Friday, 20 September 2013

Weekly Political Digest – 20 September 2013

We're now into the autumn conference season, with the Liberal Democrat event over, UKIP sandwiched in between that and Labour's conference beginning this coming weekend, and the Conservatives the following week. With just eighteen months to go before the official General Election campaign opening, this is a crucial moment for all serious political parties in Great Britain, and on a smaller scale the Northern Ireland parties as well...

Oborne Backs Miliband

Peter Oborne has come out strongly in support of Ed[ward] Miliband as a good Labour party leader. I can no longer find it, so wonder if it has been removed in the meantime, though I don't know why that might have been done.

His perhaps surprising stance, when all around – including within the upper echelons and elsewhere in the Labour party itself – are labelling their current leader as weak and even 'an absence rather than a presence' (to paraphrase something I quoted here recently, is quite well evidenced, at least if you take the claims at face value.

In a week when the YouGov daily opinion polls have the Labour lead at either one percentage point or nothing at all, the Oborne piece must be the only positive thing Ed-M can take to his party's autumn conference this weekend. Indeed, I imagine he is already on his way to Brighton, or might even have arrived by now.

Of course, this probably isn't Iain Martin's famous DUEMA (the 'Don't Understimate Ed Miliband Association') but may be nothing more than an attempt to swing the balance of opinion within Labour so that they won't ditch him in favour of a more competent individual.

I can understand such a ploy, if this is what it turns out to be: having Mili-E at the helm of Labour at the 2015 General Election offers probably the best hope of there being a Conservative overall majority in May 2015...

A Liberal Helping

As usual, the Yellows had the first of the major parties' conferences of the season, in Glasgow. I no longer regularly (one might have said avidly just a few years ago) follow the televised conference set pieces in the main venue, as they have tended to become less and less for members and ever more targeted at the only people who can afford the sheer cost – the professionals and other financed delegates, whether lobbyists or union officials.

There's little scope for ordinary members these days, largely because of hotel and travel costs. Therefore I now find it more useful to keep an eye out for overall summaries that appear in the big media, as those at least tend to be fairly accurate reflections of the general flavour of each event.

Thus it has been with the Lib Dem conference, which seems to have had two main thrusts to it: (1) how they now feel that they must always be in government (something of a change of tack!) and (2) how successful they have been while in government – but only in holding the Tories back by acting as an anchor. Put another way (as Isabel Hardman does in the first of those linked articles) party leader Nick Clegg 'loves blocking popular policies', and then goes on to list some of them.

When they do support something, it doesn't go down well with what is now very much a disunited party, as Mark Wallace could see at the conference as early as Monday. As a party, they still don't really fit very well into a real-world governance situation, and it shows...

Of course, a negative outlook like that is not only a drag on the nation's progress toward recovery and being able to better afford the kind of society we'd wish to put (back?) in place for our children. It also tends toward stagnation, especially when there are still other countries in the world, outside the Eurozone for example, who are continuing to leap ahead of us while we plod along as the Eeyore of the nations.

Thus the Lib Dems aren't actually 'helping' at all, despite early signs in this Coalition term that they could and would be. They will need to be jettisoned from government in 2015, otherwise we really aren't going to get anywhere near where we need to be during the years that follow.

Despite all this, the coalition itself is apparently operating 'very harmoniously', as James Forsyth writes – and he usually has a good handle of what's going on out of public view.

Economy With The Truth

Allister Heath (editor of City AM) has a very good and truthful piece in The Telegraph this week, showing once again that he 'gets it' better and more comprehensively than many others do. There is a lot of good material in there; but the single most significant point is, as its headline indicates, that success must be made available to all, and not focus attention on particular groups, whether it's support for some or additional taxation inflicted on others.

I shall say no more at this time, and urge everyone with any kind of interest in our nation's economic and societal recovery to read Allister's long (but not too much so) article.

Supporting Poorer Children

Also from Allister Heath, this time back in his 'home' of City AM, this piece, of a medium-length (just eight moderate paragraphs) looks at the new 'free school meals for all' initiative. He very carefully states that it is this government and not a specific party that is behind this (and, by implication, others) idea.

It is already public knowledge that this is a Liberal Democrat scheme, and no doubt there has been horse trading behind the scenes to get this one out, in exchange for Lib Dem voting in support of some Conservative initiative elsewhere in the legislative arena.

On this policy, it is the last sentence of Allister's opening paragraph that tells the whole story in a nutshell...
"Poor children are already eligible for free school meals, which means that this policy will only help better off parents."
Poor children are already eligible for free school meals, which means that this policy will only help better off parents.  - See more at:"
Poor children are already eligible for free school meals, which means that this policy will only help better off parents. - See more at:
Poor children are already eligible for free school meals, which means that this policy will only help better off parents. - See more at:"
Surely they must have realised this within Westminster? The Whitehall mandarins who put it together certainly will have done, and should have advised the relevant Ministers accordingly. Perhaps they did, and were ignored...

The bottom line is that the money for all this has to come from somewhere, and history clearly shows that we shall be subsidising this in higher-than-necessary tax, which will in all probability hit poorer families proportionally more than any other section of the population.

Beyond the Veil

The controversy over cultural dress within (typically) Muslim. communities – though, I am told, originating from the people's culture and not Islam – reached an odd point this month when a court decided to impose a half-and-half solution regarding a witness.

I can understand the thinking: any face covering must be removed while giving testimony (and, one might just as easily expect, at other times when authority figures, including law enforcement, have a valid reason to require it) in order to allow the judge, counsel and any jurors to be aware of that aspect of body language.

