Friday, August 01, 2008

How Low Can They Go In The Polls?

It's a sad state of affairs when polls show that only Blair is more popular than Brown in the Labour stakes and he'd still lose hands down to Cameron. 

But the YouGov poll in today's Daily Telegraph will offer Brown some crumbs of comfort. He may not be 'up to the job' but the wannabe prime ministers are even worse! 

None of the cabinet minister challengers flagged up in the poll would improve Labour's chances. And that includes the Milibandwaggon.

Just 15% of voters, questioned by YouGov this week, said they believe Brown is "up to the job". 

Labour trails well behind the Conservatives who are on 47% to Labour's 25%.

With Miliband as leader, Labour scores 24% against 47% for the Conservatives. Under Straw, the difference is roughly the same. 

Not surprising, with Balls as leader (why was he included?), Labour would fall to 17%, pushed into third place behind the LibDems on 18% and the Conservatives on 50%. 

Blair has bigger fish to fry and is eyeing up the new EU Presidency, but with that Blair scenario, it still would be 32% Labour to 41% Conservatives.

But many voters have started to pity Brown, according to the poll. That's another little crumb for him. 

In the US Obama/McCain race for the White House, voters are starting to prefer the 'underdog' to the 'top dog'.


Nuke Plants Sell-Off Blow To Brown

The £12 billion deal to buy the UK's nuclear power stations has been called off for the time being, in a further blow to Brown's nuclear plans and efforts to raise cash for his struggling economy. The deal will be back on the cards when the time is right. 

French government-owned EDF, along with British Gas owner, Centrica, had been widely expected to announce it was buying British Energy, which owns nuclear reactors in the UK.

Then, out of the blue, EDF put out a statement in the middle of the night, saying "conditions were not right" to proceed with the deal. British Energy too wasn't happy with the offer.

Centrica sparked outrage when it raised gas prices by a staggering 35% and still managed to make £1b profit. EDF, of course, raised gas prices by 22% and was due to announce its half-yearly profits today. 

Hiking up gas prices, reporting huge profits, then buying nuclear plants with the cash, just wouldn't look good. 

The government has a 37% stake in British Energy and the nuclear power industry is one of the last things left for Brown to sell. 

The EDF deal would have made around £4 billion for government coffers and paved the way for Brown's big ideas on nuclear power.

The government had done all the groundwork to sell off British Energy - and even considered selling it to the Saudis.

Regardless of the bad timing, the EDF deal would have been controversial. Questions would have been asked whether the UK's nuclear power industry should be placed in the hands of a French government company. Better to bury the sale on a bad news day.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

New Labour V True Labour Battle Begins

The battle for control of the Labour Party has begun. Blairites and Brownites are jockeying for position. The real fight is over ownership.

As the Orange Party predicted this will be a summer of discontent.

On the one hand, New Labour, in its many disguises and reincarnations, trying to cling on to power and become electable again.

On the other, True Labour, never happy with the way the Party was highjacked back in the 90s.

There's no love lost between the two sides. They've always made very uneasy bedfellows.

The Milibandwaggon has caused some outrage in the Party with his election manifesto in the Guardian and TV and radio election broadcasts. Many in the Party don't like this upstart heir to Blair. He is just too full of New Labour flannel.

Now True Labour have raised the stakes with MP John McDonnell throwing his hat into the ring and calling for a leadership election.

Why is it worth listening to this "left-wing Labour rebel"? Because he's neither left wing - nor a rebel. That's just a label used by some, to scare off voters.

Many in the media class will probably try to freeze him out. After all, they are part of the New Labour elite.

In the Guardian (CiF) McDonnell writes:
"If Miliband, Harman, Purnell, Johnson or any others fancy their chances as leader of the Labour party why don't they just explain why and have a go? Writing articles, holding press conferences and having your friends brief the media are clearly designed to stake a claim for the leadership, so why not be straight about your intentions?"
McDonnell continues:
"There just can't be another coronation for the leader of the party. Our members and the electorate just wouldn't put up with another one. I am up for a leadership election at any time but it has to be about beliefs, about a political analysis of the world and about the political solutions we can promote to regain control over the destiny of our planet."
A letter of support for McDonnell is currently doing the rounds of the Labour Party. If that letter is published in a national newspaper as promised, it will be interesting to see just how many grass roots members and indeed MPs lend their support.

