Friday, November 21, 2008

Early Election, Anyone?

Signs the government is preparing the groundwork for an early 2009 general election are increasing. Clinging onto power until the bitter end is no longer an option. Voters now have to suffer a phoney war, with a heady mix of spin and propaganda, as the government clears the decks for a campaign proper.

A stripped down Queen's Speech in two weeks time is the latest sign an early election is on the cards. The forthcoming legislation is a pale shadow of measures Brown announced earlier this year in his Queen's Speech by proxy.

This is being spun as a way to allow ministers to get the message out on the economy. In reality, it allows them time to hit the campaign trail.

Slowly, unpopular legislation which could be a vote loser or cause a commons confrontation are being shelved. 42 days, secret inquests and other U-turns are joined by plans for big brother surveillance laws which are being shelved.

For the government, one of the biggest bugbears for voters and grass roots Labour Party members is Iraq.

The Orange Party has indicated on numerous occasions that troop withdrawal is already fixed to a careful timetable for political advantage, after the UN occupation mandate expires at the end of the year.

Exact dates for a pull-out are already decided by Washington and Baghdad. That too will happen before May/June, removing a major obstacle to the government's legacy of that war. Meanwhile the hopeless and unwinnable mess in Afghanistan is being spun by the MoD with embedded TV reports.

The recent spate of opinion polls should come with a public health warning. Brown is riding on the back of the economic woes reflected in the polls which are getting perilously close to US style push polls to sway public opinion.

With a clever use of weightings they seems to show a Labour/Tory gap narrowing. In reality, they are designed to be seized on by commentators to remove desperation and deliver hope.

It is the economy where the battle is being fought and will continue to do so. But that can only play to the government's advantage for so long.

Brown's currency on this is short-lived. Once the BBC finally admits we are in for a long and painful recession not a cute little downturn, voters will see the government's mismanagement of the economy for what it really is. And for that mess, they'll blame Brown. The risk voters could turn on him is too great.

The legacy could be massive unemployment, reaching 3m by the end of next year. No New Labour government wants to go into an election with another 'Labour isn't working' slogan. An election sooner rather than later is the only option.

For the Tories, the battle ground is England to win back the hearts and minds of voters turned on by New Labour. The government can't afford to wait for the Conservative message to be driven home. The Tories cannot afford to lie low.

In Scotland, the recent Glenrothes by-election was spun as a Labour victory. Then, the Orange Party was one of the few voices pointing out this was nothing of the sort.

The latest round in the battle is all about how to pay for tax cuts and tax breaks, due to be announced in Darling's pre-budget ballot-box bribery report next week. The government is driving home the nonsense message that the country is well placed to weather the storm and can afford more massive borrowing, leading to Brown's Christmas give-away in a pre-election budget. He won't even have that luxury next year.

Traditionally general elections are often fought in the early summer or early autumn. Miss the window of opportunity in April-June and that just leaves autumn 2009 or late spring 2010. This is a political party that wants to cling onto power until the bitter end but that end could be very bitter and too risky.

With a mixture of arrogance and buoyed by his apparent come-back, Brown, like it or not, will have to call an election in April-June, a view shared by the Evening Standard. Unless of course he bottles it again.

But now at the heart is Campbell and deputy prime minister Mandelson. His escape from EU corruption allegations set in motion a massive seed change in the way the government manages its message. Risk is not something spinners and political strategists want to manage. They want control. To manage the media. To manage the polls and public opinion.

And the icing on the cake? A visit to the UK by president Obama around April will allow the government to ride on the back of all the fanfare and hullabaloo.

At the heat lies a US Obama-style election strategy to capture the media, capture public opinion, capture the message and capture the voters. That worked so effectively in the US presidential elections. Brown could pull it off too but he doesn't have much time.

UPDATE: Brown and his spinners have been quick to dampen down speculation of an early election but didn't rule it out, since the Orange Party and others raised it earlier today. Like the Orange Party, The First Post's Westminster Mole is having none of it.


Hitler's BNP Membership, Shock

The recent row over BNP membership leaks has been given the Hitler's bunker treatment. Political satire is often the best weapon. Be warned though, the mash-up does contain some acid wit.


Quick Reforms Rip Heart Out Of Welfare

Shameful moves to force the weak and vulnerable into work rips the heart out of the welfare state. Now these cruel and heartless plans have been rounded on by a senior government adviser who warns the new measures may push people into poverty. 

Any pretence ministers had to care for the traditions of a welfare state or the less fortunate in society have been ripped to shreds with government adviser, Sir Richard Tilt, warning plans to get the jobless back to work, or cut their benefits, should be delayed.

