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Current location: Scotland
Member since: Mon Sep 7, 2009, 12:57 AM
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PMQs verdict: Corbyn just hammered Cameron

"I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing."

So said David Cameron when he won the Tory leadership back in 2005.

It didn't take long for him to surrender that ambitious hostage to fortune - partly because of the adversarial structure of the House of Commons, and partly because of his own temperament, which is naturally closer to Flashman than Gandhi.

Among his many weaknesses is his patrician temper, as has been widely catalogued by the press from both left and right, and over the years has caused concern among his own advisers.

And so we come to today's Prime Minister's Questions, on the strength of which Politics.co.uk's Ian Dunt has awarded Jeremy Corbyn the ears and tail for sheer doggedness:

This was the PMQs defeat Jeremy Corbyn had been threatening to deliver to the prime minister since he became Labour leader. He found the right question to ask David Cameron, ignored his evasive tactics and hammered him with it, Paxman-style, over and over again. He took a subject which damaged his opponent and used the opportunities offered by PMQs to make it much worse for him. It was sturdy, convincing stuff.

The prime minister is not, at bottom, a very good debater. This is partly why he was so desperate to escape leaders' debates at the election. He really only has three tactics in response to difficult queries.

Usually, he answers a question on process with a statement on goals. If you ask how he is going to protect those who are having their tax credits cut, he answers by saying we need a high-pay, low-welfare economy. It is irrelevant, but it sounds like the kind of thing almost everyone would agree with.

Alternatively, he lists related government policies. You ask how he is going to protect those who are having their tax credits cut and he answers by citing changes to the income tax benchmark or rising employment figures. It is broadly relevant, but it does not answer the question.

Finally, when he's desperate, he falls back on the standard 'Labour will wreck the economy' line. So if you ask how he is going to protect those who are having tax credits cut, he just says you're a "deficit denier". It is irrelevant, childish and logically pernicious.


It's worth looking out for these habitual tactics of Cameron's in future.

As Dunt observes, this sort of spectacle - and the awarding of "wins", reducing our ambitions for party politics to a mere tribal spectator sport in an archaic and very expensive setting - may not shift polls or win elections or change the destructive trajectory of a hubristic government and the kneejerk reactions of the evasive PR man in charge, but if a Punch and Judy show's all that's on offer, we may as well all join in on the "That's the way to do it!"

ETA: Video of the exchange here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/28/jeremy-corbyn-six-tax-credit-questions-david-cameron-straight-bat

Britain is heading for another 2008 crash: here’s why

David Graeber

British public life has always been riddled with taboos, and nowhere is this more true than in the realm of economics. You can say anything you like about sex nowadays, but the moment the topic turns to fiscal policy, there are endless things that everyone knows, that are even written up in textbooks and scholarly articles, but no one is supposed to talk about in public. It’s a real problem. Because of these taboos, it’s impossible to talk about the real reasons for the 2008 crash, and this makes it almost certain something like it will happen again.

I’d like to talk today about the greatest taboo of all. Let’s call it the Peter-Paul principle: the less the government is in debt, the more everybody else is. ...

... if the government declares “we must act responsibly and pay back the national debt” and runs a budget surplus, then it (the public sector) is taking more money in taxes out of the private sector than it’s paying back in. That money has to come from somewhere. So if the government runs a surplus, the private sector goes into deficit. If the government reduces its debt, everyone else has to go into debt in exactly that proportion in order to balance their own budgets.


Now, obviously, the “private sector” includes everything from households and corner shops to giant corporations. If overall private debt goes up, that doesn’t hit everyone equally. But who gets hit has very little to do with fiscal responsibility. It’s mostly about power. The wealthy have a million ways to wriggle out of their debts, and as a result, when government debt is transferred to the private sector, that debt always gets passed down on to those least able to pay it: into middle-class mortgages, payday loans, and so on.

... if you push all the debt on to those least able to pay, something does eventually have to give. There were three times in recent decades when the government ran a surplus ...

... each surplus is followed, within a certain number of years, by an equal and opposite recession.

There’s every reason to believe that’s exactly what’s about to happen now. ...

This takes us right back to exactly where we were right before the 2008 mortgage crisis. Do you really think the results will be any different?