And more importantly where popular cabinet minister, Alan Johnson, stands on this issue.

The Party knows New Labour can't win the next election. No matter what face they put up front, the Conservatives and SNP will wipe the floor with them.

In the Scottish and English Labour heartlands, with True Labour, they may have a fighting chance. And that's what really worries Cameron and Salmond.


How Miliband Morphed Into Blair

Foreign secretary, David Miliband's, TV 'election' broadcast showed just how well the image consultants have done their work. Milibland is now Milibrand, the new Blair.

It's been a long process to try to rid Milibland of his school boy nerdy image. Campbell used to call him 'Brains' from TV's Thunderbirds.

Last year, as foreign secretary, Milibland had a hard time in the US from Time who thought he looked and sounded too inexperienced for the job.

But Milibland has been groomed well as the heir to Blair. Milibland is now Milibrand.

Now you can't tell the difference but the image consultants and special advisors may have got a bit carried away. 

During a TV vox pop last night, when a reporter showed a punter a photo of Milibrand to identify, the man thought it was: "that American guy who's been visiting the UK."

The US Main stream media is just beginning to wake up to the spin and hype of the Obama campaign after his Middle East and European love-in. Even the staunchly Democrat Washington Post is questioning Obama's "presumptuous" style.

Milibrand, Blair and Obama use the same kind of slick PR methods and 'time for change' slogans. But those empty words and slogans should cut no ice with voters over here or over there. 


Huge Gas Profit Sparks Gas Bill Fury

As households reeled from the biggest single increase in gas bills ever seen, British Gas owners, Centrica, today had the bare-faced cheek to announce a staggering £992m profit from its customers. But there were few words of comfort or hope from the government, for the beleaguered customer. 

Instead, New Labour ministers were more interested in plotting and posturing for position at the top of the Party's food chain.

Briish Gas owner, Centrica, is raising gas prices by a record 35% while its profits are a fat one billion pounds. This comes just days after rival EDF energy put up prices by a whoping 22%. 

Only this week, MPs on the energy select committee warned that the energy supply industry isn't competitive. And called for a rethink of the whole business. 

For all customers it will be a harsh winter. For those on low incomes, the fuel poverty trap will hit hard. 

The government is talking of pumping cash into some form of help. But no amount of cash will be enough and the government, can't afford it anyway. 

One answer is to impose a windfall tax on the obscene profits and plough that back into relief. But these are big, powerful and influential international companies in a cosy relationship with the government.

The suppliers use the Brown excuse and blame it on global oil prices. The truth is that, unlike in the rest of Europe, these global companies know they can milk the UK consumer for all they're worth, without fear of EU or government intervention.

British Gas is the customer-friendly trading name in England and Wales for the huge global Centrica corporation. EDF is owned by the French. Both use their huge profits to buy up energy companies world-wide.

EDF and Centrica were this week, set to announce a huge £12b deal to buy the UK nuclear power industry, British Energy, tightening their grip even further on the country's energy production and supply. 

The only answer is a windfall tax and government intervention to reign them in. But can this really happen? 

It was Blair and Brown's New Labour which created the open market and allowed these global corporations to flourish and put profits before people, in the first place. 


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Labour's Phoney War Hots Up

Brown hadn't even got round to taking off his jacket, before wannabe prime minister Harriet Harperson started to measure up the curtains at No 10. Today it was the turn of foreign secretary, David Miliband.

Miliband is making his leadership bid in the Guardian and TV, ahead of his meet-the-voters UK tour in the autumn.

Harman fired the opening shots for the big guns in the phoney war. She was in there like shot. Bossing people around, calling meetings, showing her family around the new place. And having the cheek to announce one of her pet policies, on changing murder laws, in the full glare of the TV cameras.

She even appeared on last night's BBC TV 'News' with one of those official red dispatch boxes carefully placed next to her. What's she got in there? Probably the same 'to-do' list as Miliband. No1 Plot to get rid of Brown. No2 Deny everything.