The government move should be seen for what it is. These plans have nothing to do with creating a fairer welfare benefit system and everything to do with an obsession with unemployment targets and spending cutbacks on the needy. A shameful way of bringing down the unemployment figures set to hit 3m by the end of next year. 

And they come at a time when the country is facing a grave economic crisis. The move will do nothing to help the millions caught up in the poverty trap of spiralling debt and despair. 

Calls to rethink or delay plans to force lone parents, disabled people and the long-term jobless to seek work should be welcomed as unemployment spirals out of control.

Sir Richard rightly points out that benefit rates are relatively low and if you reduce benefit for a few weeks by 40%, you are pushing people much closer to poverty. 

But work and pensions secretary, James Purnell's, callous Blairite reply claims the plans would offer support to the jobless, not penalise them and it was more vital than ever to help the jobless seek employment.

Once again, it's innocent children who will suffer as they are forced to turn into latchkey kids. The struggling parent is forced onto the streets, picking up a menial and degrading job while scratching around for childcare. 

Lone parents often stay at home often for good reason. Pushing the parent into work is not the way to go about it. 

No-one would deny welfare reforms are much needed but now is neither the time nor the way to bring in these draconian measures. Reforms need to be brought in with a caring heart and compassion, not bulldozed through to save on benefits payments and massage unemployment figures. 

Government claims that there are over half a million jobs out there for the taking are a lie. 

Most would require the huge upheaval of a long move to another part of the country. Most are very poorly paid menial jobs, tantamount to slave labour, in appalling conditions, which nobody wants.

From March 2009, parents of 14 and 15-year-olds will no longer be able to claim income support and from July 2009, the change will extend to parents of 12 and 13-year-olds. Then, by October 2010, lone parents with children aged seven and over will be required to look for work in order to get benefits.

These "welfare to work" reforms will end up as another shambles with people left frantic with worry over how they're going to make ends meet. 

The Orange Party despised the Thatcher years when everyone was in for themselves, leaving the poor, weak and vulnerable out in the cold and at the mercy of predators. 

Now New Labour and its Blairite policies have been exposed, once again, as a smug bunch of neo -Thatcherites with no heart and no soul. Bevan will be turning in his grave.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Brown's Comeuppance On Party Politics

Brown's defence, when anyone or anything gets in his small-minded, arrogant way, is to accuse everyone else of playing party politics. And that started to stick in the throat. Shouting down dissident voices not playing his game stifled debate. The government is playing party politics with no interest in the country - only saving their own election skins. Today Cameron refused to take it lying down.

At last, Cameron put clear blue water between the Parties, promising his Conservatives will abandon the government's ridiculous spending plans. That takes a brave soul, knowing the political risks and backlash from New Labour supporting politicians and media.

But it's the Tories who can now accuse Brown of playing party politics, as every shred of government waste and drop of further borrowing will come under healthy opposition scrutiny.

Attacks on shadow chancellor, George Osborne, have been relentless, sparked by the Corfu scandal. Mandleson was in the frame, yet with neat footwork, spinners turned the tables and, with the BBC's help, it was Osborne who was held up as the baddy and much of  the media swallowed it hook line and stinker. 

But that was never about Osborne. It was an attack on Cameron and the whole Tory Party, with the deputy prime minister working hard behind the scenes.

While doing his job and urging caution on the economy, Brown rounded on Osborne, while swanning around Washington, accusing the opposition spokesman of party politics. For the government, Osborne was clearly doing his job too well. 

Brown was lovin' it, spending his time helping Bush dig himself out of a hole and prop up his legacy, having his picture taken at every opportunity. All with the help of BBC News and its slavish support for borrowing Brown's disastrous economic recipe.  Now that's party politics. 

Brown managed to pull off all party support for his economic measures for a while. Until the Tories and LibDems cottoned on to the con. 

They were being drawn into a reckless government borrowing plan, doomed to failure with disastrous consequences. 

Brown, forever the crafty politician, could turn round and claim their support when it all went pear-shaped. Both Parties have now seen the light. 

The Baby P case and the damning indictment of both the council and government is a shameful example, with Brown having the bare faced cheek to accuse Cameron of playing party politics during his inhuman commons performance

From the beginning this was all about New Labour party politics and Brown set that tone. 

This is a Labour-run council, slavishly following New Labour's failed ideals and policies. One of its MPs, David Lammy, is a rising New Labour star. And the buck stops in government, with Ed Balls' stalinist, over bearing and overreaching mega department, trying to deflect criticism and claim the moral and political high ground. 

