Saturday, March 14, 2009

G20 Split And Cameron Leave Brown Down

The Supreme Leader's dreams of solving the world's economic woes and damage limitation at a general election have come unstuck with Downing Street now talking down the G20 get-together and everyone at loggerheads. Cameron is saying sorry and positioning himself as the prime minister-in-waiting. 

The G20 London summit was billed as the crowning glory for beleaguered Brown, pinning his hopes on a triumphant plan to save the world, hoping that with Obama by his side some of the shine would rub off and it would be plain sailing to the election. 

But that was before the wheels started to fall off with splits a plenty. Now, with a quick reverse gear, Downing Street is at pains to play down the whole thing. 

With expectations crashing around his ears and the costs soaring up to a staggering £50m, it's all turning out to be a very expensive damp squib. 

In a crafty piece of positioning, Cameron has waded in coming over all statesman-like, as predicted by the Orange Party earlier, apologising for his past cosying up to Brown and now trying to wrong-foot him in the sorry stakes to gain public credibility. 

Backing Brown's economic cloud cuckoo land and buying into the sham that the economy was in good shape wasn't fatal for the Tories but it did teach Cameron some harsh lessons. Being honest with voters is always the best policy in the long-run. 

That leaves Brown now isolated with everyone including his ministers running around saying sorry. 

Brown has even managed to divide G20 finance ministers meeting ahead of the summit,  putting chancellor Darling in a bit of a spot. The chancellor now says there is a "need to be realistic" about what could be achieved.

Time and again Brown staked his political life on the success of the summit. That prompts the question have Darling and Brown fallen out as tensions rise before G20?

G20 was played up and played down depending on the flavour of the month. Now the London summit is being billed as just a "modest and businesslike" affair.

But talking up expectations is exactly what Brown does. It happened with the 'economic recovery plan' last summer, it happened with the Washington audacity of hype tour and it's happening now with G20.

Brown's grand plan for a 'Global New Deal' and love affair with Obama are at the heart of tensions and souring relations, with Brown pushing the Obama line to borrow and spend, while France and Germany want to focus on stricter regulation.

Over the Pond, the White House has made it quite clear the Obama administration was not going to "negotiate some specific economic commitment" in London.

So with no firm US commitments and reports of splits, questions are being asked about the ultimate value of Brown's 'global bargain'.

The gathering of world leaders could land taxpayers with a £50 million bill, though Downing Street reckons the cost will be a snip at £19 million.

External consultants are charging a fortune for work.  The cost of designing the logo was £6,000.

Obama is only coming over to have a chat and cup of tea with the Queen on his way to a Nato meeting in Strasbourg.

Back home he's lost virtually all Republican support and a good deal of Independent support, as he presses ahead with a wasteful, earmarking, pork-barrel spending spree and his popularity takes a dive in the opinion polls.

The cost of all this will seem very high to hard-pressed families struggling in the depths of a deep recession depression. 

For an isolated and deluded Brown the game is up. G20 was the last roll of the dice and the only way forward for Brown is down. £19 million plus is a lot of taxpayers' cash just to massage his faltering ego.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Mandy's Blind Trust Could Backfire

Mandy is investing in his future with a secret portfolio which he hopes will make him a nice little earner for his old age, all neatly hidden away from the prying eyes of both Peter and the public. But putting his blind faith in a blind trust could backfire, as Blair found to his cost. 

It took a long time coming but the first published register of ministers' interests didn't disappoint and journalists were quick to rake up any dirt. 

But the whole point is it did take a long time, after Brown first made the promise after he wrestled the crown from Blair. And that gave everyone plenty of time to come up squeaky clean. 

Mandelson, it's revealed, has a portfolio of investments and that does not sit well with his high profile job as business secretary where what he does is everybody's business. 

Downing Street was quick to point out that there was no conflict of interests because Peter has put them all in the private portfolio of a blind trust. Mandelson doesn't know what they are and therefore it doesn't affect his decisions as a minister, according to the bullshitters. 

But the whole point of a blind trust is to hide away the hard-earned earnings and allow ministers to hide behind the mask of no conflict of interest. 

