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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Unintended journeys

We have all heard stories about people falling asleep on the train or bus and ending up in the wrong place, or even getting on the wrong vehicle and finding oneself travelling in the wrong direction. However, I am not so sure I have ever come across somebody inadvertently finding themselves on the way to the South Pole before.

Today's Telegraph reports that a marine mechanic was reportedly working on an anchor aboard the 52ft Nilaya in Auckland harbour, when the yacht hurriedly cast off as immigration officials tried to serve deportation papers on the skipper, Jarle Andhoy, 34:

Mr Andhoy and three crew members have embarked on an unpermitted voyage to Antarctica's Ross Sea, in defiance of both the Norwegian and New Zealand governments.

A previous trip he made to Antarctica almost a year ago ended in disaster when his yacht Berserk sank in a fierce storm and three men died.

Declaring himself "a Viking", the Norwegian adventurer says he is seeking the wreckage of the Berserk, which was serving as a supply ship for an attempt to reach the South Pole on quad bikes.

New Zealand authorities, who co-ordinated an extensive search and rescue operation last year in which Mr Andhoy and a companion were airlifted to safety, are furious about his return voyage.

Given that the workman does not have the appropriate clothing and the ship itself does not have a beacon so that rescue services can find it, this appears to be a particularly hazardous trip for the unwilling traveller.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pyjamas, morning, noon and night

For those of us lamenting the increasing trend to wear pyjamas outside the home, morning, afternoon or evening, this must be the best story yet.

The BBC report that a social welfare office in Dublin has banned interviewees from wearing pyjamas. A notice has appeared at Damastown social welfare office which warns claimants that "pyjamas are not regarded as appropriate attire when attending Community Welfare Service at these offices". They say that the decision was made after a number of people complained.

This is a step beyond popping to the shops in pyjamas. After all, when you go to a social welfare office you are meant to be seeking work. Who would employ somebody who turned up to an interview in pyjamas?

The BBC reminds us that it is commonplace for parents to be seen on the school run wearing pyjamas, as it is to see nightwear in the local shop or supermarket, but they also point out that the fashion houses of Paris and Milan have gone into servicing in this area. One interviewee reports that he has witnessed people walking around Mayfair in London in their pyjamas.

Where will it end?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cleaning up politics

Sky News reports that a committee of MPs has warned that the Government must take action to clean up party political funding before another "scandal intervenes". The Political and Constitutional Reform committee has called on the Coalition Government to stick to pledges to reform party financing "in order to remove big money from politics".

The problem though, as they identify, is to build a consensus around changes, and that seems as far away as ever. This is evidenced by the outcome of the 15-month inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which proposed last year that a £10,000 cap on donations be imposed in a bid to end "cash for influence" scandals and corruption allegations.

Under their plans, this funding would partly be paid for by a £23m-a-year taxpayer subsidy, but the three biggest parties united in opposition, saying that it was not acceptable in the present economic climate, even if the change was delayed until 2015.

We seem to be as far away from reform as ever. Should the Coalition go-ahead and impose it anyway? Could it get non-consensual changes through Parliament? Is there even an appetite for reform? It is about time that all the political parties got together and sorted this out.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An alternative view of transparency

This morning's Independent shows that a decade of openness and transparency in government has not won over the hearts and minds of the mandarins whose job it is to keep the show on the road.

They say that the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O'Donnell has revealed that civil servants spend a great deal of time working out ways around the Freedom of Information Act including instituting a system of "oral government" in which important discussions are never written down:

The peer, who left his role as head of the Civil Service in December, said the fear of minutes eventually being published was "driving stuff underground or into non-FOI-able routes".

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour, Lord O'Donnell said the process would result in "worse public policy decisions". He repeated his call for the Act to be overhauled.

"You just don't know when you write something down whether that is eventually going to be decided by a tribunal of people who may have never worked in government whether or not that should be released," he said.

"If everybody thinks, well, that's all going to become public and that's going to be used against me, people will naturally say, OK, well perhaps I had just better keep quiet. And then you get to a situation where you have oral government."

Lord O'Donnell said a similar issue in the US led to the use of Post-it notes during discussions.

"They'd stick 'I disagree with this' on them. And then there were Freedom of Information requests for the Post-its," he said.

What this reveals is not that freedom of information has led to bad government but that those whose job it is to govern have never adapted to the greater scrutiny it brings.

I find it quite extraordinary that a mandarin who was meant to be a servant of the people should spend so much of his time excluding them from the process of government.

The Act already contains exemptions that protect the national interest and is nowhere near as open as its American equivalent. If civil servants really cannot cope with that then they need to step aside and let people do their jobs who can.

Friday, January 27, 2012

With friends like these...

Having gone through a particularly rough patch as leader of the Labour Party earlier this year, the last thing that Ed Miliband needs now is more criticism, especially when it comes from former allies. However, as today's Telegraph outlines, that is precisely what he has got.

The paper says that Peter Mandelson, the former business secretary and one of the most powerful party figures of the last 15 years, has said Mr Miliband is “struggling” to stamp his identity on the Labour Party and failing to distinguish himself from the last Labour government.

This comes on top of criticism that Mr. Miliband lacks the skills and public appeal to become a credible prime minister amid disquiet inside his own ranks.

The paper says that a series of poor opinion polls recently have seen Labour’s lead evaporate, while senior party figures admit that winning the 2015 election will be difficult.

One survey this week suggested that David Cameron was significantly more popular among the public than Mr Miliband, despite concerns that Britain is slipping back into recession. In fact, even Nick Clegg is perceived to be doing a better job than the Labour leader in some polls.

Given the peer's other remarks it is possible that Labour may be fairly relaxed avout his criticism of the Labour leader:

Lord Mandelson had easy praise, however, for his successors at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), saying he was “very proud and pleased” with the work that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, and David Willetts, the Universities Minister, have been doing.

And he disclosed that he no longer believed politicians should be intensely “relaxed” about entrepreneurs becoming “filthy rich”, as he once claimed while Trade and Industry Secretary in 1998.

“That was a rather spontaneous, unthought-of remark,” he said. “I don’t think I would say that now. We have seen that globalisation has not generated the rising incomes for all.”

