Saturday, 29 January 2011

My hero: the BBC World Service

by Jeremy Paxman

I don't suppose there are many heroes who wear a cardigan and cords. But that's how I imagine the BBC World Service, an ageing uncle who's seen it all. It has a style that makes understatement seem like flamboyance.

Yet I have never, ever, anywhere in the world, heard anyone say a bad word about the World Service. It is more trusted than its American equivalents, more lively than Deutsche Welle, more imitated (unsuccessfully) than any of them. It has a team of steady, dedicated and resourceful correspondents stationed around the world. Their probity is beyond doubt. Its television service puts its poverty on proud display every day.

How many people will be going to the barricades to save the Macedonian or Albanian services and the others now to be cut? Not many – most of us have no idea what they're saying. And as for the Caribbean, that's presumably a decision to leave the former colonies to the mercy of the American networks.

No journalistic service has a God-given right to exist for ever. But we are dealing here with something more. How many millions listen to the World Service in some form? A mere 241 million people, they say – the figures are so vast as not to mean very much. But it must be many more than will ever clap eyes on William Hague, listen to an ambassadorial speech or attend a Foreign Office leadership conference.

The World Service's misfortune was to be controlled by the Foreign Office. I can imagine the scene when the menacing note comes across from the Treasury. "Good Heavens!" says the Permanent Secretary, "they want us to save money. Anyone got any ideas?" No one suggests abandoning the pile on the Faubourg Saint-Honoré or recognising that perhaps the whole diplomatic service belongs to the days before email and the internet – the telephone even. Then a voice pipes up, "I know, why don't we hand the BBC World Service over to the BBC and make it their problem?" "Excellent," says the PS. "Shall we have a cup of tea?"

The Guardian

Jacqui Smith goes into porn

Former home secretary Jacqui Smith, who claimed on expenses for two adult films watched by her husband, is making a documentary about the porn industry. The politician, who lost her Redditch seat in the 2010 election, will interview porn stars and film-makers for the Radio 5 Live show Porn Again.

05 Jacqui was well-known for her oral skills in the House of Commons

Smith said: "As I know from my personal experience, porn fascinates us – media and public alike. But we actually know very little about what it's like to work in the industry and what porn is doing to our society, our children and our relationships. In making this programme, I've been able to challenge my own views and attitudes and I want others to have the chance to join the debate too."

The hour-long documentary, which airs on 3 March, will also include contributions from other politicians and feminist thinkers. After the programme is broadcast Smith will appear on a special edition of the Tony Livesey Show, where she will take calls from listeners.

Smith quit as home secretary in 2009 after a newspaper revealed two pay-per-view adult films had been charged to the taxpayer. She later said it had been a mistake to submit the bill, which also included two other pay-per-view films. Her husband Richard Timney said that it was he who had ordered the films. Timney, was forced to apologise for the "embarrassment" he had caused his wife, while she promised to repay all the costs involved, including the £10 charge for the two films.

Smith had submitted the adult films as part of a £67 television subscription package bill in June 2008, but apologised for the mistake as she had submitted a bill for her internet package. She had not been at the family home in Redditch, Worcestershire, on the two nights when the films had been viewed [knoworrahmean? – Ed].

Friday, 28 January 2011

Weekend of protests planned over cuts

Thousands of students, union activists and tax avoidance protesters are expected to take to the streets across the UK this weekend in anti-cuts demonstrations. Tomorrow simultaneous protests are planned in London and Manchester against the rise in tuition fees and the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance. And on Sunday tax avoidance campaigners linked to UK Uncut are hoping to repeat the protests that shut Vodafone and Topshop branches last year.

Leaders of some of the UK's biggest unions have pledged to co-ordinate action against the government's cuts. The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said workers were facing a "volatile cocktail" of job losses and attacks on pay and pensions that could spark widespread industrial action.

"No one is talking about a general strike, but of course these attacks on our members could well give rise to industrial action around specific disputes," Barber said. "Today's meeting showed a clear determination for unions to work together on industrial issues including, as a last resort, industrial action when members support it. The TUC will continue its campaign against the deep and rapid spending cuts. Polls show that public opinion is shifting, and people understand just how unfair and damaging these cuts will prove to public services, jobs and the wider economy."

Organisers of tomorrow's demonstrations, which are supported by several unions including Unite, the GMB and the University and College Union, say they expect several thousand people to attend in both Manchester and Leeds. The march in London will start at midday and is due to finish with a rally at Millbank, where thousands of students stormed Tory headquarters at the end of a demonstration in November. Student groups say more direct action is planned and activists have set up a new website and mobile phone application that they say will help them avoid police "kettles" and provide an up-to-the-minute picture of events on the ground.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Phone-hacking row escalates as Tessa Jowell throws her oar in

Tessa Jowell, the former Labour cabinet minister, has hired lawyers to seek to discover who hacked into her phone on twenty-eight separate occasions as the scandal engulfing the News of the World prompts a growing list of public figures to seek legal redress. Jowell, the most senior politician yet to allege having been targeted, also fears her phone has been hacked again in the past week but has been told she needs a court order before Scotland Yard can release information it holds about the original interception five years ago.

02 Yeah, like anyone’s going to phone you, love

The news comes in the wake of an announcement on Wednesday by Scotland Yard that it has reopened its inquiry into phone hacking at the News International tabloid after being passed "significant new information" by the News of the World, which had been conducting an internal investigation into the conduct of its head of news, Ian Edmondson. Edmondson was sacked earlier this week.

