That Old Chestnut

David Cameron has a nerve. Not only has he U-turned over his pledge in opposition to hold a referendum over the UK’s terms of membership of the European Union, but today he had the temerity to force Nicolas Sarkozy to back down and accept his presence at key Eurozone talks to try to deal with the Greek debt crisis on Wednesday.

Once again, only one year into the new government, a Conservative prime minister is becoming about as stable on Europe as Edwina Currie is on her feet. We all know deep down he is a staunch Euro-sceptic, so why doesn’t he have the guts to come out and be frank with the British people, and say that he would love us to turn our backs on our continental partners, but that he also loves us to lecture and patronise them on economic policy, despite the fact that UK growth is anaemic at best, and backwards at worst, thanks to his policies.

A referendum on EU membership now would of course be absurd, but having called for one in opposition, the PM should stick to his guns and create a disunited and discredited government, and do us all a favour by breaking up the coalition and triggering a general election. You can’t have your bun and eat it, and you can’t be half in, half out, of the EU – leaving the Eurozone (or more accurately, Germany) to do all the hard work and then turning up to talks this week to act as one of the key players while facing a referendum proposal at home from your own backbenchers is hypocritical and downright embarrassing for Britain.

It was Ed Miliband, incidentally, who called on Cameron to give up his trip Down Under and attend the meeting, therefore whether or not you agree that Cameron has a right to be there, it is clear that the Labour leader is ahead of the curve on this one, as he was on phone hacking and as he was at PMQs this week.

It might sound like a cheap shot from the comforts of opposition – and we all know Blair and Brown disagreed over the Euro – however it is clear that yet again the Tories are divided over Europe. Europhile or Europhobe, this is one of the few reliable constants of the European project.


The end of Murdoch’s political monopoly?…Let’s hope so

To be brutally honest, when this whole phone hacking milarky began to come out 6, 9 months ago I really couldn’t care that much. But now, truly, everything has changed. The biggest circulatory newspaper of all time is being dropped, Andy Coulson has been arrested, murder and soldier victim families phones being tapped and quite frankly, the media will never truly be the same again.

So what can we identify and salvage from this wreckage? Well first off to get you in a good mood only Ed Miliband’s finest performance as Labour leader to date by being the first to call for enquiries, the first to call for the axing of the PCC, the first to call for Rebekah Brook’s resignation and the first to demand the transfer of the BSkyB bid to the competition commission. Ultimately, this is a welcome overcoming of fear of the Murdoch empire. Too long has a US-based media tycoon dictated overarching control over Britain. Don’t get me wrong, Labour’s hands are far from clean when it came to dealing with the tycoon master, but this is a major break not just for Labour but for British Politics as one major political force cuts it’s links with the media empire it feared. Miliband despite his fine performance recently has to be careful as already a senior Miliband aid received a “very hostile” threat, not veiled at all, from a News International journalist warning: “You have made it personal about Rebekah, so we’ll make it personal about you.”.

This break for British politics is all very well but it depends on Cameron following suit, which he has so far shown to be unwilling. It is clear that Camero also fears the monopoly and is too entwined in the spider’s web of Murdoch’s empire to truly break free. It was Cameron’s decision to bring in Coulson fresh from News of the World not only in to his team while in opposition but as Director of Communications in No. 10 despite an uneasy background record and he has paid dearly for this judgement. Let’s hope Cameron can make the right decision over the BSkyB deal as this is truly the real prize in all this chaos.

For Murdoch to jettison the very paper that brought him into the British media it seems that he realised the true potential of BSkyB. Newspapers are in decline, the future is the internet and TV. Sky’ revenue is already greater than the BBC’s which combined with his remaining papers would place Murdoch beyond reach of any rival media circles and organisations. With this power he could begin to truly cripple one of Britain’s greatest institutions, the BBC. Any chance that Sky would remain a fully bias free organisation is impossible given Murdoch’s record with the Times, the Sun, the NoW and Fox News over in the USA.

We’ve made our move, it’s time for Cameron to follow suit and do the right thing and remove this poison from British politics once and for all.


The art of the U-turn

We’re all very aware of the Tory-led Coalition’s spree of u-turns which numbers around 15. Naturally then it was a matter of time before Cameron would attempt to spin what had been going on. Yesterday in a press conference Cameron claimed that a u-turn (although under this government they have regarded them as “policy rethinks”) was a “sign of strength”. Now in part, I agree with that sentiment. It is far better to consider alternative views and opinions and it is not a sign of weakness if you genuinely change your mind or if the evidence shows other-wise to your own beliefs in the long-run.

However, it’s far far better to get it right first time round. We all know this government is Maoist in terms of the speed of reform and this has clearly been shown through the sheer number of u-turns. Things are not thought out and the public will eventually catch on. It’s all very well to be a “listening government”, but I believe it’s far better to listen before you are made to.

We’ve come along way from the “lady’s not for turning”.