No wonder Labour never really embraced the former Hartlepool MP as one of their own.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Huhne should accept defeat and move on

Today's Independent carries the reassuring news that the Government has lost its bid in the Court of Appeal to cut subsidies for solar panels on homes.

They say that three appeal judges have unanimously upheld a High Court ruling that Energy Secretary Chris Huhne lacks the power to introduce the controversial "retrospective" scheme.

Despite this Mr Huhne remains defiant and has confirmed that he will seek to appeal to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.

Most people accept that the current tariff is too high and even those benefiting from the scheme were planning for it to be cut back in April. However, the Government has jumped in with both feet, preempted their own consultation and slashed the amount they subsidise small scale renewable generation by more than anticipated, before the deadline for comments.

It is commonsense that due process has not been followed and that the Government is in the wrong. That is why the courts keep ruling against them. Surely the right decision now is to accept that verdict and go back to the drawing board.

Chris Huhne needs to move on. I do not believe that he can justify spending yet more public money on lawyers to pursue this issue.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau

The BBC reports that the Welsh national anthem has won out in an academic study which looks to measure "sing-ability" of patriotic songs.

They say that a musicologist has found that people are more willing to join in with a chorus from Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau than the UK's official anthem, God Save the Queen, and USA's Star-Spangled Banner:

The French anthem La Marseillaise topped a list produced by experts at the universities of York and London. It was rated with a "sing-along-ability" score of 50.98% with Wales second on 41.81%.

This compares with Australia (36.03%), Germany (31.71%), Canada (31.53%), USA (30.35%), Great Britain (30.22%) and Scotland (25.84%), although neither the Welsh or Scottish songs are official anthems.

Has anybody told John Redwood?

How to answer a Parliamentary Question

Those who say that there is no art to answering Parliamentary Questions have clearly not seen this one on the subject of Christmas from Bob Neill:

Communities and Local Government


Mr Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government how much his Department spent on (a) Christmas trees and (b) other Christmas decorations in 2011; and if he will make a statement. [91094]

Robert Neill: In 2011 the (a) Christmas tree and (b) other Christmas decorations were supplied at no cost to the Department.

I also refer the hon. Member to my answer of 20 December 2010, Official Report, column 941W, on Scrooge and politically correct Grinches.

Welsh Ministers have a lot to learn.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Post Offices and executive pay

Two announcements this week by Liberal Democrat Ministers have been very welcome and demonstrate once more the benefits that the party are bringing to government.

The first of these by Post Office Minister, Ed Davey is reported in today's Daily Telegraph. They say that Post offices have been given a decade-long lifeline with Royal Mail which should help to stave a fresh round of mass closures:

Royal Mail has agreed a 10-year deal to keep using post offices to sell stamps and handle parcels after the company is broken up at privatisation.

The deal is a relief to campaigners who had feared that Royal Mail would have been free to stop using the post office network once it was spun off as a private company.

That would have jeopardised thousands of post offices which rely on Government subsidy and Royal Mail’s work to stay in business.

The new “inter-business agreement”, which starts on April 1, is twice as long as had been thought, and as been agreed with lawyers for Royal Mail and the Government.

Ed Davey, the Post Office minister, said the agreement meant that the future of the post office had been “secured”.

This is of course in addition to he £2 billion investment promised for the Post Office and is a stark contrast to the attitude of the previous Labour Government who closed 6,500 Post Offices during their term in office.

Meanwhile, Ed Davey's boss, Vince Cable has pledged to replace "rewards for failure" with "rewards for success" by outlining plans to boost the power of shareholders to curb excessive executive pay.

According to the Independent his boardroom reform plans include:

* shareholders' votes on pay packages to be binding rather than advisory as at present;

* clearer remuneration reports on executive pay separating what happened in the past year (on which shareholders' votes would not be retrospective) and future policy;

* companies to publish a single pay figure for each executive;

* clawback clauses in executives' contracts at all large companies, like those introduced by the banks;

* shareholders to vote on pay-offs worth more than one-year's salary;

* companies urged to ensure greater diversity on boards, and codes of practice changed to end the "old boy network" under which a small number of executives sit on the remuneration committees of other big firms.

These measures are a major step forward and will hopefull contribute to improving the accountability of the boardroom. However, I hope that the Government is clear that if change is not achieved then legislation to put that right will be pursued.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Two referendums and an autobiography

For many of us Peter Hain is the marmite in Welsh politics. You either love him or loathe him, but there has never been any doubt about his competence as a Minister, a politician and a campaigner.

Newport West MP, Paul Flynn described him as one of politics 'shapeshifters' and that is certainly borne out in the extracts I have read so far from his autobiography. Having said that I am not yet convinced that I actually want to read or buy the book. Maybe that will come later.

Today we learn that there was clear hostility from some Labour Cabinet Ministers to giving the Welsh Assembly law-making powers, even the watered down version in the 2006 Government of Wales Act. Mr. Hain also reveals that Tony Blair and his team never gave Wales "proper respect and attention".

The BBC report on Hain's view that a reshuffle reducing the Welsh job to a part-time cabinet role was "a spectacular bodge":

The Neath MP writes in Outside In that the 2003 shake-up appeared to have been "cobbled together at the last minute".

The Wales Office was subsumed into what was the Department for Constitutional Affairs (now the Ministry of Justice).

Even Mr Blair appeared unsure whether the Welsh secretary would still answer Welsh questions in the Commons.

Mr Hain said: "At one point it appeared that the secretary of state's post had been abolished, that Wales was being summarily transferred into a department under an unelected peer, Lord Falconer." Mr Hain said the Wales Office was in turmoil, with staff learning about the change via TV.

"For a government supposedly excellent at communicating, this was another example of abject failure - especially if, as later transpired, it had been considered over a period rather than cobbled together at the last minute.

"It was further evidence of Tony Blair and his team never really giving Wales proper respect and attention, contrary to Scotland where the secretary of state's role was pretty minimal because all primary legislation had gone to the Scottish parliament.

Mr Hain reveals how plans to give the Welsh assembly more powers were almost scuppered by cabinet colleagues, including the then deputy prime minister, John Prescott:

According to Mr Hain, Mr Prescott thought the English regions were being discriminated against and was "resentful" about the idea of Wales acquiring full law-making powers.

Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, told a cabinet meeting that he had been struck by the Welsh government's "truly appalling" performance on hospital waiting times and it would be "ridiculous to start giving them more powers".

According to Mr Hain, the then leader of the Commons, Geoff Hoon, responsible for the government's legislative timetable, suggested deferring or shortening the Government of Wales Bill - a suggestion thwarted only by Tony Blair's intervention.

The Guardian has a story about another referendum. They reveal how Tony Blair and his aides sanctioned a secret group inside Labour, including the-then Europe minister, Peter Hain, to prepare the ground for a euro referendum during his second term in office. They say that the group was secret partly to avoid Gordon Brown's disapproval.

They add that the planning was aborted after Gordon Brown declared the UK economy was not ready to join the euro due to insufficient convergence between the two economies.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Welsh MP upsets colleagues with caricatures

Whatever one might think of Newport West Labour MP, Paul Flynn it cannot be denied that he says what he thinks, irrespective of the consequences. It comes as no surprise therefore that this morning's Mail on Sunday carries news of a host of outraged MPs at the portrait he draws in his latest book of life in the House of Commons and some of them in particular.

The paper says that Mr. Flynn's book, 'How To Be An MP', exposes junketing, boozing and ‘serial seducers who have sex in their Commons offices’. It adds that ‘travel glutton Gulliver’ MPs ‘prostitute’ themselves on foreign trips paid for by ‘greedy’ businessmen and tyrants, and claims curbs on sleaze after the expenses scandal have not ended the risk of Westminster being ‘re-infested with corruption’. He advises MPs to get rid of trouble-making constituents by telling them they are mad.

Some of the detail from the article is worth quoting in full: Mr Flynn, MP for Newport West, also refers to an unnamed member branded ‘Gorillagram’ because he ‘could earn a living delivering gorillagrams without the aid of a monkey suit’. Then there was an anonymous Tory known as the ‘Talking Grow Bag’ for his ‘dreary country suits’ and a ‘Fred Nobody MP’ asking endless questions about an African country he had visited. Asked to name them, Mr Flynn refused, saying: ‘It might upset them. There are lots of Fred Nobodies. It could be one of 20.’

Mr Flynn lambasts ‘Gulliver’ MPs – ‘travel gluttons consoled by long hours in the sun at the poolside of a luxury hotel’. He says: ‘Commercial jaunts stuff large quantities of protein and alcohol into MPs: ideal for those who have decided to prostitute their time to the highest bidder.

It continues: He alludes to three unnamed Tories who ‘in 2011 flew to the hell hole of Equatorial Guinea. They flew business-class to the oil-rich African country and the total cost of the visit was almost £25,000. The biggest fact that the inept trio found on this jaunt was their own ineptitude’. They were ‘cosying up to a corrupt dictator with a human-rights record halfway between Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun’.

Last year, Conservative MPs Nadine Dorries, Caroline Nokes and Steve Baker visited Equatorial Guinea. All three declared the trip in the Commons register, with the total cost coming to £24,170. There is no suggestion that they made any personal gain.

Mr Flynn provocatively suggests Speaker John Bercow’s two (unnamed) deputies stood for election to the post in 2010 for the perks. Asking tartly why they gave up their right to speak in debates, he says: ‘Very significantly, no one mentioned the job carries an additional salary of up to £40,000 and comes with faux prestige, dollops of guilt-free foreign travel and elegant dining.’

Finally, in a guide to sex and booze in Westminster, Mr Flynn says: flings are ‘inevitable’ and talks of ‘furtive encounters in parliamentary offices when resistance levels are falling and testosterone levels are rising .  .  . serial seducers of both sexes roam the corridors’.

The Commons’ elegant Pugin Room is ‘sinfully comfortable .  .  . popular for romantic encounters’. By contrast, the MPs’ Smoking Room is a ‘melange of gentleman’s club and geriatric home, a refuge for alcohol addicts’. On expenses, he argues: ‘The manipulation of greed still seeks to corrupt the power of Parliament. The fumigation of the Palace cannot prevent its re-infestation.’

All of this of course makes the upcoming selection battle between Mr. Flynn and Jessica Morden for the new Newport seat, a compelling one. Can we afford to lose such a politician from the House of Commons.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dogma trumps value for money

Anybody who wants to know why the Welsh Health Service is producing worse outcomes for patients than its sister service across the border despite spending more per head, need look no further than this news article.

The Western Mail reports that cash-strapped health chiefs in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board plan to spend £1.5m to create a new IVF clinic and laboratories after cancelling a contract with the privately-run London Women’s Clinic, based at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, where it has been providing IVF cycles for NHS patients up to the present day.

The new facility at Neath Port Talbot Hospital clinic will closely resemble the set up at the IVF Wales service in Cardiff, 35 miles away and will be operational in just 15 months’ time.

The University Health Board will have to find the cost of this new facility despite needing to find an additional £3m in savings to balance its books this year. They have been told to do it because of a commitment in the Labour-Plaid One Wales agreement to end the use of the private sector to provide NHS services, including IVF.

It is no wonder that Welsh Liberal Democrats Leader, Kirsty Williams is incensed. She told the paper: that: “It makes no sense at all to spend such a large amount of money on a new IVF clinic when there is one already existing not far away.

“The Labour party is putting its dogmatic and irrational approach to private companies before actually deciding what is best for the patients.

“The NHS is already under immense pressure. Wales needs a government that is willing to put patients’ needs first, spending money wisely, rather than wasting money based on political dogma.”

Peter Bown-Simpkins, medical director of the London Women’s Clinic, added: “This is a monumental waste of money.

“There will be nothing for West Wales patients for the next 15 months, unless we are given a new contract, and then [when Neath Port Talbot opens] there will be a huge waiting list.

“All this is happening at a time when England is doing just the opposite and introducing more co-operation with the private sector if it means getting a better service.

“Not only will this new clinic cost £1.5m to set up but it will also cost a huge amount to run because of working hours, it will need two consultants, two embryologists and two or three nurses.”

This decision is bonkers. It is a complete waste of money.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The mystery of disappearing funding gap

When you are being constantly castigated for starving schools of funds, the natural response of any educationally-minded government is to take the sting out of the attack by upping their game.