Whole article (which I've had to edit heavily to comply with fair usage here) with graphs: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/28/2008-crash-government-economic-growth-budgetary-surplus

David Cameron to curb powers of House of Lords after tax credits defeat

A furious Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to set out plans to curb the powers of the House of Lords after his party's tax credit cuts proposal hit a major hurdle when peers voted to delay the policy until the government came up with an alternative scheme to help low-paid workers. Downing Street is expected on Tuesday (27 October) to outline plans for a "rapid review" that will guarantee that the House of Commons always has supremacy over financial matters.

Despite threats of a constitutional crisis prior to the voting, peers went ahead and voted in favour of two motions that basically sent a strong message to the government that the Upper House will not pass the cuts until the working lower income Britons were protected. Three motions were put to vote in the Upper House yesterday and two were passed.

The House of Lords voted 289 to 272 to former Labour minister Lady Hollis' motion to delay the tax credits cuts until a scheme to compensate those affected for three years is put on the table. Another motion by crossbench peer Lady Meacher was also adopted by 307 to 277 votes that refused to support the cuts until an independent assessment of their impact is carried out.


A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister is determined we will address this constitutional issue. A convention exists and it has been broken. He has asked for a rapid review to see how it can be put back in place."


So much humbug it's hard to know where to start. This government has developed the habit of trying to curtail and sidestep proper consideration in the Commons of its proposed changes by trying to enact through statutory instruments rather than full bills. Changes to the tax credits regime were not part of the Conservative manifesto at the last election, and here's Cameron on the BBC's Question Time in April 2015, when he was chasing suckers' votes:

Audience member: Will you put to bed rumours that you plan to cut child tax credit and restrict child benefit to two children?

David Cameron: No I don’t want to do that—this report that was out today is something I rejected at the time as Prime Minister and I reject it again today.


David Dimbleby: “Clearly there are some people who are worried that you have a plan to cut child credit and tax credits. Are you saying absolutely as a guarantee, it will never happen?”

David Cameron: “First of all, child tax credit, we increased by £450..”

David Dimbleby: “And it’s not going to fall?”

David Cameron: “It’s not going to fall. Child benefit, to me, is one of the most important benefits there is. It goes directly to the family, normally to the mother, £20 for the first child, £14 for the second. It is the key part of families’ budgets in this country. That’s not what we need to change.”

Six months is a long time in politics, obviously. As it is, last night's votes have accepted the principle of the cuts, the focus is now on the detail of the timescale and arrangements for enacting them.

I've never been much of a fan of the tax credits regime. It sidestepped issues of low wages and has ended up with all of us subsidizing companies (including ones that studiously avoid paying their fair share of taxes in the UK) that don't pay their workers decent wages. But to cut that support away without proper consideration of the consequences and sane plans to phase the changes in so that people who need help aren't driven into dire straits is appalling.

The debate about extending the "convention" that the Lords don't oppose government finance bills to statutory instruments should be an interesting one. I hope the Opposition isn't going to cut Cameron too much slack in an effort to look "reasonable". He deserves to have his promise from April rammed in his face at every turn.

UN investigators begin taking evidence in UK on ‘rights violations’

A team of United Nations investigators has this week begun a two-week visit to the UK as part of an inquiry into allegations of “systematic and grave” violations of disabled people’s human rights.


They are due to meet parliamentarians, disabled people’s organisations, civil servants, representatives of local authorities, academics and senior figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

They will also hear direct evidence from scores of individuals about the impact of government austerity measures, including former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), whistleblowers and disabled activists.

Among the issues being raised are believed to be the government’s decision to close ILF; cuts to legal aid; benefit cuts and sanctions, including the impact of the discredited work capability assessment; the severe shortage of accessible, affordable housing; the impact of the bedroom tax on disabled people; cuts to social care; and the rise in disability hate crime.


The article also reports that "the UK appeared to have become the first country to face a high-level inquiry by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD)"


Frankie Boyle’s conference roundup: Labour’s haunted tennis ball and the Slytherin chancellor

Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle sketches the party conferences so far. Nobody is spared.