Ministers have put shares in blind trusts before to wriggle out of allegations of a conflict of interests but they can come unstuck. 

The Orange Party well remembers Blair putting his trust and pilling all the cash in investments in a blind trust used to buy the Cheriegate flats when Cherie Blair purchased two flats in Bristol with the help of a convicted fraudster.

Downing Street's mighty spinning effort to wriggle out of the row came unstuck when it emerged that Blair's blind trust was used to buy them.

Mandy doesn't have that luxury. He's not exactly Mr Popular and so far he's managed to escape the whiffs of scandal over dodgy dealings despite the best efforts of some to dish up the dirt. He's been slimed with green custard but so far has escaped getting egg on his face. 

What happens if it's revealed Mandy's blind faith in a blind trust has invested in, say, a car manufacturer like Land Rover or the Royal Mail's Dutch 'private partner' TNT? 

Having shares in Land Rover after you've spent £27 million of taxpayers' cash to green the Range Rover wouldn't go down well. Having shares in TNT would have to come with Mandy's suicide note. On the other hand he could have lost it all by having it invested in Bernard Madoff's poxy ponzi scam. How we would laugh. 

It's not as if Mandelson needs to squirrel away the dosh for his old age. With a comfortable pension pot from the EU and from his times as three times a minister, that should keep him in the style to which he is accustomed. 

The government is on its beam ends and any dodgy dealings or whiff of sleaze and scandal would be the straw that broke Brown's back.

Mandelson is skating on thin ice. He's an unelected and unaccountable cabinet minister and the knives are out for him, not least from within his own Party. 

Everything he does as business secretary in public is everybody's business not least the taxpayers who pay his salary. And that includes all his investments and share dealings even if they are hidden from his view. 

But Mandy is not alone in having blind faith in the blind trust trick. New Labour lords have leapt in, including trade minister Lord Davies, Lord Darzi and city minister Lord Myners. And health minister Ben Bradshaw.

Tories have attacked Brown's promises of greater transparency as looking "threadbare". LibDems have accused Mandelson and his bunch of ministers of concealing their financial interests. And that begs the question what have Brown's ministers got to hide?

LibDem forensic ferret, Norman Baker, quite rightly wants to know "when he [Mandelson] transferred responsibility to the trust and who manages it. We have a right to know who is looking after his interests. If it is by one of his mates then it is not really arm's-length at all."

Meanwhile it's revealed the ministerial code was changed under Brown to take out all references to blind trusts. Earlier versions had clearly warned: "Even with a trust the minister could be assumed to know the contents of the portfolio for at least a period after its creation, so the protection a trust offers against conflict of interest is not complete." Now there's a surprise.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Balls Gets Off Hook In Baby P Whitewash

Years of failed government child-care policies and social workers overwhelmed by red tape and the burden of bureaucracy lie at the heart of the Baby P scandal but ministers obsessed with a tick-box culture who've driven through and imposed the changes are let off the hook in Lord Laming's whitewash which is published today. 

At the heart is a government obsessed with the child protection process, leaving the critical outcome, the interest of the child, to take second fiddle and go to the wall.

Confusion over a whole raft of child protection changes, which left social services departments overwhelmed by government imposed bureaucracy, are at the centre of the tragedy in an obsessive drive with that process. 

Too many changes in the past few years have led to confusion. Now that's set to lead to just more changes and more confusion. Too often those on the front line and the firing line - the social workers and health workers - are distracted by the changes and chained to their computers, when they need to be able to get out and focus on the child.

The blame game gets into full swing today, spinning away any accountability from children's secretary Ed Balls, who's been careful not to set his sights too hard on local council's child protection systems nor to scapegoat social workers with their managers having to take the rap. 

The tired old "doing a difficult job under difficult circumstances" line for social workers is being trotted out, ignoring the fact that when things go wrong, there must be accountability and the buck ultimately stops with Balls and his department. 

