Thursday, July 09, 2009

Phew, What A Stitch-Up

A phone hack 'scandal' is rocking Cameron's boat in the dog eat dog world on the Street of Shame. Dirty Digger's in the frame after coughing up to gag the victims. Cameron's spin doctor is in the thick of it. It's payback time and New Labour cronies are milking it for all it's worth. This smells like a stitch-up.

A hairy old hacking hack's tale with a good dose of political bitching and a Fleet Street battle thrown in for good measure.

Blair's ex-spin doctor Campbell was in like a shot blogging for all he was worth while the Guardian "bombshell" was still hot off the press. The old hack couldn't contain himself - Gotcha. Methinks the man doeth protest too much.

At the centre is the shock 'revelation' that newspaper hacks on the News of the Screws went to illegal lengths a couple of years ago with phone hacks to try to dish the dirt on the high and mighty, all well-publicised at the time.

And to cap it all, there's the shock 'revelation' that NoW boss, Murdoch, paid off victims with a wad of cash to keep schtum.

How on earth does a hungry hack gets a scoop? Not by sitting on their bums all day. Hacking mobile messages is just the newest simplest trick in the book, making "thousands of calls" until you strike gold with an easily cracked voicemail PIN. Any tabloid hack worth their salt would give it a go - as long as the boss is shielded from any come back.

Hacking into voicemail messages at the centre of the Guardian claims is small-fry. GCHQ does much more with a massive eavesdropping operation. The Royal Mail has a special unit to intercept post. Spooks pass on juicy titbits to the tabloids when they fancy another 'Squidgygate'. If the government can get away with it why not hacks? As long as it's in the public interest not just to interest the public.

But hold the front page. Who was the News of the Screws editor at the time? Step forward Andy Coulson, now Cameron's right hand media man. It's McBride and Smeargate all over again. Or is it?

Shurley shum mishtake. McPoison was working alongside Brown while hatching a squalid plot to smear top Tories. Coulson? This happened years ago in his other life at the NoW before he was a twinkle in Cameron's eye.

Coulson quit when the newspaper got in a right royal pickle caught in the act in a hairy old hacking affair, saying he took “ultimate responsibility”.

As for the pay-off. More likely no-one wanted their dirty washing hung out in a public court case and this was a chance to make a fast buck on the back on a bit of dirt.

But quick as a flash Prezza got stuck in - calling for heads to roll and the Old Bill to get stuck in. The BBC was lovin' it, giving Prescott all the time in the world to rant away all a-huffin' and a-puffin' his way through his spin-doctor script.

Yates of the Yard has been called in do his duty with another pop at the nasty Tories. Not be left out, Mandy has joined the fray calling for a fresh police probe.

And this is the same Prescott caught lording it up at Dorneywood when he was supposed to be running the country (Mail), caught with his pants down with his secretary (Mirror) and caught on two loos (Telegraph). Having a go at the NoW he seems to have got his wires crossed.

Prezza and Campbell will no doubt keep pumping away. Others are jumping on the bandwagon in a game of ya boo sucks. After all, the mighty Murdoch empire is backing Cameron in the race for Downing Street.

The heat is on. But those calling for Coulson or Murdoch's head should be careful what they wish for. There's a lot of muck out there waiting to be raked up.

Cameron is said to be "relaxed" about the whole thing. Only hard evidence linking Coulson directly to phone hacking would bring about his certain downfall. Hacks cover their tracks.

But still smarting from the Guido/NoW McBride smearing scandal, revenge is a dish best served cold by a New Labour supporting Guardian in cahoots with the BBC. If the pressure is relentless and something truly fresh turns up, Coulson may have to go.

To its credit Murdoch's posh paper, The Times is reporting New Labour calls for Cameron to sack his trusted aide but it's no big deal at the old Thunderer. The Mail, Mirror and Telegraph? Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

Spin doctor Campbell is no stranger to dirty tricks spinning for his New Labour cronies. He's there large as life in a wonderful expose by none other than author of the Guardian 'revelation' - Nick Davies in his book which blew the lid off Campbell's Fleet Street cajoling, Flat Earth News.

Meanwhile outside the cosy Westminster village and the Street of Shame the public doesn't give a toss. They are worried about hanging onto a job, paying the bills and making ends meet.