Is there anyone brave enough to put this woman in her place. She's the deputy leader of a political party, that's all. She is not the deputy prime minister. And she only got a seat in the cabinet because she's Leader of the Commons.

Apparently we only have to suffer her for a week. Then it's musical political chairs and the turn of someone else. Why not let all the contenders for prime minister have a go?

Harman's had her chance, so let's try the others. Miliboy, of course, but also Jack Straw and don't forget John Cruddas and John McDonnell to balance things out. And don't leave out the popular postie, Alan Johnson - if anyone can find him.

In his TV election broadcast speech today, Miliband is sounding more like a young Blair everyday. His spin doctors and image consultants may think they've helped create a winner - but many see him as an upstart.

Just be thankful Blair didn't give himself a peerage. Otherwise he'd be back on the sofa.

"Hi guys, what's new?"


Lords SFO Ruling Sucks Up To Saudis

The Lords ruling over the SFO probe into a Saudi arms deal, riddled with bribery and corruption, lets Blair and the players in this sordid business off the hook. In the US they wouldn't get off that easily.

The Senior Fraud Office (SFO) dropped its inquiry into the £43 billion al-Yamamah deal with BAe Systems when Blair and his Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, stepped in with the dubious claim that it would threaten national security. Apparently, the Saudi government had threatened to withdraw co-operation on security matters.

With a £500 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund just waiting to be invested in the UK, we can't do anything to upset the Saudis, now can we?

The High Court ruled that dropping the investigation was unlawful, but the Law Lords today reversed that decision on appeal.

Campaign group Justice said: "It is a sad day for the rule of law when a senior prosecutor bows to threats from a foreign government and our most senior judges will do nothing to stop it." 

But Blair, Goldsmith, BAe and the Saudis will not get off that easily. The US authorities are on the case. Two senior BAe executives were held by American authorities investigating corruption allegations when they flew into the US in May. 

With tough bribery and competition laws, the US won't let this matter rest.


Men In Grey Sandals Should Come For Clegg

Never mind the battle over the leadership of the Labour Party. Isn't it about time the LibDem men and women in grey sandals came for the walking disaster that is Nick Clegg? He's a bigger liability than Brown. 

The LibDems have finally woken up and smelt the Fairtrade coffee and realised a general election may be just round the corner. 

So yesterday, Clegg announced a new strategy to target resources on 50 Labour seats in a general election. That, on the day a judge issued an arrest warrant for wealthy LibDem donor Michael Brown after he jumped bail. 

You've got to hand it to the LibDems, their timing is, well, not very good.

That election strategy though is a welcome dose of reality. But in election after recent by-election, while the focus was on Conservative and SNP victory or Labour humiliation, the LibDems came nowhere. There's no reason why, with Clegg in charge (sic), things should get better at a general election.

Clegg was elected as a telegenic Blair type. Big mistake. He just huffs and puffs his way through and no one understands him or cares what he's talking about. 

And his confusing and disgraceful support over the new EU Treaty/Consitution didn't win him any friends. No one listens to Euro-boy Clegg, except his fan-club in the BBC.

It's a shame for the LibDems. They're got the ideal leader waiting there, riding consistently high in all the popularity polls. 

Vincent Cable is a real economist and gets a lot of respect. People listen to him and he knows what he's talking about.

It shouldn't be too hard to get rid of a LibDem leader. After all they've had lots of practice at it. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Time To Get Tough With Energy Suppliers

The big six energy suppliers have got us over an oil barrel. It's time for radical action over the owners of these money-making machines who are milking customers for fat profits and shareholder's dividends. 

There will be no escape from the massive hike in gas and electricity prices set to be charged by the big suppliers. And for those on low incomes, the fuel poverty trap will hit hard. 

The government's response is to pump cash into some form of help for those caught up in the trap. But no amount of cash will be enough and the government, faced with crippling debts, can't afford it anyway. 

The big six use the Brown excuse and blame it on global this and rising world that. 

But oil and gas are traded by sharp operators on the international markets months in advance. They know how to play the markets for big profits. All the big six fix prices between themselves. 