Nothing stands in the way of Brown spin. Conflicting opinion polls add to confusion. Push polls are becoming commonplace. Polls can be seized upon to mean anything to anybody.

On the economy, the government is preparing the ground for Brown's Christmas giveaways and preparing the ground for a cut and run spring election. 

One by one, minor irritations which could cause more of a slump in popularity are dropped or shelved. 42 days has gone by the wayside and a U-turn over Post Office card contracts. Troop withdrawal from Iraq, a major obstacle in public opinion, will be sorted out by the spring.

Only a few months back, Brown was facing political annihilation. Then he was the come-back kid. But a tide of popular opinion didn't turn in Brown's favour. 

True Labour rebels were bought off with weak promises and put back in their box. The Blairite rebellion was neatly side-stepped when Mandleson was forced to escape from EU corruption allegations to the safe haven of the UK government. Bringing with him his army of battle-scarred spin doctors.

Voices of dissent are swiftly labelled "right-wing" to play up the party politics card. But the Orange Party ain't right wing. Nor are others who've seen through the sham. And neither is Bremner, Bird or Fortune, whose damning exposure of the economic sham on C4, uses Tony Benn as the voice of reason. 

The voice of sense and sensibility is getting through and that's deeply disturbing for a government desperately trying to cling onto power. But capture the media and, in a Blair move,  you capture the argument and public opinion. 

Slowly some traditionally troublesome media are being picked off. BBC News was a pushover and now firmly a government propaganda mouthpiece. The Mail was once in Brown's pocket, or the other way round. The Telegraph often reads like the Labourgraph. ConservativeHome is a trolls playground. The Murdoch stable will latch on to whatever the boss thinks will sell more newspapers. 

And where does all this lead? The government will try to cling on to power to the bitter end. But events, particularly economic ones and rising unemployment, will turn nasty next year and into 2010 and that would be a very bitter end. Brown and New Labour can't take that risk. 

So it's a spring election with a desperate need for a fresh mandate to wreck the economy and people's lives even further. 

It's been party politics all along since the summer. An endless round of party political broadcasts in the phoney war, on behalf of Brown and the New Labour Party. 


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Haringey Heads Support Smacks Of Politics

Haringey head teachers swift support for beleaguered child services head Sharon Shoesmith smacks of political skulduggery. What were teachers doing sticking up for a social services boss who faces harsh criticism over the Baby P case? 

The Orange Party smells party politics at work at this Labour-run council, something Brown was quick to criticise during his robotic commons performance.  

Haringey is a political battleround. New Labour and the LibDems slug it out both on the local council and between its two politically astute MPs, New Labour's David Lammy in Tottenham and the LibDems Lynne Featherstone a former Haringey councillor over in Wood Green and Hornsey, a fierce critic of both the council and Shoesmith. 

The letter of support from the heads was released through the Press Association news agency. The identical story was taken on face value and quickly did the rounds of the news and media world wide. Few if any further checks were made on where and how the story originated.

The letter says Shoemith is an "outstanding public servant," despite calls for her to resign over the death of Baby P. Both the council and government are at the centre of this storm.

This comes after schools secretary Ed Balls was forced to say he's sorry and ordered an independent investigation into child protection at the council. And the government faces searching questions after being warned about Haringey months before the toddler's death.

There's no indication as to whether the heads are speaking independently, as a Haringey Headteacher's Federation or as members of the education group, Common Purpose.  Nor any indication who wrote the news release, who instigated it and how was it was distributed.

BBC News was one of the few to quote one of the heads, Alex Atherton, of Park View Academy in Haringey. The excellent Newssniffer tracks the BBC version as it changed in content.

A look at Haringey schools shows the extend to which they are embedded in the New Labour obsession with academies, school targets and spin. 

In 2006, Tottenham MP David Lammy, heaped praise on Haringey schools and pupils including Atherton.

Only last year Haringey was at centre of a row over paying a headteacher a whacking £40,000 golden hello to attract the right candidate. Aydin Onac, head of Fortismere school, was forced to defended his pay package. 

With more than 60 head teachers from Haringey coming out in support of Shoesmith, that begged the question, just what has the whole question of child protection got to to do with a bunch of teachers? 

LibDem Norfolk blogger described this as "an ill- thought out letter of support from head teachers in Haringey". TES community bloggers asked if Haringey heads should be involving themselves in the Baby P affair.