This is in fact precisely what the Welsh Labour Government have done, with an undertaking to put 1% more into school budgets than the increase in the block grant. This is the second year of that policy and all the signs are that local Councils are playing ball and delivering the extra money direct to schools.

The Welsh Government also have the benefit of the extra £450 that is going directly to schools for every child on free school meals, which was the price extracted by the Welsh Liberal Democrats for supporting their budget.

In theory then the situation should be improving, even if the size of the funding gap remains a huge political embarrassment, and the Education Minister should have nothing to hide in ensuring that the statistics are out there for us to scrutinise, question him on and campaign on.

However, that is not the case, as according to the BBC Government statisticians have decided that they are now unable to draw a fair comparison between England and Wales. A note on the relevant website announces that: This Statistical Bulletin will not be published this year since changes in education policy in England mean it is not possible to produce comparable figures of budgeted expenditure per pupil for England and Wales for this financial year. Further detail will be published in a Statistical Article on January 26 2012.

At best this is political ineptitude of a high order, at worst it is a worrying sign of an opaque government with something to hide. People will no doubt draw their own conclusions as have the Association of Teachers and Lecturers who say: "No one looks forward to this annual account of under spending on our children but at least we've always admired the honesty it displays."

Their Director continues: "The Statistics Unit needs to reconsider this decision urgently.

"It would be far better to publish the information with a health warning about comparisons, pointing out the difficulties involved in doing so, than to be perceived as conveniently suppressing key information.

"This announcement also puts the [Education] Minister [Leighton Andrews] in an invidious position as he has pledged repeatedly to reduce the funding gap, and we will now not be able to see how his hard work is paying off."

The Tories say: “This decision to cover up data on the underfunding of Welsh schools flies in the face of transparency. Even without the latest figures, we know the funding gap between Welsh and English schools has been widening and most recently stood at over £600 per pupil.”

“With well-documented failings in school standards in Wales, parents should be entitled to see the extent to which Labour is underfunding our schools.”

Whilst Welsh Liberal Democrat education spokesman, Aled Roberts said he is “hugely disappointed and surprised. It has been clear pupils in Wales’ schools are not getting the support they clearly need.”

This is one row the Welsh Government do not need and should sort out as soon as possible. If we do not have these figures then we cannot hold Ministers to account on their promises and that is not good for democracy, nor is it good for pupils, parents and teachers who need to know what support they are getting in delivering a top quality education service.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Having political oversight of the Welsh Assembly's ICT services is by no means a trouble-free job. Things do go wrong occasionally and I bear the brunt of complaints.

Fortunately, in one of the World's most switched on legislatures, technophobia is not a problem I have to deal with. This may not be the case elsewhere as illustrated in the Daily Mail:

As if spending £13,000 on iPads for 20 peers is not bad enough, several of the doddery old boys can’t use them.

They have been phoning for technical help with complex questions such as ‘How do I turn it on?’ and ‘What exactly is an email?’ It’s a wonder they can use a phone.

Labour MP John Mann has evidence of more technophobia.

‘They say we can table parliamentary questions electronically. But you email one office, they print it out, a flunky walks down three flights of stairs to another office and types it all back in. Unbelievable.’

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The word according to Michael Gove

What is it about Michael Gove and public funds? Firstly, he moots the idea of the nation buying a new yacht for the Royal family to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee only to be forced into back-pedalling by Clegg's 'yachts and have-yachts' remark into setting up a private trust fund instead. Now, his initiative to send personally engraved bibles to English schools has run into similar problems.

Yesterday's Guardian says that the plan by the education secretary, to send a copy of the King James Bible to every school in the country, each including a personal inscription from him, has run into trouble after government sources reported he has been told to find private funding for the project.

They say that David Cameron has told Gove that while he supported the idea, the education secretary should avoid using taxpayers' money for it. But Gove has yet to find a private philanthropic sponsor for the enterprise, and some Whitehall sources said he has been told he cannot distribute the book until he does so, leaving thousands of copies in a warehouse abroad.

The Department of Education dispute the story saying that enough public cash is available to press ahead and that No 10 had merely indicated that "sponsorship was desirable". Still, one is left wondering why Michael Gove insists on embarking on these madcap ideas when he would do better concentrating on managing England's education system.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

War breaks out in the Labour Party

He may have pipped his brother to the leadership due to the support of the Trade Unions but that does not appear to have saved Ed Miliband from some savage comments by former allies today.

According to the Guardian the Labour leader is facing a growing trade union rebellion after the GMB and Public Commercial Services unions joined the condemnation of the party's support for a public sector pay squeeze:

Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain's largest union, led the outbreak of union disquiet on Monday in a Guardian article in which he warned that Miliband was setting Labour on course for electoral disaster and undermining his own leadership by accepting government cuts and the cap on public sector pay.

Kenny said: "I will update everyone as events unfold but I have to say this is the most serious mistake they could have made and the Tories must be rubbing their hands with glee."

GMB is Britain's third-largest union, with 620,000 members compared with Unite's 1.4m. Unison, the second largest, has not commented.

Mark Serwotka, the leader of the largest civil service union, the PCS, told the Guardian that Labour would lose the next general election if it did not reverse its policy shift.

Union opposition to Miliband's position is significant because, as well as being the party's biggest source of funding, the union vote was crucial to securing his victory in the 2010 leadership contest.

Serwotka, whose union is not affiliated to the party, said: "This guarantees, probably, that Labour will lose [in 2015] and lose badly. And that is a disaster for everyone because we will have the Tories coming in and doing the same thing [cutting public spending], except even further."

"It is a massive strategic mistake to tack rightwards because it means that no one is now arguing the alternative economic view, other than the trade unions. A lot of core Labour voters who are looking for something different will ask themselves where they go now."

The Labour leadership have been right to change their position and express their support for the Coalition Government's economic programme but they will have to pay a high price for that decision amongst their own supporter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I agree with Chris Huhne

Yesterday's Telegraph reports that the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister with the sharpest elbows, Chris Huhne has hailed David Cameron’s decision not to scrap the 50p higher rate of income tax before 2015 as a victory for his party.

The Energy Secretary is reported as saying that the junior Coalition partners had “won the argument” over reducing the tax burden on the rich at a time of austerity. Chris Huhne added that it was an example of how the Conservatives still needed Liberal Democrat support “if they want to get anything else through”.

