Westminster: October 2008 Archives

Thatcher no more?

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I'm hearing that Margaret Thatcher may have died overnight, although I have not a single link to back it up. If it is true, Elvis Costello, Hefner and Morrissey will be ready, amongst others. 

I'm sorry to have had to spread rumours like this, but other bloggers out there will know that if a well-connected source comes to you with a story like this, it's gotta go up.

Update: this is apparently untrue, and I apologise. Apparently it began going round when Carol cancelled a media appearance and Mark was spotted hurrying home. Coincidence, nothing more. Also, it's a neat illustration of why the standard answer to a headline with a question must be "no".

Bidding up the environment.

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wavepowerstation.jpgUK Ministers have now, like the SNP, seen the light on aviation and shipping. I like to think it has something to do with the killer metaphors deployed against their previous position.

However, a Scottish Government release sent out today suggests that the Nats have again shifted their position to toughen up their proposed bill and outdo Westminster (emphasis mine):

"By including international aviation and shipping, emissions from all six greenhouse gases, and annual targets, Scotland will have the most ambitious Bill to tackle climate change anywhere in the world."

The BBC online seems to miss this aspect of the story, but I'm assured it made the broadcast coverage. Hopefully tomorrow's papers will get into the nitty gritty a bit more.

The SNP did promise annual targets in their 2007 manifesto, but if the targets they have in mind are robust and statutory ones then this is a good step in the right direction, even though the sceptic in me previously wondered if "they [took] it away just so they can look magnanimous by putting it back?"

By now we're in a bidding war, though, and the longer it goes on the more likely it is we'll end up with two really worthwhile Bills. Neither proposal is there yet, and it's now Labour's turn to come back with improvements to the UK legislation.

Here's a couple of tips for both governments for future rounds of bidding. First, the evidence is that we need annual reductions around 4.5%, not the 3% the SNP had in their manifesto. The level of reductions required has risen, too, to cope with the emissions increases over recent years.

Also, there's no plan that sets out how even 3% targets could actually be met. Both Governments are committed to continued fossil fuel dependence for export and for domestic consumption, through policies like airport and motorway expansion. Neither has much of a clue about what a low carbon economy might look like, either, or do they see how successful it could be.

This shouldn't sound too churlish. We're making progress, Ministers are starting to listen, and we've only come this far because of the legions of campaigners and individuals who've made their voices heard. Good work, y'all.

A rare Holyrood poll.

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weirdsalmond.pngThe Sunday Times commissioned some numbers from YouGov, and their headline is naturally the 9 point Labour lead in Westminster voting intention. 

Their last poll had the Nats up by 2 percent, making this a substantial swing, if a little implausible despite the bad month the SNP have had.

Incidentally, it's illustrated on their Scotland page with a peculiarly squashed pic of Salmond (see left). I'm pretty sure there's no real angle you can take that picture from.

YouGov also asked the Holyrood questions, which are always of far more interest to me, and, I suspect, to most of their readers. In these, the Nats retain a clear but narrow lead:

Constituency vote
SNP: 39% (-3)
Labour: 31% (+5)
Tories: 14% (+1)
Liberals: 11% (-3)
Other: 2% (-)

Regional vote
SNP: 32% (-3)
Labour: 29% (+4)
Tories: 16% (+2)
Liberals: 11% (-3)
Green: 6%
United Socialists: 5% (except they're not united)
Etc: 2%

I was a bit sceptical about the Westminster numbers, but the Holyrood top line seems more plausible, so this might not be a complete rogue poll - it's the same sample, after all. 

Interestingly, this poll confirms my view that we take primarily from the Liberals. The detail shows that about two thirds of our voters backed the Liberals with their Westminster vote, with the rest roughly evenly divided between Labour, the SNP and the Tories. Another way of looking at the same numbers is that our voters are more than five times more likely to vote Liberal for Westminster than for any other single party. 

6% isn't a great number for us: I am an eternal optimist, though, and I think we could crack 10% by 2011 if we put in the work inside Parliament and out. However, it is little more than two thirds of one percent below our 2003 score, when we returned seven MSPs (6.68% of the vote gave us 5.43% of the seats). Remember, it's only a bit of fun, and as I was told today, there is no election, not yet.

pieeyed.jpgWhen both the Scottish and the UK climate change legislation proposals first appeared, aviation and shipping were mysteriously absent. The Nats have since pledged to remedy this oversight, incidentally.

