so, last week Gordon Brown proudly announced he was going to scrap the second home allowance and replace it with a daily ‘clock on’ payment. (The same type of payment that works brilliantly in Brussells. Well, I say brilliantly - it’s an awful scheme, unless you’re an MEP in which case it’s fill your boots time.)
Brown’s plan was launched at the same time as the budget, either an attempt to hide the story behind terrifying levels of national debt or, as it entirely possible, to try show the government is doing something after ducking any real decisions in the budget.
Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee on Standards in Public Life is already doing a review of the system (which Brown ordered) but Brown wanted a vote this week. Rather than face Parliament or the media, he announced his plan on YouTube.
Now, we’re being told the plan is being ditched. Why? Because it’s such a bad plan Brown’s own backbenchers dont like it and it hasnt a cat in hell’s chance of being passed. I make that about 5 days. Pretty rapid in the idea-policy-legislative proposal-U-turn-scrap the idea chain even by modern political standards.
As Newsnight has just put it, “it was a shambles of his own making. A case study of how not to govern”
It’s been said before, but a week is a long time in politics - especially when you’re desperately grabbing for anything that might win you some votes!
The expenses system does need wholesale reform. Given the complexity of the system, and the public trust issues involved, surely Brown didnt think an idea fleshed out on the back of a beer mat was sufficient? Perhaps not, but it seems David Cameron’s persistence in raising the issue at PMQ’s prompted the action (or at least if you believe the Mail, something that usually carries a mild health risk -much like reading this blog or using Facebook/twitter, if you believe the Mail….)
My fundamental problem with the current system is that it doesnt just cover the cost of running two homes - a necessary expense which MPs should rightly be compensated for - but it allows lavish expenses, and when an MP leaves parliament they have a huge capital assett that they own, which has been paid for by the taxpayer. (Incidentally, the Lib Dem proposal to take a chunk of the capital assett appreciation is nice in principle but far too complicated to work in reality)
So, I’m left with the same thought I’ve had for a while now - MPs pay should be set by the same body that sets the National Minimum Wage, not Parliament, and MPs should recieve an allowance which covers the rent and council tax of a property in London. Where an MP wants their family to live in London, that is then their main home and they should be left to arrange that themselves, with a property rented in the constituency for them in the same manner.
And every recepit for any expense claimed should be published, within 28 days of the claim being submitted, on an independent website.
Then nobody can claim the system is secret and MPs really will have to answer to the public.
so, end of my first week in my new job. been a challenge, but very enjoyable.
anyway, this week has been quite amazing politically - we had a pretty remarkable budget, when the government ducked any tough decisions because of the impending election, and the only substantive change was entirely politically motivated. I’m not sure about the 50p tax rate - needless to say it doesnt effect me and i dont know anyone it does, but i apprectiate that there are a number of entrepeneurs who will be hit and might choose to leave the UK rather than pay it.
then today i saw a video on you tube, on the gofourth channel, that labour had made. basically it was george osbornes budget response, processed to look old, and with random headlines imposed on the video.
overlooking the fact that it isnt a)funny or b)well made, it’s just amazing that at a time when the national debt is skyrocketing, the government’s record on economic competency is shot and people are loosing their jobs, labour think it’s acceptable to make crap pisstake videos that almost appear to laud in the scale of the recession. you could be mistaken watching the video that theres some other party in charge and labour are still in the opposition.
as i tweeted to john prescot, it’s a load of bollocks.
anyway, not wanting to end the weekend on a bad note, last night i was lucky enough to see a danish band called Efterklang. It was part of the fuse leeds event and they played with the britten symphonic orchestra. a pretty amazing sound, epic and yet very intimate. i havent finished editing the pics yet, but for the time being here’s the video to the final track on their album, Parades. Enjoy.
so, the last week has been kindov a holiday for me - I finished my last job as an Account Manager in a PR agency on Friday 27 March, and I start my new job as PR Manager on the 20th April. Turns out it’s the longest time I’ve gone without a days work in an ‘office’ or working at a festival for about 5 years.
