Archive for ‘Coalition’

February 3, 2011

Ken must stay



The Sun, not famed for its subtlety, has decided to once again turn it ire on Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. They describe him as “a bumbling liability who seems keener to rock the boat than safeguard the streets.”

This is an utterly ridiculous sentiment, not only because Clarke is one of the cabinet members who has best bridged the gap between the two coalition partners, but because his civil libertarian, humane, restorative, approach to justice is vital in a civilised society. Locking people up and throwing away the key no longer works. It probably never has. Clarke advocates a society where people can atone and improve. The Sun advocates fear.

The Sun’s criticism principally revolves around Ken Clarke’s objection to the Conservative pre-election pledge that everybody found guilty of a knife crime would go to prison by default. Even without the huge issue of overcrowded prisons, it is not clear that automatic imprisonment, in the form advocated by Home Secretary Theresa May, is necessarily the right policy. There are  arguably some offenders who would be more of a danger to the public if they were caught under the blanket rule, sent to prison, and then released having been around more hardened criminals.

Knife crime is a deeply emotive, and important, subject. The consequences of it change people’s life in a second. The  Sun does make one sensible point when they says that there needs to more education in schools around knife crime. However, because it is such an emotive subject, it is so irresponsible to run headlines and stories like the one in the Sun today. They are whipping up a frenzy by using the personal story of Ben Kinsella, and the work his sister is doing for the Government. They are trying to paint a deeply experienced and talented minister as dodderry and out of touch.

The only comfort is that being attacked by the The Sun is probably the best endorsement the Justice Secretary’s policies could receive.

February 2, 2011

Mental health is health

Today, two key Lib Dem figures in the coalition government have announced a major financial injection into mental health services in the UK. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who may have wondered how the Liberal Democrats would deal with this issue in government. One of Nick Clegg’s first speeches as Liberal Democrat Leader was on this subject.

Now Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg said of the decision:

“The evidence is clear: mental health needs to be addressed with the same urgency as physical health. We need to end the stigma attached to mental illness, to set an example by talking about the issue openly and candidly and ensure everyone can access the support and information they need.”

Even if it didn’t bring a penny back to the Treasury coffers, the £400 million investment would still be worth doing. However, it is calculated that this investment will actually save £700 million. Sufferers will require less in welfare, less care, and will be more able to work and contribute more tax. The previous Labour government also woefully ignored the mental injuries endured by returning troops, and so there was the additional announcement of a £7.2 million care package for veterans. This will fund a variety of things, from a 24-7 Combat Stress phone line, to specially trained councillors.

Mental illness is pretty common, 1 in 4 people will suffer from it at some point, and 1 in 100 people suffer from serious mental ill-health. However, it often gets ignored because you can’t always see the symptoms and, as Alistair Campbell pointed out, it’s not really a sexy issue. However, the Liberal Democrats have pushed the government in the right direction, and put mental health on the same level as physical health. A person’s physical and mental health are one in the same, not least because one often affects the other. Public moves like this will also help break the stigma and taboo around mental ill-health, as will Nick Clegg’s attempts to remove the outdated Parliamentary provision whereby an MP who become mentally ill can be removed. No such provision exists for physical health.

Mental health is health, and Liberal Democrats in the coalition have made that point loud and clear today.

January 27, 2011

Uneasy Conservative grassroots seek voice in Coalition, with launch of new Conservative Policy Forum

If you thought it was only the beard and sandals element of the Liberal Democrats that were still finding it hard to come to terms with life in the Con-Lib coalition, think again. Today heralds the start of the Tory grassroots fightback, as the new Conservative Policy Forum is launched.


A lot of the coverage around the current government has revolved around dissent from the Liberal Democrats, and Party President Tim Farron has threatened to lead a rebellion once again, this time against the proposed sale of forests. However, there is much discontent from the Conservative grassroots, who think that their traditional values are being watered down, or stamped on, by the presence of the Liberal Democrats in Government.

Baroness Warsi and Oliver Letwin will launch the Conservative Policy Forum, under the guise of moving towards the next Conservative manifesto. However, after Conservative voters decisively moved towards to the Liberal Democrats in Oldham East and Saddleworth, and senior Conservatives like Michael Gove openly comfortable about the idea of an electoral pact with the Liberal Democrats, the true blue Tories are getting restless.