Interviewed on the Pienaar's Politics programme on BBC Radio 5 Live, Mr Huhne indicated that the 50p rate was set to stay, remarking: “I think we've won that argument.”

He said that this was “partly, I think, because people simply realise that this is not an appropriate moment to send out a signal that we're going to tax well off people less”.

While insisting it had been a collective decision, he nevertheless suggested that pressure from the Liberal Demoracts had forced Mr Osborne’s hand.

“The Conservatives don't have an overall majority, so they need, if they want to get a finance bill through, if they want to get anything else through, they need to have Liberal Democrat support in the House of Commons and that's absolutely crucial,” he said.

Apparently, a report by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which is due to be delivered next month, is expected to show a "surge" in revenues totalling hundreds of millions of pounds from the first year. It is expected to defy predictions that top earners would find ways to avoid paying the 50p rate.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Labour in crisis continued

All the buzz on Twitter is that it is only a matter of time before Ed Miliband goes as Labour leader. Fortunately, for the government that is not how things are done in Labour. Well, at least it has not been up until now.

Do Labour have the equivalent of the men in grey suits? Will Miliband junior be told to shape up or ship out? We will have to see.

One thing that is clear is that the dose of realism that has overcome the Labour Party in 2012 has annoyed a lot of their supporters. Those on the left and in the Trade Union movement who believe that politics is a moral crusade in which the forces of radicalism take on vested interests have had a rude awakening.

Politics is of course about power and in any case the battle lines are not as clearly drawn as many would like. This is especially so when the Liberal Democrats are providing moral ballast in the coalition, effectively ensuring that no matter how tough things get the government is focussed on social justice and upwards mobility.

Thus, we have tax cuts for the low paid, uprating child tax credits for poorer families, index linking pensions, and the multi-billion pound scheme to help young people into work to name but a few.

When on top of all this, one of the opposition backbench spokespeople announces that Labour is not ready to govern again and Ed Miliband “needs more time” to establish himself as a leader among voters then surely even the most ardent supporters must be banging their head on the desk in despair.

In today's Telegraph Rachel Reeves, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, also admits that the previous Labour government spent too much money on salaries for senior public sector workers. She also says that the party still has “a lot of work to do” to regain public confidence.

Cameron and Clegg must think that it is still Christmas.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What a difference a year makes?

"Ed (Balls) will challenge Slasher Osborne and his mistaken programme of austerity that isn’t working. He is aggressive, smart, passionate and a battler with a big advantage over the coalition – a really good understanding of economics.

He will quickly challenge the ConDems’ long list of ­broken promises – VAT, tuition fees and the slashing of public sector jobs nobody voted for.


Ed Balls is going to stand up for ordinary working people and challenge this Tory-led Government at every turn."

David Blanchflower in the Daily Mirror 22 January 2011

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, has moved to challenge accusations that Labour is not credible on the economy by telling the public sector unions that he endorses George Osborne's public sector pay freeze until the end of the parliament, and that he accepts every spending cut being imposed by the Conservatives.

The Guardian, 14 January 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Those elusive targets

Target setting in government is a noble and worthy thing to do. It brings focus to a the work of ministers and provides goals against which we can measure their performance. However, there is another side to this activity that provides a moral imperative to get it right.

If a target is set too far into the future it can blunt or even defer scrutiny, whilst making it impossible to attribute responsibility if it is missed. That is not good government. It is also bad politics to set unrealistic targets so as to give the impression of activity and achievement. That undermines confidence in government and reduces the credibility of other targets.

A good example of the latter was the Welsh Government's target, set in 1999 to eliminate homelessness by 2003. Homelessness is still with us. That was inevitable, because people's circumstances change and because it can sometimes take a long time to persuade hard core rough sleepers to take up services.

Another target I am sceptical about is the one which seeks to eliminate child poverty by 2020. I support that aim but is it achievable? Just looking at it statistically it is very difficult. As child poverty is defined as living on an income of 60% or below of the average, then by definition it is a moveable objective.

You can raise the income of a significant chunk of the population but you cannot stop those earning above the average also improving their standard of living. Effectively, therefore all you have done is to move the average to a different point on the scale. I would suggest that you only eliminate child poverty by this definition when you have full employment and everybody earns the same amount.

It is an interesting dilemma and means that in reality what you are seeking to do is to make relative improvements in the lifestyle of the poorest in our society. There is no target for that.

All of this brings me to the latest missed target, the one that said that we would have all 221,000 homes in the social housing sector up to standard by 2012. The Wales Audit Office has concluded that even by 2017, only 79% of properties will be up to standard. It is only now that we can properly scrutinise this target.

I think that it became clear a few years after this target was set that not only did we not have the resources to deliver it but that when it was set we did not have sufficient information to properly assess it achieveability either. The same was true of the Welsh Government target to make all Welsh schools fit for purpose by 2010. We now have a ten year programme from 2014 that will spend £4 billion on improving our schools. Nobody is pretending anymore that even this will deliver full fitness, even if it is affordable.

The housing fitness target was ambitious, it gave the impression that the Government was doing something, but it also deferred proper scrutiny and it failed because Ministers never properly embraced the only tool that might come close to delivering it, namely the transfer of council housing to not-for-profit housing associations.

The lesson should be there for all of us. Realistic targets are good, long-term, hard-to-measure, over-ambitious targets are not. It is time that we adjusted our governance accordingly.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Time to move on

If there is one word that sums up Peter Hain, then it must be relentless. That is because once he has his teeth into an issue he will not let go.

Normally that is a good thing, but sometimes you just have to admit defeat and move on, especially when you are not just swimming against the tide of public opinion but actually below their radar.

In other words most people do not care less about the boundary review, are tired of MPs pursuing their own self-interest and would prefer their elected politicians to be fighting on more bread and butter issues. That is not a reason of course not to take up an unpopular issue but do the Shadow Secretary of State's arguments really stack-up?

In this morning's Western Mail, Mr. Hain argues that the recent boundary review was designed to undermine the Labour party even though the outcome has actually been to consolidate their hold on Wales. He even acknowledges that the Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats will fare worse than Labour.