Millions of pounds have been thrown at useless child protection initiatives which failed to put the interests of the child first, departments are bogged down with paper work, form-filling and unrealistic targets. Social services chiefs can hide behind a smokescreen of targets, performance indicators and meaningless Ofsted reports. All geared to the management of the process. 

Sacked director of Haringey children's services, Sharon Shoesmith, who has been demonised as the fall-guy after a damning report into the death, has already accused Balls of acting with "breathtaking recklessness" and sees herself as the scapegoat. 

But the remit Balls gave to the Lord Laming review was very tightly controlled to avoid any finger of blame pointing at government ministers. And the children's secretary has refused to publish the Serious Case Review into Baby P which begs the question what have ministers to hide? 

At the heart too is the quality and status of social workers and senior managers. The answer from the government? Another 'task force' and Common Purpose-style leadership courses for senior managers and directors.

More mindless changes, more re-organisation will lead to more disruption. It's excessive bureaucracy which is hindering efforts to look after vulnerable children. But the children's secretary can hide behind the whitewash of a report and blame it all on a bunch of social workers and their managers, trotting out the tired old line of 'accountability'. 

Laming's review was commissioned by the government after the brutal death of 17-month-old Baby P in the north London borough. But Lord Laming had already called for reforms of child protection with his inquiry into the horrific death of Victoria Climbie in the same borough four years ago. Nothing much happened since then. 

Once again ministers can hide behind a mask of smug arrogance and escape any accountability. What is required is a change in culture but woe betide anyone who has the audacity to have a go at them. 

Laming's report into the death of Victoria Climbie didn't make much difference to the suffering of innocent children and nor will this, until the government and children's secretary Balls wake up to a few home truths.

A clear failure of years of misguided child protection policies and culture, red tape, form-filling, the overwhelming burden of bureaucracy and a government obsessed with that process not the outcome are at the heart of a systemic problem which led to the shocking death of Baby P.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Stuffing Schools With Mickey Mouse Teachers

A half-baked plan to cut teacher training time in half is set to confine the profession to the dustbin and children to the scrap heap as the government outlines plans for a raft of Mickey Mouse gimmicks already branded as back-of-a-fag-packet stuff. 

People could qualify as a teacher in England in six months rather than the usual year, under plans unveiled by ministers today, all part of a raft of  public service reforms designed to spin Brown away from the heat of the economy. 

And in an ominous footnote which smacks of jobs for the government's Common Purpose toadies, school minister, Jim Knight, reckons two hundred people seen as future head teachers will be able to move into school leadership within four years.

And its more for jobs for the boys and girls, with cabinet office minister, Liam Byrne, having the bare-faced cheek to tell the BBC: "We know there are a lot of fantastic mathematicians, for example, who would have once perhaps gone into the City but now actually might be more interested in a career in teaching." 

That's already drawn fire from the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Dr Mary Bousted:  "It sounds like an employment scheme for unemployed bankers, but this may not be the best way to go about it.

The plans, which would only apply to England, would get short-shrift in a more rigorous Scottish education system.  

Teaching unions are up in arms as they see through the gimmicks, raising serious doubts about the need for the scheme in the first place or its practicability, as the plan is destined to confine teaching to the dustbin of a Cinderella profession. 

Once again ministers have been caught out flannelling and floundering away with useless gimmicks which no one is prepared to take lying down. 

Voicing those concerns Dr Bousted added: "I'm becoming very worried about the plethora of different gimmicks and initiatives the government is coming out with - this looks very much like back-of-the-fag-packet stuff."

Teaching and teacher training has had a long fight to drag it up from being downgraded to a second class profession of the Thatcher era.

But the standard of graduate teacher training has already been dumbed down, with a so-called graduate profession letting in any Tom, Dick and Harriet with a meaningless Mickey Mouse degree. 

Teaching is tough. It's both challenging and exhausting, particularly if you've got to square up to a classroom of monsters or demanding high-flyers every hour of the day. 

Sure teaching is all about finding the brightest and best when a child's future is at stake. Pupils deserve the best but it's not everyone's cup of tea and should not be a soft option for a bunch of resentful no-hopers when there's nothing else around to take their fancy.  

