Category Archives: News

Speaker to step down at 2.30pm today

As reported by Paul Waugh, STV and now the BBC. The latest update from Waugh on his Twitter suggests that the Speaker will be gone before the summer recess.

Bloody times in the Commons. I will have a full look at this later today or this week.

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Expenses, blogs and the real agenda setters

I’ve not posted for about two weeks now, and yet still the first thing I see in the news today is the stories of the expenses of Members of Parliament.

After the Telegraph got hold of the data, rumoured to have cost them £150,000, they have released snippets of it into the public domain.

Cabinet Ministers felt the force first, with Hazel Blears at the head. The revelation that she claimed allowances on three separate properties in the space of a year has made her position, to some, untenable. In response, Hazel Blears has denied breaking any rules whilst dressed like an extra from Easy Rider.

Sinn Fein MPs got their cages rattled on Saturday. The party’s five representatives in Parliament don’t actually, er, represent their constituencies in Parliament. In fact, they don’t actually sit in Parliament in protest. Yet they still managed to procure over £105,000 in second home expenses. Before we go overboard here, it is worth noting that due to their absenteeism they do not get paid a salary. Fair enough – but what business would they have in London then that requires a second home? I would like to know, because to reject with one hand and take with the other seems a bit hypocritical. It is quite the dagger in Sinn Fein’s legitimacy.

Over the course of the last two days, the Conservatives have also had their dirty laundry aired out in the pages of the Telegraph. Changing lightbulbs, dog food, gardening…all the necessaries for parliamentary duty.

Now I apologise as I’ve got a tendency to go all Charlie Brooker here, but anywho…

On the face of it, the whole exposé seems like an excellent piece of journalism, blowing open the bubble around Westminster, and opening the frivolous consumption of taxpayer sterling by honourable Members (LOL) to public scrutiny. For too long our constituency representatives have got away with this, and now we can bring this sorry mess to an end. A modern day Watergate.

Except you’d be wrong.

The Telegraph have been quick to lap-up the praise in the wake of them ‘breaking’ the story – taking plaudits from the Observer, a former Guardian editor and Alistair Campbell. Bless em.

Yet if having a spare £150k to blow on some scans (see top of page) is what is classed as investigative these days then god help us all. In fact, it shows the lengths to which papers are willing to go in order to set the news agenda. Why is this?

Well a long, long time ago, before the Internet, Government and the media were rather intertwined (as Peter Oborne reminds us). One wanted power, the other wanted good circulation figures. As the best-selling stories uniformally relate to scandal, this meant tacit agreements were in place which scripted the whats, whens and hows of a story and the Government’s reaction. Soap opera-ish.

Then the Internet came, and instead of reading about stories in the paper, people set up blogs and blew a gasket about them. Recessmonkey, Guido, everyone else with a voice and a keyboard decided they had something to say, and nobody could stop them. The whole thing has got to the stage now where we have bloggers appearing on TV, and in the case of the recent Mcbride scandal, directly effecting politics.

Guido made a £10,000 offer last month to the receipts-holder, who had approached The Times for the sum of £300k. Since then the Telegraph has had to stump up an astronomical sum of money to be able to become the agenda setter…for the time being. From a media perspective, it just shows that with the introduction of free-for-all internet blogging, the cost of setting the agenda for newspapers has, ironically, gone up and up.

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Brown says sorry…er, no.

It’s been reported in the papers and various other news outlets today that Gordon Brown has apologised for the Smeargate affair.

Dont forget to leave the keys behind when youre down, Gordon.

Don't forget to leave the keys behind when you're down, Gordon.

So, let’s have a look at what he said then in his apology.

Making a fresh attempt to close down the row, Mr Brown said: “I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.

Sorry, Gordon?

Making a fresh attempt to close down the row, Mr Brown said: “I take full responsibility for what happened. That’s why the person who was responsible went immediately.

