John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
  Blears calls Labour wicked and malicious - and then denies it


The interesting thing here is that there are recordings of her first saying one thing than saying another.

My transcript of what she says one day is "nobody knows what Ed Milliband stands for. Actually if you are a bit of a blank sheet of the paper to the public you have a chance of doing something new and for goodness sake. I feel this personally so much. Don't we need something new. After 13 years that sense of trying to put behind us the kind of wicked, malicious stuff that's gone on in our party."

The next day she claims it is a comment about the coalition. She says "I think I was talking about tory cuts."

Indeed bang to rights.
 
  "A new generation for change"
It is hard to believe that the Labour Party would already start on the "change, change, change" bandwagon with the above slogan.

We know that they have already reversed position on the necessity of imposing a change to the civil service pension scheme.

It appears that they are moving away gradually from supporting cuts in public spending.

Otherwise from a policy perspective changes are substantially to policies set by the Labour Party themselves.

We also appear to have David Milliband saying that if he cannot be in charge he doesn't want to play.

In a sense this is a symptom of the obsession with the executive and the traditional weakness of parliament.

Personally I believe that there is a lot that can be done simply as a back bench MP and that parliament should be seen as more than a nursery for government. That is why I have been working to strengthen parliament (as the voice of the people).

Parliament is the fundamental democratic institution not the cabinet or shadow cabinet.
 
Monday, September 20, 2010
  Hemming backs Farron for President
John Hemming MP has publicly backed Tim Farron in his campaign to be the next president of the Liberal Democrats. He said

"Tim is an impressive communicator. Communicating is key to politics, particularly in government. We need to ensure that people are aware that the Coalition is cleaning up the mess that Labour left whilst protecting the weak. I think Tim will help in getting this message across to the party throughout the UK."
 
Friday, September 17, 2010
  Who should I vote for in the Labour Leadership election
Although I do have a ballot and am not the only Lib Dem MP to have a ballot paper, I don't think I should cast it.

At least, however, I have only one ballot paper. I think Harriet Harman and Jack Dromey have 7 votes between them.
 
  Article in Independent
I have just linked to my article in the Independent about the deficit and Labour's approach.
 
Thursday, September 16, 2010
  FII (MSbP) in the USA
The link is to a story in the USA where a child was improperly diagnosed and as a consequence taken into care and not treated appropriately for his condition whilst in care.

This sort of thing really concerns me. Medics are too willing to blame patients for their undiagnosed symptoms. This causes them to stop researching for the real causes.
 
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
  Turnbull and Blair
The comments by Lord Turnbull and Tony Blair are key simply because the former was the top civil servant and the latter the Prime minister at the time when things started going particularly wrong for the country's finances.

I have extracted elements from Tony Blair's memoirs which basically talk about the economic problems we face now and how they were exacerbated by the government whilst he was Prime Minister and then when Gordon Brown took over.

They speak for themselves. However, basically he accepts that
a) The financial problems were exacerbated because Labour overspent.
b) That making serious cuts is inevitable and that Labour cannot challenge the overall envelope of public spending.
c) That Labour should have put up VAT.
d) That a Labour - Lib Dem coalition was a non-starter.
e) That the target public spending of 42% of GDP is actually not that low.

He argues that Labour should avoid going into opposition mode.
From p679 onwards

The economic crisis, strangely enough, was an opportunity. At first, we took it. It was here Gordon acted at his best, intellectually rigorous, totally driven, sure in his touch. The plan for the banks was right.

But then he decided that a paradigm shift had occurred. He bought completely the so-called Keynesian 'state is back in fashion' thesis that appeared dominant.

Alistair Darling was an excellent Chancellor but (I would hazard a guess) he was not given the chance to implement policy in the way he wanted.

the 2009 Budget signalled a return to tax and spend;


What should we have done? As I suggested in my analysis of the economy earlier, in my view we should have taken a New Labour way out of the economic crisis: kept direct tax rates competitive, had a gradual rise in VAT and other indirect taxes to close the deficit, and used the crisis to push further and faster on reform.

I believe such a programme is economically right.

There's been lots of speculation about the possibility that there could have been a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. In my view, it was never on.

The danger for Labour now is that we drift off or even move decisively off, to the left. If we do, we will lose even bigger next time. We have to buck the historical trend and face up to the reasons for defeat squarely and honestly.

If Labour wants to come back, it has to realise just how quickly defeat has altered the political landscape. It means the Tories get to clear up the economic deficit and define its nature, and can do so while pointing the finger of blame at the previous government.

If Labour simply defaults to a 'Tory cutters, Lib Dem collaborators' mantra, it may well benefit in the short term; however, it will lose any possibility of being chosen as an alternative government. Instead, it has to stand up for its record in the many areas it can do so, but also explain where the criticism of the thirteen years is valid. It should criticise the composition but not the thrust of the Tory deficit reductions.