Such an exemption is clearly absurd, and I'm pretty sure that we came up with the killer line on it (specifically either Robin or Patrick - I can't remember who thought of it first).

Either way, Robin told the Chamber on September 3rd that "having a climate change bill with an exemption for air transport is a bit like having a diet plan with an exemption for pies, beans, chips and black puddings". It even inspired a charity challenge, sadly not risen to by the First Minister.

By October 16th, the Liberals had gotten in on the act. In the Commons, Steve Webb said "However, Mr Miliband appears to think he can simply ignore the hugely polluting aviation and shipping industries. It's like telling everyone you're going on a calorie-controlled diet but not counting cream cakes." Amusingly, this was billed on the party's blog as his "cream cake triumph". (thanks to Adopted Domain for the spot)

Today Friends of the Earth have in turn recycled it, in a new and more potent form, as "a drink-driving law that doesn't count whisky".

It's not clear where the Tories are on this, although the last link there implies they're also on side with the forces of good. If so, I await their press release comparing the bill as it stands to "a detox plan with an exemption for crack."

Give in to your anger.

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darthsquirrel.jpgI have mixed feelings about grey squirrels. They're dire news for the reds, and it would be far better if they'd not arrived here from the US. On the other hand, they are still very cute.

If you're a peer, though, you may look at them rather differently. Today's Observer has a piece about the War On Squirrels conducted by Lord Redesdale, the Liberal spokesman on the environment in our absurd upper house. 

He's got it in for the greys, and his colleagues in the Lords reach for some familiar metaphors.

Lady Saltoun, for one, has got class war on her mind: "Red squirrels are rather like quiet, well-behaved people who do not make a nuisance or an exhibition of themselves, or commit crimes, and so do not get themselves into the papers in the vulgar way grey squirrels do."

Lord Chorley implied Godwin, inevitably: "There are three colonies, if that is the right word, in Italy. At least one of them is in the process of crossing the Alps. If they get to Germany there will be a complete invasion taking place."

Lord Inglewood continued in an even more explicit version of the same metaphor: "The red squirrels have had Chamberlains and not Churchills! But it is Churchills that they need!"

I'm not sure Lord Redesdale shooting a squirrel in the head from two inches away can be equated with Churchill's efforts, but it's a great read, with the superstitious pest controller, the dubious funding application, the enthusiastic old dears with blood on the patio, and the "spatchcocked" squirrel in the frying pan. Despite the bloodthirsty joy clearly experienced by our brave squirrel-hunters, you can see their logic. 

Like the squirrels this mob sell to restaurants, though, the House of Lords should clearly carry the standard warning: may contain nuts.
The term Orwellian gets overused as a description for government behaviour, but it's his writings on political language that I find more interesting. George Orwell would certainly recognise what Geoff Hoon and his friends do when they say:

"The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

No, no, no. I have no more desire to be killed by a terrorist than Geoff does, but the word "civil" in there means "relating to the state". It's no more a direct matter of civil liberties to be killed by a terrorist (and I suspect I'm more likely to have a coconut land on my head) than it is to be run over on your way to work.

I try not to quote the endless monkeys of Wikipedia, but their first line really is it:

"Civil liberties are freedoms that protect the individual from the government."

Civil liberties, therefore, cannot protect you from terrorists, not unless the terrorists actually become the government. Geoff's line is pure spin, and a way of glossing over the real balance that needs to be struck between those civil liberties that prevent the state from (say) detaining you without charge for three months, and on the other hand those law enforcement measures which deter and catch criminals, say, the power of courts to issue search warrants where there are reasonable grounds. 

Anyway, there's no way it can help to try and keep track of 57 billion text messages a year, more than a trillion emails a year, and everyone's web history - which includes, just for starters, 2.5bn web searches per month.

The authoritarians normally say "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear", yet people often have to do searches they have a right to expect privacy about, such as those for divorce lawyers, embarassing medical conditions, or Abba's back catalogue, to say nothing of commercial confidentiality. Until Geoff Hoon is personally prepared to let his every email, text, phone call and web page visit be made public, I will not take him seriously.

Almost whatever the problem, Labour's solution seems to be to throw a massively expensive and complex computer system at it. And their success rate remains close to zero with these projects, which get promoted simply to allow Labour politicians to slur the civilised majority like this:

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."