Now thanks to Telegraph hacks they know which MP is spending their taxes living the high life with dodgy second homes deals. Now thanks to the stirling work of hacks and the blogoshere they know which fat cats are milking the system, screwing taxpayers for all they're worth.

And now thanks to leaks to the media they can see through the spin of this discredited government and economic mess. And decide for themselves who is best to run the country.

UPDATE 6pm: Yates of the Yard has ruled out a fresh probe into the hacking hacks.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

How Many Deaths Will It Take?

The government is pulling out all the stops with a shamelessly spinning charm offensive to con the public as troops are sent to their deaths in the Afghan killing fields. But that comes with a stark warning that more lives will be lost in the hopeless, unwinnable war. How many bodies will it take to force war-mongering ministers to stop the senseless slaughter?

Another soldier has been killed in Afghanistan bringing the total number of dead to ________ .

Death by numbers. Dutifully recorded by the media and graphically underlined when the names of those killed in the past week are solemnly read out in the commons.

A soldier from the Light Dragoons is the latest to be killed. That death is the seventh in a week. That brings the number of UK service personnel killed in Afghanistan to 176.

Few bat an eye lid. That's left to the grieving families. Now the public is being told by the government more lives will have to be lost. More poor souls will have to be sacrificed. More lambs to the slaughter.

The new Vietnam is living up to its legacy. In the end the US wasn't defeated by the Vietcong or North Vietnamese. It was defeated at home on TV when night after night an endless parade of boxes and body bags, finally turned public opinion.

As the government tries to face up to increasingly tough questions in the face of an increasing death toll, lowly new jobsworth defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, has been given the hapless task of justifying this hopeless, bloody and unwinnable war.

Already dubbed by military chiefs as Bob "Aintworthit", he's way down the cabinet pecking order as he tries to win over hearts and minds for the new Vietnam and tries it on with another round of spin.

How on earth can anyone justify an unwinnable war against an invisible enemy with a meagre number of ill-equipped troops, struggling with woefully inadequate numbers of helicopters and properly armoured vehicles?

But justify it he will have to, as cheap-skate Brown is saddled with a mounting legacy as he begrudgedly funded Blair's wars and a mounting cost in both lives and equipment as he comes under fire from all directions.

One the one hand he's getting the flak for sending a paltry number of ill-equipped troops to their deaths on the one hand. On the other trying to justify another bloody war to the grass roots true Labour party members and increasingly sceptical public, who question what the hell he's doing sending troops out there in the first place.

There's little consolation even from commanders on the ground. Things will have to get worse before they get better, apparently. That cuts no ice with grieving families left to suffer a relentless round of spin and cuts no ice with an increasingly questioning public.

Every death brings renewed demands from the military top brass for a big increase in troop numbers, more helicopters, well-armed vehicles and better quality kit. Every death brings grief. Every death raises more questions. Every death brings fresh demands for a fresh approach.

All have their hands dirty. No one will come clean. But with no full defence spending review until after the election, Brown can neatly brush it all under the carpet and set a trap for the Tories to sort out the mess.

What is the purpose? Eradicating poppy fields, protecting gas and oil pipelines, propping up the huge US defence industry, halting the rising tide of fundamental Islam, propping up a corrupt regime or bringing rigged pro-US 'democracy' to a country which puts tribal loyalties well above an artificial state?

Current flavour of the month is "the front line battle against terrorism". Winning the fight against the shadowy Taliban is apparently "in the UK's national interest".

But time and again opinion polls show the public hasn't got a clue why the UK is in the country at all and have real doubts that this war is winnable. Political commentators and some MPs are starting to openly question what we are doing in Afghanistan and whether we should pull out now before being sucked in further to a bloody, hopeless unwinnable war.

It took a long time for the US to come round to the harsh reality that the Vietnam War could never be won. Here in the UK and in the US some politicians are starting to heed that dreadful lesson.

But if you are going to invade another country, then put your money where your mouth is, instead of the current New Labour spin trying to wage a piecemeal war on a peacetime budget in a country crippled with debt.

The Orange Party has long drawn parallels between the war in Vietnam and the current bloody mess in Afghanistan. The parallels are deeply disturbing. But so far there has been no great 'troops out' movement as there was with the Iraq war.