15 and counting

Just a quick blog before bed (the morning will feature the Republican Presidential Nomination race) and I’d like to thank Planetpmc for pointing out the 15 major U-turns the Tory-led government has had to make in the past year. Enjoy:

1.  NHS Direct ‘not being scrapped’ –

2.  Government confirms re-think on school sport funding –

3.  Downing Street rejects child milk scheme cut suggestion –

4.  Sale of forests in England scrapped –

5.  Plans to grant anonymity to rape case defendants scrapped –

6.  Government backtracks on Bookstart –

7.  Housing benefit cap to be postponed until January 2012 –

8.  Government admits defeat on immigration target –

9.  Military covenant to be enshrined in law after months of criticism –

10. UK coastguard station closure plans ‘scaled back’ –

11. Government ‘abandons’ plans for weekly rubbish collection –

12. Cameron tears up Ken Clarke’s “soft” sentencing policies –

13. David Cameron denies ‘humiliating U-turn’ on NHS –

14. Treasury backtracks on Danny Alexander’s pension reform plan –

15. Ken Clarke forced to abandon 50% sentence cuts for guilty pleas –

They Just Don’t Get It

I’ve now returned to Birmingham after a week in which the Coalition managed to look incompetent and shambolic as well as cruel. We’ve had Willetts admitting he is content to see poorer students having to settle for a degree at their local sixth form, rather than enjoying the full university experience; Norman Tebbit joining the near-univeral coalition against the NHS transformation; U-turns on defence spending and health to add to the growing list which includes school sports and buildings, forests, and even the Downing Street cat; and of course Nick Clegg. When he hasn’t been complaining that he is the nation’s ‘punchbag’ or facing criticism from his own son, he has been making some interesting comments about social mobility.

I am not going to slam the Deputy Prime Minister for having had a leg-up from his neighbour (a peer of the realm) in order to get an internship at a bank (it had to be a bank), because I challenge anyone reading this – assuming I have a readership – not to have seized the opportunity in the same way if they were in Nick’s position. A Labour party which wants social justice and equality of opportunity from birth should not be blaming someone for a background thay had no control over, and that even includes Cameron who had someone put a word in from Buck House. However, Clegg’s attempts at addressing the age-old problem of the ‘It’s who you know’ culture were embarrassing, coming at the same time this government is slashing Sure Start centres, EMA, univeristy budgets and allowing socially divisive ‘free’ schools to blossom up and down the country.

I spoke to people this week in the valleys who have Masters’ degrees who have spent over a year unemployed – young people with ambition, drive and what should be a promising career ahead of them. I overheard sixth form students on the bus complaining that they had not been accepted for any of their UCAS choices, despite the prediction of 4 As at A-level. I have personally had difficulty finding summer placements when I am not lucky enough to be able to work unpaid for six months in central London. Nick Clegg’s diagnosis was correct, but there is far more to it than setting an example to almost-bankrupt businesses by paying interns at Lib Dem HQ.

We need a new cultural shift in this country, brought about by government, where the disadvantaged are caught as soon as possible and at every stage of their lives are helped to gain the same opportunities as the better off. This should not involve positive discrimination or handouts, but should involve investment in our young people which other European countries manage while they bail out their neighbours, but we seem to think is unaffordable. A national internship scheme or national bursary programme, complementing investment in careers education (which at the moment is dire) to inform young people that they are just as talented and ambitious as the more privileged, and what opportunities are out there for the taking, is desperately needed. The underlying factors, such as affordable transport, need to be subsidised so someone who lives in the middle of nowhere with no ‘contacts’ can get work experience in a city near them.

There are important elections coming up in the devolved nations and local councils in England. Young people should be demanding better from the government and their local councils at the ballot box, and should express their dissatisfaction with the Coalition, which just doesn’t get it.

The Last Chapter for Libraries?

It was reported this week that our dear PM performed yet another U-turn (to add to the ever-growing list, which includes forests, school sports and even getting Larry the Cat) on the proposal to close a local library in his Witney constituency by Oxfordshire County Council, as reported in this week’s Independent on Sunday.

Not only is this flagrant hypocrisy given the closure of libraries on which local communities depend up and down the country, it is also ‘pork-barrelling’ of the lowest kind and an example that we are not in fact “all in this together”. The prospect of libraries being closed by local authorities who are facing savage cuts is deeply depressing – I, like so many other young people, relied on my local library for computer access growing up, but more importantly I was regularly able to borrow up to ten books at a time (some regrettably I forgot to return), discovering chuldren’s favourites like Jacqueline Wilson, Roald Dahl and Mark Twain in the process, alongside history books and encyclopaedias.

Not only is it divisive and running directly against the government’s intentions to mend our apparently ‘broken’ society, it is morally wrong to target the cuts on the poorest, the elderly and most importantly children, who have no vote and no say in how resources are allocated. Priorities have to be made, but library closures cannot even be justified on crude market terms, because they are still being used widely and are a lifeline for so many. It seems that the local lending library could be nearing its epilogue if we do nothing about it, with disastrous consequences for childhood literacy and social mobility.