January 25, 2011

Someone get Ed Balls some media training

>Christmas has come early for Ed Balls today. He must have been so excited when the GDP figures came through today. So excited was the new Shadow Chancellor that he spewed every thought he has on the economy into a statement. 369 words in total, Balls released something that read more akin to an opening to a university essay than a press release.

Doesn’t look like the combined Miliband/Balls press office is having the desired effect on messaging.

Ed has also just go in a mess on the Daily Politics too, saying he sticks to “every paragraph of the Bloomberg speech” in which he criticised the Darling plan. Then he went onto say that is what a Labour government would be implementing if they were now in power.

January 25, 2011

UK economy shrinks by 0.5%


George Osborne MP, pictured speaking on the la...Image via Wikipedia

The Office of National Statistics has announced that in the last three months of 2010 the UK economy contracted by 0.5%.  In the two quarters prior to that, there had been growth of 0.7% and 1.1% respectively.

The figures will make uncomfortable reading for Chancellor George Osborne and the Coalition government, despite the fact that many of the cuts that Labour would be looking to blame have not come in yet. Even though it was expected there would be a drop in activity due to the heavy snow around much of the country, growth was still predicted to be at between 0.2% and 6%.

Richard Lambert, British economist and Directo...Image via Wikipedia

The figures will make outgoing CBI  Director-General Sir Richard Lambert’s comments yesterday that the Government doesn’t have a plan for growth sting just a little more.

VN is placing bets on how long it is going to take Ed Balls to go native, and to bring out his ‘Keynes said dig holes” line.

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January 23, 2011

Nick Clegg on The Andrew Marr Show

>This morning Nick Clegg was interviewed by Andrew Marr on his weekly magazine show. Looking slightly more refreshed since the Christmas break, the Deputy Prime Minister gave a very strong defence of the governments changes to higher education funding. He admitted there had been a problem in communicating the policy, a situation he said that was partly caused by the “counter intuitive” principle that Universities could charge more, but students pay back less each month. He also seems to have had a strong influence in the debate on the replacement on control orders, the outcome of which is likely to be revealed in the next few days.

Clegg didn’t waste anytime laying into new Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. He rightly pointed out that Alan Johnson’s replacement was key in advocating light touch banking regulation as City Minister, and was a key advisor to Gordon Brown as the previous Labour government overspent. The Coalition are clearly going to shine the spotlight on Balls, and his involvement in creating the structural deficit that they are trying to pay back, over the coming weeks and months, and why not?

Perhaps Clegg’s most telling dig was at his Business Secretary, Vince Cable. When asked about the nature of disagreements in government, Clegg said that clearly two parties in government approach a policy with differences, but that he preferes them ‘to be aired in private’. A subtle but real warning for the next Lib Dem Minister to air their dirty laundry in public, and perhaps an even more subtle one for Cable that he might not be unsacakable forever.

No doubt Clegg will receive criticism from some for holding his fire on Andy Coulson. Difficult as many of us find it to believe, Clegg was actually right when he pointed out that Coulson has never actually been found guilty of anything over phone hacking. As Deputy Prime Minister, working directly with the Prime Ministers office in which Coulson was based, it would have been wholly inappropriate of him to say anything else.

The irritation that had crept into Clegg’s demeanour in the run up to the Christmas break seems to have dissipated somewhat. Clearly it has been a very difficult few months personally for Nick Clegg, ironic given the pride he should have felt at being the first Leader of the Liberal Democrat’s to lead the party to government, but now at least he was back reeling off the achievements from the manifesto, and manning the party trenches. It was also reassuring to see a Lib Dem giving a responsible approach to the necessary reforms of the banking system, instead of indulging in cheap bank-bashing rhetoric, and rounding off a good overall performance from the  the Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister.

January 20, 2011

New Lib Dem executive looks to assert its authority

>The new Liberal Democrat federal executive, the third part of the party’s now infamous triple lock system, has already begun to assert it’s authority. In a statement due to be released, and already disclosed by the Guardianianista (where else?) the new executive have stated the Liberal Democrats will go into the next election as an independent party, with no bias as to whom they may form a coalition should the need arise afterwards. They also urged the party to remember it’s social democratic roots, not just liberalism, and that the party should publicly air disagreements with their Conservative coalition partners.