Are you kidding me? THAT’S an apology? Saying you take full responsibility in one breath, and in the next putting the responsibility on someone else is not saying sorry, nor is it taking responsibilty.

In fact, it is pretty much a rehash of the third paragraph in the letter you wrote to the affected parties. Repeating it via your mouth does not make it an apology.

Some people are just too proud for their own good, because make no mistake, this is getting terminal for GB and the Labour Party if they want any chance of getting a fourth successive term in Government.

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Political slander – it just got personal

Hello. Sorry for a lack of updates – a rather topsy turvy week or so has contributed to this – and I am no doubt late to the blog party when opening on this subject. But hey, I might as well throw in my tuppence worth.

For those of you who do not know, which will no doubt total nobody, the PM’s advisor, Damien Mcbride (above), has been forced to resign after it emerged that he discussed smearing senior Conservatives. What seems to have got the goat of most people is the fact that some of the smears weren’t aimed at the MPs themselves, but family members. Politicians who enter the Commons must accept that from time to time they will receive flak, true or not, but when people try and target people outside the political game then that just isn’t cricket.

It reminds of that great scene in the first season of The Wire, where detectives Moreland and McNulty bring in D’Angelo Barksdale for an interview. The subject is the murder of William Gant, who was murdered not for what he did, or what he stood for, but for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The message from it was clear – if you take a hit within the game, that’s to be expected. But when you ace a working man, a civilian…

Anyway, back to politics. One of the emails suggested questioning the mental state of George Osborne’s wife, for example, and Tory MPs and political reporters a like have expressed their disgust at the actions which the Labour party looked to go ahead with. If the idea of political spin had a low opinion before, it has just crashed through into the basement, faceplanting the cold, concrete floor.

Whether Guido’s inclination to release the information was more motivated by the idea of getting one over rival blogger Derek Draper or to uncover the murky waters in Whitehall is debatable (I’d argue it is a case of getting two birds with one stone), but the damage it has done cannot be underestimated. The only people who seem to underestimate it are, bizarrely, the Labour hierarchy. It has been four days since the story broke, and yet there has been no public apology by the Prime Minister. Sure, letters have been written, but he hasn’t actually apologised for anything. For the record, I love this quote from the above letter:

I have already taken responsibility for acting on this – first by accepting Mr McBride’s resignation and by making it clear to all concerned that such actions have no part to play in the public life of our country.

Haha. If the definition of responsibility in your eyes is letting someone take the heat in front of you and denying any wrongdoing, then you need a new dictionary sunshine. Rightly, Brown has been panned for the oversight of not personally apologising. Stubborn as a mule that lad. Not that it didn’t go unnoticed – Private Eye magazine awarded it the “Stalinist quote of the week” accolade.

In the interest of balance, I’d like to finish off with a quote from Paddy Ashdown’s memoirs, published in the Sunday Times this weekend. He talks about the aftermath of when news of his affair with his secretary came to light:

All this made life for my family even more difficult and seriously undermined my self-confidence, too. That, it appears, was precisely what was supposed to happen – as we discovered after the election, when we learnt that some Tories had imported a group of US activists called “the Nerds”, whose job was to spread malign rumours and make unfounded personal accusations against senior opposition MPs.

Perhaps this was done without official sanction from the top of the Conservative party. But after the election Kelvin MacKenzie, then editor of The Sun, revealed that at least one cabinet-level Tory minister had approached him seeking to retail scurrilous and untrue allegations against a number of senior opposition MPs.

With David Cameron saying Labour have been in charge for too long, one would say almost addicted on the fumes of executive power, it is worth noting that this ill seems to fall to anyone who gets too familiar with the corridors of 10 Downing Street in the modern era.

EDIT: Check out this blog for a couple of snippets from the emails. Oh lol.

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Protests, Capitalism and The Need for a Moral Compass

Unless you happen to be in the middle of a particularly remote vacuum, you would have noticed that today marks the beginning of the G20 summit of world leaders in London.