So I’ve tried to do something productive with my time - caught up with lots of friends i havent seen for ages, read lots, listened to lots of new music (installing and deleting spotify in the process - a genius bit of kit, but i lost half a day and normally that would be a bit of a problem) and generally tried to relax. it’s not something i do very well, so my living room table has kindov turned into my desk/office space. it seems to come with more tea than my usual work environment though.
what a weekend - and we’ve still got two days of the easter break left to go.
first guido fawkes trails the line “he who lives by the smear…” with a picture of downing street honcho Damian McBride (complete with crosshairs)
Then we hear emails exist, originating in No10, that discuss a campaign of smears against the Conservative leadership, MPs, and even bloggers.
Now I’m not going to claim for a second this is a one-off in politics. Even during my short political memory, the ‘new labour new danger’ posters to Labour’s ill-thought out shylock ad in 2005 have demonstrated the attraction of negative campaigning to all parties. (and before any Lib Dem’s feel left out, just remember Simon Hughes’ “straight candidate” campaign against Peter Tatchell.)
In the US, there is a law called “Posse Commatatus” which simply put says that the military cannot be used in civillian law-enforcement operations. To me, the main crux of the ‘Smeargate’ story is the role of a taxpayer-funded position being used to instigate/manage/contribute to wholly-political activity (and very,very dirty political activity at that) In other words, in the vein of posse commatatus, we need a much clearer divide between those who are governing and those who run the political operations of the governing party.
Had McBride been working at Labour party HQ, in a job paid for by the Labour party, then I doubt the story would be much less of a storm. (Indeed, the damage-limitation exercise attempted with a pre-emptive apology/leak to Saturday’s Telegraph might have worked if this was the case)
It’s a mess for Labour, no doubt. McBride’s closeness to Brown made him a huge liability and he had to go. One-nil to Mr Guido Fawkes. (Jane Merrick of the Independent has done a great blog on the scalp Fawkes has claimed here)Tom Watson MP and Derek Draper are still very much in the sights of both those on the right and left who have deplored the cheap tactics Labour are turning to in desperation. Even Alistair Campbell recognises that their actions are a long way from where politically, Labour’s main focus should be.
So what next? Tom Harris MP has hinted at what Charles Clarke will probably say a great deal over the next few days - Derek Draper should be cut loose, while the Tories have been given free-reign to launch another “Gordon should say sorry” campaign - which on today’s evidence should be dominating the news agenda until well into the middle of the week. I expect, given Chris Grayling’s role over the Easter weekend, that when Cameron/Osborne/Hague return to the fold as the story dies down, it will be to re-focus their attack on the downturn and Brown’s refusal to acknowledge his culpability in events. The line already being deployed about DowningSt playing dirty politics instead of working to fix the economy and protect jobs will be hammered home, and rightly so.
There might even be a proposal to change the role of special advisors, one which would be welcomed in liht of this story. But a note of caution - if you expect politicians to operate in a politics-free zone once they assume Governmental office, that is to invite opposition politicans to be even more political.
The best way to ensure political debate focuses on the issues that matter to the Country is to expose those who seek to detract from such debate with crass, cheap politics. And for that, Guido Fawkes has performed a public service for which he should be applauded.
So the first day of my holiday and two major stories break in Wakefield. Nothing like a slow news day to get you out of bed!
The first is a real blow for the district - Wakefield College’s major development looks like it’s fallen foul to national incompetence. Strangely after all the pomp and ceremony of the launch, Ed Balls and Mary Creagh are absolutely nowhere to be seen.
The second story however really got my blood boiling. I read with incredulity the news that Wakefield Council parted with a £545,000 gold-plated-goodbye to its former Chief Executive.
It was the worst kept secret in the district that leader of the ruling Labour group, Peter Box, did not take well to Foster - who was brought in to rescue Wakefield MDC from the depths of failure Box had led the authority to.
But then again it seems wasting public money is nothing new to Cllr Box. A terrifying example was the plight of six whistle blowers who won £1m in damages for, as the Yorkshire Post’s Rob Waugh put it, “having the guts to tell the truth” about failings in Wakefield’s children’s homes. Wakefield Council not only fired them , but attempted to damage the credibility of the staff and the YP.