This is incredibly difficult Of course, the key factor in our economy as elsewhere, is the global economic crisis and all nations are having to cut back and adjust. However, we should also accept that from 2005 onwards Labour was insufficiently vigorous in limiting or eliminating the potential structural deficit. The failure to embrace the Fundamental Savings review of 2005-6 was, in retrospect, a much bigger error than I ever thought at the time. An analysis of the pros and cons of putting so much into tax credits is essential. All of this only has to be stated to seem unconscionably hard. Yet unless we do this, we cannot get the correct analysis of what we did right, what we did wrong, and where we go now.

Attacking the nature of the Tory-Lib Dem changes to public spending requires greater Intellectual depth and determination, and each detail has to be carefully considered. So, for example, if we attack as we should the cuts to school investment, we have to be prepared to say where we would also make more radical savings than the new government. But it is better than mounting a general attack on macro policy - 'putting the recovery at risk' - and ending up betting the shop that the recovery fails to materialise. It is correct that the withdrawal of the stimulus in each country's case is a delicate question of judgement, but if you study the figures for government projections in the UK, by the end of 2014 public spending will still be 42 per cent of GDP.

Such an approach is the reverse of what is easy for Oppositions, who get dragged almost unconsciously, almost unwillingly, into wholesale opposition. It's where the short-term market in votes is. It is where the party feels most comfortable. It's what gets the biggest cheer. The trouble is, it also chains the Opposition to positions that in the longer term look irresponsible, short-sighted or just plain wrong.



Labour has no option but to be credible in its own right. That means as I say having a coherent position on the deficit. It means remaining flexible enough to attack the government from left and from right. It means being ready at any time to assume the mantle of government.



From this it can be seen that I still favour the third-way progressive politics, still believe it represents the best chance, nor just for the centre left but for the country; and indeed not just for the UK but for others too.

Many people on the progressive wing of politics, however, will read the analysis of the financial crisis and the security threat and say: But there are those on the right who can agree with that, so what's progressive about it?
The question is vital, decisive even of the fate of progressive politics. First, what makes you a progressive? I would say: belief in social justice, ie using the power of society as a whole to bring opportunity prosperity and hope to those without it; to do so not just within our national boundaries but outside of them; to judge our societies by the condition of the weak as much as the strong; to stand up at all times for the principle that all human beings are of equal worth, irrespective of race, religion, gender (I would add of sexuality) or ability; and never to forget and always to strive for those at the bottom, the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the ones others forget.

Notice these are all values, not policies. They may beget policies.



Fourth - and tactically hardest of all for the centre left - progressives have to be proud of policies that lead to efficiency as much as those that lead to justice. Why? Because the lesson learned since 1945 is that driving value for money through public services is not a question of being efficient rather than just - it is just. Spend less on bureaucracy and you spend more on front-line care. To me, reform of health care, education, welfare and pensions was based on both efficiency and justice. Better services were also fairer. Likewise I was as keen on Bank of England independence as on a minimum wage; on encouraging business as on giving people the right to be union members; on growth as much as on tackling poverty Now it is true some of those policies and even sentiments are sometimes more associated with the right; but that's our fault - and our bane, actually This will focus especially around the role of the state, which is why it is so important not to misread the political consequences of the financial crisis. Big-state politics today will fail. In fact if you offer small state vs big state', small will win.
 
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
  Now the Mandarins Speak Out (a bit late really)
The link is to this article on Civil Service Live. This refers to an interview here with Lord Turnbull the previous Cabinet Secretary.

He agrees with Tony Blair
Turnbull said that that excessive borrowing started to be a problem from 2005. “It kind of crept up on us in 2005, 2006, 2007, and we were still expanding public spending at 4.5 percent a year,” he said, arguing that the Treasury should have been putting more money aside. “You might have thought that we should have been giving priority to getting borrowing under better control, putting money aside in the good years – and it didn’t happen,” he commented.

Turnbull said that “there were some other places that had begun to accumulate surpluses for a rainy day; places like Australia.”

While Turnbull argued that the primary reason Britain is “in the mess that we’re in” is because “public spending got too big relative to the productive resources of the economy, by error” he added that a loss of output caused by the financial crisis has also contributed to the budget deficit.
 
Monday, September 13, 2010
  PCS not willing to engage with the debate
I have linked to an article in the New Stateman in which Mark Serwotka says the following:

"Lots of political decisions are inefficient and wasteful, but none of those things is on anyone's radar. When people talk about reform, what they mean is cuts and job losses. We believe there should not be any reduction in public spending at all."

The problem with this approach is it basically does not engage with the debate. Labour accepted that £50,000,000,000 of cuts were necessary.