After all, they get that with all other witnesses, so not requiring it in such cases as this could be said to be a form of discrimination, and could even (in some cases) be prejudicial to a proper outcome of the case being prosecuted.

In other situations, such a requirement is not appropriate – and that too is correct. If we didn't like cover-up garments, then Nuns' habits and even – one could say especially – with regard to 'hoodies'. There was a controversy surrounding those in a shopping centre not so many years ago, so we've been here before, in a sense.

The Commentator has taken a somewhat dim view of the court ruling, but I think they haven't quite understood the predicament that I outlined above. As with so many things in life, it's more than one-dimensional, so no universal one-size-fits-all approach can work properly in all situations. It's awkward, especially for the tidy-minded like myself, but it's a fact of life. We have the intelligence to think it through and devise something sensible and workable.

The Adam Smith Institute has a good take on the topic, and usefully pictures a range of such cultural head coverings, from the Nun-like Chador to the full Niqab and Burka. As they rightly say, banning them would be illiberal and un-British, as they put it.

The writer also points the way to a better, more sensible way to proceed – and I anticipate that the Motion in Parliament will end up being modified considerably in that direction. He also usefully acknowledges that there are other places where at least face coverings might indeed need to be required to be removed, such as airports and banks.

It would make sense, and if handled that way would not become the thin end of the wedge that some are suggesting.

Even Sheffield Gets It

The recent diversionary tactic by Labour away from the economic recovery (now in much healthier shape than they'd like to admit) and toward their new wheeze 'levels of income' was not lost on the more perceptive members of the public. Even in Sheffield – hardly an anti-Labour part of England – a letter-writer to the Yorkshire Post hasn't been taken in.

It is perhaps an example of what I have been saying for a long time: that in time even the Labour heartlands begin to realise just how much they have been taken for fools – and once that lesson has been learned that generation is permanently lost to Labour.

It happened a decade ago, when many Labour voters turned the BNP, of all parties, as was fairly extensively documented at the time. These days, they are at least as likely to switch to UKIP, much of whose new support comes from disgruntled former Labour supporters.

This all ties in with the opinion poll mega-shifts, of course. After two years of coasting under their new leader, retaining moderate but unexciting poll leads of typically 12 to 14 percentage points over the Conservatives, that lead has more-or-less been completely wiped out in just one more year.

The public weren't prepared to wait any longer for Labour to get serious, and who can blame them? The party is now seen by a large proportion of the electorate as having significant internal issues – and with the present leadship having been involved with, or at least knowing of, last decades similarly nasty activities by Brown and Co to unseat Tony Blair, as are being revealed in Damian McBride's new book.

On top of that, the policy vacuum, reshuffles of the shadow cabinet, and the business with David Miliband, all add to the feeling that Labour is not a party fit for national government – and as those of us who have seen them from the other side are well aware, that is a correct deduction, and in fact has long been so.

No amount of diversion, wriggling, repeated spouting of 'the party line' or any other artifice can plug the leak in Labour's body of support. Not now; it's too late for that, and too much has happened on the present leadership's watch...

No Sweat!

Well, it should have been; but UKIP leader Nigel Farage was so obviously perspiring, and profusely, that several big media commentators felt compelled to tweet the news. Guido has helpfully rounded up some of those tweets, along with a photo of the melting Farage...

Drunk Tanks

This idea of 'tanks' where the well-inebriated causing problems in public places can be deposited in privately-provided holding places, and for which they will be required to pay., has received cautious acceptance-in-principle (for want of a better way to put it) from this county's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), so Kent might start to see these in key spots around the county in perhaps a year or two. No decision has yet been taken, either here or elsewhere in the country, as I understand.

One can see the idea: there aren't all that many prison cells in the typical police station, and filling up a large proportion of them with drunkards is hardly a good use of a vital but limited resource. It also won't be pleasant for others being held in adjoining cells, some of which might have done nothing wrong and will be released the next day for all one knows.

I am unsure about the idea, but await further information, particularly on how the concept has fared elsewhere in the world (I gather it is in use in at least one other country), but at least it shows that someone is trying to tackle a long-standing and seemingly worsening (nationally) issue.

On the subject of alcohol consumption, it should as always be noted that those who go to the more extreme lengths are, for the most part, doing so because they want to be bold and over-the-top – it's their warped idea of 'a good night out'. Thus the drink is only a means to that end, and is no more a 'culprit' than any other substance that produced the same kind of effect.

Only recently we have been reading about so-called 'legal highs' for example, and we have long had meths and others as alternatives, so blaming the drink (which is often taken in combination with other substances, producing a dangerous but heightened-effect concoction) is not helpful, and misses the target completely.

FullFact have done one of their better looks into the topic of alcohol-fuelled crime, which although it draws no firm conclusions does at least go some way toward bringing some common sense to the debate. For one thing, it shows just how old some of the 'evidence' some are putting about really is: see the update in particular (at the foot of the report) to show that some goes back over a third of a century. Hardly useful or valid!

Dartford Crossing Toll

Staying in Kent... Although the country is not in a healthy enough state to scrap the Dartford Crossing toll at this time (and other parts of the country would ask why they are being, in effect, required to subsidise it thereafter if it were to be scrapped), at least a move in the right direction has been announced by the Transport Secretary.

I think this is a way to slow wind-down the toll so that it can be quietly dropped altogether a few years hence; but I can see why it needs to be done in this way. Meanwhile, regular users benefit, and it is what I read as a statement of longer-term intent. It's what I might have thought up under the prevailing circumstances.

That's it for this week: I do like to be able to end on a positive, ideally local, note!

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