Perhaps people don't understand or don't care about the true massive scale of the conflict and the bloodshed, or prefer to bury their heads in the sand.

Families of the dead and the wounded deserve better. What a sad state of affairs when only a mounting tally of the dead will force that change in the tide of public opinion and force politicians to sit up and listen.

Top picture: The coffin of Major Sean Birchall of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards is carried during his funeral from the Guards Chapel of Wellington Barracks in London today.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Field Floors Brown In 10p Tax Revolt

A last ditch bid to scupper New Labpour plans to impose a 10p tax levy on the poor could mark time for struggling Brown, as he faces up to a fresh challenge to his lamentable leadership.

Today's 10p tax rebellion sees an unholy alliance of around 30 decent Labour backbenchers, Tories and Lib Dems, led by veteran campaigner for the poor, Frank Field, out for revenge after being frozen out in his bid to become speaker.

With his bid to take the speaker's chair dashed as punishment for leading last year's 10p tax revolt and Brown's humiliating climbdown, Fearless Field has made no secret of his distaste for a so-called "Labour government" which is hell bent on hitting the poor.

Revenge could be a dish best served in the cold corridors of Westminster. Delivering a parting shot as he stood down as a speaker candidate, Field made it clear: "It just might be that those people who worked so hard to keep me out of the Speaker's chair, when they see the next campaign on the 10p, they might wish they'd put me in it."

Now with the vexed issue of 10p tax compensation raising its head again, Field has issued a rallying call: "This is the last chance for Labour MPs before the General Election to deliver justice to the 10p losers", claiming 1.3m people are losing out even today by £1 a week as a result of the abolition of the 10p tax.

As MPs prepare to vote on the entire government budget, the cross-party bid may not end in government defeat but could well end in a round of fumbled concessions, arm twisting and blackmail which once again casts doubt on Beleaguered Brown's authority.

The so-called Labour 'rebels' are thoroughly fed-up with their fag-end government. With millions of people on low incomes worse off since the change, New Labour is paying lip service in a pretence to protect the poor. As the Orange Party has said many times before - one person's 'rebel' is another person's true Labour MP.

But Bunkered Brown is having none of it, as MPs seek to secure compensation for everyone left worse off by the controversial abolition of the 10p income tax rate.

In a bizarre move for a supposedly 'Labour' government, chancellor Brown's final shot was to scrap the 10p starting rate for the poor in his 2007 budget to fund a 2p cut in the standard rate of tax for the better off.

Field's July revolt forced Brown to suffer a humiliating climbdown and sparked a fresh wave of leadership challenges, as the government was forced to come up with fudged compensation for those who lost out by the decision to scrap the lowest tax band.

Beleaguered Brown is braced for a fresh backbench revolt. A humiliating defeat could block the entire budget, screw up income tax collection and throw all the carefully laid economic plans into chaos.

But the Orange Party isn't holding its breath, despite backbench support and opposition backing. The fag-end government failure will be pulling out all the stops to head off defeat.

All leave has been cancelled as whips muster the troops and twist a few arms to toe the party line. Once again Northern Ireland's DUP will be cajoled to prop up the government. With backs against the wall, no doubt government pork-barrel sweeteners will be passed around to keep the swervers sweetly in line. If all else fails, there's always blackmail and the frighteners of Armageddon.

Even if the threatened revolt fails or manages to wring out some concessions with another heady mix of fudged figures, the spectacle of ministers digging in their heels makes a mockery of the government's bid to paint the Tories as the nasty party of cuts with a New Labour budget which would hit the poor.

Born-again Brown needs today's commons revolt like a hole in the head. But once again the deluded Supreme Leader has made it even worse, with a hotch-potch of measures brought in to try to fix a problem of his own making.

Whatever the outcome, the threat comes just before MPs break up for the summer holds to spend more time with their plotting pals.

Today's events will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many decent Labour MPs, already fed-up, angry and depressed. And careless talk over Battered Brown's flagging leadership of a fag-end government is bound to erupt once again.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Taken For A Ride In Quangoland

Taxpayers are being taken for a ride in quangoland. Now the Tories are hoping to sweep some away with another "bonfire of the quangos". But it'll be a tough job lighting the bonfire when the tentacles have spread everywhere.

