Archive for ‘Politics’

February 3, 2011

Damian Green felled on forest sell-off

BBC Question time has just finished, and unsurprisingly one of the hot topics for debate was the proposed sell-off of Forestry Commission owned woodland. This weeks Government representative was Immigration Minister Damian Green. When asked to explain the decision he  floundered around on some tenuous arguments about efficiency and stopping the regulator and owner being the same, but was all pretty vacuous. He even agreed that the Government wouldn’t make money from the sales! Eventually Andy Burnham asked him directly for one reason for the sale, and he just couldn’t give one.

Green also hid behind the fact this was week one of a twelve week consultation, not a decision. See you in 11 weeks for the u-turn then.

February 3, 2011

MPs rail against expenses body

Frustration with IPSA, the body set up in the wake of the MPs expenses scandal, came to the fore today, as new expenses details were published. IPSA is facing more criticism, including from Leader of the House Sir George Young. He said that the body was “at best distracting, and at worst impeding, MPs from doing their job”. His Conservative colleague, Penny Mordaunt MP (Portsmout North,) has said that the new expenses system meant that she ended up with just £22 over Christmas. The Prime Minister David Cameron has given IPSA until the spring to sort itself out, but its Chair Sir Ian Kennedy is defiant, telling the BBC’s News at 6 that IPSA would operate and change at its own pace.

There will undoubtedly be little public sympathy for MPs who claim to be hard up, but Caroline Flint was right when she said a while ago “it shouldn’t only be millionaires and geeks that can become MPs”. It goes without saying the expenses system required a huge overhaul, but the only way a system for MPs can work is if both MPs and the public feel it is fair and accountable. It does not serve the public interest if MPs are distracted or prevented from carrying out their duties due to the expenses system. Being an MP is a privilege not a punishment, and any system of reimbursement must strike that balance of accountability and usability.

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.

February 2, 2011

I agree with Ed/I agree with David

Do not readjust your television sets, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition are actually having a civilised discussion about the important issues of the day. Flanked by new Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, Ed Miliband led off by giving a moving comment on his recent visit to Afghanistan, before asking a couple of questions on developments in Egypt. Cameron replied in kind – informative, cordial, consensual. It was all rather different to the normal nonsense, and all the better for it.

As Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband was ensuring the British government was playing a key role in supporting democracy, and protecting its citizens abroad in a time of crisis. He was also showing support for British troops, and tough British government decisions. Ed Miliband joked that he appreciated that this was a rather different PMQs. Well, quite. The world situation is rather different at the moment.

Bizarrely some people feel that this isn’t doing his job, and he should have provided another identikit performance on cuts and the economy. They might like to note that for the first time Ed Miliband looked like a leader, a Prime Minister, and a statesman. In fact, he looked rather a lot like his brother. The civility was only broken a couple of times, once for Cameron to remind everyone about Ed Ball’s ridiculous claim that the previous Labour Government didn’t leave a structural deficit, and right at the end when Barry Sheerman asked about the selling off of public forests.

PMQs has become increasingly dull and staged, with nobody learning  anything about any policy or decision. Far from holding the government to account, it discredits UK politics on a weekly basis. The PM and Leader of the Opposition do not have to agree, but their debates must be constructive. It would be great if this week marked a change in how PMQs was done, but VN reckons the bored backbenchers might have something to say about that.

February 1, 2011

Knowing crime on the street where you live

Today has seen the launch of, an interactive website providing maps and details about crime in an area the user can select. Except it keeps crashing. A pretty poor return for a £300,000 investment.

Home Secretary Theresa May says that the online maps have been borne “from a real feeling that people have lost confidence in national crime figures”, but VN is not really sure what the point of the site is. Far from being about people power, it just seems like a bit of gimmick. People don’t want to see a map of crime, they want crime reduced. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, while broadly praising the idea, said that  “since the General Election we have lost around 2,000 police officers and, with 20% cuts to police budgets, this is only the thin end of the wedge.”

Apparently the most crime ridden area in the UK is Glovers Court, Preston, which will be nice and reassuring for the residents. Policing Minister Nick Herbert insisted that highlighting areas of higher instances of crime on the site would not increase the fear of crime, saying “We can’t sweep the issue of crime under the carpet”.

Estate agents up and down the country quake with fear.

January 31, 2011

End in sight for AV Bill in the House of Lords

It seems that after two weeks debate, the saga of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is finally going to end, with it passing the committee stage of the Lords. The BBC’s Michael Crick just tweeted: “Lord Strathclyde announces Lords committee on AV bill will finish Wednesday. Follows deal with crossbenchers.”

Lord Strathclyde, who is the Leader of the Conservatives (and therefore the Government,) in the House of Lords, gave a statement to the House in which he announced that the Government had offered a “package of concessions” to peers blocking the Bill. The Bill has to be passed by the middle of February in order for the AV Referendum to take place as proposed on May 5th. Knowing that a Government guillotine could be enforced, it looks like opposition peers have extracted as much from the situation as possible, after facing increasing dissent from non-aligned cross bench colleagues.

Frankly this has been an embarrassment not only to the Labour party peers filibustering, but the entire House of Lords. The image of unelected Parliamentarians, camping out in the Lords or asleep on the red benches in an attempt block legislation to make votes equal, proves once and for all why there is a need for greater political reform. While there are still other stages of debate to endure, at last this farcical situation seems to be coming to an end.

January 28, 2011

What is 10 O’Clock live?


Two episodes in, and 10 O’Clock live still doesn’t quite seem to know what it is yet. Is it a comedy programme? Does it offer insightful analysis of the weeks biggest political stories? Does it just fill half an hour for politicos before flipping over to Question Time?

Yesterday Alistair Campbell was the main guest, being interviewed by a clearly nervous David Mitchell. Did we learn a single thing from it? No. The normally brilliantly funny Mitchell wasted 10 minutes asking predictable questions about the Iraq war. Campbell didn’t even break a sweat, Mitchell didn’t crack a joke.The interview summed up the problems with the programme. Whilst trying to be both insightful and funny, the section ended up being neither.

The main reason 10 O’Clock live doesn’t know what it’s meant to be is because it has too many presenters, who’s different backgrounds and styles often mean a clash, not a contrast. Jimmy Carr’s headlines were funny, as was Lauren Laverne’s sexism sketch, but they didn’t fit with a rant from Charlie Brooker, or a knowing opinion from Mitchell. The presenters are the TV satire equivalent of a manufactured pop band, thrown together by backstage producers for marketing expedience.

The programme probably needs time to find it’s feet, and may well develop and improve as the weeks go by. If it does it could certainly prove worthwhile light relief from the BBC’s more hackish political coverage. For the moment though it makes for quite disjointed viewing, and falls a long way short of being the UK’s answer to the Daily Show.

January 27, 2011

Another Lib Dem minister falls victim to a pledge picture


Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander probably wishes he hadn’t posed for this picture, as DEFRA Secretary Caroline Spelman is today laying out the process of selling of Britain’s forests on behalf of the Coalition. Oh dear Danny…
VN suspects pledge pictures won’t be such a feature of the next Liberal Democrat election campaign.
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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.

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