The fact that more than 60 heads can organise and be orchestrated in this way in a north London borough riddled with party political infighting, shows more political damage limitaton than genuine concern. 

If this was a simply a case of party political squabbles, it wouldn't merit national attention but the shocking case of Baby P and its consequences caused outrage.

As national journalists got their teeth into this whole case and dug underneath Haringey, the whole issue uncovered a can of worms which is only now beginning to unravel, with further shocking revelations in today's Times, MailTelegraph and many others. 


Are We Ready For A Captain Sensible?

The dogged determination of Brown to recklessly borrow his way out of recession, leaving a legacy of debt, should be a gift to the sensible ones. A golden opportunity to become the voice of financial sense and sensibility. But is the country ready for a Captain Sensible or happy with Brown's Flash Crash Gordon

The current economic woes reveal a stark contrast between two polarised camps of political and economic thinking. 

Conservative, LibDem and true Labour voices are urging caution and common sense in the interests of the country as a whole. That is at odds with a short-sighted government chasing petty political advantage, hell bent on wrecking lives for generations to come. 

Taking the Captain Sensible approach takes courage. It means refusing to cow-tow to the reckless spending fuelled by borrowing which Brown is determined to foist on the country. It means braving New Labour scare-mongering over cuts at an election.

Borrowing and debt have become embedded in the country's psyche with a culture of greed. For a decade people have been cushioned from reality along with the banks. The government too has been happy to follow that recipe for disaster. It take a brave and courageous soul to risk sticking their political neck out to burst that bubble. 

Faced with huge bills, the answer had been to borrow more. Ridiculously cheap imports lulled people into a false sense of security. People were encouraged to buy what they couldn't afford. Now it's impossible, to pay off the debt.

Captain Sensible faces a huge uphill struggle to change the habits of a decade.

Brown wants to lead the world and set off on a massive spending spree taking the country down with him. 

Putting our money where his mouth is, means tax cuts and spending have to be funded by billions of pounds of extra borrowing. For that to have any real effect, the borrowing has to be huge, around £15 billion, and on top of the huge debit already piling up.

Brown is in a strong position. He has the backing of a weak Bank of England governor, easily manipulated by the government. New Labour is well on its way to re-capturing much of the media, in particular the BBC state broadcaster, after the fall-out of the Blair years. 

Time and again Brown and his chancellor are portrayed as action men but they are only acting not solving the global crisis. Caution and real prudence are falling on deaf ears. 

Out of touch with reality, Brown is lovin' it, strutting around the G-20 world stage, quick to pour scorn on shadow chancellor, George Osborne, who is adamant he's doing his job "to tell the truth about the economy" and voice reasonable concerns.

Brown and the economy are out of control. The government is in denial about the true nature of the economic mess. 

Away from the government spin, the amount of real government debt is mind-boggling, following a decade of reckless borrowing and spending and despite the best effort to keep much of it off the public balance sheet. 

Last week Brown, Cameron and Clegg threw themselves into a topsy-turvy tax cutting bidding war. All are agreed over tax cuts and tax breaks but that raised the billion dollar question - just where is all the extra cash going to come from? 

All this should mean the recession is a wake up call, a time to tighten the belts and austerity management. 

The Orange Party has to be dragged screaming to echo the views of Thatcher but the 'housewife' approach of balancing the books of income and expenditure makes sense. And to balance the political books, the last true Labour prime minister, Jim Callaghan, eventually came round to thinking you cannot spend your way out of a recession by just cutting taxes and increasing government spending. 

There is not an unlimited supply of credit out there. Borrowing comes at a price. Eventually we'll be forced to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund, Saudi Arabia and China. That puts us at the mercy of others. Taking a begging bowl to beg for credit means they'll want something in return.

The alternative is to make sure we pay our way. That means cuts. But not in the way the government would have us believe. 

Scrapping ID cards, the useless NHS computer and ending disastrous foreign wars along with reigning in the billions squandered on ridiculous government waste and failed pet projects would give much of the savings needed.

Cutting back on spending means sacrifice but if people are asked to make sacrifices then the same should be true of government, with a start on those highfalutin' projects.

What is not clear is whether a new mood of common sense and sanity has really caught a willing public imagination nor whether there is a politician strong and brave enough to stick to the sensible and risk an almighty media backlash whipped up by the entrenched New Labour government.

It means not acting selfishly for short term political advantage by inflicting a terrible burden of debt on future generations which will leave a lasting legacy for decades to come. 

Look hard enough and you can find Captain Sensibles in some Tory, LibDem and true Labour politicians.