MPs on the energy select committee and industry watchdogs are warning that with just six, the supply industry isn't competitive. And they're calling for a rethink of the whole business. 

One way is to impose a windfall tax on the obscene profits and plough that back into relief. But these are big, powerful and influential international companies.

The answer lies in ownership. EDF, NPower, British Gas, E.On, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy - all have nice sounding names but they're owned by foreign companies, international investment banks and the like. 

They need to make huge profits for their shareholders. They can't hike up prices back home in their own countries. So they make the UK consumer pay through the nose. 

Selling off the gas and electricity industries was an idea of the Thatcher years (remember Sid?). But ownership was kept in the UK.

It was left to Blair and Brown to take it forward with so much enthusiasm and stealth and allow these private companies to be sold off to foreign firms. So our elected government can keep the whole thing at arms length and do nothing about it.

The only answer is to reign them in - but that would take a dramatic change of policy. So we'll just have to shiver this winter, dread the heating blls and get deeper in debt. And you can't blame Sid for that.


Balls Should Quit After SATS U-Turn

Switching the SATS marking from EDS back to the government's quango has blown Ed Balls' excuses right out of the water. He should be taught a lesson and quit. 

The schools secretary watched the fiasco unfold, defending himself saying he was 'accountable' but not 'responsible'. 

That set a very dangerous precedent. Arguing accountability not responsibility gave him the weak defence that this wasn't a resigning matter.

Now the government's National Assessment Agency is to take control of the re-marking of disputed SATs papers from ETS Europe. This means they've admitted responsibility for the mess. That quango is a government agency and comes right under Balls. 

The five-year contract to ETS was written by National Assessment Agency, which is part of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which is part of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is a successor to the Department for Education and Skills which is the responsibility of Ed Balls.

The Secretary of State must have signed off the original £156m contract and authorised the switching back. So he is responsible. If he didn't, then who's running the country?

This is just the latest in a whole series of government cock-ups over big IT projects awarded to their pals in the IT industry. It's costing the country billions of pounds and countless suffering to people. 

Ministers have found a neat little device to hide behind, saying they know nothing and it's all down to their own quangos. It happened at the Rural Payments Agency and with tax credit problem.

The NHS's £12.7billion IT programme is turning into the biggest financial disaster on the planet and no-one in government is admitting responsibility. 

These get-out clauses used by ministers for big IT projects are a scandal. Ministers are accountable and responsible. And if they don't like that or they preside over a cock-up, they should quit the job.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Labour's Summer Of Discontent

Going on a summer holiday just isn't going to happen for Brown and his New Labour Party. They will be taking their work with them, preparing to do battle as the old squares up to the new.

Top of the reading list is the matter of that letter to the cabinet, reported in today's Daily Telegraph and reported here  by the Orange Party yesterday. 

After Blair changed the Party rule book to make it well nigh impossible to oust him, the letter to cabinet is only device available to prise out Brown. 

That is, unless he decides to do the honourable thing and resign on the grounds of ill-health. And it really has to be sorted before the end of September and the Labour Party Conference. 

But the fight is actually over ownership of the Labour Party. 

One the one hand, New Labour trying somehow to cling on to power. 

On the other, true Labour, never happy with way the Party was highjacked back in the 90s but, until now, quite content with the power it brought. 

They make very uneasy bedfellows. And there may be two very different 'letters' flying around! 

Janet Daly has a excellent piece in today's Telegraph with the spotlight on the Blairite New Labour camp strategy and their plan to stave off a general election until the spring. 

For true Labour, there's former minister, Michael Meacher, in today's Guardian. Meacher, thrown out by Blair, is in the McDonnell camp and to put it politely, no friend of New Labour. He's joined by Gordon Prentice who is actually calling on Brown to resign so there can be a leadership election.  

And, as so often has happened in the past, the referee is John Prescott. Speaking on TV yesterday he didn't really support Brown. But he did tell Labour MPs one thing: give the guy a break and let him have his holiday. 

But a holiday is just for a couple of weeks - not for the full parliamentary recess.

So in the meantime, it's the battle of the beaches - Dave and Sam looking drop-dead gorgeous, but more Provence than Padstow. Gordon and Sarah? Well, Sarah looks nice.


