Friday, November 14, 2008

Not Flash-Just Crash Gordon

As Brown sets off to save the world once again from global this and that, not everyone is convinced he's the saviour of the universe. Stalin turned into Mr Bean turned into Superman is brought down to earth. Not Flash - just Crash Gordon. 

Flash a-ah 
Saviour of the Universe 
He save everyone of us 
He's a miracle 
King of the impossible 

He's for everyone of us 
Stand for everyone of us 
He save with a mighty hand 
Every man every woman 
Every chill-he's a mighty Flash 

Just a man 
With a man's courage 
Nothing but a man 
But he can never fail 
No-one but the pure at heart 
May find the Golden Grail 


What Did Ministers Know About Haringey?

Ministers face searching questions after it emerged the government was warned about Haringey's failing child protection procedures, months before Baby P was tortured to death. The outrage of a child killed under the nose of social services leaves a bitter taste. 

Schools secretary, Ed Balls, was quick to warn that "if there are failures there has to be accountability". A view branded as sheer hypocrisy here by the Orange Party

Now the Daily Mail and Independent have led the way with a front page splash revealing that a Haringey social worker wrote to ministers with warnings six months before the child's death. 

Whistleblower, Nevres Kemal, warned child protection procedures were not being followed, following the Victoria Climbie murder in the same borough eight years earlier.

The buck was passed around in departmental musical chairs. From the department of health to the department for education to the commission for social care inspection. 

Claims of passing the buck brought a swift rebuttal from the prime minister's spokesman, duly reported by his BBC. Though how such a sweeping denial can be made with such certainty, isn't made clear. 

Journalists had been digging hard on this one after the whole country was sickened by the death of this young child despite Lord Laming's child protection recommendations. 

Something didn't stack up. Haringey's initial response, claiming they had done all they could and producing reams of useless performance statistics, caused anger and frustration. No-one has been fired and only yesterday did someone from Haringey finally crawl out of the woodwork to apologise. 

School's secretary Ed Balls told everyone he's sorry and announced an independent inspection just hours after his boss Brown had stood up in the commons with a robotic, inhuman statement. No wonder Cameron was furious.

This case exposes failed government child welfare policies, a local authority social services department which was clearly incompetent and government departments passing the buck. Frustrated, under staffed social workers banged their heads against the wall, fobbed off by local management and government oficials. 

As Balls was quick to point out yesterday, with failure comes accountability. All government ministers should look to themselves and their own departments. 

This was never about playing politics. This is about the death of a toddler and a whole raft of failings of the council at the centre of the scandal. Mistakes like this must never again happen. 

Government ministers must come clean and explain exactly what they knew and what they did about it. Otherwise what was the point of Lord Laming's original review.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Card Rethink Won't Ease Post Office Pain

A rethink over Post Office benefit payments has brought some relief to the few thousand still open for business after savage cuts. But Post Office closures have ripped the heart out of communities and the government change of heart won't ease that pain. 

Today's early announcement was unexpected but unsurprising given the firm grip deputy prime minister Lord Mandleson has on the government. 

But it's a topsy-turvy policy, closing Post Offices with one hand and awarding card contracts with the other. 

Many MPs were furious, with ministers set to hand the £1billion benefit contract to the private company PayPoint.

Coming just a year after the beginning of 2500 closures, many feared the switch would spell the death knell for the Post Offices still left struggling and cause undue hardship to pensioners who use a Post Office for benefit payments. 

It was looking like political suicide as millions signed a petition and MPs from all Parties called for the contract to stay with the Post Office. 

Current Post Office advertising centres on "The People's Post Office", with warm, friendly adverts which sticks in the throats of people who have watched the network being decimated. 

A recent carefully leaked letter to the Guardian pointed the way for a rethink, when it seemed new business secretary, Lord Mandelson, hinted the Post Office's role may be more banking focused.

The decision to close 2,500 of the country's Post Offices last year caused outrage. Some cabinet members were forced into the indignity of campaigning against Post Office closures in their constituencies, flying in the face of government closure policy. 