Looking along Whitehall today, you wouldn’t have noticed a difference apart from a few extra police and some metal barriers. Yet a few miles down the river in the Square Mile, protests are being staged. One branch of RBS has been completely goosed by the protesters (or rioters in this case), and the media report up to 23 arrests have been made, though this figure may change.

What are they protesting about? Although certain groups of protestors have grabbed the headlines, such as the G20 Meltdown group and their demand for the abolishment of capitalism, there are many other groups involved as well, with varying wishes.

There do however seem to be three main desires. The first is the reconstruction of the financial sector, driven by the need of relative equity and not the desire of individual greed. The second is tackling climate change, a phenomenon creeping upon us slowly but surely, which many people believe must be stop before the problem becomes too severe to deal with. For some, like the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, the creation of ‘green’ jobs will go some way to helping the achievement of both of these targets. The third, as goes with most protests these days, is wanting troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In this post, however, I wish to focus on the first of the targets; the restructing of financial markets, or for some, the destruction of capitalism. Capitalism by definition, has four qualities:
– commodities have ‘market value’ rather than ‘use value’. Hence water is alot cheaper than diamond, despite the former being a lot more useful in keeping us, er, alive.
– productive wealth is predominantly held in private hands
– economic life is organised by demand (what consumers are willing and able to consume) and supply (what producers are willing and able to produce).
– the main motiviation for enterprise and hard work is self interest and profit maximisation.

Although arguments can be made againsts all four of these tenets, I’m going to guess that most people will be in the street protesting in particular against the fourth point. It is, after all, the ‘enterprise’ of risk-taking by banks (and indeed Governments) in the boom years, driven by the desire to maximise profits, which has come to bite them so hard on the arse of late. The risks taken have and are being handsomely rewarded in the private sector, with six-figure salaries backed with similar bonuses an indicator that it is in the interest of the money-driven individual working in the private sector to take such risks. It is this culture which has contributed to the loss of countless numbers of jobs worldwide, not to mention problems with mortgages, currency devaluation and the like. It has also taken away focus from projects to battle poverty, develop renewable energy and stop climate change – the problem is of such magnitude that it comes before everything else.

So, you can see why some people might be angry at both Government and the finance sector, seeing as the proposed solution to this problem seems to be governments throwing capital at the people who misused and abused the capital in the first place. Capitalist society simply cannot survive without the existence of these trading insitutions, which are imperative to a market-orientated system. More pertinently, the bail-out actions of governments suggest they cannot survive without Capitalism.

It would be easy to critique the idealism and anarchism shown by protesters today by saying they facilitate the system themselves by owning a bank account. That would be missing the point however. In the main, people put money in bank accounts to keep it safe. It is the conduct of the speculative banks which is the problem, risking money which essentially is not theirs. This is all well and good when the risk pays off, but when it doesn’t…well, you can see the results for yourself.
The main flaw of Capitalism stems from the application of theory into practice. The free market is the most efficient and productive system of economics, they say, and in theory they would be right. Open any basic textbook and it will tell you as such. Yet is there a genuine ‘free market’? In a word, no. The lack of any regulation leads it open to abuse. As the primary actors in the system are driven by profit maximisation and self interest, they therefore do not take into account the effect of their actions on a wider level. Their actions, leading to the crisis, led to almost 4,607 businesses going into insolvency in the last three months of 2008, a rise of 51.6% on the corresponding period in 2007. Yet as the not-so-big players go, the big players retain their position, albeit a little winded. Yet they now face less competition than before and thus become more monopolistic, able to charge higher than before as they face less competition.