In fact evidence I have seen elsewhere shows that Labour could still come out with a majority across the UK on the new boundaries even if they secured a smaller vote share than the Conservatives.

Mr. Hain's other argument is that Wales is being done down because it has less seats. In fact Welsh representation is now on a par with the rest of the UK.

I find it incomprehensible that anybody could argue for Wales to have more than its fair share of MPs when it has the advantage of its own law-making Assembly in Cardiff. It is not as if a Welsh MP is any more overworked than his or her English counterpart.

On balance, the Neath MP is not just out-of-touch but he is also wrong.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Labour admit it may cut further

The report in today's Telegraph on Labour's relaunch must surely undermine that party's opposition to the UK Government's austerity measures.

The two Eds appear to have moved on from blind opposition to a stance of saying that Labour may be forced to go further in cutting parts of public spending than current Coalition plans. This recognition of economic realities is welcome and should put paid to the antics of Labour activists and trade unionists around the country, including Peter Hain, who believe that all they have to do is to oppose everything the Government does to get re-elected:

'The party’s high command admitted it could not promise to reverse any of the Government’s tax rises or cuts after the next election, due in 2015.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, admitted that Labour still lacked “credibility” and warned that even under his party, there “would have to be cuts”.

“There would have to be difficult decisions,” he said. “We would have to have cuts in police. We’d have to have cuts in the schools budget. We’d have to have cuts in the defence budget.

No doubt much of this will appear on Liberal Democrat leaflets and be quoted back at Labour politicians over the next few months.

My old book

My article for Total Politics on a favourite old book is now on-line here or your can read it below:

Catch-22 remains my favourite book of all time, brilliantly capturing the daily horrors of war through the comic- tragic adventures of a group of airmen flying missions in the European theatre of World War II.

Heller mercilessly sends up the bureaucracy that hampers so much of the American armed forces and undermines morale, whether it is the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, who the authorities refuse to acknowledge or the promotion of Major Major by an IBM machine with a sense of humour.

There is Milo Minderbender, the capitalist who uses his position to profit from the war, even accepting a contract to bomb his own airbase.

And then there is Catch-22 itself, the doctrine that specifies that a concern for one's safety in the face of real and immediate danger is the process of a rational mind. You cannot fly if you’re crazy, but the moment you point this out to the authorities you are rated as sane and fit to fly.

I first read this book during my degree exams for relaxation. My then room mate and I used to read out extracts to each other as a displacement exercise so as to avoid facing up to the challenges of the next exam paper.

I may have learnt more from this book than the whole course.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Plaid Cymru leadership debate gets personal

Signs that the Plaid Cymru leadership contest might be getting personal have emerged in a letter sent by environmentalist George Monbiot to his friends. In it he says that the contest might come down to a choice between Elin Jones and Leanne Wood, which he describes as a straight fight between old and new, brown and green, conservative and radical.

He continues: "I interviewed Elin Jones at length when she was minister for rural affairs. Though I quite liked her, I was utterly dismayed by her unthinking acceptance of the claims of farmers and fishing interests, her preparedness to trample environmental legislation on their behalf (including opening a special area of conservation, set aside to protect dolphins, for scallop dredging) and the pitiful incoherence of her attempts to justify her policies. Elin has also been the main champion of badger culling, again on behalf of the farmers. There are 3 million people in Wales, of whom 960,000 live in the countryside. There are 19,000 farmers - ie 2% of the RURAL population - but under her watch, theirs was the only voice that counted, and the remaining 98% of rural people were marginalised."

I wonder if Leanne Wood endorse those views? After all she was sat behind Elin Jones during the One Wales Government backing all of those policies.

N.B. Adam Price in his endorsement of Leanne Wood in this morning's Western Mail proves that being a research fellow in a prestigious American university does not prevent an individual from talking nonsense when it comes to historical precedents.

Mr. Price claims that "It’s looking likely that Plaid will soon have a woman leader, as well as a woman president, a woman chair and a woman chief executive – that would surely be a world-first." Well actually, no!

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have a female leader, a female President, a female vice-President and, until recently, a female Chief Executive. Not for the first time Plaid Cymru is playing catch-up.

Monday, January 09, 2012

On the wagon

The BBC report that a report by the Commons science and technology committee, which is calling for a review of all government guidelines on alcohol in the UK has suggested that pople should have at least two days a week completely clear of alcohol.

Does this mean that the House of Commons' bars will be closed for two days each working week? I eagerly await the details.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Tony Blair and the mystery of his tax bill

Key figures in Labour and the Trade Unions have been much exercised over the last 18 months in arguing that the best alternative to cuts in public spending is to close loopholes in the tax system so that the filthy rich are forced to pay their share. Putting aside the problems with enforcing this across international boundaries (it can be done but not to anybody's satisfaction), I tend to agree with them. That after all is why the UK Coalition is seeking to do just that.

Yesterday's Telegraph came up with a prime example of how legally organising your company's accounts so as to take account of unspecified costs can minimise a person's tax bill. The filthy rich person concerned is of course former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The paper says that official accounts show a company set up by Mr Blair to manage his business affairs paid just £315,000 in tax last year on an income of more than £12 million. In that time, he employed 26 staff and paid them total wages of almost £2.3 million:

The accounts provide the strongest evidence yet of the huge sums generated by Mr Blair through his various activities since quitting Downing Street in June 2007.

He runs a business consultancy – Tony Blair Associates – which has deals with the governments of Kuwait and Kazakhstan among others and is a paid adviser to JP Morgan, an American investment bank, and to Zurich International, a global insurance company based in Switzerland. Mr Blair makes a further £100,000 a time from speeches and lectures while also presiding over a number of charities including a faith foundation.

Mr Blair has previously been criticised for cashing in on contacts made in Downing Street and these accounts will likely add to those concerns.

The documents also reveal that in the two years until March 31 last year, Mr Blair’s management company had a total turnover of more than £20 million and paid tax of about £470,000.

The Telegraph says that there is no suggestion that Mr Blair’s tax affairs are anything other than legitimate. The low tax bill is apparently because around £8 million of income has been classed as administration expenses and offset against the former Prime Minister's liabilities.

Still, it must be interesting to be on the other side of the argument over tax.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Politics for sale?