Many, from all shades of political opinion, have championed the cause of the cherished Post Office. 

Today's announcement brings some relief to the few thousand left open which were doomed without the benefit contract. 

But it brings little relief to the people who have seen the heart ripped out of their local communities when the government embarked on its shameful desecration of this vital public service which has traditionally played such an important part in our lives. 


Balls Hypocrisy Over Baby P

Schools secretary, Ed Balls, has been saying 'sorry' over Baby P, claiming the moral and political high ground as he tries to save his and Brown's skin. Promising 'if there are failures there has to be accountability', is rich, coming from the minister who steadfastly refused to shoulder any responsibility over the Sats fiasco. 

Balls announcement of an independent inspection at Haringey came just a bit too quick after Brown's inhuman response in the commons. After all, just hours earlier, Brown had told the commons an internal review was just fine.

With Brown saying one thing and Balls another, the school's secretary this morning did the rounds of TV and radio studios trying to diffuse the situation, promising: “In the end if there are management systemic failures there has to be accountability." And that's particularly galling. 

After Brown's robotic commons performance and accusing the Tories of party politics, Balls suddenly came up with the announcement, timed perfectly for the BBC evening news bulletin. A cheap stunt to save his and his bosses skin.

If such an inspection was always on the cards, then Brown could have made the announcement at PMQs, speak for the nation and Cameron would not have lost it. 

But that's the same minister who presided over the Sats shambles and steadfastly refused to take any responsibility for that mess

The sheer arrogance of a government minister, who can hide behind weak excuses while the fiasco unfolded, leaving parents and youngsters frantic with worry, was quite beyond belief.

A the time the Orange Party made it quite clear that with responsibility comes accountability but that fell on deaf ears. Now the tired old phrase has been trotted out again for political advantage. 

The Baby P case puts the spotlight firmly on the government and its child protection policies which clearly are not working. And on a London borough which can hide its incompetence behind meaningless platitudes and useless statistics. 

The government is hoping the inspection will put a lid on the whole sickening Baby P case. Journalists were digging hard on this one and what they were coming up with beggared belief. 

Challenging and reasonable questions put to borough officials were met with reams of meaningless statistics and performance indicators.

ITV News reported how the council's own reports painted a glowing picture of the work of the department and how everything was wonderful - six months after the baby was tortured to death. 

Such an independent inspection is welcome but Balls should not try to claim the political and moral high ground over this tragic case. 

All ministers are accountable whether elected MPs or given a peerage for the pleasure and with that accountability comes responsibility. It's a pity Balls didn't heed his own words when he tried to wriggle out of the Sats shambles. 


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Brown Shows Inhuman Side Over Baby P

Brown has shown his truly awful colours with a disgusting attempt to play down the tragedy of Baby P and accuse the opposition of making political capital out of this shocking case. 

The Commons bear-pit of PMQs is usually played out for the media sound-bites and point scoring but here is an issue which has genuinely shocked the whole country. There's not a living soul who isn't both shocked and disgusted by this whole case. 

Cameron was absolutely right to raise this issue in the commons with some very valid and reasonable questions. Why has no-one resigned? Why has no-one accepted responsibility and why is there only an in-house inquiry? 

There are very serious questions to be asked, not least over how this dreadful thing could happen again in the same borough as Victoria Climbie and after the Lord Laming inquiry and recommendations.

The response from Haringey children's services department, the minister for children, social workers, health visitors and hospital doctors has been verging on complacency. 

Time and gain we have had to suffer the crap of platitudes that everyone has done what they could and it was all just a terrible tragedy. No-one has had the common decency to even apologise.

The prime minister's commons response (see below) was equally robotic, uncaring and full of incomprehensible NewLabourspeak. 

Why couldn't the government come out and capture the mood of the nation - one thing Blair was very good at - however unpalatable that may be. Clearly Brown is incapable of that. The response of the prime minister wasn't human. 

Instead of reflecting that shock and outrage, he trotted out useless statistics. Then he had the audacity to accuse the Conservatives of making political capital out of the death of Baby P. 