If the union position is that there should be no reduction in public spending at all then they are unable to engage with the debate.

PCS used their veto to stop the Labour Government's plan to (rightly) remove the scheme that gives 6 years pay to some Civil Servants who are made redundant. It is simply not possible to run the government and pay such massive redundancy payments.

Hence the coalition has legislated to remove that Veto.

I wonder if the democratic accountability of Mark Serwotka will ensure that he wakes up and smells the coffee. I have dealt with a number of union leaders in the past who have been quite reasonable and sensible in trying to get the best result for their members. Going for the impossible gets nothing.
 
Saturday, September 11, 2010
  Afghanistan
The House voted on the issue of Afghanistan on Thursday. This was the first time there has been a substantive vote on the issue. What it demonstrates is the merit of having a mechanism for the back benches to identify substantive issues to debate. (I speak as a member of the committee that does this).

There are some real difficulties for the government in dealing with this issue. Apart from the fact that it arises as a legacy from the previous government it is also something that has to be resolved through NATO. Although some governments have unilaterally withdrawn I would expect the UK and the US to work jointly on this.

Hence it is not surprising that the government whipped in support of the underlying resolution:"That this House supports the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan."

I was a teller against this resolution. My concerns fit quite closely with those of Conservative MP and ex-soldier John Baron.

Conservative Home have looked at some of the issues in more details.

John Baron's full speech is available here.

John Baron's argument is that the objective of the action in Afghanistan is unclear and keeps changing. Furthermore he is the only person to compare Afghanistan to Malaya.

"There can be no doubt in the Chamber that the preparations for our mission in Afghanistan defied all the lessons of history."

...

"Our involvement ignores the lessons of history on counter-insurgency campaigns. For example, in Malaya and other successful counter-insurgency campaigns, we had control of the borders, a credible Government, the support of the majority of the people and a large number of troops relative to the local population. None of those conditions exist in Afghanistan, but we continue to believe that somehow we will win."


Malaya is important because it is a historical example of success in nation building.

The problem with the NATO strategy in Afghanistan is that we have ended up on one side in what is in essence a civil war. Many of the tribes against NATO are not people who would think of themselves as Taliban. They are simply against the others.

To that extent NATO has created a rod for its own back.

I am pleased that the government has set a deadline although the deadline in itself causes the difficulty in raising the question as to what other tests need to be satisfied before withdrawal. (As in - "If we are going to go by 2015 why not go in 2010").

The problem is that all of the tests that people set such as training the Afghan Army and the like are not established with criteria to define whether the test is passed or fails.

I do not think the current NATO strategy is sustainable. However, I am unsure as to how long it will be before that is recognised. I suppose the current strategy (which is supposed to be slightly different) is going to be given a bit of time to either fail or succeed. I don't think, however, that we can look at Iraq and claim that any particular strategy there was a success.

If you are interested in this issue I suggest at least you read John Baron's speech. The whole debate is also quite a good one. It is also available in video.

Video of the debate
 
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
  Phone Hacking and Andy Coulson
I think people have been missing the point when looking at the Phone Hacking issue.

There is quite an important constitutional issue about MPs being bugged by someone privately and information collected. In a sense this has been swallowed up by the fact that the senior manager of the newspaper who was
a) In place when this happened, but
b) Who resigned because he took responsiblity for it happening on his watch

is now working for the government. He has accepted a sanction for what happened and his "fingerprints" have not been found on the details. Hence, unless more evidence is found he has no further questions to answer.

I think Teresa May is right to leave the operational questions to the police. They are, however, subject both to judicial review and to any actions that parliament may wish to take.

Much that I don't think this is an issue for the government. I do think it is an issue both for the police and parliament.

I have supported the calls for there to be a reference to the Standards and Privileges Committee here and would support an application for judicial review if one was to be made.
 
Sunday, September 05, 2010
  The Emergency Budget was Progressive
I spent some time looking at the IFS analysis published about a week and a half ago about the budget.

Their analysis is now on their website via the news release which is here. The report itself is available via this page.

I wrote an article for the Guardian's Comment is free section which is here

I think a lot of the coverage of the IFS report was additionally misleading. I think the IFS could have been a lot clearer about their analysis when interviewed. For example there was this today interview.

I transcribed part of this interview which follows:

Presenter: "If you had to focus on one measure that was if you like impacting the poor more than the rich I think your analysis shows it is the rather subtle one that sounds very innocuous that we are going to update benefits by the CPI rather than the RPI.