A series of former Labour ministers, led by the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott and the former Europe minister Chris Bryant, have already announced they are suing the Metropolitan police to force Scotland Yard to release details about the targeting of their phones. Police contacted Jowell during the investigation that led to the jailing in 2007 of a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, and the News of the World's former royal editor, Clive Goodman, to tell her that her phone had been hacked.

Jowell told ITV News: "The police hold whatever information they were able to retrieve as a result of their inquiries but, without a court order, they can't give out information to me and obviously what I'm concerned about is how, which of my friends, my family, were also hacked into at the same time. But that is information at the moment that I don't have." The Guardian understands she is now being represented by lawyers in the case.

Jowell also passed fresh information to the police after being warned by her mobile phone provider that there had been an unsuccessful attempt to listen to messages left on her phone last week. She said it "may be entirely innocent or may be more sinister".

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Movement for Change

David and Ed Miliband are combining to create a 10,000-strong "army" of community organisers in the first formal rapprochement for the pair since Ed beat David to the Labour party leadership. The Movement for Change, set up by David during his leadership campaign, is to be relaunched in March and expanded, initially under the wing of the Labour party. The brothers want to increase tenfold the 1,000 activists trained through that campaign to organise people, such as patients, parents and tenants, to resist change imposed by state or the private sector in their neighbourhoods.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville is poised to donate £250,000 as the first stage of funding for the training. The move is significant because Sainsbury, a supporter of David Miliband who has bankrolled Labour with £13m in the last 10 years, is one of several big donors who have said they are not keen on continuing to back Labour with Ed in charge. Sainsbury's donation will be registered to the Labour party, but it will not be interpreted by Ed Miliband as a gift to him.

A spokesman for the Labour leader said: "Ed thinks David has done a brilliant job with Movement for Change. It will play a key part in revitalising the Labour party and reconnecting it with parts of the electorate who feel we lost touch. He is delighted that David will be involved in Movement for Change, which underlines how he will remain an important voice in Labour politics."

Blair McDougall, organiser of the scheme and a former Labour government adviser, said: "Movement for Change will organise within and across communities to increase the power of citizens to bridge the gap between traditional Punch and Judy politics and passionate concerns in communities about people's lives."

"There are few things more important than that the Labour party rebuilds strong relationships with the people of Britain," David said. "Movement for Change is designed to take the best of the rich traditions of community organising from Britain and abroad, and apply them to the present day. [It] will, I hope, help communities across Britain defend themselves and help Labour on the road to government."

The Milibands hope the cohort will prove a meaningful contrast to David Cameron's "big society". Newly-trained activists will work in partnership with the Labour party to provide training for local parties and members to bring about change in communities.

The idea has ruffled some feathers within Labour ranks. Some are concerned that Labour activists trained in these methods could come into conflict with local Labour councils that might also be trying to impose unpopular policies. The organisation will resemble a professional body, dispensing training, and not be a mass membership organisation. Ultimately it would be autonomous, controlled by its members, and affiliated to the Labour party as a socialist society.

Monday, 24 January 2011

BBC to cut online budget by 25%

The BBC is to cut about 200 websites as it reduces the amount of money it spends on its online output. The changes, which will see BBC Online's budget cut by £34m, will also result in the loss of up to 360 jobs over the next two years. Among the sites to close are teen site Switch and community sites h2g2 and 606.

The plans are part of the BBC's cost-cutting measures to make 20% savings as a result of the licence fee settlement. The BBC says the changes are intended to make its website more distinctive and reduce competition with commercial websites. Skills website RAW, creative teen service Blast and documentary website Video Nation will also be closed under the reorganisation.

Other reductions include the replacement of the majority of programme websites with automated content and the automation of bespoke digital radio sites 1Xtra, 5 live sports extra, 6 Music and Radio 7.

There will be fewer news blogs while standalone forums, communities and message-boards will be reduced and replaced with integrated social tools. There will also be a reduction in the overall amount of sports news, live sport and showbusiness news, but also more culture and arts coverage on the news website. Local sites will additionally no longer publish non-news features content.

About 180 websites are expected to close ahead of schedule later this year. The overall changes will be made by February 2013-14. BBC director general Mark Thompson said: "BBC Online is a huge success, but our vast portfolio of websites means we sometimes fall short of expectation. A refocusing on our editorial priorities, a commitment to the highest quality standards, and a more streamlined and collegiate way of working will help us transform BBC Online for the future."

As part of the BBC's Putting Quality First strategy, BBC Online will form 10 distinctive areas: News, Sport, Weather, CBeebies, CBBC, Knowledge & Learning, Radio & Music, TV & iPlayer, Homepage and Search. Roly Keating, the BBC's director of archive content, said the website had "grown like Topsy" and would now be easier to navigate, doing fewer things better.

Editorial focus would be on high-quality news, clearer local sites on news, sport, weather and travel and creative spaces for children. The iPlayer will also be reshaped, bringing together programming and programming information with archive content. The current BBC Online budget is £137m.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Ten ideas for a better Britain

Will Hutton’s challenge to the Labour party

“Given the economic, constitutional and social impact of what the coalition is planning, effective opposition is overdue. Yet David Cameron and Nick Clegg have had a more or less free ride, intellectually and politically. Received wisdom is that public spending is the most serious threat – not the operation of British capitalism. It has not been an entirely free ride – witness the protests over tuition fees – but there urgently needs to be a sustained and coherent challenge. Labour should not shed the reasonableness of the Blair years, but Ed Miliband, until now feeling his way, must use the opportunity of Ed Balls's promotion to the shadow chancellorship to open up the economic arguments. All change is predicated on a more rational national conversation. In that spirit here are 10 ideas.

