Back during the midterms, much the US and global media were very much on the anti-Obama bandwagon - Sarah Palin was tipped as a future President, the Tea Party movement was driving politics and one issue, perhaps above all others, was dominating the agenda - healthcare reform.
The Democrats were hammered in the polls - their worst midterm election defeat in 70 years - and the incoming speaker made no bones about his primary objective. Senator John Boehner said “The American people have concerns about government takeover of healthcare,” Boehner said. “I think it’s important for us to lay the groundwork before we begin to repeal this monstrosity.”
So - how strange that barely any media coverage has been paid to the result on May 24th when a congressional seat which had been in Republican hands for over 40 years went to Democrat Kathy Hochul.
The result has been largely put down to the fact that medicare became the primary campaign issue, following the U.S. house of Representatives passing a budget which contained a complete overhaul of the Medicare system. The proposals would have turned Medicare into a mostly private system of delivering health care to the elderly - not dissimilar to the healthcare system for the rest of the population.
Healthcare is clearly a divisive issue on both sides of the Atlantic - but for those looking forward to the 2012 and 2015 elections, they’d be wise to heed the lessons of this campaign. It’s an issue many, many people care about and while reform is essential, this campaign shows just how powerful an issue it remains.
Most importantly for the UK, it also shows that reforms that look good in the political bubble, winning plenty of support, don’t always translate into popular support even in the areas you may consider ‘home turf’.
If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then some council’s are building up enough empty homes for an empire.
Information released today by charity Empty Homes has exposed some remarkable situations, with councils spending millions keeping houses empty while thousands sit on housing waiting lists. And it’s madness.
Councils argue the properties are set to be demolished, and yet there are rarely plans to replace them as the schemes proposed in the boom years have long since been cancelled.
As a result, they spend millions securing them - which often includes the absurd process of ’squatter proofing’ (taxpayer-funded vandalising essentially) which sees toilets and baths smashed, floors and walls ripped out and windows smashed.
The councils then pay to secure and monitor the properties - in theory, until demolition, in reality, for much longer. Once they’ve been ’secured’ they are then shifted from empty housing figures and don’t count to statistics.
The effect is a town the size of Kendal in Cumbria - 12,000 homes - has been airbrushed from the statistics.
They are the tip of a housing iceberg that sees more than 735,000 houses sitting empty nationally – despite 4m people languishing on housing waiting lists.
The worst offenders are Southwark council in London, which currently spends more than £500,000 every year to monitor empty properties – in addition to more than £2m to date, while Liverpool council has spent in excess of £3.4m on just two estates.
Furthermore, Greenwich Council was identified as spending £2.4m securing and monitoring 1327 homes that have sat empty for nearly a decade, while Hackney Council who are spending £150,000 a year on monitoring 260 empty homes.
Hull – home to John Prescott, who as Deputy Prime Minister launched many of the now-stalled regeneration schemes – has 2,569 properties awaiting demolition.
It’s just crazy to have so many homes sat empty for so long. Not only is it a resource question, it’s a moral one as so many people are left on waiting lists or even homeless.
The New Homes bonus applies equally to new properties and empty ones brought back into use. Let’s see how many authorities continue to bleat about spending cuts when they could actually generate revenue and help people into housing.
You can hear the CEO of charity Empty Homes talking about the issue on Monday’s You and Yours.
Ryan Giggs (for it is he who cannot be named) has had his lawyers running a merry dance all over the courts of the world. Aside from trying to change the US Constitution, there’s an interesting question about the impact of his continued legal action.
Google “Wayne Rooney prostitute” and you get 651,000 hits.
However, go with “Ryan Giggs affair” and Google churns out 2,430,000 results.
Yup - four times more than Rooney.
Yet again, the misguided efforts of lawyers - whose motivation is not always clear - has made a reputational problem a crisis. Giggs is not just seen as a cheating husband, but has become an international laughing stock.
Update Monday 9am - Fast forward 12 hours and Giggs has gone up to 2,470,000 - an increase of 40,000 new pages.
Labour have launched a new site. A calendar. Of May 2010. Hard edged stuff, full of empty space where I’m assuming the party would put its policies, if it had any.
Insert policies here.....
