted up a notch or two in recent days. I'm fascinated by the complexity of the political situation. Here is my attempt to identify the factors making this problem so intensely difficult.i) Iran is claiming to be acquiring a nuclear capacity for peaceful purposes but everything Ahmadinjehad has done to date has been designed to tweak the US tiger's tail or infuriate Israel.

ii) If Iran actually acquires nuclear weapons, this will introduce a hugely volatile element into the explosive politics of the Middle East. Israel already has nuclear weapons though refuses to admit it. Saudi Arabia would certainly seek to acquire them and then there might form a queue of other countries eager not to be the vulnerable one left out.

iii) USA would be in a very difficult position with its key ally Israel would be frothing at the mouth, particularly Netanyahu who fears Iran more than the Palestinians. Could USA keep him under control?

iv)Professor Michael Clark, my old friend who is now Director RUSI, was on the radio this morning and provided an excellent analysis of the situation. He made it clear Israel would not be able to neutralize Iran's programme right now as it is spread over several locations and Israel does not have the fire-power required to do the job. This is not to say it would not try.

v)Israel and Iran have begun a covert war of assassination in foreign countries, killing each other's diplomats.

vi) Iran is beginning to hurt as a result of economic sanctions beginning to bite.

vii) The Pentagon is fairly sure Israel will make a strike.

ix) there is some reason to strike quickly before the Iranians move their research programme to Qom where they have fsshioned a research location in the middle of a mountain and hence invulnerable to any attack apart from the huge US bunker busting bombs.

x) Another final reason to move quickly is that after the presidential elections in November nobody knows what might transpire.

What is likely to happen? Impossible to say but I think some military strike by Israel is more than a slight possibility. But Iran itself faces elections very soon and who is to know what kind of volatility this might inject into this already immensely comlex and combustible situation?

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Can't Help it, I agree with Dave on Union

Cameron has been explaining today why he's totally against Scottish independence For slightly different reasons, though there is much overlap, I agree with him, as do the other two major parties in the Commons. It's odd, as mostly I'm quite rational on political issues, or like ot think I am, but on this issue it's more a gut reaction. I have been brought up to identify with a 'British' identity. As someone with an Anglo-Welsh provenance, I have always felt a certain distance from the English and hate the things Welsh people often identify: snobbishness, small minded selfishness, a sense of superiority. And I have always been happier cheering the British Lions rugby teams or feeling good about British actors and writers whether Scottish, Welsh or English.

I never liked Gordon Brown, but this had everything to do with him being a poor prime minister, nothing to do with him being a Scot. Robin Cook was one of my few heroes among modern Labour politicians. It follows I have nothing againt the Welsh. Indeed, one of my favourite politicians historically is David Lloyd George, the Welsh Wizard and I very much admired and liked Neil Kinnock, despite his tendency to prolixity.

I'm well aware of the economic arguments, for and against and the constitutional ones too. I realise Scotland gets 20% more funding per person than we do in England, but I'm pretty sure Northern Ireland people receive even more and I feel no anger over that either. I just think 'Britain' would be hugely weakened if Scotland separated from it; I realise that's a mostly emotional objection. But I'm also aware of other emotions out there, especially a growing sense of 'Englishness' which is emerging and fueling some of the feelings south of the border Salmond is trying to foment north of it.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Trevor's Unanswered Question

I caught former political editor of The Sun Trevor Kavanagh on Radio Four's 'World at One' today and heard him denounce the 'witch hunt' being mounted against 'honest, hard working' Sun reporters on the grounds they had possibly paid policemen to get news stories. It seems, according to his article in The Sun today, that its reporters are being 'treated like members of an organised crime gang'. He claims 180 officers have been assembled to mount said witch-hunt against News International, some of the3m taken off anti-terrorism work for the purpose.

Apart from the fact that News International with its funding of phone hacking on an industrial scale has actually behaved like an organised criminal conspiracy, one really did feel a little sorry for those poor Sun reporters, whose tasks sorting though the rubbish of celebrities or writing about Jordan's latest alleged actions, must be on the back burner for a while. One wonders what on earth will happen to the nation as a result. But one tiny little unanswered question insists on knocking on the door of my understanding of the situation.

Dan Sabbagh in The Guardian, informs us that it was:

News International's powerful management and standards committee (MSC), the body whose reconstruction and search of the Sun's email archive(which) gave the police the evidence they felt they needed to arrest Kay and four other Sun journalists, including deputy editor Geoff Webster.