1. Break up the banks
British banks have long abdicated their responsibilities to British entrepreneurs, small firms and Britain's less advantaged cities and regions. Credit is too expensive and available on too tough terms. Thankfully that is now obvious to all. Labour urgently needs to define its position before the banking commission reports in September. A second financial reform would be the creation of a city by city network of virtual stock exchanges on which very small companies could raise capital on privileged terms.

2. Build great companies
Too few British firms have good owners. Two more important companies – Smith and Nephew, and De La Rue – are fighting to retain their independence from foreign takeovers. Their shareholders do not care about innovation, their staff or customers; their priority, and thus that of the directors, is only next month's share price. Increasingly Britain is a hollowed out economy for hire rather than a centre of business decision-making and wealth generation in its own right. There has to be root-and-branch overhaul of the framework for owning, directing and launching takeovers of Britain's companies.

3. Bust the monopolies
Takeovers create monopolies and diminish competition. The new oligarchs in finance and the media have concentrated not just economic but political power. Mega banks, mega media corporations like News Corp, mega retailers or mega mining finance houses limit the dynamism of our economy. Yet Britain's competition regime remains weak and confused. The competition commission needs greater powers, more autonomy and more resources: it needs to become a genuine force that is feared. American capitalism took off when the US busted Standard Oil in 1911. Britain needs its own trust-busting moment and tradition.

2011 a critical year for British economy, says Ed Balls

“2011 is a critical year for Britain’s economy and public services, and the coming weeks and months will tell us whether David Cameron and George Osborne’s reckless gamble has worked [writes Ed Balls in his blog]. With no plan for jobs and growth, they have instead staked the whole future of the economy on one card – the fastest, deepest deficit reduction plan in Britain’s peacetime history.

They inherited an economy which was beginning to recover strongly, with unemployment falling, interest rates at historic lows, and the public finances better than the Treasury’s forecasts. Britain had weathered the first economic storm and was on track for jobs, growth and – with tough choices on spending, tax and supporting growth – we were on a credible and sustainable path to deficit reduction.

The Tory-led government has deliberately and needlessly taken Britain down a different path with cuts that go too far and too fast, and tax rises which directly hit family budgets. They have cut jobs programmes, withdrawn government investment from the economy, raised VAT, and cut government support to millions of families. And in the autumn – before the impact of these measures had even begun – George Osborne and David Cameron boasted that their gamble had already succeeded and that strong growth was secure.

Instead, we are now starting to see the real consequences of their decisions: unemployment now rising, economic growth forecast to slow, mortgage lending at a 20 year low, and tax revenues falling. Over the coming months, as the impact of the VAT rise, deep spending cuts and rising inflation starts to hit home, we will be able to gauge the true impact of the Tory economic plan, and see whether their gamble has worked. If they are proved wrong and growth is slow this year, it is millions of ordinary workers, families and homeowners who will pay the price.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Abort! Abort!

So much was happening in politics yesterday that the latest thoughts of the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, which she shared with the Catholic Herald, were in danger of going unreported (except by Andy McSmith of the Independent). She describes her own mood as a "bit low" after the hammering she took during the expenses scandal and the more recent revelation of her affair with a married man.

But Dorries was in feisty form as she berated church leaders for failing to take a moral lead – not on the sanctity of marriage, but on abortion. Dorries has been fighting a lonely fight to have abortion laws tightened.

"The churches have been pathetic, pathetic, during the abortion debate in their support for what I was trying to do," she complained. "The Church of England was the worst and the only person in the Catholic Church who made any comment was Cardinal O'Brien. Everybody was silent because the churches were weak and cowardly."

Of journalists, she said: "I can't believe that journalists, by and large, can be happy people because I don't think it's possible to write in such a vitriolic and hateful way and be happy, and for good things to happen to you."

Oh dear, the world is really letting this poor woman down.

The Independent

Harry Redknapp mugged in Spain

Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp has revealed he was mugged while attending a football match in Spain on Thursday. Redknapp, 63, was in Madrid to see  the Spanish capital's two main teams, Real and Atletico (Diego Forlan is a potential Spurs transfer target), play in the Copa del Rey.

“I'm walking round the outside of the stadium, it's a fantastic atmosphere, there's all little stalls there selling sweets. I just probably looked stupid or something. I got some sweets, me and Kevin, and it was so packed. The next thing there's two guys on their knees in front of me and I felt someone pull my overcoat. I thought 'what are you doing?'. The next thing he's got my keys on the floor.

"I thought 'is he a blind man or someone having trouble walking properly? What are they doing, these two blokes? I'm going 'let go of my trousers', pushing them away. While I'm doing that they're rifling my pockets, there were about six of them. And then they went. I thought 'what are they doing?

“I went to put my hand in my pockets and realised what they'd done. They took everything. All my money, credit cards, everything really. I just probably looked stupid or something, and they thought 'here's one here, he's not Spanish, obviously and we're looking for a foreigner'."

The Spurs manager said he did not believe the muggers knew who he was. Real Madrid won the match at Atletico's Vicente Calderon Stadium 1-0. Redknapp said the incident unsettled him and he left about 15 minutes before the end of the game, borrowing money from Bond for a cab.

NHS reforms likened to ‘poll tax’ by top City executive

Even the City is wary of health secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, with a top executive likening them to being politically ‘worse than the poll tax’. Unite, the largest union in the country, said that it was delighted that even the City – the bedrock of Tory support - was waking up to the effects of the NHS reforms, which the union has repeatedly said were ‘an open door for profiteering private healthcare companies’.  

