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.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Baron MP: FOI figures show NHS co-payments used to be allowed

MP says allowing patients to top-up would not mean the end of the NHS as we know it

Figures obtained by John Baron MP through Freedom of Information requests show that co-payments (or ‘top-ups’) were available in the NHS as recently as last year – before being stopped by guidance issued by the Department of Health. John has been campaigning against the ban on co-payments following the sad case of a constituent (Mrs Linda O’Boyle) who was refused funding for a cancer drug and then sought to pay privately. Under current arrangements, patients who go private for a drug not available on the NHS risk losing their entitlements to basic NHS care. Opponents of co-payments argue that topping-up would create a two-tier health service and undermine founding principles of the NHS. However, these new figures prove that co-payments were available in the past without any difficulties. A trust in Cornwall allowed 20 patients to co-pay for drugs which the NHS refused to fund before the ban was introduced.

Commenting, John said:

“The new figures show that co-payments were available in the NHS until last year without undermining its founding principles. Therefore, opponents of co-payments are wrong to argue they would mean the end of the NHS as we know it.”

“We always knew the present ban on top-ups is inhumane as it can result in NHS care being withdrawn from patients wishing to pay for drugs not available on the NHS. But these FOI figures also confirm the ban is illogical because it has been ignored in the past.”

“The latest NICE decision regarding the Bowel Cancer drugs shows just how far behind we are other European countries when it comes to patients accessing the latest treatments. This issue is not going away.”

From personal experience I know that the current situation regarding cancer drugs is perverse. NICE initially rejected the drug that saved my life, Velcade, and that decision almost certainly meant a number of people died in pain. The system couples that with making it impossible for people to pay for lifesaving drugs themselves, which means more early deaths and the attendant family tragedy. What kind of monsters are running our country? Don't they realise that these are real people, or maybe they just don't care.

Even worse than Heffer?

Simon Heffer is away, but a replacement has been drafted who spookily fills exactly the same niche as the great man himself. Her piece in the Telegraph leads on the case of the Conservative ex-candidate for Watford who engaged in a 3-year campaign of vandalism and harassment against is Liberal Democrat opponent, and her take on it is that David Cameron should 'speak up'. Now this man engaged in evil, criminal behaviour for which I fervently hope he will be justly punished. As soon as he was found out he immediately resigned from the Conservative Party, and if he hadn’t he would have been chucked out. What he was doing was not only against the Law, it was against the basic principles of the Conservative Party today, or at any time in the past for that matter. However, the reality is that every party attracts a certain number of bad people and the important thing is to note if their doings are broadly condoned or tolerated or if they are stamped on hard as soon as they are discovered. This man was in no doubt about the reaction of the Conservative Party so he walked before he got the boot.

What else is there to say? Does this woman seriously entertain the idea that this was in any way the way Conservatives are expected or encouraged to operate? If she does then she should lay out her case, and let's face it if she has something then it would be a huge news story. She won't do that of course because she has nothing. I'm an ex-parliamentary candidate, Constituency Chairman and current senior Councillor so I know of what I write. Conservative are expected to meet the highest standards in public life or else they cease to be Conservatives. There is nothing to this but one scumbag in Watford and the dripping pen of a columnist who has clearly been instructed to keep bashing David Cameron while Simon gets sunburnt. Oh, and the Liberal Democrats have jumped on this idea as well.

There's a surprise.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Labour pours more money down Northern Rock drain

Labour has poured another £3bn into Northern Rock, this time in the form of 'equity' in the failed bank. Let us be clear, if Northern Rock had not been nationalised then it would have gone bust. The ex-shareholders have not yet been compensated, so what we have is the government buying 'equity' in a bankrupt bank with a huge mortgage book of low quality loans in the middle of a housing crash and with a potentially huge unquantified liability to its former owners. This is not a good investment. They haven't even told us how much 'equity'? Does £3bn represent 10% of the bank when it is eventually floated back onto the stock market as is the supposed intention? Or is it 20%? More? Less? Who the hell knows. This is a simple case of good money after bad.

Nationalising Northern Rock made no sense in financial terms, but it was never about money, it was about Labour marginal seats. Make no mistake, if it had been called 'Southern Rock' and based in Guildford then it would have gone to the wall. That could not be allowed to happen to one of the biggest employers in one of Labour's heartlands so they used the taxpayers money to bail it out, and now to keep bailing it out because even with guaranteed government funding Northern Rock is still tottering. This is £3bn that the government can't use it to help the many people who are finding it tough as the country slides into recession. How about reducing taxes? How about kick-starting the housing market? How about reversing the punitive increase in Vehicle Excise Duty that hits the poorest families the hardest? No, instead the cash goes to preserving a few thousand jobs and a few jobs in particular: Labour MPs in the North East.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brown and I agree on something

That David Milliband's missive in yesterday's Guardian was a job application. The reaction is furious, and ill-judged, with anonymous briefings and two backbench MPs calling for Milliband to be sacked. Think on it, this is the Prime Minister laying into his own Foreign Secretary, careless of the damage such behaviour must do to his government. Where Blair would have taken it on the chin, at least in public, because he knew over-reaction would only given the story legs and credibility, Brown unleashes the great clunking fist and thereby puts 'Labour splits' onto front pages and news bulletins. Does he really think that he can keep the cabinet in line through fear? If that is true then the Labour frontbench are worms, but I don't believe that. These aren't Wehrmacht generals bound by some blood oath into ignoring the historical interests of their own people for the ravings of a madman, rather these are decent men and women with a commitment to public service, and, frankly, they won't be impressed. So, Milliband goes onto the radio today as if nothing had happened, and he still doesn't speak up for his boss. What will Gordon do next? Sack him?

Politics 101: keep people inside the tent, or you might become unexpectedly wet.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brown's challenger breaks cover

David Milliband broke cover today with an article in the Guardian talking about Labour renewal. For those not skilled in the art of political doubletalk what it really says is ‘I am a candidate for the forthcoming leadership election’. What it means is that Milliband has broken with the ‘caretaker leader from an older generation leading Labour to a not too catastrophic defeat at the next election then resigning in favour of a young Turk’ scenario. This would have seen our man placed to move smoothly in to pick up the pieces in opposition. Instead, he is going for the leadership of the party now, calculating that he could hang on to it even in defeat by blaming Brown for the mess. This is serious stuff; because now a credible challenger has emerged Brown will be faced by much the same dilemma that Blair faced with him. Is Milliband more dangerous to Brown in the Foreign Office or on the back benches? There are rumours of a reshuffle after all.

One thing is certain, Milliband is more dangerous to the Conservative Party than Brown ever could be.