Aside from the ridicule it’s attracted on twitter, I’ve also spoted they have used May 2011 as the layout for their calendar, as 1 May 2010 fell on a Saturday. It’s that kind of attention to detail that really earns the trust of the public when you’re asking for the nuclear launch codes.
Today, Max Mosely has lost his legal bid to establish precedent that journalists should warn people before exposing their private lives.
And it’s a damn good thing too.
While many would question the news worthiness of celebrity gossip in the first place, the wider issue is one absolutely in the public interest -simply, the same precedent Mosely sought to establish would have been used by corporates and public figures to quash any negative reporting.
Mosely claims his legal action is about privacy. Fine. But Britain doesn’t have a privacy law. It has the 1998 Human Rights Act, and his legal action - not to mention to swathe of super-injunctions currently being ridiculed on Twitter - are based upon judicial interpretation of that.
As Ian Hislop told the culture, media and sport select committee, the current state of privacy law is ‘censorship by judicial process’. While in the past legal action has followed publication, the vogue now is to threaten legal action once the subject of an investigation becomes aware of it. The theory goes that costs (particularly where conditional fee agreements are involved) are such a threat that they push editors to self-censure. Indeed, this is exactly what Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford, concluded into a study around the use of “no-win no-fee” libel action.
It wasn’t a libel action that Schillings threatened Private Eye with when they told the magazine to stop making inquiries about the former NHS IT head Richard Granger. It was a privacy action. While libel carries the financial fear, privacy opens up the possibility of pre-publication injunction.
As Ian Hislop said: “Privacy is the new libel. If you want to shut people up, privacy is the way you go about it because libel is too difficult.”
As a taxpayer, I would hope a court would view an investigation into how £13bn of public money was splashed on an utterly unworkable IT system was in the public interest - but it’s absurd the Eye, or any journalist, would have to pay a fortune simply to defend themselves from an injunction before publication on the grounds that the figure involved wanted to protect their privacy.
Parliament needs to move swiftly to resolve this situation. It’s undoubtedly having an impact on investigative journalism, while malpractice and activity far from the public interest is given judicial protection. It is absurd an entirely new avenue of privacy law is being abandoned to judicial creativity, far beyond the realms of acceptable interpretation.
We do need a clear privacy law - the kind that makes children a no-go for paparazzi, protects the family lives of public figures and gives journalist a clear guide on how they can investigate stories without tapping phones or rooting through bins.
The flip side of that law must be made equally clear -the media have a right to investigate stories freely and publish where there is a public interest. Furthermore, those who see fit to sell their privacy to the highest bidder when it suits them cannot subsequently expect their activities to be off-limits because of their own misbehaviour.
Or, as Guido Fawkes puts it - “If you don’t want to be on the front pages then don’t pay hookers to stick dildos up your bum.”
A year ago, I took my first (slightly nervy) step into the world of Westminster politics. I had a great team around me who made the campaign the success I think it was, but ultimately when you’re the one stood on the platform speaking to a group of people, it can be quite a solitary experience. You think long and hard about why you’re there, and what on earth you want to talk about from the hundreds of issues being discussed in pubs, on the street and in public meetings.
In my case, the overwhelming majority of people who listened to me speaking were older than me and when you’re a 25 year old stood next to a cabinet minister, it’s not always a given that by adding ‘candidate’ to your introduction you’ll be taken seriously. But, I spoke honestly and from the heart and asked people humbly for their vote. I cast my ballot (for myself) in my old primary school and nothing gave me greater pride than to offer myself as a candidate knowing I’d be sharing the experience in the school I learnt to read in.
But, alas, it was always going to be an uphill struggle - taking on a 22,000+ majority is not something that motivates you to knock on an extra door or put out a few more leaflets!
Yet during the campaign, I asked for the votes of the people I met because I genuinely believed I understood their concerns, cared passionately that there was an alternative, better vision for the towns I hoped to represent. I never asked for their pity, in supporting me because I was young, not tainted by the expenses scandal or simply not Yvette Cooper. I wanted them to vote for me because they shared my hopes and aspirations for the community we knew as home.