Whatever the outcome of Nick Clegg's renewed initiative on the funding of political parties, it is unlikely that enough agreement will be reached between the main protaganists so as to entirely eliminate the suspicion of foul-play.

This is best illustrated by today's Telegraph, which has made itself a bit of a specialist on this issue, when they report on the views of the Parliamentary Standards watchdog that wealthy donors appear to be buying Government policy by securing “preferential” access to ministers and senior politicians.

Nobody should pretend that this is an exclusively Conservative problem. The same concerns were around under Labour. Every party woos top level donors by giving them some sort of access to influential figures at some level or another.

Sir Christopher Kelly is absolutely right to say that the perceived influence of rich businessmen over politicians is undermining public trust in Westminster.

He points out that successive governments have faced scandals over allegations that donors are buying power, from “cash for honours” under Labour to concerns about the influence of City financiers over the Conservatives:

All three main political parties run donors’ clubs, under which wealthy people willing to make minimum donations of, for example, £50,000 can buy access to senior politicians at private dinners and meetings. Sir Christopher says people are right to be suspicious of the motives of anyone who donates more than £100,000 to a party.

“There have been sufficient allegations in the past of people receiving honours, or policies being influenced, for people to think there is no smoke without fire,” he said.

“Whether it [influencing policy by donors] happens or not, the public clearly believe that it happens. There is a risk of it happening and, more importantly, there is a public perception that it does happen. That perception by itself is so important in terms of the confidence and integrity of the way that important decisions are taken that it seems to me it needs to be addressed.”

Sir Christopher said party donations should be capped at £10,000 and state funding increased to remove the taint of corruption.

The question is, can Clegg get sufficient agreement so as to restore some of that trust without creating the other problem of the level public funding being perceived as inappropriate in a time of austerity?

Friday, January 06, 2012

The voice of realism falls on deaf ears in Wales

This morning's Guardian reports that the shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy has asserted that Labour must reject 'shallow and temporary' populism in which it opposes all government spending cuts, and instead build up credibility by outlining where the party would make savings.

Mr. Murphy told the paper that Labour needed to achieve "genuine credibility" on spending as he revealed he would accept £5bn of the government's defence cuts before a new defence review by Labour to be launched later this month:

Although he limited his remarks to his defence brief the Guardian say that his intervention comes at a sensitive time for Ed Miliband, who was accused yesterday by his intellectual guru Lord Glasman of lacking a strategy, as members of the shadow cabinet express concern about the party's apparent lack of credibility on the economy.

They add that the Labour leadership was recently criticised in a pamphlet by Policy Network, the thinktank established by Lord Mandelson, for "vagueness" in its approach to the deficit. The pamphlet, In the Black Labour, said the party was confirming "voters' worst suspicions about the party's lack of commitment to addressing the fiscal crisis". Balls, the shadow chancellor, moved to address these criticisms last month when he told the Independent he would turn round "public scepticism about Labour's willingness to take tough decisions on public spending".

It would be nice if Peter Hain and the Welsh Labour Government took some of these criticisms on board as well instead of carping from the sidelines.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Forked tongues and Wales Labour

Welsh Labour spokespeople are starting to get predictable now, in the vehemence of their attacks on the UK Coalition Government, their failure to provide an alternative and, in the case of Peter Hain, the very personal nature of his remarks about the Secretary of State for Wales. This morning's Western Mail piece is a case in point.

In the first instance we have Professor Mark Drakeford, Assembly Member for Cardiff West and a former Government Special Advisor, whose comments indicate that some of that academic rigour he once applied in his former profession may have worn off.

He trots out a familiar argument, claiming that David Cameron's veto of a new European Treaty has irreparably damaged Welsh interests in Europe and yet he then goes on to say that the deal on the table at Brussels was "one which no-one of sane economic mind ought to be prepared to contemplate. It commits its signatories (assuming that there is, in the end, a deal to which signing-up actually takes place) to a period of Europe-wide deflation and austerity which is utterly self- defeating.”

So what would he have done differently? He predicts dire consequences for the Welsh economy but never makes the link as to how the veto has put us in this position. That is because there is no link. Instead many of the problems facing Wales are structural and a consequence of the recession and economic mismanagement of the last Labour Government. The Welsh Government, led by Labour for 12 years also has a significant responsibility for this.

Still, if Labour shout loud enough then maybe people will start to believe them. That is certainly the tactics adopted by Peter Hain. Surely though, even the most non-political individual must have got to the point when they conclude that the Neath MP is protesting just a little bit too much.

As it happens I agree with Peter Hain on regional pay, but let us not forget that the only instance of it being introduced was under the Labour Government in which he was a Minister. With that knowledge, Hain's protestations start to sound a bit lame.

As for his claims that Cheryl Gillan has no influence and that Carwyn Jones has lost confidence in her, well so far so predictable. Any relationship is two-way and in my view any breakdown is as much the fault of the Welsh Government as it is the Secretary of State for Wales.

Peter Hain can play games with this if he likes, but his little strategms do nothing to advance the interests of the Welsh people.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Immigration or migration

Monmouth MP, David Davies' assertion in today's Western Mail that large scale immigration is having a huge environmental impact by increasing the demand for new homes in Wales, lacks one important element, proof!

Mr. Davies claims that the demand for 350 new housing units in his own constituency due to net migration underlines his case. However, there is a significant difference between migration and immigration. Indeed it is likely that most of the demand will be due to people moving into Monmouthshire from England. It is clear from the MP's remarks that he does not consider the English as immigrants, though there are some extreme nationalists who do.

Where is the breakdown in the housing demand figures to prove that the bulk of these migrants actually come from third world countries as Mr. Davies alleges? These comments are not mainstreaming the debate about immigration as he suggests, rather they are pandering to the extremist agenda, which in many cases is based on myth and unproven assertions.

The casual mention of a venture aimed at the Chinese tourism market is further proof of how flimsy Mr. Davies' argument is. How does a business such as this impact on the housing Market? How does it add to immigration pressures? It doesn't.

By all means let us have a debate but for once can we base it on the actual facts?

Subsidising politicians

A report in yesterday's Telegraph that the cost of subsidising bars and restaurants in the Houses of Parliament is actually increasing at a time of austerity is a further indication that MPs do not get it. In contrast the Welsh Assembly has made a huge effort to reduce its catering subsidy.