After the second world war, Melanesian islanders formed cargo cults near abandoned airfields. They thought that if they carried out the rituals they had observed the troops performing at the American air force bases, planes would land. So they would march up and down in improvised uniforms performing parade ground drills with wooden rifles, believing that if the rites were performed correctly the planes would return and bring them cargo. I only mention this as a useful point of comparison for the Liberal Democrat conference. An isolated tribe going through the formal motions of something they think will bring votes, failing to understand that their actions are meaningless and vestigial. In fact, it’s more like the tribe had recently been allowed to fly a plane and had smashed it right into a mountain and nobody was ever going to let them anywhere near a plane again until the world was over.

Labour’s conference featured quite an impressive run-up by Jeremy Corbyn, tackling TV interviewers like a soothing GP talking to a hypochondriac. There was remarkably little infighting at the conference, as happens when a party realises it needs to put divisions aside and show solidarity to become electable, or, indeed, when two separate halves of a party loathe each other so much that they have to go to different sets of meetings.

Corbyn took to the stage with his head like a haunted tennis ball, and the general air of a pigeon that had inherited a suit. His speech lasted 59 minutes, one minute for every Labour MP who would like to see him fed into a sausage machine. The new Labour leader insisted, “Leadership is about listening.” If leadership is about listening, the great political speeches would have been a little different. Churchill saying, “Can you tell me what you’d like to do on the beaches?” Or Martin Luther King, surrounded by civil right activists at the Lincoln Memorial: “Did everyone hear that? He said a dog came into his bedroom but it had the head of his dead mother … it sang the Camptown Races and then all his teeth fell out. That’s a great one. OK, hands up who’s got another dream?”

Many in the party think Corbyn won’t last the full term, especially if we have a couple of cold winters. Actually, I have high hopes for him and his deputy Tom Watson, who could be mistaken, in a low light, for a chest of drawers with a telly on top. Perhaps their contrasting styles will complement each other. Corbyn looks like he will be killed by a mole from the secret services, Watson by a roll from the motorway services. Corbyn even came to the rescue of a speaker at the conference when her wheelchair became stuck while on stage. If it had been the Tories, she would have been removed by Iain Duncan Smith side-kicking her into the orchestra pit.

The rest here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/08/frankie-boyles-conference-roundup-haunted-tennis-ball-slytherin-chancellor-politics?CMP=share_btn_tw

"Scottish Labour: Inside the campaign from hell"

A (Scottish) Sunday Herald article looks at some of the dysfunction within Scottish Labour's campaign (Reddit link as the Herald article's paywalled - they also didn't deliver to my local shop today, drat). I'm sure there's a lot more to come out, but much of the focus is inevitably on Jim Murphy:

One colleague, explaining Murphy's approach to the media, said: "He once told me he was not bothered about the words in newspapers, just the pictures, and how he looked on TV."

During the campaign, some of Murphy's supporters were taken aback by his obsession with how he looked in the tabloids: how big the photograph was; and whether he came across better than Nicola Sturgeon. He was said to have been driven mad by the exposure given to Sturgeon - particularly after the first leaders' debate involving Miliband and David Cameron - and was grumpy when a daft photo of him emerged in the media. One senior party figure said he didn't know if Murphy was campaigning for office, or for "the front page of Vogue". Members of Murphy's team admired his energy, but were bemused by his vanity. They were irked by his bad habit of pulling stupid faces in photo-shoots and grew weary of his incessant football references. He stopped dying his hair, but only reluctantly. The flip-flop campaign strategy was believed to be another reflection of Murphy's shallowness.


Meanwhile, McTernan appeared to revel in his status as Murphy's top dog. Under Johann Lamont, the then general secretary Ian Price had occupied the sole private office in the party's Bath Street headquarters. With Murphy in charge, McTernan got the office, while new general secretary Brian Roy used a desk in the open-plan area. McTernan was also unpopular among some colleagues at Holyrood and acquired a reputation for making bold statements that were rarely borne out by reality. It was said he claimed that Sturgeon would struggle in the first UK leaders' debate, and announced that an event by Gordon Brown in Margaret Curran's constituency would have a big effect on the campaign. In the end, Sturgeon shone in London and the Brown press conference sank without trace. One source said McTernan had two modes: nice guy or wannabe Malcolm Tucker.

As the polls refused to budge, other grievances developed. Deputy leader Kezia Dugdale was said to have been under-used, as was senior MSP James Kelly, and Murphy's shadow cabinet was deemed to be a paper-body subordinate to his well-paid helpers.