Cameron lost it. But who can blame him. Any right thinking person would have lost it in those circumstances. It shows he's only human. 

Watching this sickening spectacle of Brown made you wish for once the Speaker Michael Martin would intervene as he often does to help dig the government of a hole. But by that time it was too late to save Brown's skin. 

It has taken a true Labour MP, Jon Cruddas, to stand up for common sense and tell the BBC the case of Baby P was "beyond politics" and "David Cameron was absolutely right to raise it."

The Baby P case shows the government up for what it really is. For years it's helped create a social services culture of political correctness and nannying with the laudable but laughable aim "putting the family first". 

It is quite clear to everyone they should put "the protection of children" first and make sure robust management is in place with well-qualified staff to see that through, as Lord Laming recommended. 

There's something very wrong and disturbing to have a government whose child protection policy has been exposed as a sham. And which has created social, now children's services departments incapable of action and suffering a woeful lack of staffing and resources. 

Maybe that's why Brown couldn't deliver a more human response.

UPDATE: Schools secretary Ed Balls popped up with a surprise announcement of an independent inspection of children's welfare services at Haringey - just before the evening TV news bulletins. Now that's playing politics!


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heathrow, A Runaway Runway Sham

Expect some delays but no cancellations as plans to further expand Heathrow come under the Commons spotlight. The government is still singing from the old boom years hymn sheet. Now the bubble has burst it's time to rethink the Heathrow monster. But that won't get in the way of a powerful lobby and short-sighted government.

Cheaper transatlantic air travel and the unhealthy emphasis on the City as the savour of the economy led the way for a huge European airport hub based at Heathrow. 

Expansion continued at a pace with a motorway infrastructure and new T5 as the government put all its eggs in the one basket, despite real environmental concerns. 

Heathrow isn't just huge, it's grotesque. Full to the brim and running on such a tight schedule, the slightest problem throws an huge spanner in the works and the whole beast grinds to a halt. A third runway will only add to the problem. 

A report commissioned by the City of London Authority claimed without more flights to reduce airport problems that could threaten the City. 

But in a few years time, that could be a road to nowhere as the world's financial centres continue to switch to the Far East. 

Heathrow is being developed purely for the lucrative transatlantic trade and business traffic in particular. An expanded Heathrow will require the huge Cross Rail investment direct to the City. And that requires billions of pounds more to be spent on dodgy financial deals.

The Orange Party doesn't believe any further Heathrow expansion is necessary at all. High speed rail links in and out of the Capital would be a better, realistic solution. 

But if there's an argument for a big London based European hub - then Heathrow is not the answer. 

Business leaders say thousands of jobs rely on Heathrow expansion. Jobs sure, but they don't need to be created at Heathrow. 

Heathrow is indeed "deeply unpopular" and many are fed up with delays, airport traffic and heavy security. But that doesn't mean a third runway is the "obvious" solution. 

The way forward is the credible Thames Gateway, argued so well by London Mayor, Boris Johnson, and with a mighty crusading effort by the Sunday Times. Apparently there's a proven working off the shelf model just waiting to be dropped in the Thames estuary at a fraction of the cost. 

But powerful lobby forces are at work here. BAA's Spanish owners, Ferrovial, may be trying to shed other airports but Heathrow is the overcrowded and lucrative jewel in the crown. It's main customer, British Airways is trying to sew up transatlantic trade. The whole issue of environmental impact has been spun away and buried. 

Conservatives, LibDems, many true Labour MPs and the London mayor all oppose plans for a third runway. 

MPs have a chance to voice their opposition today with a refreshingly alliance of often opposing political views. But that won't sway a pigheaded government bent on getting its own way with a powerful Heathrow lobby pushing behind the scenes. Conservatives have branded talk of consultation "a complete sham".

Transport secretary, Geoff Hoon, is expected to overrule MPs and say Heathrow should get a third runway. And what the government wants, Hoon will make sure the government gets, regardless of the arguments stacked up against them. 

Already expansion at Heathrow seems to be a foregone conclusion. The government's proposed new planning laws and planning quango will see to that and neatly side-step any objections. 

