Archive for October, 2009

CON 42%(-2) LAB 25%(-2) LD 21%(+3)

With the release of the latest ICM poll showing no recovery for Labour, Mike Smithson has repeated the question that most right of centre bloggers – and others – have been asking for the past six months at least: how much evidence does Labour need that Brown is a liability who will demolish any hope they have of rescuing the party from certain annihilation at the next election?

Another month goes by and Labour’s polling position remains dire with no respite in sight. For a new ICM poll for the Sunday Telegraph just being reported suggests that there’s been little change between the main parties since the last survey from the firm in the Guardian a week and a half ago.

Both Labour and the Tories are down two with the Lib Dems up three.

You now have to go back to December 2008 before you find an ICM poll where the Tories did not have a double digit lead. The current 17 point gap equals the second highest on record.

What will be very disappointing to Labour is that their ongoing attacks on the Tories for their alleged links with “far right parties” in the EU don’t seem to be having any impact. This has been just about their only line in the past fortnight and so far, at least, it has not benefited them in the polls.

To many in the Labour party ICM is seen as the gold standard because it has been round for so long using the same methodology and has a good track record. That will add to the worries.

The Lib Dems will be pleased that they are back over 20% and not too far behind Brown’s Labour.

We’ve said it before, I know, but you just wonder how bad it has to get for Labour before there is any thought of a leadership change?

With Brown now openly defying his own Chancellor, having comprehesively lost the argument on the state of the public finances this autumn, and opting for the nuclear option of further gargantuan chunks of “stimulus” spending next year, the feeling that he has taken complete leave of whatever senses he ever possessed in his increasing desperation is practically tangible. Tomorrow’s Sunday Times will not make pleasant reading for Alistair Darling.

GORDON BROWN is planning a final public spending spree to help pull the economy out of recession and put pressure on the Conservatives over their plans for deep cuts.

The prime minister is keen to use the autumn pre-budget statement to announce a new “fiscal stimulus”, with billions of pounds of extra money for housing, infrastructure projects and training.

Recent figures showing that Britain is still in recession have convinced Brown that more spending will be required next year to support any faltering recovery.

Brown also hopes the stimulus package will open a new dividing line between Labour and Conservative plans over the public finances.

“At the next election we need a clear story to tell about how Labour will support the economy through investment while the Tories would choke off the recovery with draconian cuts,” said a cabinet source.

However, the proposals have caused alarm among Treasury officials who fear any increased spending could upset the financial markets, making it harder to service the growing national debt.

At last week’s cabinet meeting, a discussion over the latest economic data hinted at the tension between No 10 and the Treasury. Alistair Darling, the chancellor, warned ministers of tough times ahead and stated that any new projects would need to be “paid for by savings elsewhere”.

By contrast, Brown spoke of the importance of not withdrawing “support for the economy”.

It is also understood that there have been a series of disagreements in the National Economic Council, Brown’s “war cabinet” for the recession, where Darling has called into question new schemes to “support” the economy.

The pre-budget report, expected early next month, is likely to retain the pledge made in the spring to halve the public spending deficit, currently £175 billion, by 2014.

Ministers are now debating the budget for the 12 months beginning in April 2010.

Under current Treasury forecasts, expenditure will rise next year by £30 billion to £700 billion.

However, most of the increase is accounted for by debt interest and social security payments, while capital investment in housing and public services would fall in real terms.

The comments already appearing beneath the article demonstrate pretty clearly – at least to me – the mood of the public generally, and who it blames for Britain’s parlous economic position: Gordon Brown. An example:

The only reason we are still in recession is because of Brown’s reckless spending. All other countries took a measured ‘stimulus’ approach and have recovered. Brown is delusioned and no one voted for him to spend our money like this and put our children’s children in debt.

The feeling must now be that Labour won’t listen to public opinion any more than they have before about who the electorate wants to see gone because of this and so many other debacles: they want Brown gone – immediately. But no matter what Labour’s fuhrer does to destroy their mythical Third Reich Way, for want of backbone they still stubbornly refuse to assassinate him.

The Tories are no-doubt counting on Labour’s utter political cowardice – but the country will be paying for it. For decades.

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Having been bed-ridden with some kind of stinking cold for the past few days, I thought it appropriate to do something on health tonight. That’s not the only reason, of course, nor even the main one. The main one is Labour’s latest attempt to steal Tory policy thunder with an announcement by their child of a health minister, Andy Burnham, that filled this morning’s front pages, to rig NHS waiting list figures by making taxpayers pay for other people to go private.