That can only be achieved by tightening up entry requirements, not dumbing them down and placing trainee teachers in schools for a good long period to see if they're really up to the job  and to weed out the crap. 

It's not as if there's a shortage of people thinking about teaching as the recession depression really starts to bite. That should be a golden opportunity to tighten up on standards not dumb them down. 

Only with proper incentives of pay and conditions and help with the mountain of administration and a rigourous weeding out of incompetents can the profession hope to give pupils what they deserve. 

George Bernard Shaw once said: "Those who can do, those who cannot teach".  

Now with these ill-thought out Mickey Mouse gimmicks, it seem those who can't teach can easily find a cushy way into the classroom.


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Monday, March 09, 2009

Dad's Army Ministers Don't Like It Up 'Em

Jackboot Jackie got a taste of her own medicine when a protester lashed out at her lies and spin during a conference on - domestic violence. Meanwhile Mr Brown goes off to town having lost it in a fit of air-rage, blaming everybody but himself. This Dad's Army government don't like it up 'em. 

Two homes secretary Smith had the wind knocked out of her sails leaving her pale and shaken at the launch of the government's domestic violence campaign, accused of using "gimmicks" and "spin".

Smith was no match for formidable Refuge boss, Sandra Horley, who stunned ministers with a verbal assault on the government's track record.

Branding government action as "piecemeal" and condemning plans for a database of serial domestic abusers, she said: "We have had enough talking - we need action. As for the perpetrators' register, it is a gimmick and doesn't address the root problem."

Horley put the boot in: "The Government is hoping to get away with useless initiatives like this register and it is hypocritical to sound tough and do little."

According to Ananova, Smith threw her toys out of the pram as she tried to interrupt the tirade but was shouted down before the solicitor-general stepped in to save her face.

Meanwhile deluded Brown has returned to his own Westminster bubble not a happy bunny after providing the in-flight entertainment on his trip back from Washington. 

Throwing his toys out of the pram, Brown was caught out, stabbing his finger at the poor tired hacks, descending into the default of deep denial, blaming everyone but himself for the recession.

In a fit of recession depression he snapped: "You want me to go on television and apologise, but I am not going to do it. I have nothing to apologise for. It is not my fault. Get in the real world."

Er, isn't that real world just where everyone is at the moment, bar one? 

The Orange Party's chuckle-point came when Guardian political editor, Patrick Wintour, is reported to have snuggled up to Brown: "May I just make it clear we are not all saying that..." 

Clearly in line for a knighthood, which is more than can be said for ITN's Tom Bradbury, who blew the gaffe on Brown's air-rage in the first place. 

All that while the truth about how those nice people at the ONS have been flexing their muscles, refusing to cow-tow to Downing Street's lies and spin over Smith's home office knife crime figure was being exposed, with spinners declaring war on this supposedly independent body. 

And in the middle of all that, Mandy gets slimed for the hypocritical way he's trying to come over all green. 

So what next for the hopeless bunch of have-a-go has beens? 

The bankers ban on big bonuses was at first easy fodder. Until the bankers fought back, pointing out that the government seemed to be quite happy to suck up to their pals in the City at the time. 

The green custard will turn to whitewash as Lord Laming's inquiry into the scandal of Baby P is due to be published later this week. The spin away from Balls has already started.

No doubt the children's secretary will be able to hide behind the whitewash of a report and blame it all on a bunch of social workers trotting out the tired old line of 'accountability'. Neatly forgetting that the buck ultimately stops with him and his department. 

Isn't it a failure of years of misguided child protection policies, throwing millions of pounds at useless initiatives which failed to put the interests of the child first, encouraging  a tick box culture, which is to blame here? 

Demonised and sacked fall-guy, Sharon Shoesmith, has already accused Balls of acting with "breathtaking recklessness". Social workers in the front line and the firing line won't be too far behind. 

It's a sign of the times when ministers of a fag-end of a government try to hide behind a mask of smug arrogance and self-serving interest, then come over all hurt and innocent when someone has the audacity to have a go at them. 