IFS: "yes that's the largest welfare cut that's coming in over the next few years. That's forecast to save the government about 5.8 bn pounds by 2014 But it will keep That amount will keep on increasing every year in the future because the CPI tends to go up less quickly than the RPI and that is firstly because of a technical change in the way it is calculated that is quite justified because the RPI does not account for the fact that people can change what they buy when prices go up to keep their level of welfare the same and also because mortgage interest and council tax that have tended to go up faster than general inflation are excluded from the CPI. Now the government said that that might be justified because people who claim benefits are not exposed to these things because they generally rent or council tax benefit covers their council tax. However, we find that only 23% of benefit claimants are in fact unaffected by increases in these items

Presenter: it is one of these things that is quite technical but makes an enormous difference and bigger every year as it accumulates.

IFS: yes


This interview failed to get to the truth in a relatively simple manner. The figure of 23.1% of benefit claimants referred to in the interview includes myself (a multi-millionaire businessman who is also an MP) as a “benefit claimant”.

The interviewee from the IFS failed to explain that those benefits that the poorer households are particularly dependent upon (Job Seekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support etc) are not currently uprated by the RPI, but are in fact uprated by the ROSSI index (which already excludes Mortgage Interest and Council Tax).

Hence the IFS spokeman was not referring in his answer to the really poor households although the interviewer was.

There were also other errors in the report.

However, the misrepresentation of the RPI-CPI shift was the worst aspect of the coverage that I think that, given the interview transcribed above, the IFS need to accept it was their responsibility.

For example in The Guardian (25th August) we have this:

No minister can read this report and attempt to describe their measures as fair. They are anything but. Nor is it the case that these regressive measures are a one-off. Far from it: the biggest reason the chancellor's emergency budget is so unfair is because he has permanently pegged benefits to the lower consumer price index (CPI) rather than the old retail prices index (RPI). That may sound technical, but consider this: CPI is currently just above 3%, while RPI is nearly 5%. Now imagine your disability benefits inching up by 3% a year every year rather than 5%: within just a few years that leaves you with a big shortfall. This one fact puts in perspective the recent speculation about how Iain Duncan Smith is fighting for more generous welfare provision – a couple of billion extra does not offset the many billions being taken from society's support for the poorest. With full access to all the Treasury models, Mr Osborne will have known how much poorer he was about to make some of the most vulnerable members of society – yet he went ahead and did it anyway.


Basically the above analysis is not true. The benefits that households receive that are dependent upon benefits overwhelmingly are currently updated by the ROSSI index not RPI - furthermore the use of a geometric mean is something endorsed by the IFS. (that is the main difference between ROSSI and CPI).

Additional points are in the CiF article.
 
Thursday, September 02, 2010
  Blair admits overspending from 2005
The link is to the BBC story which includes the text:
The UK should have addressed its public deficit back in 2005, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has told the BBC.

Speaking to Andrew Marr, Mr Blair said: "We should probably have taken a tougher fiscal position than we did."

He said that this was also about the time when disagreement between himself and Gordon Brown "started to spill over into macro-economic policy".


This is the key point that I have been making which is that we would not have had as big a problem as we do now had we not over spent from 2005. I am slightly surprised that Tony Blair has actually agreed with this because it is the defining issue of this parliament where he accepts that the coalition are right and the Labour leadership candidates (except perhaps David Milliband) are wrong.
 
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
  German Army Report on Peak Oil
The link is to an English Translation in the german newspaper Der Spiegel. They are talking about Peak Oil being around nowish. (Although on a geological scale even a thousand years from now would be around nowish).
 
  Letter from Chief Executive NHS Direct
Dear Colleague,

I expect that you will have read or seen the media coverage over the Bank holiday weekend about NHS Direct. I wanted to write promptly to you to correct any misleading impression that this may have created that NHS Direct as an organisation is being closed down. This is not what the Government has said, nor is it their intention.

The Government has confirmed that the 0845 46 47 telephone service we are commissioned to provide will be phased out as the new NHS 111 service is developed and rolled out nationally. This is no surprise as it was included in the White Paper in June. We are fully supportive of the new 111 telephone number, and the plan for the 111 service to be thoroughly integrated into local health communities with a more integrated urgent and out of hours response. We have been working with the Department of Health on the 111 programme since 2009, and we are working with the Department and local health communities involved in all three of the “Pathfinder” schemes that are testing how 111 can work best. The new service will build on and develop the service that NHS Direct currently provides. Decisions on how the new NHS 111 service will be commissioned and how it will be provided in the future have yet to be made.

In the meantime, NHS Direct will continue with the business of offering advice and guidance to patients, via the “core” 0845 46 47 service, and providing other local and national telephone and web-based services on behalf of our commissioners. There will be no disruption to any of these services, and we will ensure above all that there is continuity of service to patients.

You may want to use this message in any onward communications you have with your own stakeholders, and of course, I am more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.

Best wishes


Nick Chapman
Chief Executive
 

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