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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How much is your MP claiming in expenses?

I posted yesterday a link to the figures published by Parliament showing the expenses claimed by MPs in 2007/08.

Someone has very kindly reconfigured these and produced a spreadsheet to show the total expenses claimed per MP.

Have a gander

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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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The Curious Case of Parliamentary Expenses

Almost a week doesn’t pass in recent times in which some kind of scandal isn’t brought up regarding the expenses of Members of Parliament.

We’ve had McNulty-gate, involving Employment Minister Tony McNulty and his claiming of £60,000 in expenses for his parents’ house. Today, courtesy of the Sunday Express, we have been told that Jacqui Smith’s husband quite literally is a w*nker (the Home Secretary ‘mistakenly’ claimed expenses for her husband to watch porn). If that isn’t enough, Mrs Smith is also being investigated for claiming over £100,000 for a secondary home. Next week also sees the publication of the full expenses claimed by MPs in 2007/08, which will no doubt provide further embarrassment for some.

How many houses, Mr McNulty?

How many houses, Mr McNulty?

Now, before I delve into my thoughts on this, I would like to make you aware of two other sources of information published by Parliament regarding MPs privileges.

The House of Commons Information Office publishes a factsheet on parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances. It gives an easy to follow and detailed account on what an MP can be paid and renumerated, as well as past figures.

For those of you willing to delve into a myriad of figures and big numbers, the House of Commons Members’ Resource Accounts provides a block figure for the total amount used for MPs salaries, expenses, allowances and other stuff since 2001. In the 2007-08 Accounts, this chart gives a nice simple breakdown on the total figures spent on MPs salary, renumeration and the like.

Remember, this is all publicly available so you’re not getting let in on some big secret. Have a browse through them all. Go on, knock yourself out.

Ok? Let us continue…

Now, there have been a fair few arguments about ‘what is to be done’ about the issues of MPs expenses. Public servants claiming hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses on top of a salary of almost £70,000, at a time when pursestrings have been tightened across the country and our national deficit is higher than countries like Hungary and Pakistan (who have already been aided by the IMF) is clearly not on. Considering the furore they showed over the ‘Fred the Shred’ bonus scandal, it could be seen as somewhat hypocritical that MPs are allowed to claim such vast sums of money on top of a healthy salary, for things such as second homes and family travel.

Something, clearly, must be done if politicians wish to regain any respect among, and connection with, the public they represent.

Carl Mortishead of The Times has gone to the extreme of the change spectrum, arguing that MPs pay should be abolished and instead their political exploits should be financed by their previous employers after they are elected. He hopes this will render the idea of politics as a career defunct. Removing the career ladder from politics is something I would like. However, I have a slightly different view about how he proposed to do this. Let’s look at what he says:

During their time in Parliament, the MPs’ previous employer would be required to give financial support. Large companies should easily be able to afford this burden. Smaller businesses might receive financial assistance from the taxpayer up to the level of the average British wage.

Excuse the language, but ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME? You want private businesses to fund the exploits of Members of Parliament, who lest we forget should serve the public and constituents interest? This would not so much open the door for private companies to lobby MPs for law change, but more rip the door off and roll out a red carpet for them, with a sandwich board out front stating ‘MPs for sale: pay well and that amendment you want will go through’. Lord knows the people at The Times should know more about this, considering the Sunday version of their paper broke the ‘Peers-for-sale’ scandal two months ago.

Alan Duncan, the current Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, let slip this ditty when questioned on the MPs expenses row (From Paul Waugh’s blog):

“The one that causes all the trouble is this so-called second home allowance. One day, one can’t do it now because it would look like an increase in an MP’s salary, one day I think we are going to have to get rid of this allowance and probably roll it into salary and say people can look after their own housing and accommodation and not have a special allowance for it.”

Hmm. I agree to an extent that MPs should cater for their own accommodation within their salaries, but try squaring an increase in MPs salary in the midst of a recession. Nah, not likely, and not something I particularly agree with. You’re getting paid almost £70k a year, plus other expenses on top of that. Is it not enough?

In the case of Tony McNulty, as a Minister he is paid £104,000 a year, and his wife twice that as head of Ofsted. How he can have the cheek to claim under allowances for a second home he doesn’t even live in, and despite his monetary wealth, is beyond me.

But that is the point. The current system in place allows MPs to claim wontonly for excesses such as this. If you were offered the chance to claim several thousands of pounds in expenses, would you turn it down? Doubtful. Whether it is morally wrong is irrelevant, as MPs who are given the chance to claim will, in most cases, do just that.

So why isn’t an alternative system in place, that doesn’t allow Members of Parliament to gorge themselves in such fancies? Well, a starting point would be that expenses are not governed from the outside, but by the House of Commons itself. The House of Commons Commission consists of six MPs who are responsible for the management of the House and the provision of services to its Members. It makes the financial estimates they deem fit for the House of Commons each year.

A different Committee, the Members’ Estimate Committee, has a much more specified remit, in that it considers matters regarding MPs pay and allowances for the House. I say a different committee, it in fact comprises of the same six Members of the House of Commons Commission. To be fair to them, they published a review in June last year which recommended a much more transparent system regarding allowances, even recommending a ‘financial health check for Members‘ – effectively an auditing process conducted by an outside, professional company which would scrutinise the records and claims made for each MP per parliament. It would take a while to post the other points, but in the main they all sound quite right in terms of public transparency and scrutiny of records.

So, what do you think the Members of the House did when asked to debate on these recommendations, which would make them more susceptible to public scrutiny, and in some cases, reduce the allowances they can claim?

They passed an amended version of the motion which effectively rejected the main recommendations of the review.

As soon as the pay and allowances of MPs is audited by an impartial, out of house operator, instead of being drawn up by politicians and to be debated by the politicians who are affected by it, then Parliament will stop looking like a glorified ‘Old-Boys’ network. If you want to restore the faith of the public in politics, you need to be completely open with them as they are the people you represent. If they carry on serving each other as they do, then disillusionment will only continue to worsen.

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The Horrors – Sea Within A Sea

Well well, boys, what have you been up to?

It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was sat on a sofa in the upstairs bit of Bristol Academy. Along with my friend Phil, we were there to interview a new, up and coming band called The Horrors. Half an hour later the interview was done, and we went away rather happy with what what we had heard – I had initially seen them as a band more concerned with their look than their music, yet that thirty minutes dispelled those thoughts.

Yet their initial album, as frenetic and exciting as it was, lacked something. Each song was fine for the 90 or so seconds it lasted, but afterwards you didn’t feel anything. It was very much a throwaway record.

So how have they gone from this

to this?

The new album has been aided in its produced by Chris Cunningham and Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame. By God you can hear the influence. There will be lazy comparisons to Joy Division and Interpol, but from this song there is so much more than that. There is so much going on in this song…it is brilliant. I cannot wait. If the rest of the album is as surprising, dark, and quite as brilliant as this, we could have the album of the year here.:

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