Saturday, August 16, 2008

Spin Exposed

It is Tuesday, Radio 4, World at One and James Plaskitt, Junior Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions is being interviewed by BBC journalist Shaun Ley:

Ley: Are you worried that this collection of economic statistics we've seen today, including obviously the rising unemployment figures, will further destabilise the prime minister's leadership ?

Plaskitt: I'm not commenting on that issue as I made clear at the outset. It's not about that.

Ley: But you're -

Press officer: We're only talking about today's employment figures.

Ley: Sure, but you're a minister, you're a member of his government.

Plaskitt: Well, the answer's no.

Ley: You don't think it will?

Plaskitt: No.

Absolutely incredible that a government press officer would cut into an interview this way. All credit to the BBC for broadcasting it, and that is interesting in itself. Shaun Ley offers up an explanation of what went on in his blog, but does anyone think that the Labour-supporting BBC of old would have hesitated in cutting out the press officer's intervention? It wasn't live so they could have done so easily. These are the people who didn't broadcast Neil Kinnock making a fool of himself before the 1992 election for no reason that has ever been adequately explained and the people who ran biased media against the Conservatives for decades. Could it be that the realisation that Labour may not be in power for much longer has emboldened them? Could it be that emerging debate on the future of the BBC has made them realise that systematic political bias is not a long-term survival strategy? In that at least I think that the damage has already been done.

Petition the Prime Minister to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK

We are engaged in a series of wars where we as a nation have not supported our military with either the equipment to fight, or the facilities to care for our servicemen and women. There is now a petition on the N0.10 site to Create a dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital within the UK:
With the growing numbers of wounded personnel repatriated to the UK and with continued growth in medically discharged personnel since the Falklands war to current conflicts and operations, our service men & women and veterans of previous operational service are owed the best medical care possible. The existing facilities are falling short and the NHS are not meeting the needs of veterans who still need treatment for their service related conditions. A dedicated Military & Veterans Hospital will greatly help resolve this National scandal since the complete closure of our military hospitals that has proved to be total folly.

We used to have many such dedicated hospitals, but in acts of short-sighted folly they were all closed. Right now our wounded get one ward of one NHS hospital. It is pitiful and it is not enough.

Sign the petition here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liberal Democrats write off the North

The Policy Exchange has written a report that essentially says that regeneration of some northern communities is futile and the best thing for many of the people there is to move south. There is some other reasonably good stuff about devolving regeneration monies to Local Authorities, but the central idea that whole towns and cities should essentially be written off is as David Cameron said 'insane'. So, who wrote this claptrap? Well, according to the Telegraph two of the culprits at least are Liberal Democrats. So, why is David Cameron being pressed for comment. Where is Nick Clegg when you need him?

Gordon Brown has nothing to say

The South Ossetia crisis put me in mind of the early 90s when with the Cold War ended a lot of morons thought that was the end of war altogether. I well remember smug interviewers putting the probing question ‘who are our enemies now?’ to hapless politicos as if the lack of an immediate threat meant that we could disband our armed forces, all join hands and sing kumbaya. Unfortunately, that sort of thinking permeated into the body politic, and we cut our military so much that when the new wave of threats appeared they struggled to cope. People have come home in body bags because of those oh so clever people and now South Ossetia shows starkly how a major foreign policy crisis with a military dimension can boil up out of nothing.

What on earth did the Georgians think would happen? The Russians claim most of the people of South Ossetia as citizens and there were around 1000 Russian ‘peacekeepers’ already on the ground. The Georgian action may have been strictly legal in terms of International Law, this is Georgian territory after all, but moving military forces in on that scale was remarkably ill-advised. There was bound to be a Russian response, but the scale and speed of it bears some examination. From media reports it appears that the Russians brought air power to bear almost immediately, and followed that up with what appears to be an entire Motor Rifle Division, reported as the 42nd Guards. For those who aren’t familiar with the Russian Order of Battle, a MR Division is a combined arms force with over 150 tanks and over 250 other armoured fighting vehicles with well over 10000 men. The 42nd may also have some attached special forces. Mobilising something on that scale from barracks would take days, but it seems they were on the ground and advancing in about one day. That means that they were already at a high state of readiness and within striking distance of the Georgian border, which makes the Georgian action even more puzzling. How could they not notice a formation of that size so close and so ready for action?

Meanwhile, David Cameron has been saying exactly what the government should have been saying if they hadn’t outsourced our foreign policy to the EU. The Georgians may have made a terrible misjudgement, but the Russian reaction has gone well beyond being reasonable, with widespread air attack and ground action that is less designed to protect their people in South Ossetia and more designed to cripple Georgia as a nation. This is the point when Labour’s dithering and incompetence stops being funny. Our foreign policy should not be paralysed by a Prime Minister who can’t make a decision and a Foreign Secretary whose sole focus is getting the Prime Minister’s job.

Can we really afford another two years of this?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Government by leak

Here is how it goes: you are in government and want a few favourable column inches, so you leak a policy idea into the media and soak up the coverage without having to do a thing. Maybe the broad reaction is favourable, so you actually do what you said in the leak and get the benefit all over again. Then you announce the thing multiple times just to be on the safe side, each time conveniently forgetting that you've said it all before. It's the gift that keeps giving, squeezing the last bit of favourable spin out of any policy measure, fantastic! Except of course sometimes, such as when the measure might affect market decisions and skew them in some unwelcome direction. So it goes with Stamp Duty, where the normal government spinning process has kicked the housing market when it is down because, not unreasonably, people think that if they wait a bit the government might suspend the tax and save them a fortune.

The blunders of this government keep coming. This is not a Labour/Tory thing; this is increasingly an idiot/competent thing. You couldn't imagine this happening with Tony Blair, and I never thought I would ever write something like that.