And that’s why Im against AV. Politics shouldn’t be about considering who you’d rather see elected once the candidate you want is knocked out. Voting is the most precious of democratic rights and when electing Parliaments I want to know that, if I ever make it to Westminster, I’m there because I was able to earn the trust and support of my constituents - I don’t want to be there because I was the least-worst option. When difficult issues arise, I have always believed that the public respect a politician more for disagreeing than for pandering. Its how I fought my election, and will continue to do if I have the chance again. In for a penny, in for a pound as my grandad would say.
Politicians should lead their communities, inspire their electorate and earn the trust of their constituents. Under AV, they might not be the ones who win - and our democracy would be poorer as a result.
PRs will be familiar with a tool called Response Source - it’s basically a way for journalists to email people asking for comment/case studies on topics without having to ring thousands of people individually.
Well, one’s just dropped into my inbox that really does amaze.
Bereavement is a serious topic - one that the NHS should absolutely have material on. But piggybacking on the death of an international terrorist to achieve this?
MEDIA OUTLET: NHS Online
DEADLINE: 6 May 2011 at 12:00
QUERY: In reaction to the huge news that Osama Bin Laden has been killed, and triggered by the repeated comments that ‘justice has now been served’, I’d like to question the notion of revenge on mental health.
Even better - they want vigilante case studies!
- The family/ friend of a loved one who was lost specifically in the 9/11 attacks and/ or someone who was either responsible for bringing about justice or was the family/ friend of someone who was avenged. Can either be within or without the law …
So - there you have it. Thats your tax dollar hard at work.
This Thursday, the country goes to the polls to decide whether or not it would like to change the voting system. (Although sadly it won’t be asked to do so by ranking preferences.)
The campaign has been hard fought, and not always in the best spirit. While I’ve found the Yes camp’s celebrity tactics quite laughable, I also though the No camp’s decision to include the cost of the referendum itself in their £250m ‘cost of AV’ campaign pretty dubious. (Not to mention rolling out Ross Kemp after slating the celeb strategy!)
Today, the Spectator is reporting Chris Hune has now taken his grievances about the ‘No’ campaign to the cabinet table, after his absence last week. Some tittle tattle has suggested that if the vote does return (as I think it’s fair to say, is now expeced) a ‘No’ then Hune would ditch his cabinet post, challenge Clegg for the Leadership of the Lib Dems and then take the party out of Coalition if he succeeded. That would most likely mean another election, much earlier than anyone is planning.
Do I think it’s a realistic prospect? No. Here are a few reasons that I think the coalition is safe for a long time to come yet - with Nick Clegg at the heart of it.
The Lib Dems are in Government. Yes, it’s doing unpopular things but as most polls show, the bulk of the voting public who would ever fall into the ‘lib dem target’ category broadly support the coalition. Hune would essentially be kicking his leadership bid off by saying ‘Have your last breakfast in Government, then go back to your constituency surgeries.’
Would Hune really beat Clegg? I doubt it. Not only did Hune look very petty over the ‘Calamity Clegg’ briefing document in 2006, he only managed runner-up against Menzies Campbell in that contest and only 10 MPs backed his campaign in 2007.
Less than one year ago (June 2010) Hune announced that he was having an affair and left his wife (of 26 years) and three kids as a result of being caught out by the press. It followed an election campaign when he had played the family card pretty heavily -as he did in the Lib Dem leadership contest.
Expenses - Hune not only claimed for a picture of himself to be framed (£85.35) but also a trouser press, which you may remember he claimed live on Channel 4 that he needed ‘to look smart for work’.
Boundary changes - its in the best interest of both the Tories and Lib Dems that the boundary changes go ahead - and they won’t be ready for at least another year.
Nobody wants an early election - the debate (saving any major incidents of a pretty huge scale) will be focused on the economy - and the Osborne/Alexander (and probably Laws) plan delivers a feel good factor towards the end of the Parliament. No goverment wants to go to the polls with the ‘zero percent growth’ tagline anywhere near the debate.
Finally - it’s worth noting that the man with knife in his hands rarely emerges victorious. Huhne has started to look petty and disrespectful, leaving Cable and Laws in the wings. Or, as it may be, Jeremy Browne or Paul Burstow - the other two Lib Dem Ministers who may have enjoyed their taste of Government.
If there is a No vote, Huhne should resign and declare his intentions or make a very clear statement to the effect that he is now back on board with the coaltion. Then the question be for Clegg - does he trust him enough to be?