In a letter to the Financial Times on Thursday, Tom Brown, senior credit executive with Norddeutsche Landesbank likened the new structures - which will give GPs control of 80 per cent of the NHS budget by 2013 - to certain aspects of rail privatisation. He said: ”That private health corporations are swarming around GP practices, like bees round a honey pot, with offers to manage their future multi-billion healthcare budgets (rather like the way bus companies and banks offered to take over the business of operating and leasing trains in the rail privatisation) also confirms that an opportunity to make risk-free profits out of taxpayers’ money can be sniffed a mile off by those less naive than those planning this reform.”

Mr Brown said he suspected it could be worse politically for David Cameron than the poll tax (which helped bring down Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in 1990). He said: ”The structure resembles in certain respects rail privatisation, and if it promises to be politically the poll tax, then financially and operationally it is Railtrack.” Mr Brown’s intervention dovetails with a new YouGov survey saying that 57 per cent cent of  the British public say they do not trust the government much or ‘at all’ to deliver on the NHS.

Unite national officer for health, Karen Reay, said: ”It is heart warming that even senior executives in the City, a bastion of Tory support, are waking up to the deep flaws in the health secretary’s misguided and grandiose ambitions for the NHS. This, coupled with the You Gov poll, adds to the deafening crescendo of criticism of the plans to basically privatise the much-cherished NHS. The coalition needs a massive rethink on this.“  

Friday, 21 January 2011

Rough trade in the House of Lords

The row over Labour tactics in the House of Lords has escalated after a Cabinet minister described opposition peers as "rough trade". Labour is being accused of trying to sabotage a bill which would cut the number of MPs by 50 and allow for a referendum on the voting system in May. Commons leader Sir George Young said debate on the bill was too partisan and peers needed to rethink their role.

01 Rough trade monitor, Sir George Young

Labour's Lord Falconer said ministers want to "ram through" the proposals. The legislation must become law by 16 February if the Alternative Vote referendum is to take place on 5 May but despite a number of marathon sittings in the Lords in recent days, time is running out for this to happen. Peers finished their latest discussion of the proposed legislation just after 0300 GMT on Thursday - they sat through the night on Monday.

Labour want plans for a reduction in the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and a redrawing of constituency boundaries, which they argue will disproportionately damage their electoral prospects, to be taken out of the bill and debated separately - a move rejected by ministers. Sir George Young said he was "concerned" about the behaviour of Labour peers over the issue.

"When I came into this House, some time ago, all the rough trade was down here [in the Commons]," he told MPs during the Commons' weekly session on future legislative business. Down the other end, they had non-partisan, short-focused debates in a revising Chamber. Now the rough trade seems to have gone down the other end. The Upper House runs the risk of losing the moral high tone if they continue to proceed as they are."

Alan Johnson resigns from the shadow cabinet



Thursday, 20 January 2011

GPs to manage the NHS, you say? Hmmm

GPs face losing control of managing the flu vaccine programme following supply problems in England this winter, the UK's head of immunisation says. GPs ran out of seasonal flu jabs earlier this month, forcing ministers to use swine flu vaccine stockpiles.

There is a "pretty compelling" case for the government taking charge of ordering and supplying jabs, said Professor David Salisbury. Most vaccines, including the entire childhood immunisation programme, are ordered by the Department of Health for the whole of the UK. Flu is one of the few exceptions, with GPs in England ordering jabs direct from manufacturers and similar systems operating elsewhere in the UK.

But hasn't the government, in its infinite wisdom, just given the go-ahead for GPs to take over the responsibility for running the NHS by allocating 80% of the NHS's budget to GPs and their consortia? Yes, I'm pretty sure it has. Yet they can't even order enough flu jabs to get the country through a season that, let's face it, comes round every year. Fantastic.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

We can't go on like this etc

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Amplify the eloquent voices of the disabled protesters

The One Month Before Heartbreak blog shows how desperately help is needed to get our message about DLA changes across, writes Sue Marsh in the Guardian

    “And my word, did we write. We wrote for our dignity, for our sanity and, in some cases, we wrote for our lives. The posts were astonishing. Some were lyrical, others desperate. They all shared such eloquence, it's hard to remember that you're reading ordinary words from untrained writers. This group, who often can't march or even leave the house, have become bloggers of great talent. Perhaps written words are their only defence against a media and political class unable to hear, see or understand them.

    Some tried to just show healthy, able-bodied readers why they weren't "scroungers" (many work and only receive DLA to aid them continuing to do so) or to explain their conditions and how the cuts will affect them personally. Some were carers, terrified for their children, clients or parents. Some were humorous and heartbreaking, all at once.

    Some video-blogged, too. This entry is nearly too distressing to watch, but shows – almost unintentionally – the shocking neglect we now appear willing to accept, and just how many people are found "fit for work" who clearly are no such thing. Perhaps most distressing of all is this from a mental health patient unable to cope any more. What struck me was the matter-of-fact honestly and clarity in most of the posts. If you sit down with a cup of tea and a spare half an hour, you will read stories of great bravery, heartbreaking pleas for understanding, but none whatsoever appealing for pity or claiming that life isn't "fair".

    And if you haven't got link fatigue, this is probably the best article any of us have ever read on just what it really means to be chronically ill or disabled. The "spoon theory" was born in an attempt to explain not how it feels to be ill, but just how it is. Picture disability as a bouquet of spoons (bear with me). For every small action you take, you lose a spoon – getting out of bed, showering, eating, taking the bus. When the spoons are gone for the day, they're truly gone. If only one is left by lunchtime, you eat or you go to bed but can't do both. Do you wash up or play with the kids? Do you visit a friend if it means you can't go grocery shopping later on? When do you find the time to be politically active and throw your energy to defend the rights of those who, like you, are disabled?