But with a government in collapse, more and more people are refusing to be brow-beaten by the lies, deceit and clap-trap. A healthy media and political bloggers are happy to report when people stand up to the bullshit. 

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Plight of 'Illegals' On Streets Of London

The plight of the capital's illegal immigrants has been exposed again but few are willing to raise their heads above the parapet and offer sensible practical solutions, preferring instead to brush it all under the carpet in the hope they will go away. 

Meanwhile poor souls suffer with no status and no protection, at the mercy of ruthless exploitation, forced to eek out a squalid, meagre existence in the underbelly of a twilight world. 

A study for London Mayor, Boris Johnson, puts the number of illegal immigrants at around three-quarters of a million, with London home to an estimated two thirds of illegal immigrants in the UK. 

Burying its head in the sand and scared of a backlash for failed immigration policies and highly spun figures, the government would not comment on the estimates, preferring instead to hide behind the useless statistic that the UK border is one of the toughest in the world.

Illegal immigration isn't confined to the capital but, as with many western cities, that is where they are drawn, with the false hope and promise of a better life before they are left to rot in the shadowy, anonymous underbelly of any large metropolis. 

Wandering around in limbo-land, falling victim to exploitation, their lack of status makes them easy prey for the slave labour bosses in the hotels, restaurants, sweat shops and food processing factories. Or just living on the streets and off scraps of hand-outs. 

Sucked into society's underbelly, they are forced to live in squalid accommodation and work propping up the lifestyles of the better-off, doing the menial jobs and scratching a living, without any state protection, falling victims to brutal harassment and meagre wages.

Mayor Johnson's  suggestion for some kind of amnesty doesn't curry favour in all quarters but behind the idea does lie a solution to an every-growing and squalid problem. 

Send them home is the cry from some quarters but where is home? Home is where the heart is, where there's a glimmer of hope and where people can live with a sense of pride. And that's certainly not in the squalor of third world slums or refugee camps. 

This is one issue the government wants to sweep under the carpet for fear its previous lax immigration policies are exposed again for the sham they were, as a neat way of propping up the economy for the false boom years. 

The government totally misses the point when it admits it would be impractical to round them up and send them home, preferring instead to treat this  big issue as a lost cause and flagging up the strict border controls now in place. 

But how many illegal immigrants come through passport control waiving their visas? They are smuggled in, crammed in container lorries through the slave labour supply routes across Europe with the bosses making all the bucks. That's if they don't end up as dead bodies in the back of a lorry.

Immigration minister, Phil Woolas, is talking bollocks when he says that far from helping, an amnesty would just encourage more illegal immigrants to come. So is the solution to criminalise a whole bunch of people and let them rot in a metropolitan hell-hole?

Government posters put the frighteners up everyone just to show they're being tough. But without status, 'illegals' live in fear, looking over their shoulders, falling prey to blackmailers, with the threat of being reported if they don't toe the line. 

By giving 'illegals' some kind of status they would be taken in by the state safety net and afforded some kind of protection against ruthless exploitation. 

Sure there would have to be be some tough criteria. Obviously no serious criminals, a legal job and they should have been here for a reasonable period of time.

But leave things as they are and it would take decades and cost billions to clear the backlog of all the people who are currently in the UK illegally.

Johnson is just being practical, but with the whole issue of illegal immigration a political hot potato, both the Conservative Party and the government do not seem to want to grasp the nettle, living instead in a smug, self-satisfied world, instead of listening to Ralph McTell's poignant lyrics for 'Streets of London'

Let me take you by the hand 
And lead you through the streets of London 
I'll show you something 
To make you change your mind 

Immigration - Time for an Amnesty? is the subject of BBC1 Panorama, 8.30pm. 

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Will Cameron Come Back All Statesman-Like?

Cameron is set to return to Westminster tomorrow a New Man. First blue turned into green then Mr Angry. But now the rebranded Tory leader is set to be the new statesman, positioning himself for the prize of the premiership. No wonder New Labour is running scared. 


For Cameron's Conservatives it has been a game of two halves but the trick has always been whether he could pull it off with the voters. 