If it was news International itself which fingered its own staff for the subsequent arrests, why doesn't Trevor rail against his own company and the boss he so reveres rather than the nebulous organisers(the police? The Guardian?, the Soviet Politburo?) responsible for this so-called 'witch-hunt...?

Friday, February 10, 2012


How Much Worse Can it Get For Lansley

My post yesterday did not quite express the true depths of the unpopularity of Lansley's NHS Bill. Today we read that Conservative Home, the online direct route to grassroots Conservative thinking, has:

'urged Cameron to replace Andrew Lansley and drop large chunks of the health bill

This traditionally loyal publication run by Tim Montgomerie, would not issue such advice if things were not very, very bad for Lansley. But in addition to that we hear that not one, not two, but three Cabinet members urged the blog to issue this warning as they believe Cameron is not listening on an issue which might lose the party the next election. Stephen Dorrell, Conservative chair of the Health Select Committee fels strongly that many of the changes envisaged could have been achieved without the need for legislation and so much controversy.

All this suggests the knives are out for Cameron's appointment; his sacking would represent a mega - humiliation for the prime ministen. He has responded, unsurprisingly by committing himself to the measure even more fulsomely. But inside he must be ruing the day he believed his party harboured, in the person of Andrew Lansley a major political talent who would transform the NHS

Tuesday, February 07, 2012


Crazy to Proceed with NHS Bill

With the NHS Bill at a critical stage it's interesting to see the forces lined up agin it. The Daily Telegraph kicked off a few days back with an article addressed to the shedload of doctors- 365 actually- asserting that it:

"threatens to derail and fragment the NHS into a collection of competing private providers," resulting in "hundreds of different organisations pulling against each other leading to fragmentation, chaos and damage to the quality and availability of patient care."

A Royal College of General Practitioners survey showed 90% of GPs opposed to the Bill. An Independent poll of NHS staff also produced a big majority against: in this case, 71% and a Nursing Times editorial condemned it as 'an unholy mess'.

In a BMJ piece last month Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had this to say:

"[it] threatens to derail and fragment the NHS into a collection of competing private providers," resulting in "hundreds of different organisations pulling against each other leading to fragmentation, chaos and damage to the quality and availability of patient care...."I have tried very hard, as have some of my cleverer colleagues, but no matter how hard we try, we always end up concluding that the bill means something quite different from what the secretary of state says it does."

Finally, though i could go on, here's Clare Gerada, Chair of that Royal College of GPs on the Today programme:

"I think the essence is this Bill is a burden. It makes no sense. It’s incoherent to anybody other than the lawyers. It won’t deal with the big issues that we have to deal with such as the aging population and dementia. It will result in a very expensive health service and it will also result in a health service that certainly will never match the health service that we have at the moment or at least had 12 months ago."

With this degree of opposition, it seems absurd that this cack-handed abortion of a reform should go ahead to wreak untold harm on the most cost effective health system in the world.

Sunday, February 05, 2012


Cameron and Clegg Must Have Mixed Feelings Over Huhne's Exit

The Coalition government must be bruised by another misfortune: the forced resignation of Energy Secretary Chris Huhne; he is the second Lib Dem to fall by the wayside after David laws departed over an expenses issue back in May 2010. Cameron won’t be altogether dismayed however: Huhne had a record of being aggressive in Cabinet, confronting the PM on issues close to Lib Dem hearts. Clegg too might have not been overwhelmed with despair as the overtly ambitious Huhne-he has twice contested the leadership and lost to Clegg by only a whisker- has long made it clear he is just waiting to take over, should the present party leader falter.

The provenance of the resignation is bizarre. Huhne left his wife in the summer of 2010 after admitting being in a relationship with 45 year old Carina Trimingham, a professional PR expert whom he had met through work. Jacky Pryce, to whom he had been married for 27 years and with whom he has three children, is a high flying economist, who did not kindly to such treatment and in May 2011, in a clear example of 'the woman scorned' she articulated the hell of her fury by accusing him of using her to take the rap for a speeding offence so that he could avoid disqualification.

Nick Cohen comments today:

Trimingham was Huhne's campaign press officer and mistress when his campaign literature presented him as a wholesome family man. After he moved in with her, she touted for work with lobbying firms, telling them that she could get their clients in front of senior members of the coalition.
The Daily Mail loved this story and played it to the limit via Jean Moir in this toe curling piece And in this one too. What surprises me most is that the tabloids did not make so much more of his mistres's alleged bisexuality.

What strikes me though is that when Huhne denies the charge he doesn't seem to believe it himself. I wonder if a jury will feel the same, especiallya fter hearing that damning 11 minute tape recording of a conversation between Huhne and his wife....

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