    On top of this never-ending juggling to live our lives the best way we know how, we're constantly in fear. What if "they" see us? What if "they" stop our benefits, cancel our lifelines? What if "they" take pictures to pass in brown envelopes to "medical assessors" paid by the hour to prove we're cheats?

    As a wise friend pointed out that to truly have an impact on the ongoing debate "you need a mass of people chained to railings in Parliament Square in the freezing cold in February". And, of course, he's quite right. For the mainstream to take notice, that's exactly what we need. But the barriers disabled people face to protest are often insurmountable: we might be bedridden, unable to leave the house. Some of us live in isolation with no one to push their chairs or guide them around Westminster, let alone help them make a journey to London that most would take for granted, but that to us might seem like climbing Everest. Likewise, someone living with agoraphobia or schizophrenia might consider marching on parliament about as achievable as becoming pope. Could it be that it is this more than anything else that makes politicians so confident they can persecute this group with no chance of a backlash?

    Benjamin Franklin once said that "justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are". Perhaps you will all just have to lend us your spoons. Or even march for us. The stories at One Month Before Heartbreak show with absolute clarity not just why we need you so desperately, but why it could as easily be your mum, son or wife that needs state assistance one day. In a month's time, you might find that if that dreadful day ever comes, it's too late.

    There has been inspirational support for the recent "blog swarm" campaign organised by The Broken of Britain, a disability rights group. The One Month Before Heartbreak weekend encouraged disabled bloggers, carers, tweeters and concerned onlookers to come together for three days of blogosphere frenzy in an attempt to highlight the unthinkable pressure being piled upon physically and mentally ill people through a range of cuts that leave us breathless and terrified. The consultation on changes to the disability living allowance (DLA) ends on 14 February and the event hoped to raise as much awareness of the proposals as it could.”

    Sue Marsh is married with two small children. She campaigns to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and long term illness. A sufferer of severe Crohn's Disease for nearly three decades, Sue set up the blog
    Diary of a Benefit Scrounger to raise awareness of life with a chronic illness.

    National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts, Monday 24th January

    The following entry is copied and pasted from national protest against benefit cuts

    “News is coming in of protests and actions around the UK as part of the National Day of Protest Against Benefit Cuts called for the 24th January.

    With a call to focus on the poverty pimps set to make hundreds of millions out of benefit reforms, many groups have chosen to target Atos Origin, the company responsible for the punitive medical testing of disability and sickness benefits.

    In London a Party and Picnic has been called in Triton Square near Euston from 2pm.  Bring music, drums, whistles, banners, food to share and brighten up the faceless corporate wasteland that is home to poverty pimps Atos Origin Ltd.

    In Livingston,not far from Edinburgh, protesters will be visiting Atos Origin’s Scotland Office.  Visit the facebook page for more info, and be there from 10am.

    Atos will also be the scene of a protest in Leeds called by local claimants and West Yorkshire Solidarity Federation.  Be at 1 Whitehall, Leeds from 10 am then a group will be visiting notorious poverty pimps A4e at noon (Ground Floor Zicon House Wade Lane Leeds LS2 8DD).

    Even the Shires are revolting with a Protest Against Disability Cuts to be held in Lydney, Gloucestershire.  Meet outside the Co-op at 1pm.

    A call has gone out for protest in Burnley, meet outside Burnley Town Hall at 12.30.

    In Hastings activists will be laying a trail of Red Drops from Hastings to London.

    Crawley – Meet 10am, The Boulevard (opposite Marks & Spencers):

    Brighton – Using the 24th to publicise a bigger event against Atos Origin on the 5th Feb:

    A few days earlier on the 20th Jan,  Cardiff’s Unemployed Daytime Disco returns promising DJs, Live Music, Spoken Word Artistes, bands, light shows & happenings.  And of course it’s all free.

    Finally taking place everywhere the Second National Troll A Tory Day will take place on the 24th January for all those who can’t attend a protest in person.  Tell the bastards what you think.

    If you are organising an event in your area that has not been mentioned please get in touch.  Either join the national event page and post details on the wall or email: notowelfarecuts (@)”

    Copied and pasted from national protest against benefit cuts

    Save EMA March, Wednesday 19th January


    Wonga’s days of debt are numbered

    Labour MP says people shut out of mainstream credit are 'sitting ducks' for firms that charge more than 2,500% APR, writes Peter Walker in the Guardian

    The government faces fresh pressure to introduce a cap on the interest rates payable on short-term "payday" loans targeted at poorer consumers, after a cross-party group of MPs – including David Miliband – signed up in support of a motion demanding action.

    The Commons backbench business committee will today discuss a motion put forward by two MPs – one Labour and one Tory – calling for new regulation in the home credit market, which according to some estimates has grown fourfold in the past two years as mainstream lenders such as banks restrict consumer lending.

    One study found that 1.2 million Britons each year tide themselves over with temporary payday loans, which can charge more than 2,500% APR. The motion could be debated by the full Commons early next month. A vote in favour of action, while not binding, would put huge pressure on the government to cap lending costs in an area of credit that campaigners say traps the poor in a cycle of debt.

    Stella Creasy, the Labour MP proposing the motion with the Conservatives' Justin Tomlinson, said she had met one person in her east London constituency with nine separate loans outstanding from the same short-term credit company. She said: "People who are shut out of mainstream credit are sitting ducks for these companies. There are so few of them dominating the market that there's no proper competition."