Aside from the fact that this is an admission of abject failure, and that this sudden pledge, designed as it obviously and dishonestly is somehow to “Tory-proof the NHS” (as one Labour apologist put it) in an area where they are making significant headway with some excellent policy commitments of their own, some might be tempted to argue that making use of surplus capacity in the private sector in this way is a good idea. They would be entirely wrong.

Three of the central reasons why they would be wrong are that, first, private health care is preferable to NHS care, and many millions of people choose to pay the extra cost, because the spare capacity, deliberately made, creates a better service and zero waiting times. The spare capacity itself is made possible by high levels of properly managed investment and best management practice. The NHS – and government – has a lot to learn from private health care. The effect of the government intervening and paying private hospitals effectively to solve the problem of over-demand and inefficiency in the NHS will be to spread the disease: it will kill spare capacity in the private system leading, inevitably and quickly, to price hikes. In the end, private patients will actually be squeezed out of the market by government subcontracting. Perhaps this is the Labour party’s real aim.

The second of the central reasons why this is such a bad idea is partly a moral one. It’s not just private patients who will end up being clobbered by a government that once again seems willing to rig the market to mask its own total incompetence. It’s the taxpayers as well. Who does this government think it is? It must think people are astonishingly stupid if it thinks they will not notice that they will be paying for the same health service (already the most expensive and inefficient in the world) twice if, God forbid, this government actually won the next election and brought these measures in. It is not only an insult to the electorate’s intellegence, however, it is morally wrong for a government to use legislation to fleece the population for political and dishonest motives. Those motives? 1. To massage waiting list figures; 2. To further the notion that “entitlement”, in the socialist sense, is some sort of moral absolute and is something that only the state, not the market, can fulfil; 3. To embarrass the Tories (though I’m not sure how they expect this policy announcement will achieve that); 4. Possibly to gain some control of the private healthcare system by, effectively, buying it off. Some might have their doubts about this last one, but people should never forget that it has always been a long term aim of the Left to kill off all competition to the state provision of services, particularly in the areas of education and health.

The third central reason why this is such a bad idea is, of course, the most simple to grasp and straightforward to explain – and it’s the most powerful: it’s Labour’s idea and it would be a Labour ministry trying to enforce it. The past 12 years tell us very clearly, especially when it comes to PPP or PFI or subcontracting arrangements with and within the NHS (and everywhere else), that it would be a full-scale, monumentally costly catastrophe.

Health care is never free, but at least with the Tories there’s a chance we might get a bit more value for money. If this Labour government is re-elected all we will have is less and less for more and more – and Burnham’s blustering policy announcement proves that point perfectly.

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Hat Tip to John Ward (again 🙂


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David Shepherd

As a cricket fanatic since childhood, I was very sad to learn today that David Shepherd has died from lung cancer at the age of 68. He will always be associated in my mind with many of the high and low points of English test cricket, particularly in the 1980s. He was standing when Viv Richards kicked off the famous 1984 “Blackwash” tour with a breathtaking 189 not out in the first ODI (next highest score: Eldine Baptiste’s 26!); he was standing in 1985 when David Gower’s England retained the Ashes in the 5th test at Edgbaston (Gower, 215); and he was standing when the inevitable Aussie backlash began in 1989 with the humiliating defeat of England, once again led by David Gower, at Leeds (Steve Waugh’s tour average: 126.50!).

These are just a few memories I will cherish of a wonderful, colourful era for a sport I will always love. With David Shepherd’s passing, to me in some ways with him finally pass those happy days. He was comfortably my favourite umpire, not least because he seemed to be such a jolly man, but mainly because he was absolutely outstanding at his work, though always unobtrusive in the execution. Of course his superstitions about “Nelson”, with the wonderful little jig it always prompted, were great for the crowd, but the real reason why people loved him is that he was trusted and respected by absolutely everyone – players and spectators alike.

There can be no higher praise for an umpire, or, come to that, for any man. And few deserve it more than he.

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Moo Labour

Mad cows

Stephen “Eyebrows” Pound: definitely a mad cow candidate.

He must know that what he’s saying on Sky News’ paper review thing right now about anything – but especially everything – is totally, insanely dishonest.

If he doesn’t, then his considerable brain must be diseased.

If so, then he almost has my sympathy.

It must have been the hamburgers. Especially the Quarter Pounders!

Boom boom.

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The Red Zone: about to disappear?

Apologies for my hen’s teeth posting but managing the workload of a full time MA and trying to earn a crust with a bit of teaching can occasionally be somewhat time-consuming – and knackering to boot. It’s been particularly hectic this week for some reason – and I have a tricky little test coming up too so there’s no respite for a while.