Heathrow and its further expansion is just one of the crippling legacies of those blooming booming years. Once again we are being forced to live with that legacy until the government catches up with the times.


A Topsy-Turvy Land of Tax Cuts

It's tax cuts for breakfast, lunch and supper in the topsy-turvy land of make-believe. The stakes are high as political parties try to claim the tax cut high ground. How will it be paid for, is it just talk and will they put our money where their mouth is?

The tax cut war has turned old politics on its head. Borrowing Brown wants to bowl 'em over with a spending spree. Caution Cameron is the new Prudence. Clegg, a latter day Robin Hood. 

Today's supposed to be the Tories big day for small business. Not to be out-smarted or out-gunned, the government is firing on all cylinders ahead of the Pre-budget Report, due out in months/weeks/days, with the LibDems bringing up the rear. 

Brown is on a borrowing spree as he sets out to save the word with his New World Order. His answer - just borrow more cash. It's borrow now, pay later - or rather leave it for the new suckers to pick up the tab. 

The government is adamant the only way forward is to increase the already crippling national debt. Golden borrowing rules have bit the dust. Prudence is alive and well but living in the Tory Party.

Cameron's Conservatives are looking more and more like the Angry Party of late. They've managed to turn a traditional Tory agenda on its head. Instead of reaching out for the plastic, tax cuts would have to come from real savings. 

Sit down with the household budget, tighten the purse strings, decide what to cut back on. And, at the same time, hammer home the message that it was Brown and the gang who got us in this mess in the first place. But that sort of reality check may be hard to swallow after a decade of the false good times.

And the LibDems? Clegg bless him has turned into Robin Hood with funding coming from a "tax on the wealthy". Great for sound-bites but an estimated £15 billion is needed for tax cuts and breaks to make any real difference to people's pockets. You have to start to climb down the wealth ladder to rake in all that cash. 

The Orange Party is all for a redistribution of wealth - hit the obscenely rich by all means - but how far down the that wealth ladder do you have to go, before 'wealthy' becomes just the 'better off'? 

Slashing interest rates to an all time low kicked off the tax cut bidding war, when everyone suddenly realised that would take ages to work through and, for now, there's nowt in it for them. Politicians were quick to realise there's equally nowt in it for them too. 

The point was made here earlier that the current interest rate cut isn't deep enough for a deep recession. 

In the real economy it's supposed to make people spend more. But faced with crippling debt and huge bills, any interest rate cut will just be gobbled up to help pay the bills. Tax cuts, in whatever form, put real cash in people's pockets but debt is now so endemic, tax cuts too will probably end up on the bills, loans and mortgages. 

For a decade New Labour has spun its way out of trouble with public spending craftily kept off the balance sheet. The Tories have never shied away from wanting cuts in public spending. No-ones quite sure what the LibDems really, really want.

For the first time in an age there is clear water between all three main political parties on the billion dollar economic question. And they are all convinced they have the magic formula. 

Few would disagree that tax breaks are needed. It's how they are going to be paid for that polarises the political parties. In this topsy-turvy land you can do whatever you want. As long as it's the vote winner.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Brown Is Lovin' It

Every now and again someone hits the political nail on the head to drive home a political point. Some in the political blogsphere are taking the fight to Brown, with a YouTube video produced by ConservativeHome, which gets the message across on the recession - Brown is lovin' it.

The mischievous video has been picked up by Dale, Dizzy and many others. The Orange Party makes no apologies for putting it up here, not least for the Queen soundtrack.

What's particularly galling is that here is a guy gloating, when he caused the economic mess in the first place. 

Today it's all about tax cuts and tax breaks - suggested here a couple of days ago to help put something back in people's pocket, if properly funded. 

Everyone's jumping on the bandwagon. Just how they would be paid for is the bone of political contention. 

Tax cuts have been highlighted before by one of the few people who talks sense on the economy, the LibDem's Vince Cable, and now picked up by the government to try to wrong-foot the Tories with their own package of suggestions for tax relief. 