    Monday, 17 January 2011

    Another day, another tactical error from Miliband

    Ed Miliband has warned union leaders that they risk damaging Labour with a wave of unpopular strikes, following suggestions that London Underground workers could strike on the day of Prince William's marriage to Kate Middleton. He told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I am appalled at the idea of strikes to disrupt people going to the Royal Wedding. It alienates the public, and it is not the way to make the political argument we need to make."

    Such a position makes a fatal error. At a time of swingeing cuts to public services and the final doing away of the last vestiges of our post-war settlement, the sight of vain-glorious Royals using public money to splash out on designer dresses is not one to be defended. 

    As well as costing the average tax-payer their sanity, the total bill for the wedding is set to amount to anything up to £50 million. Businesses further warn that the economy will be left with a devastating £5 billion black hole as a result of the bank holiday. Contrast this with the relatively minor loss of earnings resulting from travel disruption, it's certainly fair to say that the real damage will be caused by this entirely unnecessary wedding and bank holiday. 

    The message is simple: there is no economic justification for billions to be wasted on unearned privilege while workers are forced to strike without pay for the most modest improvements in working conditions. Taken together with the changing mood towards the monarchy and the increasing popularity for a republic, there has never been a better time for Labour to be radical and reach out beyond ideological differences. 

    What better way to reach out to radical liberals than to break with the monarch?

    Sunday, 16 January 2011

    David Bowie - Wild Is The Wind

    Constituency sizes risk "chaotic" redrawing of boundaries

    Proposals being rushed through Parliament to equalise constituency sizes risk a "chaotic" redrawing of boundaries, a report has warned. Changes would not have regard to local loyalties and historic ties, the think tank Democratic Audit said. The government wants to cut the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, ending what it calls unfair voting. The report warned that failure to iron out flaws in the seat equalisation plans could spark a "revolt" among MPs.

    Report author, Lewis Baston, warned that ministers would "repent in leisure" their decision to combine the equalisation measures with the referendum on AV voting, in a single Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The government aims to get the Bill on to the statute book by 16th February - possibly requiring all-night sittings in the House of Lords - in order to be able to stage the AV referendum on the scheduled date of 5th May.

    If passed, changes would see an electorate in almost all seats within 5% of 76,000. Nationally, wards which have traditionally made up the basic building blocks of electoral geography and party organisation will have to be split between constituencies. It would mean that urban seats in cities like Doncaster and Coventry would have to take in countryside wards with few shared interests.

    One constituency would have to unite areas in the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, the island of Anglesey would be joined to Bangor across the Menai Strait and a "Devonwall" seat would give one MP responsibility for parts of Cornwall and Devon. Each constituency - with the exception of Shetland and Orkney, the Western Isles and the geographically massive Highlands seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber - will have between 72,200 and 79,800 voters, under the proposals.

    Ed Miliband fires shot at New Labour

    Ed Miliband tore into Labour's style of government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown today as he promised to rebuild a grassroots movement that would go beyond "the bureaucratic state" and look to local people for answers. Seeking to sustain momentum after the party's success in last week's Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, the Labour leader insisted the party would only move forward if it understood how and why it "lost touch with people's daily struggle" during 13 years in power.

    Miliband told the Fabian Society that he was proud of much that Labour did in office, but that its failure to regulate the markets and, latterly, its belief that the state knew best, left it remote from the people it existed to serve.

    "We became too technocratic and managerial," he said. "But more than that: we sometimes lost sight of people as individuals and of the importance of communities. In our use of state power, too often we didn't take people with us. That is why over time people railed against the target culture, the managerialism of public service reform and overbearing government. At the same time, we seemed in thrall to a vision of the market that seemed to place too little importance on the values, institutions and relationships that people cherish the most."

    The Labour leader is gradually putting together his own alternative to David Cameron's "big society" with the help of a team of new advisers that now include the recently ennobled academic Maurice Glasman, who pioneered the acclaimed work of community group London Citizens.

    Rather than dismantling local institutions and relying on volunteers – the Tory vision of localism – Miliband said he wanted to reinvigorate local communities by preserving and strengthening local institutions such as post offices and libraries, seeing them as the hubs of community life. "The only way we rebuild the case for politics is from the ground up. The campaign for the local library, the local zebra crossing, the improvement of a school, must be our campaign."

    Saturday, 15 January 2011

    Susannah York


    The Killing of Sister George

    1939 - 2011

    Ed Miliband: Labour must become the progressive’s champion

    The first real electoral test for this Conservative-led government has revealed people's deep sense of unease about the direction in which our country is being led, and their anger at promises so solemnly made and yet so casually broken, writes Ed Miliband in the Guardian.

    “I believe that unease stems from misgivings shared right across Britain on the three arguments that will dominate the year ahead: the economy; the damage being done to the next generation; and the way we conduct politics. From the trebling of student debt, to capitulation on bankers' bonuses and a VAT rise squeezing working families, this government is showing it shares neither their values nor their hopes for the future.

    But Labour would be wrong if we thought the result in Oldham meant that the next election will somehow fall into our lap. Across Britain I know there are many who need to be convinced that Labour can offer Britain the progressive future they want. But I am also confident that Labour can again be the standard bearer for the progressive majority at the heart of British society.

    We lost the general election last May, but David Cameron did not win it. Most people cast their votes for parties that talked about the need to make Britain fairer and more equal; that warned against the dangers of cutting the deficit too far and too fast; that promised to protect health and education; that called for a more responsible financial sector; and that urged a deepening of democratic reform. It's easy to forget today, but the brief bout of Cleggmania last year was animated by this hunger for change. Even the Tories have sometimes sought to drape themselves in this mantle.