Hypocrisy can also be seen on the blogosphere. Most notably, Guido Fawkes posted his support of Capitalism and the “greed is good” philosophy. I’ve no problem with a man standing up for his views, whether I disagree or not. Yet days earlier he was lambasting the greed of MPs in the expenses scandal. Now before people hit back with “…but MPs are claiming at the expense of the taxpayer!”, it is worth remembering that £37billion of taxpayers money was invested in RBS, Lloyds TSB and HBOS in October alone. By contrast, the amount of taxpayers money spent on Members of Parliament was 159.3million in the year 2007/08. It seems daft to support the greed of a part-nationalised banking sector straight after damning the greed of the public sector.

It is time for a moral compass to enter decision making in the private sector. A sector, the main properties of which profess self-interest and greed, may be good at producing but it is not designed with the consumer in mind. The capitalist doesn’t even have other producers in mind – self interest also means, as the statistics show, other producers who aren’t up to speed are swept away in a flash. Do we live in such an unforgiving society that the interests of the few are catered for, but to the detriment of many?

Regulating the capitalist’s behaviour could be the first small step to changing this.

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MPs Expenses for 2007/08 released

Sink your teeth in here.

One think I will note is that the figures for the ‘Staying away from home’ (i.e. second home) allowance are by and large quite close to the maximum limit…

In fact, thanks to Guido Fawkes’ speedy grasp of the figures, we can see that around half of the 646 Members of Parliament claim within 10% of the maximum of £23,083 allowed.

Not that I am a fan of kicking a woman whilst she is down, but MP of the moment Jacqui Smith claimed £22,948 under the pretence of the Second Homes Allowance, a mere £135 off the threshold. In case Richard Timney is reading, that equates to more than 4,589 pay-per-view adult films a year on Virgin Media.

There are also 17 MPs who have managed to claim over £100,000 on staffing costs. Try and spot the pattern…

Margaret Beckett, LAB (£107,458)
Nicholas Brown, LAB (£101,153)
David Cameron, CON (£103,630)
Harry Cohen, LAB (£100,494)
Lynne Jones, LAB (£100,254)
Tessa Jowell, LAB (£102,028)
Ann Keen, LAB (£104,508)
Khalid Mahmood, LAB (£101,894)
Judy Mallaber, LAB (101,456)
Bob Neill, CON (£102,055)
Stephen Pound, LAB (£101,057)
Clare Short, LAB (£105,802)
Sir Peter Tapsell, CON (£100,790)
Ian Taylor, CON (£103,859)
Bill Wiggin, CON (£100,009)
Michael Wills, LAB (£100,554)
Mike Wood, LAB (£100,135)

Did you see it?

Every MP who spent over £100,000 on the staffing allowance is from one of the main two parties (in this case, 12 Labour and 5 Conservative). The more eagle eyed of you there would have been able to spot a few Goverment Ministers and Whips in there, too (Margaret Beckett, Nick Brown, Tessa Jowell Clare Short). As Ministers of the Crown, they would be able to recieve another wage on top of their parliamentary salary for the job they do in their respective department. Same goes for the shadow Cabinet, with David Cameron and Bill Wiggin claiming six-figure expenses on top of the extra they recieve for being part of the shadow Cabinet.

Not that I am one for getting all anti-politics, but it is very hard to feel sympathy or relate to anyone in Parliament when they earn nearly three times the average national salary, and are able to claim hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of allowances. Each. Then you throw in the Ministerial salaries (which in some cases is more than the MPs salary) on top of that, and it really is not that big of a jump to see the hypocrisy between they show every time they take a swipe at the banking pay system.

Ofcourse, neither the banks nor Parliament can carry on with their current pay and allowance structure. I have already delved into the issues with the latter, but here is one more to chew over with a real life example. The Torygraph broke the story yesterday of two MPs married to each other together claimed £270,608 in expenses. That in itself isn’t the biggest issue, for me it is the fact that they are both able to claim the Second Home Allowance. It is loopholes like this which must be closed to get a handle on this enormous engorgement of public money.

(psst! I don’t like to end on all bad news, so a quick well done to Michael Spicer and Phillip Hollabone, whos expenses claims were absolutely tiny in comparison)

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Dan Hannan – Tory Maverick or Obama-lite?