The uphill task was to first turn round the Tories into a Party that could be 'elected' . And that was no mean feat as taunts that he was just another heir-to-Blair and a Thatcher's boy haunted him. 

After the 2005 election defeat, the Orange Party, believed it would take a decade and a couple of general elections for the Tories to begin to gain ground. 

But even with no general election on the horizon, Cameron had it easy, as he rebranded the Party in the eyes of the electorate. 

Misguided PR stunts made Cameron look a fool but Brown made his fatal mistake, bottling a general election in 2007. Cameron would have been out on his ears. But Brown didn't and the rest will be history. 

To Cameron's credit and relief of the Tory big guns, what emerged was a 'government-in-waiting'. And after half-time the second half could now begin.

A new Tory Cameron came out fighting but time and again opinion polls and local election results showed a vote against New Labour rather than a vote for the Tories. A true Labour revolt was no match for the powerful New Labour elite.  

It was a collapse of New Labour rather any great new enthusiasm for Cameron's new kids on the block.

Peter Oborne writing in yesterday's Mail believes this second stage of Cameron's leadership has now run its course:  

"The truth is that Cameron was always destined to reinvigorate his job - his family tragedy coincidentally placing a sad punctuation mark at the end of the second phase of his leadership. 
"The other Cameron was simply leader of the Opposition. But the new Cameron will present himself as a prospective prime minister - a more mature, sombre and tough individual than the plausible charmer of the past few years."

The Orange Party will miss Mr Angry coming over all hot and bothered as he squared up to Brown and the mess of a festering New Labour government. 

But Cameron, the new statesman, capable of dealing with a monumental economic crisis, will require a change of substance as well as style. 

Backing Brown's disastrous economic bullshit that the economy was in good shape, despite the warnings, wasn't fatal for the Tories but it did teach Cameron some harsh lessons. Being honest with voters is always the best policy in the long-run, as long that captures public mood. 

Even now, the Tories seem to be backing the government, matching spending on health, welfare, education and defence, when the economy is so bad some of these grand commitments will have to go by the board. Voters need to know where they stand.

Brown's government is set for another pre-election spending spree in next month's delayed budget on the back of reckless borrowing and the short-term 'printing money' fix. 

Cameron cannot ignore the fact that he will, very soon, take over a country on its beam ends. 

The deluded prime minister and his hapless chancellor remain in denial about the severity of the situation. That would force them to own up to their part in the downfall, as they carrying on spending like there's no tomorrow. For them, there is no tomorrow. 

But Cameron is on the horns of a dilemma. Does he come clean and admit the true devastating scale of the crisis and risk being  accused of talking down the sorry state of the economy and the country to make political capital?

A different kind of country will no doubt emerge once the recession depression finally lifts and voters have a right to know exactly what kind of public services and lavish overseas spending commitments will have to go.

Brown is passing on a disaster waiting to happen but Cameron still has to give voters a strong and positive reason to vote Conservative. 

Cameron cannot just wander into office, do a Brown and Darling and  bury his head in the sand, pretending that he will not have to carry out brutal cuts to state spending. 

He has to spell out  the sheer magnitude of the problem without appearing to gloat in all the misery. 

But it is essential that he does spell out the stark truth. Voters are wised up to the economy and can see through the lies, spin and deceit which has built up over the years. 

The brutal fact for the dying New Labour brand is that the Tories really don't have to do all that much at all.

Clegg's fine words to conference reveal the Blair-boy he really is underneath and, for the LibDems, only the economic oracle Cable is propping up the Party and saving it from oblivion. 

The Bearded One reported in today's Sunday Times has once again delivered a sermon from the pulpit, slating Brown and the government. Attacking New Labour rather than individual greed, the Archbishop of Canterbury blamed the financial crisis on a "spectacular failure of responsibility by the government." 

When even God deserts New Labour you know it's time to call it a day. 

And Cameron may not have much time to convince voters, with ITN's Tom Bradbury blowing the gaffe on Brown's air-rage, revealing a man who has lost the plot.

The men in grey cloth-caps may have to finally force Brown to make that call for the good of his health, their seats and country. 

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