    There is a progressive majority in Britain. The great Labour governments from 1945 to 1997 all won power because they became the voice for that progressive majority. Last May we failed because we were not that voice. As a result, we have a government of the neoliberal right with a reckless economic agenda. Labour's response must be to understand where we lost our way and how we can rally all those who share our values in other parties and in none. To do that, we must be willing to change.

    Friday, 14 January 2011

    Labour batters Coalition in Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election

    Labour has won the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election with a majority of more than 3,500. Labour's Debbie Abrahams held off the challenge of her Lib Dem opponent while the Conservatives' vote fell by more than 7,000 as they limped in third. Turnout in the contest was considerably lower than in the general election, with 48% of registered voters cast their ballots compared with 61% in May.

    02 Debbie Abrahams: Andy Burnham seemed very pleased with his latest recruit

    Clegg said it was a "big ask" (whatever that means) to win the seat but their performance would "confound our critics" while the Tories said it was "not a great result". Abrahams told activists that the result sent a clear message to David Cameron that "you have to listen, think again and change direction". The by-election was called after a special court found ex-Labour minister Phil Woolas lied about his Lib Dem opponent in May's poll.

    Eight months ago, Labour won the seat by just 103 votes from the Lib Dems but this time it won a much more comfortable victory - finishing 3,558 votes ahead of its closest rivals. Although the Lib Dems failed to snatch the seat, their share of the vote actually increased by 0.3% to 32% from May. However, the Tories said it had been a "disappointing" night as their share of the vote fell by 13.6%.

    The by-election is the first significant opportunity that voters have had to pass judgement on the policies of the coalition government and Ed Miliband's performance as opposition leader. Shadow education secretary Andy Burnham told the BBC that the result was a "good reward" for Mr Miliband whom he said had "led from the front" on issues such as VAT and bankers' bonuses.

    The public had shown their anger over the coalition's "broken promises", he added. "Mr Cameron will be very worried when he sees these figures. There is real concern about the direction of travel of this Tory-led government. This is a wake-up call for David Cameron and Nick Clegg."

    Thursday, 13 January 2011

    NatWest telephone scam

    I have just received an unannounced telephone call from NatWest, informing me that I had been upgraded to a NatWest Gold account. I told the gentleman that I had only recently arranged to be downgraded from a Gold account to a Blue account as I was no longer prepared to pay £8.25 a month or thereabouts for the pleasure of receiving benefits that I have never used.

    05 The church of the poisoned mind

    Indeed, with the Blue account I had the advantage of free mobile phone insurance, that wasn't offered with the Gold account so it was win/win as far as I was concerned. This account has been running along nicely up until this call and when I told the caller this and queried why I had been upgraded without being consulted, he changed his story and claimed that he said I had been approved to be upgraded. 

    Be careful, therefore, if you receive a similar call because you will find they are selling you a more expensive bank account. This at a time when people are finding it hard enough to pay their bills, while having to watch the bankers make a mockery of our austerity by taking home billions of pounds in bonuses.

    Shame on you NatWest, shame on you.

    Bankers' bumper bonuses are the 'mistake' of flawed accounting rules

    Billions of pounds of banker bonuses may have been paid out "by mistake" as a result of miscalculations thrown up by Britain's flawed accounting rules, an influential Parliamentary Committee has been told.

    The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which is investigating the role of auditors in the financial crisis, was told that the controversial International Financial Accounting Standards (IFRS) had allowed banks to hide risks so that profits and bonuses were inflated. The devastating assessment of the accounting rules was articulated for the first time by some of Britain's biggest institutional investors.


    Iain Richards, of Aviva Investors, told the Lords that the IFRS system of auditing the banks had had "a material cost to the taxpayer and to shareholders" because "as a result dividend distributions have been made and bonuses have been paid that were imprudent". Mr Richards said: "The IFRS (system) is extremely pro-cyclical; it facilitated and exacerbated the credit bubble...There were some very clear risks inherent (in the banks)...the risks were extremely material."

    He told the Lords that rather than highlighting the problems, the accounting standards allowed the banks to look far more profitable than they were. The financial crisis exposed the shortfall that had built up. Mr Richards said: "The double-digit billions pumped into the banks went to plug the gap created by both bonus distribution and dividend distributions that were made just preceding the crisis."

    His assessment was backed by fund management heavy weights giving evidence to the Lords including David Pitt-Watson of Hermes; Guy Jubb of Standard Life Investments; and Robert Talbut of Royal London Asset Management. Mr Pitt Watson told the Lords that "we as investors and society" need to see the re-introduction of more principle-based accounting system that included prudential and on-going assessments of risks.

    The "rules-based" IFRS system has been criticised for not identifying bad loans until they fail. He said that the lesson of the crisis was that "rules encourage people to go round them." He added: "If you have too much weight on rules not a professional over ride on that, we'll give ourselves another problem."

    The assessment backs that of Tim Bush, the City veteran who wrote the Government in the summer warning that IFRS amounted to a "regulatory fiasco" that had contributed to the crisis and still posed a danger to the system now.

    Stella Fearnley, professor of accounting at Bournemouth University, said: "Since IFRS is supposed to help investors to assess companies, I think that their obvious loss of confidence is extremely important. There needs to be an immediate overhaul of IFRS and the ASB which unleashed this defective system."

    The Telegraph

    David Bentley completes loan move to Birmingham

    Birmingham have announced the signing of Tottenham midfielder David Bentley on loan until the end of the season. The Blues, who lost their Carling Cup semi-final first leg at West Ham on Tuesday night, had been linked with the wide-man for several weeks. Newcastle and Sunderland were also interested in seven-time England international Bentley, but he will spend the remainder of the campaign at St Andrews. The 26-year-old will hope that the move breathes life into his career, which has stalled at Tottenham after just three appearances this season.