Labour also suffered from tension between candidates in the scramble for scarce election cash. In most campaigns, Scottish political parties prioritise a handful of constituencies; this time, Labour was faced with protecting all of its seats.

Roy, to his credit, produced an incentives-based plan that rewarded effort with resources. If a Constituency Labour Party (CLP) met voter contact rates, extra leaflets would follow. According to documents seen by this newspaper, the Roy plan flushed out the grafters from the slackers. In early February, East Lothian CLP had made 1,547 voter contacts. Other CLPs were in single digits. Some seats naturally fell off the radar at Labour headquarters, but in the latter stages of the campaign insiders believed favouritism trumped effort as resources were diverted to the established "sons and daughters" - code for Jim Murphy, Douglas Alexander and Margaret Curran, the latter of whom was believed to be an undeserving resource-hogger.


I expect Murphy to be gone within the week. He's mainly hanging on now in the hope of negotiating a secure regional list slot in the 2016 Holyrood elections (oh Christ, another election ...).

The fight for the "real left" with Scottish Labour is something Labour has long abandoned.

Labour lost me before Blair took office (I was a CLP member), and confirmed me in my decision through its embrace of Thatcherism, its turnabout on nuclear weapons, its conduct over Iraq, and its abandonment of a commitment to social values I hold dear, among a number of other things.

The SNP moved leftward under Salmond over the years (he held the leadership twice), and Sturgeon's politics are to the left of his. She's been in leadership now approaching just 200 days. She has a wider and more enthusiastic following in Scotland than Salmond ever did (his appeal among women in the electorate was never that strong), though he's rightly regarded as a political phenomenon of his generation. The transition in power between the two couldn't have been smoother, or in retrospect, better timed.

Old loyalties die hard, and few harder than the old tribal loyalty to the Labour Party in its Scottish heartlands. But since the referendum last year, many Labour members and voters have deserted the party, not just for the SNP, but primarily so. They just took longer to jump ship than I did. Labour's membership in Scotland is now reputedly in the low thousands (I say reputedly because they refuse to make the number public), while the SNP's has swollen to 105,000 and counting. The effects of that influx have yet to be fully felt, but it's likely to see a cementing of the leftward trend. It may also see healthy intra-party conflict, and it'll be a test of the SNP leadership how well it harnesses that energy.

I've no idea what you mean by "identity politics." The whole thrust of the SNP's modern incarnation is civic nationalism, not ethnic nationalism. If you're settled in Scotland, you're as much a part of the polity as anyone else, no matter your background.

Labour took its voters for granted. For too many years, especially after the advent of New Labour, issues that Scottish constituency parties wanted prioritized in the party platform had to be sidelined because "the South East of England won't wear it." It's gotten worse as Labour's tacked right with the Tories to appease UKIP on certain issues such as immigration, and it's hard to see how they can cede any more ground on "austerity" and privatization. I'd obviously prefer to see Labour in power than the Tories, but it's not a particularly stark choice nowadays, despite Miliband being, on paper at least, more leftish than recent Labour leaders.

Scotland provided Labour with a reliable supply of lobby fodder for the best part of a century, and often got little to show for it in return. The setting up of the Scottish Assembly was intended to bring about the demise of the SNP, and its PR voting system was structured specifically to prevent one party (particularly the SNP) gaining an outright majority. This was confounded when the SNP did just that in the last Holyrood elections.

The old joke about a dog with a Labour rosette being able to win a seat in many constituencies wasn't too far from the truth when I was active in the party. This has come to bite them in the ass.

In the 2010 general election, the SNP suffered from being squeezed by a massive tactical vote by people desperate to stop the Tories taking power (I tactically voted Lib Dem for my sins, as the second-placed candidate in our constituency was a Tory - never with an inkling that would fuel an alliance with the Conservatives, of course). For too long, Labour barely had to work for votes in its heartlands, and now, with the massive swing to the SNP in the polls, it doesn't have reliable data from the previous campaign to base its canvassing on, and has so few activists left that in places it's reduced to shipping them up from England to chap on doors.