Expect more of this kind of thing in the run up to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Sheffield, as some grassroots members try to wash out the blue rinse, and settle their queasy stomachs. VN isn’t convinced this is a particular constructive approach to coalition, but it is not like Conservative members are behaving any differently, they just have less power with which to impose their grievances on the party leadership.

Let the fun and games begin.

January 19, 2011

>London braces itself for more student protests, as EMA debate begins


The Opposition Day debate tabled by Labour to save EMA is underway, although the chamber isn’t as full as it was for the fees debate. Only weeks after the NUS’ “Demolition” rally that led to attacks on Millbank Tower, Westminster is once again bracing itself for prostests as thousands of students will march in support of the payment.

Over 600,000 students (around 45%) receive the payments of up to £30 a week. The NUS describe it as a ‘lifeline for students’, but many others point out that the money is frequently not spent on travel or course resources as it should be.

A lobby of parliament was already underway, and supporters are expected to march from Piccadilly at about 4pm. Hide those fire extinguishers.
January 13, 2011

>Polling day in Oldham East and Saddleworth

>It is polling day today in Oldham East and Saddleworth. The election is having to be re-run after former Labour incumbent Phil Woolas’ election was declared void by a special election court.

Labour have been trying to play up the by-election as some kind of referendum on the coalition, and in particular Liberal Democrat involvement in the coalition. As well as showing once again that a supposedly ‘progressive’ party still can’t get their head around pluralist politics, this is yet another grave tactical error from Ed Miliband and company. With a strong, and clearly popular, local candidate in Elwyn Watkins, and a lack of confidence in a MiliE led Labour party that just won’t shift, there is every possibility that the people of Oldham East & Saddleworth will vote ‘yes’ to the Lib Dems in Government, and give them a 58th MP  today.

The polling data coming that has come out of Oldham East and Saddleworth in recent days still has Labour ahead. Ed Miliband though really needs something to kick-start his leadership. He has hardly set the political world alight since his narrow, questionable, victory over his brother. If the coalition, and the Liberal Democrats, are as unpopular as he would like us to believe, anything other than a substantial victory will show Ed Miliband exactly what people think of his ‘new generation’.

Nick Clegg on the other hand is embattled, supposedly the country’s least popular politician, the great yellow (orange,) hope gone wrong. The Liberal Democrats didn’t win the seat in May, although only just, and the nonsense narrative just laid out, which is being peddled by many, says they shouldn’t win it toady. However, the residents of Oldham East & Saaddleworth will have been shown clearly what the party can achieve locally, and is now achieving nationally. Given many of them supported the party in May, is it not more likely that they will back the Liberal Democrats now that they are actually delivering on some of the things these voters supported? Such a victory, which is very much a possibility, would show support both for a strong local candidate, and for the Liberal Democrats being at the forefront of decision making in Government.

That said, the result won’t be the game changer that some are making it out to be back in the Westminster bubble. It will though give a nice new year kick off to whoever is victorious. A few days nice headlines, a bit of a positive buzz among activists for MPs heading back to their constituencies for the weekend, a slight shift in the narrative, but nothing Earth shattering in reality.

As for the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth, the people that actually matter in all this, who have been caught in the eye of a political storm for the best part of 2 years now, they must just be glad it’s all coming to an end.

January 11, 2011

>Hide your fire extinguishers, there’s another NUS day of action coming up

>Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham has announced that Labour will hold an Opposition Day Debate opposing the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) on January 19th. NUS President Aaron Porter immediately announced that his organisation will be holding a day of action before the vote, to show their opposition to the Government’s proposed scrapping of the scheme, which provides poorer students with up to £30 a week, which is meant to spent on travelling to college, and buying resources such as books.

This comes against a backdrop of Edward Woodlard, the protestor who threw the fire extinguisher off Millbank Tower when ‘protesting’ against the tuition fees rise in November, being sentenced today. Woodlard, aged 18, has been sentenced to two years and eight months custodial sentence which he will begin in a young offenders institution. The NUS seem to not have commented on this though, despite the fact the incident happened on one of their rallys. 
Wonder what they call the demo this time?
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