Enough of that. I want to talk about the latest tasty morsal of polling news that indicates Wales could actually be about to cast off the Labour yoke – or near as damn it.

CON 31%, LAB 34%, LDEM 12%, PC 15%, says Yougov’s latest Wales poll commissioned by the University of Aberystwyth. Full results in PDF form can be found here.

There’s little to add to the Half Blood Welshman’s excellent post on this devasting news for Welsh Labour. It’s certainly worth a read. Here’s an extract.

The Conservatives should be thrilled that they are doing so well in Wales – surprised, it has to be said, but thrilled. It doesn’t make up for their continuing woes in Scotland, but it does something to counter to myth that they have become exclusively the party of the South of England. 50% more votes and four times as many seats – if they can pull it off – would be a major coup for Nick Bourne, Cheryl Gillan and David Cameron. From that point of view, this poll probably finally explodes the idea of Bourne standing aside before 2011, when he can perform an orderly handover on his terms.
Plaid Cymru will probably be disappointed (although Che tries to put a brave face on it). Their vote is up, but not by a lot. Ultimately, the aim of Plaid Cymru must surely have been to become the alternative to Labour as the leading party in Wales, and yet they are just barely in third place. Although they would pick up a gratifying clutch of seats, including the greatest prize in Ynys Mon, on these numbers, there will probably be whisperings that were they not tied to a tired and increasingly divided Labour government that they would be doing much, much better. They will also be dissatisfied that the avowedly Unionist message of the Conservatives – many of whose candidates and all of whose current MPs remain fiercely unitary in outlook, never mind Unionist – seems not to be a problem for a large number of voters, something that may be an issue given the upcoming report on the future of the Assembly (due on November 18th, but also foreshadowed according to rumour in the notorious Dr. Hain’s speech on Thursday). You have to wonder where that will go in the present atmosphere.
The Liberal Democrats will be devastated. There is simply no way to dress up losing a third of your voters as anything other than a major blow. How that plays out in terms of seats remains a bit of a guess, but even so Kirsty Williams will not be happy. Hopefully this will be the spark they need to really galvanise a better campaign – such work as is going on looks to be poorly focussed to this outsider – to try and get some more publicity. The Liberal Democrats in the last 15 years have become big political players – they should not really just sit back and wait for the “oxygen of publicity” with an election campaign (I’m sure they don’t intend to, but that’s how it looks from here).
That leaves Labour. They lose a fifth of their votes – a third of their seats. The difference may be explained by the fact that they would be driven back on their Valleys heartlands, with a handful of outliers in Clwyd. This means that the last figure should also be of deep concern to the incoming leader, whoever that may be (my money is still on Hart). That is the others – on 7%, a near doubling of their previous attainment of 4%. If that is concentrated in a small handful of seats – say Caerphilly or Wrexham – there is the potential, to put it no more strongly than that, of another Blaenau Gwent style upset. Of course, we don’t know exactly how it breaks down. It may be boosts for the BNP and UKIP, in which case it will likely prove irrelevant. Then again, it may not. The challenge facing the new leader remains huge, particularly if the (let’s face it) badly-run contest, the divisions it has opened and the loss of Rhodri Morgan’s personal presence cause the vote to sag further. Moreover, the idea that Wales is finally deserting Labour will be a crushing blow to morale – possibly on a national level as well as a local one.

That really is an excellent analysis. All I can say with certain knowledge is that in the towns of Carmarthenshire, particularly among my mother’s generation, the notion of a world without Labour was once (and for many no-doubt still is) inconceivable. It is a political outcome that was – as I know from a conversation I had not so long ago with a pretty famous Welsh writer, for instance – to put it bluntly, completely off the mental radar of people here, many of whose parents were, so I am told, slightly to the political left of John Roose Williams.

The times they definitely are a-changin’, however, as the poll unequivocably demonstrates. To cut a long story short, what they feel about this Labour government is what we all feel, for one reason or another: absolute betrayal.

The results of what is clearly the deep soul searching currently underway in Wales among, it seems, all sections of society are entirely unpredictable insofar as who, if Labour is about to be defeated, will fill their boots.

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It’s got to be anvil shooting every time. Yes, it’s the wonderful new sport from the good ol’ US of A. Life doesn’t get much funner than this.

Well, it was either that or blog about Millipede’s breathtakingly hypocritical, opportunistic and massively nauseating endorsement of “President Blair” on this morning’s Marr show – and I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I hope you understand.

Back to the anvil shooting…

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