In quangoland, the unelected and unaccountable face of New Labour touches everyone's lives with a worthless, useless and wasteful quango or three.

Cameron is promising to cut back the powers of unelected quangos to save cash and increase accountability as he tries to get to grips with post-election public spending. But a roaring bonfire is unlikely. More likely a few will be picked off to stoke up the public spending cuts fire.

He would not be the first opposition leader to call for a "bonfire of the quangos". Way back in 1995, bushy-tailed Brown, as shadow chancellor, famously promised a "bonfire of quangos", until that incoming government realised what a useful tool they were to mask public spending, hand out jobs for their pals, pass the buck and squander billions of pounds of taxpayers' cash.

The Tories won't fall into the trap of empty promises but sacking or reducing the numbers of quangos is a small step. Cost and accountability are equally important. Every little helps. But it's not just the size and cost of these nightmares to New Labour. At the heart is the issue of democracy, where the unaccountable are run by the unelected chosen ones.

Who's in charge in quangoland? Elected ministers hide behind unelected, unaccountable quangos knowing full well this arms length approach gets them off the hook. Stuffed with New Labour cronies at the top, ministers usually have an easy ride while the quango rides rough shod over people, passing the buck instead of sorting out problems.

Nowhere is this more shamefully and starkly evident than with schools secretary, Ed Balls, hiding behind faceless bureaucracy over the SATs fiasco and Baby P scandal.

In biology that would be called a symbiotic relationship. In a democracy it is called a disgrace leading to widespread cynicism and anger about the state of our public affairs.

Everyone's been quangoed. Officially there are a staggering 790 quangos in England and Wales squandering £34 billion. But that's just the tip of a masssive quangoberg. Where is the public scrutiny?

Hiding behind the organisation’s strange acronym, any kind of questioning is treated as meddlesome intrusion. People are fed up of being bossed around and patronised by arrogant and pompous jobsworths, not least by people with questionable levels of competence and changing goal posts.

Equally galling is the cosy relationships between the quangos and the big-name consultants and the way money is splashed around on life's little lavish lunches and luxuries.

The solution is simple. Cut out the expensive quangos and delegate responsibility straight back to local authorities, which are democratically accountable and tightly audited, overseen by a now sidelined civil service.

But adding 1,000 jobs to the civil service is not a "good thing". An increase in 1,000 quangocratic jobs goes at worst unnoticed and at best applauded.

Quangoland is a cure all for all the government's ills. Whatever the problem, if in doubt set up another quango. Inevitably the problem gets worse. But with a quango, a minister can show action with yet another body with a strange-sounding name and costly logo.

Keeping tabs on the rise of the quangos and getting to grips with the sheer numbers is no mean feat. A dirty job but someone had to do it as the government continues to stoke the quango fires.

Back in 2005, Dan Lewis from the Economic Research Council made a start with his Essential Guide to British Quangos.

Quango duplication is common. In 2005 Lewis estimated there were 529 "useless" quangos that either did very little or duplicated each other. That's on top of quangos that are working is direct opposition to each other in the crazy world of quangos.

But the main problem with quangos is not that they waste money but that they suppress democracy. The quango has developed into a tool to support the ruling political class where time and again the top jobs with obscene salaries and pension perks are handed out to government cronies knowing they'll toe the line.

At last there are signs of a proper debate on quangos, highlighting those that come up to scratch and those that do not. And if some do get the boot, all the quango-bashing will have been worth it.

Not to be outdone by the Tories, chief secretary to the treasury, Liam Byrne, reckons the government would review quangos to try to "make sure every penny of public money goes to frontline services". At a stroke that totally misses the point.

Quangos are an expensive and cumbersome extra layer of bureaucracy. What is needed is a less centralising and shadowy government that has more faith in local democracy and governance.

The government will do nothing to solve the problem, because at its heart New Labour prefers to rule by cronies, rather than democracy.

However, with Sir Alan Sugar set to climb aboard Brown's sinking ship, ministers could take Siralan’s lead. Time to say to some of the quangocrats, “You’re fired”.

Top graphic: Taxpayers' Alliance