A couple of days ago, as he does most days, MEP for South East England Daniel Hannan posted on youtube snippets and videos of his deliberations in the European parliamentary chamber. What made this different to the other videos he has posted was that it was as direct and as forthright an attack on the PMs economic decisions as I have ever seen by an opposing politician.

At one point in the video, it is like he is one exclaimation away from going over to Mr Brown, grabbing him by the collar and shouting ‘LOOK! LOOK AT THIS MESS! WHY CAN’T YOU ACCEPT YOU WERE WRONG!?’ such is his flabbergastedness at times. The Prime Minister hasn’t helped himself by allowing a wry, if embarrassed, smirk come across his face as he takes notes, which has angered a fair few in the Conservative blogosphere. I can’t imagine he’s been described in person as a ‘devalued Prime Minister’ before.

First the Americans caught wind of it, with Fox News and that long time bastion of Internet news media, The Drudge Report, spreading the Hannan gospel. Due in part to this widespread coverage, at the time of posting, the YouTube video has garnered over 895,000 views and is one of the most popular videos of the week. This is all before it has even hit the mainstream media such as television and the newspapers.

The popularity of the speech has gone hand in hand with the praise reserved for it and Mr. Hannan. Republican centric Rush Limbaugh is offering up Hannan as an example as to how the GOP should act in opposition to Obama’s spending plans. It is quite funny then, that someone seen as the opposite to Obama is carrying very similar traits to that man.

On YouTube, many of the comments on the video are in full praise of Hannan’s frankness; praising his bravery, championing him for election to the Commons and even (though tongue-in-cheek) as a candidate for the U.S. Presidency. Obviously these may be far fetched, but the effect of this video is that it has channelled the grievances that the Middle-England, Express-reading conservative reserves for this Government into one politician. And that politician isn’t even the leader of the Opposition.

So what does Mr. Hannan say in his speech which is so crushingly honest, so unequivocally damning, so unnervingly right (according to his supporters) that a 3 minute video of the Euro Parliament chamber has managed to obtain nearly a million viewers, when most of his other videos hovver around the 10,000 hit mark?

Essentially the people, Conservative and not, are just pleased that Hannan gave Gordon a bit of a shoeing (As you can see, these three blogs let the video do the talking). The actual content of the vid follows pretty familiar ground in terms of what Brown has been criticised for:

-Increasing debt in the boom years when he should have been saving.
-Keeping spending despite the lack of money in the coffers
-Insisting that the UK is ‘well placed’ despite the IMF and the European Commission saying otherwise.

These may be quite acceptable and reasonable enough arguments, but they are still flawed at heart. As has been demonstrated elsewhere on the blogosphere (Liberal Conspiracy, Next Left, Dan Hannan didn’t exactly have foresight on these troubling economic times in October 2004…

Being outside the EU, Iceland has been able to cut taxes and regulation, and to open up its economy. For 70 years the Althing has been dominated by the splendidly named Independence party, which has pursued the kind of Thatcherite agenda that is off limits to EU members

Icelanders understand that there is a connection between living in an independent state and living independently from the state. They have no more desire to submit to international than to national regulation. That attitude has made them the happiest, freest and wealthiest people on earth.

Aye, fat lot of good all that reduction of spending did them, eh? And something tells me they might have an incey wincey desire to ‘submit’ to regulation at the moment. Indeed, a few months ago the Industry Minister seemed rather keen for the IMF to get involved.

The speech itself has a few inconsistencies. Firstly, he says that the UK has ‘subsidised where he has not nationalised swathes of our economy, including the car industry…’. Well, that isn’t true is it? Subsidies have been promised to the car industry but they have yet to be forthcoming. They certainly haven’t been nationalised either.