And now today we see Jim Murphy, the (Henry Jackson Society member, Blairite) leader of the Scottish Labour Party, having spent the months since his election as the "safe" right-wing candidate for that post declaring how independent Scottish Labour was from Labour in the rest of the UK, and just the other day in a leaders' debate boldly declaring that there would be no funding cuts in Scotland if Labour took power, being publicly contradicted and humiliated by Labour's Chuka Umunna in an interview with Andrew Neil, pointing out that Murphy can promise whatever he wants, but he won't be drawing up any Labour goverment's budget.

It's taken me a long time. I've voted SNP in the past - over the years since I abandoned Labour, I've voted Green, SNP, Scottish Socialist Party, and Lib Dem in various elections (one of the benefits of our Holyrood electoral system is you get two bites of the cherry - a direct candidate vote and a regional list vote, so you can mix and match depending on the appeal of an individual candidate and what representation you'd like to see in the Scottish Parliament). But this election, we've a very good SNP candidate in my constituency whom I'll have no qualms in voting for.

How it all pans out if a sizable bloc of SNP MPs hits Westminster, I've no idea. None of the other parties in contention have left me any alternative (the Greens have a way to go in our area before they're contenders, but I hope they'll do as well as can be expected under first past the post).

I've said it before, but I think it's almost impossible to gauge what's been going on politically in Scotland recently without living here. The media's portrayal is so warped that it's unbelievable (at least a few of the Guardian's columnists have recently stopped being so damn stupid about events up here, but their editorial line still stinks), and in Scotland that largely translates to being Labour mouthpieces.

In the referendum, no broadcast media and only one newspaper, The Sunday Herald, supported the Yes campaign (we've since had a new independence-supporting newspaper, The National, emerge, which has a way to go, but is a healthy antidote to the tired older media). Those allegiances have been transferred to the current election, the split being focused on Labour/SNP, with some of the right-leaning papers offering lukewarm support for the Tories up here, but generally being skewed that way in their coverage anyhow.

It's remarkable that such a political transformation has taken place with so little backing, or even honest reporting in a lot of cases, from the MSM.

Actor Michael Sheen gives powerful speech in defense of NHS and against austerity

Speaking at a "People's March for the NHS" rally in Tredegar, South Wales on St. David's Day, he invokes the memory and passion of Nye Bevan:

When people are too scared to say what they really mean, when they're too careful to speak from their hearts, when integrity is too much of a risk, it's no surprise that people feel disengaged with politics. There is never an excuse to not speak up for what you think is right. You must stand up for what you believe, but first of all, by God, believe in something.

Full transcript here: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/mar/02/full-text-of-michael-sheens-speech

Fuller video of speech here (won't embed): http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/mar/02/michael-sheen-defends-nhs-against-bland-politicians?CMP=share_btn_tw

Andrew Marr Interviews Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

Marr introduced this interview on Sunday as a chance for people outside Scotland (a.k.a. "the rest of the UK" to get to know Sturgeon, whose SNP members of parliament may or may not play a pivotal role after the General Election.

Fox "Terrorism Expert" Steve Emerson Says Listening to His Own Words Is "Like Waterboarding"

Steve Emerson, Fox's "terrorism expert" who's been ridiculed mercilessly, along with Fox News, on the Twitter hashtag #FOXNEWSFACTS and by UK Prime Minister David Cameron for his claims that the UK city of Birmingham is "totally Muslim," is at it again.

He went on Sky News to apologize for his earlier remarks. It ... didn't go so well.

Steven Emerson, Fox News pundit and "terrorism expert", has likened listening back to his incorrect comments on Birmingham as "like waterboarding" in another gaffe today.

While speaking on Sky News Mr Emerson apologised for his "inexcusable error" after he described Birmingham as a city that non-Muslims "simply don't go" into, but then caused further controversy by saying "hearing it over when you played it was like waterboarding I guess".

When it was mentioned that some people may find that analogy offensive Mr Emerson replied "I didn't mean to offend anyone...I deserved to have experienced the pain of listening to it over again".

(Original article plus video here (warning: autoplay ad): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11341426/Fox-News-terror-expert-Listening-back-Birmingham-Muslim-error-like-waterboarding.html )

Video with no ad here: http://news.sky.com/story/1406714/fox-commentator-gaffe-like-waterboarding

He also claimed to have received numerous death threats. I've no idea whether that's another of those #FOXNEWSFACTS.
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