Doesn't that make your blood boil?

Longest receipt in history.

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Geoffrey Robinson, Peter Mandelson's partner in mortgage scandal, explained what Labour's up to on Newsnight, tongue in cheek. "We're finally implementing the 1983 manifesto."

Oh, we laughed. 

And then began a skim of the infamous suicide note. It's certainly long. At 22581 words it could be a novella, but the plot and characterisation need to be honed a little. 

Somewhat surprisingly, it's not all bad, although anyone wishing to quote me out of context should at least use this whole sentence.

I don't agree with Neil Clark, obviously, but am disappointed that not even New Old Labour will get round to some of the good bits. No amount of Labour government would ever deliver this section on international relations, for example:

  • Cancel the Trident programme, refuse to deploy Cruise missiles and begin discussions for the removal of nuclear bases from Britain, which is to be completed within the lifetime of the Labour government.
  • Ban arms sales to repressive regimes.
  • Increase aid to developing countries towards the UN target of 0.7 per cent.
  • Re-establish a separate Ministry of Overseas Development.
  • Take action to protect the status of refugees in Britain. 

Sure, the penultimate one happened, but that's clearly the least radical part. And perhaps that 0.7% aid target will be met by 2013, but frankly I doubt it. Here's another section that would have been well worth delivering, this time on planning.

We intend also to widen democratic participation in the planning system by:

  • Codifying and extending public rights of consultation, and of appeal against planning decisions;
  • Improving access to public planning inquiries and broadening their terms of reference;
  • Ensuring that, before the inquiry stage of certain major development proposals, the environmental effects are subject to detailed analysis and the report is published;
  • Creating a new fund to help objectors at major public inquiries, with an independent board to decide who should be helped and by how much.

Now, there were policies they did eventually bring in, sure, some of which deserve credit.

Establish a directly elected Scottish Assembly, with an executive drawn from members of the assembly.

While some of the elements Labour delivered were not exactly the brightest. Here's just one example:

Give a high priority to building bypasses.

All of this is incidental, though. The document is primarily famous for its call for state ownership of industry, which is there in spades. Some particularly absurd candidates for nationalisation are included, like film distribution and the building materials industry. 

There's also a specific section on banking, too, the most immediately relevant, in which Labour said it would:

  • Establish a National Investment Bank to put new resources from private institutions and from the government - including North Sea oil revenues - on a large scale into our industrial priorities. The bank will attract and channel savings, by agreement, in a way that guarantees these savings and improves the quality of investment in the UK.
  • Exercise, through the Bank of England, much closer direct control over bank lending. Agreed development plans will be concluded with the banks and other financial institutions.
  • Create a public bank operating through post offices, by merging the National Girobank, National Savings Bank and the Paymaster General's Office.
  • Set up a Securities Commission to regulate the institutions and markets of the City, including Lloyds, within a clear statutory framework.
  • Introduce a new Pension Schemes Act to strengthen members' rights in occupational pension schemes, clarify the role of trustees, and give members a right to equal representation, through their trade unions, on controlling bodies of the schemes.
  • Set up a tripartite investment monitoring agency to advise trustees and encourage improvements in investment practices and strategies.

We expect the major clearing banks to co operate with us fully on these reforms, in the national interest. However, should they fail to do so, we shall stand ready to take one or more of them into public ownership. This will not in any way affect the integrity of customers' deposits.

Not classic New Labour. Yet, except for the purpose being panic, not investment, some of this is now happening. Tighter lending rules are back in vogue, and, a Labour Chancellor is apparently about to part-nationalise all the commercial banks. Hopefully the receipt will show us taxpayers holding some actual assets thereafter.

It makes me wonder if Geoffrey brushed up on his 83 manifesto before going into the studios tonight. Perhaps he didn't need to. He may scoff now, but in 1983, like Tony Blair, he was elected on it.

Apologies for the longest blog post in history. Please take a well-deserved break from the internet.
Scottish Tory Boy has found a scandalous Liberal leaflet, done up with plenty of green ink to make them look like the party of the environment rather than motorways, and there's much to be cross about with it. Here's the section he spotted.

First, as STB points out, they've dishonestly identified one of their regional MSPs as a "local" one, i.e. as the constituency MSP, which is against Parliament's rules. 