And what's the top story on Drudge in the US today? Yup, a link to news agency Reuters, with Borrowing Brown saving the world from global meltdown, global warming, global this and global that and that New World Order. 

Until now we have had only Bremner, Bird and Fortune in the main stream media to tell it as it really is. 

Of course some will disagree with this attack-dog line. And before Blears bleats on about blogs which burst her bubble - the Orange Party ain't right-wing. 

The US elections saw a huge surge in YouTube videos, often laced with humour and sarcasm, often mischievous and often downright dirty. 

But this curiosity and scepticism makes for healthy politics and a good dose of cynicism, laced with humour doesn't go amiss. 


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Washington Post 'Lacked Obama Probes'

The Washington Post's own watchdog has taken the unusual step of apologising to readers over its lack of probing investigations into now president-elect Obama and pro-Obama coverage.

The watchdog is particularly critical over its lack of scrutiny of Obama's background and early years.

The apology follows an investigation by the newspaper's own ombudsman, Debrah Howell, into the Post's coverage over the last year. The Orange Party has consistently criticised the US media for not doing its job properly and holding a candle up equally to both candidates.

The Washington Post is the leading political newspaper in the US. The Orange Party has tremendous respect for the Post, its journalists and distinguished record for political reporting. Around October 17, the newspaper endorsed Obama as a candidate and the media frenzy really began.

Howell and her team's lengthy and detailed examination of the Post's coverage ranges from issues, voters, fund-raising, the candidates' backgrounds and horse-race stories on tactics, strategy and consultants, photos and page one leads.

There's much to be commended in the Post's coverage and praise for much of the Post's reporting but as Howell points out:

"Obama deserved tougher scrutiny than he got, especially of his undergraduate years, his start in Chicago and his relationship with Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who was convicted this year of influence-peddling in Chicago. The Post did nothing on Obama's acknowledged drug use as a teenager."

Those views chime with those of the Orange Party and respected former Sunday Times editor, Harold Evans, who made a similar and more scathing attack on these glaring omissions.

Howell dissects the 'count' in meticulous detail and concludes it was "lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories."

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces (58) about McCain than there were about Obama (32).

Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Post reporters, photographers and editors, like most of the media, just found Obama more newsworthy, more interesting. Journalists love superlatives and anything new.

Concerns were raised yesterday, by Matthew Parris of the London Times:

"And this whole thing could go very sour. A politician who has subtly insinuated himself into the imaginations of millions as a secret friend and the personal champion of all their hopes for the world may find their disappointment the more bitter in the end."

The Orange Party expressed similar, though more forceful concerns, the day after that night before.

Newspaper coverage is often poll-driven and the Post was no exception but that's never going to change. It had its fair share of focus on poll-driven issues.

The Orange Party would add its voice to the special praise given to the penetrating reporting of Dan Balz, one of the "best, most level-headed, incisive political reporters and analysts in newspapers".

And to the reality checks given by media critic, Howard Kurtz, often used as a steer by the Orange Party during those turbulent election times.

One gaping hole was in coverage of Obama's running mate and now vice-president elect, Joe Biden. The media went over the top with Palin and neglected Biden. Howell says: "They are right; it was a serious omission."

In general, Howell concludes: "Readers have been consistently critical of the lack of probing issues coverage and what they saw as a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama. My surveys, which ended on Election Day, show that they are right on both counts."

In many ways what Howell says isn't new and has been backed up by other research such as studies from the Project for Excellence in Journalism but here is a newspaper which has the guts to shine a light on itself.

The Washington Post has its finger on the pulse of the US political scene and was one of the first newspapers in the US to establish its own ombudsman, looking at reader complaints about news coverage and monitoring standards. That in itself is reassuring and refreshing.

It was the Post's dogged reporting which helped break the Watergate Scandal leading to Nixon's resignation.

Years later the newspaper's then owner, Katherine Graham, gave a warning which holds as true today as it did then:

"We live in a dirty and dangerous world... I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

No politician is above scrutiny. Newspapers can make and break presidents. As Nixon found to his cost.