Fat Is Still A Political Issue

Some of our food is full of crap. That's why the nation's getting fat. That's why heart disease and diabetes are so high. Disgusting but telling us nothing we didn't know already.

Tonight's Channel 4 Dispatches 'Sandwiches Unwrapped' will show sandwiches are too high in salt, fat and unmentionables.

Obesity is one of those issues the government likes to make a fuss of every now and again. Health secretary, Alan Johnson, is making a big thing about it at the moment.

But if the government was really committed to improving our health and tackling obesity, it would take urgent action on the root cause - a disgusting stealth fat called trans-fat. Give food manufacturers an ultimatum to stop peddling it and ban it outright.

This artificially produced chemical, comes under a few disguises like hydrogenated vegetable oil and is hidden in a lot of our food.

Trans-fats are used because they're cheap. They bulk-up products and give processed foods a longer shelf-life. They are used for frying and baking and turn up in all sorts of processed foods and ready-made mixes.

For years they've been singled out as not just causing obesity but cancer, diabetes liver dysfunction, infertility - you name it, these nasties are responsible.

The Ban Trans Fat campaign is a model of US consumer-led politics. Not afraid to take on the big boys, it's leading the way in the States.

New York City recently banned trans-fats from foods. So has Philadelphia and Seattle. And now Arnie is set to terminate the trannies. California has become the first US state to ban restaurants and food retailers from using trans-fats.

Governor Schwarzenegger said the new laws, are a "strong step toward creating a healthier future".

Over here the picture's not so healthy. Denmark and Switzerland have banned them. Countries where people only eat a fresh, healthy Mediterranean diet don't need to bother so much. In the UK, some supermarkets have banned them from own label foods.

But the government's main response to trans-fats is to do nothing much. A review here, a voluntary code there.

So it's left to us to turn into the food police. To hunt down the ingredient in tiny print on the packaging and take pot-luck with the rest of our food.

A review by the New England Journal of Medicine reckons there's a strong link between trans-fats and coronary heart disease and getting rid could prevent one fifth of heart attacks each year.

The British Medical Association and new government-funded research are warning that a quarter of all children in the UK will be obese by 2020.

The government response? As well as spending millions of pounds on posters and pointless campaigns, from September, parents will be given an obesity report for all 4-11 year olds. That will make us all feel so much better - and as guilty as hell.

So why doesn't the government just cut the crap, ban these trans-fats and cut out the crap. If Arnie can do it, why can't we?


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dave's Bike Found Shock, Exclusive

New Labour's sad old Sunday Mirror has found Cameron's bike and retuned it to its grateful owner. If you believe that you might as well give up on newspapers and life. 

Cameron's bike was 'nicked' while he popped into a local shop. And there just happens to be lots of mobile phone footage of Cameron when he came out. 

The Mirror said it had used the contacts of "local community elder" Ernest Theophile, to find the bike.

But Theophile is described by the newspaper as "a staunch Labour voter who runs a social business with the help of wayward teenagers to stop them falling into a life of crime". He's come up against Cameron in the past for riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

The Mirror and the pap have been following Cameron around for ages - and Johnson for that matter - trying to get pics of them going though red lights, up a wrong way street and helmet-less. 

Earlier this year, the Mirror snapped Cameron (or was it Johnson?) on his bike ignoring red lights and going the wrong way up a one-way street.

But this latest wheeze back-fired for the Mirror. What we actually got was a picture of a fit and cool looking Cameron in a very fetching pair of shorts, popping into his local Tesco after a hard days work to get the family something for tea. 

Thanks to the 'missing bike' Cameron just rocketed though the popularity stakes. With the cunning plan in tatters, the Mirror had no choice but to give him his bike back. 

The Mirror is going through hard times because no-one wants to read a New Labour propaganda rag, so here's some free advice from an old hack. 

Next time don't nick the bike - just let the tyres down! 

Then you get a picture of hot and flustered Cameron all a-huffin' and a-puffin' trying to pump up the tyres and lots of nice headlines about his policies falling flat.

Picture: Sunday Mirror