Most public sector employers with catering facilities subsidise them, however few have the sort of deal available in Parliament, where prices are very generous compared with private sector providers nearby.

The paper reports that the Commons Commission said in June 2010 that £500,000 should be sliced from catering costs and bar prices should rise to those of high street pubs as part of a £12m cut to the Commons budget:

But in the Members Dining Room, MPs are served an artichoke and tomato salad with truffle dressing for £2.05, or a seared breast of pigeon with aubergine purée and spiced couscous for just £4.15.

A risotto of pea and broad bean with Golden Cross goat’s cheese costs £2.40, while MPs wishing to splash out on a char-grilled rib-eye steak with hand-cut chips and béarnaise sauce pay £7.80.

For pudding, they can enjoy a green tea and white chocolate brûlée for £2.05 or the cheese board for £3.10.

In the Terrace restaurant, a spinach, ricotta and sundried tomato pizza with a rocket salad costs £2.75, while at Moncrieff’s restaurant Members can enjoy a roasted half spring chicken with stuffing for £2.95.

Afterwards, they can head to the Pugin Room bar, where a glass of malt whisky, Cointreau liqueur or Grand Marnier costs £2.55. Glasses of 2009 Sauvignon Blanc or 2010 Merlot are £2.35.

Sales in Parliament’s 19 restaurants, nine bars and one coffee shop fell 8pc to £7.5 million in the financial year 2010/11. It means for every £10 an MP spent on lunch, the public contributed £7.60. The year before, the public contributed £6.90

Nice work if you can get it. Perhaps the Parliamentary authorities should try harder.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Keeping them honest

You have to hand it to Nick Clegg, he is a trier. According to this report in the Daily Mail, the Deputy Prime Minister is to press on with plans to refund the way that political parties are funded, despite the fact that there is no consensus within the coalition, never-mind with the opposition.

The paper says Mr. Clegg plans to get cross-party talks underway within weeks after announcing an aggressive attempt to force all three main parties to accept a donations limit, coupled with new restrictions on spending during elections and more flexible rules on the use of existing state funding of politics:

Radical proposals by sleaze watchdogs late last year have been rejected as politically unacceptable, since they would involve £100million more in taxpayers’ money going to political parties to compensate for a £10,000 donations cap.

Government sources told the Daily Mail that Mr Clegg will now press for a limit to be imposed even if there is no increase in state funding to sweeten the pill. He, David Cameron and Ed Miliband are understood to have agreed in principle to open discussions on such a move.

Reform has been given a new urgency in Tory circles by the reaction to the inclusion of four party donors in the New Year’s honours. Paul Ruddock and Doug Ellis both received knighthoods and James Wates and James Lupton were handed CBEs.
Between them, the four men gave gave almost £1million to the Tories, with Mr Ruddock giving more than £500,000 between 2003 and 2011.

Though they were honoured for their work for the arts and for charity, the controversy has prompted Labour allegations of cronyism and convinced some senior Conservatives that future sleaze allegations are inevitable without radical changes to party funding.

I wish him luck in securing agreement but I am not holding my breath that anything that comes out of these talks will be the sort of radical reappraisal that the system needs.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Strange alliances

Today's Western Mail article in which former Heritage Minister, Rhodri Glyn Thomas argues that Plaid Cymru has gone backwards since 1999 and desperately needs to find a new way of talking to the voters is nothing new and is so self-evident that it is hardly worth talking about.

What makes the article worth noting is the comments from an anonymous Labour source at the end, who virtually urges Plaid Cymru members to vote for Leanne Wood in their forthcoming leadership contest. It is a rambling, almost stream of consciousness contribution that sounds like it was based on a phone conversation that took place during New Year celebrations, but it is interesting nevertheless.

The paper quotes a senior Welsh Labour source as saying that if Plaid Cymru are serious about wanting to become the biggest party, the part of Wales where they need to be winning seats from Labour is the Valleys. He continues: "Without question, they should elect Leanne Wood as their new leader. The fact that she is not a Welsh speaker would be an enormous advantage in dispelling the still widely held view that Plaid is essentially a party for Welsh speakers.

“Leanne is by no means perfect – she’s a bit too far left for a lot of people and certainly to the left of where the average Welsh voter is.

“She should cut back on her obsessions with the likes of Hugo Chavez, although, having said that, Ken Livingstone proved that voters will forgive you a certain amount of eccentricity if you convince them you are a competent and serious figure."

Somehow I don't think Leanne Wood will welcome that intervention.

Another interesting cross-party endorsement in today's Western Mail comes on the letters page, where the Plaid Cymru leader of Gwynedd Council writes in support of Carwyn Jones' 'isolationist' position on Europe.

Nobody should be surprised that a leading nationalist should be supporting a national leader pursuing his own foreign policy, though when the national leader in question is a self-avowed Labour unionist politician it can get a bit tricky.

N.B. Is it me or does the demand that 'Cheryl Gillan confirm what discussions David Cameron had with her in order to ascertain the views of Wales prior to his mastication on the European stage' sound a bit odd?

I know that they hold a lot of banquets and dinners at these European summits but surely the British Prime Minister can choose what he eats himself without having to consult with the Welsh nation first.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Placing the blame

You would have thought that with Ed Miliband's leadership in crisis, the Labour Party would be looking to up their game in 2012. Instead, it appears that they are playing a blame game instead, accusing the BBC of failing to properly represent their views. Really?

I doubt that this is the experience of the average person who has a passing interest in politics. In fact, if I were to be pushed I would say that the opposite is true but then I accept that it is a fact of life that the media makes its own rules and that there is little that politicians can do about that unless the media really step out of line.

The Observer says that Labour chiefs have written to the corporation raising concerns that its party spokesmen are not receiving their fair share of airtime at a time when they are neck and neck with the Tories in opinion polls. As a result they have 'struggled to get their message across'.

This sort of attack on the BBC is standard fare and does tend to have an effect, albeit for a limited period of time. However, perhaps tha Labour Party need to look elsewhere for their failure to communicate rather than seeking to shoot the messenger.

After all it is difficult to deliver an effective opposition when both your key figures and what you are trying to say have no credibility.

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