This might seem trivial, but it helps ensure people understand how they are represented and by whom, and so prevents poaching and pretend incumbency. The party clearly hopes to promote Jim "Two Jobs" Hume as the constituency challenger to the actual local MSP, in this case Iain Gray, the LOLITSP. A wee compliment is therefore due to STB. The Liberals aren't even trying to poach one of his MSPs: I believe he's just genuinely aggrieved about the principle.

This kind of misrepresentation is what we have come to expect from the Liberals. But the leaflet does include another substantial bit of deception. The quote to the right of the leaflet is identified as a Guardian point of view, the one about the Liberals being the best on the environment for decades. 

Guardian readers might well be impressed to hear that, but it's actually a quote from Liberal conference, merely reported in the Guardian. Who'd expect a speaker at Liberal conference to back the Liberals?

The speaker in question was Dick Hazell, the Chief Executive of the Environmental Services Association. The ESA has many good members working on recycling, but it also supports the worst approach possible to waste - burning it

He's also known as Dirk, and under this name was a chair of the London Tories, before he (shock horror) joined the Liberals. Mr Hazell is pictured here with Brian Paddick, holding a giant membership card, as per the giant charity cheque photo used in every local paper. 

Now this looks even worse. Liberal supporter supports Liberals, and is quoted as if he's the whole damn Guardian. Honest? I think not.

Mr Hazell, as it happens, is a man of flexible opinions, as well as flexible allegiances. He may now think the Liberals best on environmental matters, but while still a Tory he told their conference that:

"Conservative controlled councils are leading on the environment at the local level.."

He's also so green-minded that he believes the objective of Greenpeace is:

"...to limit economic growth: a certain recipe for civil strife and wars which condemns the bulk of humanity to perpetual poverty."

Surely he can't be the same Dick Hazell who, according to his cousin, was apparently "involved in some financial irregularities" while a Vice Chairman of Lloyds, though? Peter Hain named and shamed this Mr Hazell in a Parliamentary motion in 1995, but the internet is unable to prove or disprove a link. 

Finally, to round out my annoyance, this same accursed leaflet includes a grammatical howler. The last sentence reads (emphasis mine):

"I will continue to hold Ministers to account on the environment, and urge strong action on over the packaging of products and the generation of biofuels."

Update: there's another wee typo to look for in their copy too. 

So, in one small section of a single leaflet they've broken Parliamentary rules, misleadingly quoted one of their own as a third party endorsement, and mangled the English language. 

Has anyone got a stronger contender for Worst Liberal Leaflet Ever? A small bottle of something nice is available for the best entry in the comments. Scans or pictures are obligatory, I'm afraid. I have standards.

"Dear all.."

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junkmail.jpgAs Jim Murphy takes over another of Labour's poisoned chalices as Secretary of State for Scotland, a role formerly known to the SNP as Governor General, a story comes back to me from 1997. 

The source is long forgotten, and it may be rumour, so take with a pinch of salt.

Apparently Mr Murphy, newly elected for Eastwood to everyone's great surprise, arrived at the Commons to find its practices and procedures a touch too stuffy for his taste. He therefore, so the story goes, wrote to all MPs inviting them to discuss options for modernisation with him. 

Tam Dalyell was reported to be particularly appalled by an absurd invitation to take part in a process chaired by this young know-nothing with a few weeks' experience of Parliament. And no, nothing ever came of it.

Inside the tent.

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TonyBlairPeterMandelson.jpgPeter Mandelson, New Labour's original turbulent priest, back in the Cabinet? The cursing of the Brown loyalists will be long and heart-felt - this is a bold move to say the least.

It's not just those resignations, either (one, passports for domes, two, loans for curtailing investigations). It's the years of hatred and mistrust. Eighteen months ago, as Gordon Brown was preparing to take office, Mandelson was forced to tell Brown that he couldn't be sacked by the Prime Minister-to-be from his EU Commissioner post. 

Just six months ago Brown told him he could stay on in the Commission, and while the Guardian claimed "they are getting it together again", no-one believed them. These two have been against each other since the time Mandelson backed Blair over Brown for the leadership, and there is no way this will be smooth. 

I wonder if the bookies have offered odds yet on his next resignation. I believe resigning from Cabinet three times would be an all-time record.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Westminster category from October 2008.

Westminster: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Westminster: November 2008 is the next archive.