Secondly, he bemoans the loss of 100,000 private sector jobs and the creation of 30,000 public sector jobs as “squeezing the productive bit of the economy in order to fund an unprecedented engorgement of the unproductive bit.” Well let’s see. Private sector jobs are shed for a reason – mainly, in these heady times, in order for a business to keep afloat. As income falls , so will in turn the wage bill as frankly, you won’t have the money to keep everyone employed and service yourself as a business. At least in creating public sector jobs Labour are trying to get people back into work – what about the idea of getting ex-traders to do fastrack teacher courses and become maths teachers?

And the big one, as always with the Conservatives, is…what would you do then? Hannan offers no indication of what needs to be done, but instead focuses on slaughtering Brown. One can only assume he means the complete opposite, which could well have seen banks like ‘Northern Rock’ and ‘Bradford & Bingley’ go under had the Conservatives been in power.

Yet all of this pales into insignificance when you consider that Hannan has accidentally orchestrated what appears to be one of the biggest political rallying calls in recent memory.

Indeed, the only thing that rings a bell at the minute is Mr. Obama’s ampaign for the Presidency of the United States. Both his ‘Yes We Can’ and Election Night videos surpass the million viewing mark on YouTube, something Mr Hannan’s recent video will surely do. Consider that the most viewed video of Gordon Brown, behind the Hannan shoeing, is one of him picking his nose in the Commons at around 360,000 views. The highest viewed video on webcameron is, by comparison to Hannan and Obama, a paltry 39,000. Whether you like them or loathe them, people actively want to hear what the likes of Obama and Hannan want to say, whereas with our current PM and Leader of the Opposition, we either want to laugh at them or don’t simply care.

So, how has Hannan done this? It is all in the method, my friend.

Let us not forget that Daniel Hannan has been caught in the eye of political storm before. He was in rather hot water last year after comparing the German EU President to Hitler. After being expelled from the European People’s Party due to this, he became an independent. Subsequently, as he explained in an interview for Newsnight recently, he has been able to partake in many more debates than usual. If anything, it is worth noting that this is a man used to courting controversy and coming on the other side in a stronger position than before.

Yet it isn’t just luck, as Hannan has been gifted with the nous and skills of a politicians. He is articulate, an excellent orator and clear in his beliefs – Obamaesque qualities you could say. As well as mimicing Obama’s viewing numbers on YouTube, he is also good at offering people bitesize chunks of his views and not long, drawn out and boring debates. 1 to 2 minute clipsof his speeches are regularly updated, very clear and concise and, most importantly, memorable. His referencing of historical incidents, past theorists (in likening the EU President to Hitler, he recalled the 1933 Enabling Act before beginning a lecture on the ideas of founding conservative thinker Edmund Burke) and penchant to finish nearly all his speeches in latin (“Pactio Olisipiensis censenda est” – “Lisbon must be put to a vote”) can all be seen as quite pretencious in a way, but the important thing is that they lodge in your mind. It has taken this one spark to ignite it, and now around a million more people than before are aware of his videos. Indeed, following on from the runaway success of the Gordon Brown denouncement, his latest video is also one of the most viewed clips today, attracting nearly 30,000 viewers. I would quite happily wager that as of right now, most people in Britain only know 1 MEP, and that that MEP would be Daniel Hannan.

Hannan’s message may not be perfect, but he has the oratory skills to deliver it and deliver it convincingly. The success of his attack on Brown has brought him out of the shadows in Brussels and into the spotlight in Britain. He clearly has supporters; in Europe, the UK and USA, and on the back of this wave of support, could quite plausibly nab a Commons seat at the next election if he wanted to.

On top of all of this, he has also shown a mastery of the new media not seen by many British politicians. In being an active blogger, posting digestable online videos, and having the political skills to utilise these to the max, he undestands that it’s how you get the message across that counts, not necessarily what you say – lest we forget, he is in effect merely repeating the bullets shot at Brown by David Cameron on a regular basis. The medium in this case, most certainly is the message, and an idea he may have just got from a certain man over in Washington D.C.

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