    Birmingham manager Alex McLeish said: "We're delighted to have David's services. He is a classy footballer and will enhance the quality of the squad. He is a natural footballer capable of top delivery at set-pieces. With the likes of him, (Alexander) Hleb and (Sebastian) Larsson, who has had a great season consistency-wise, we have creative players. Bentley can provide more competition.

    "He has had his moments at Spurs, but there is fierce competition for places there. They have a glut of superstars at Spurs. With the introduction of people like (Rafael) van der Vaart, players of that ilk, and the rise of (Aaron) Lennon, it has become very difficult for him. The quality is amazing and maybe he can get his career back on track here."

    Bentley cost Spurs a reported £15million when he arrived from Blackburn in 2008 and he has made just 42 appearances since that time. He could now make his debut for McLeish's Birmingham in Sunday's Second City derby against Aston Villa, which can be seen live on Sky Sports HD1 at 12.00.

    A statement on Birmingham's official website read: "Blues have secured the services of Spurs and England winger David Bentley on loan until the end of the season. Subject to his registration being accepted by the Football Association and Premier League, Bentley will be available for selection in Sunday's fixture at home to Aston Villa."

    Unions on collision course with Coalition over strike ballot reforms

    Union leaders have said there is "no justification" for the government to change the law to make it harder for employees to go on strike. David Cameron has suggested that he could look at the issue amid calls for strike ballots to be unlawful if under 50% of a union's members take part. The move has been backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson after a number of recent stoppages in the capital. The TUC said it was a "cynical attempt" to divert attention from other issues.

    The issue has risen up the political agenda following a series of high-profile strikes - including walkouts by London Underground staff and binmen working for Birmingham City Council. Amid suggestions of strike action by London Underground staff on 29 April - the day of Prince William's marriage to Kate Middleton - Cameron has warned unions against unnecessary confrontation. Asked about the issue at prime minister's questions, Cameron said he supported existing trade union legislation governing strike action dating back more than two decades.

    "I know there is a strong case being made for this sort of change," he told MPs. "I think the laws put in place in the 1980s are working well and we do not currently have proposals to amend them. But I am very happy to look at this argument because I don't want to see a wave of irresponsible strikes - not least when they are not supported by a majority of people taking part."

    Boris Johnson has called for "sensible, practical ways" to protect the capital's economy from what he said was the "senseless, mindless disruption" caused by a minority of union leaders. The TUC has insisted that unions are entitled to take industrial action, as a last resort, to defend their members' pay and conditions.

    Brendan Barber said talk of tightening legislation was a "cynical attempt" to distract attention from the problems the government was facing over bankers' bonuses and public sector job cuts. "There is absolutely no justification for tightening up even further the already massively restrictive laws on strikes in Britain," he told the BBC.

    Speaking recently Unite boss Len McCluskey said workers had a "right" to protest against spending cuts and defend their jobs but said there was "no likelihood" of a BA strike on the day of the royal wedding.

    Wednesday, 12 January 2011

    David Miliband offered role at Sunderland

    Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband is set to take on a role with Sunderland football club. He has had discussions over taking on a non-executive role at the club, focusing on his international and community work, a spokesman said. The Daily Mail said he was to become vice-chairman on a reputed £50,000 salary.

    The 45-year-old Arsenal fan has many Sunderland supporters in his South Shields constituency. His spokesman said: "David Miliband is determined to continue to serve his constituency and pursue his interests in foreign and environmental policy. Discussions have taken place between David Miliband and Sunderland AFC about a non-executive role with the club focusing on his international and community work. As with all former ministers this is currently being considered by the advisory committee on business appointments."

    Miliband is also due to become a volunteer politics teacher at Haverstock School in Chalk Farm, north London. He attended the school from 1978 to 1983 before going to Oxford. His spokesman said he was likely to teach for one or two hours a week.

    Tuesday, 11 January 2011

    Desmond's papers excluded from system of press self-regulation

    Richard Desmond's newspapers and magazines have been formally excluded from the system of press self-regulation, writes Roy Greenslade in his Guardian blog. It follows the refusal of Desmond's company, Northern & Shell, to pay the fees to the body responsible for funding the Press Complaints Commission, known as PressBof. Accordingly, PressBof - the Press Standards Board of Finance - today announced the exclusion of all N&S titles from its self-regulatory system. They include the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Star on Sunday and OK! magazine.

    02 Richard Desmond: for whom the phrase ‘smug twat’ was invented

    PCC chair, Baroness (Peta) Buscombe, said: "This decision means that the Northern & Shell titles will now automatically cease to be covered by the work of the PCC." The commission will therefore no longer deal with complaints from members of the public about those titles. If Desmond's editors choose to ignore complaints altogether, nothing can be done for the complainant. The exclusion of the N&S titles represents a significant breach in the industry's virtually unanimous acceptance of self-regulation, concludes Greenslade.

    Osborne ‘relaxed and pleased with himself’

    Tweet from Toby Helm, political editor of the Observer:

    Toby Helm

    @tobyhelmToby Helm

    Just amazing how relaxed and pleased with himself George Osborne looks and sounds having failed to live up to his rhetoric on bank bonuses.

    21 minutes ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

    Coalition caves in to banks paying unlimited bonuses

    After months in which a series of government ministers of all parties have threatened a toughening in the stance over City bonuses, Downing Street says the government does not intend to intervene in the pay of the UK's top bankers

    The government has got itself into a fine old mess on bankers' bonuses, writes Nils Pratley in the Guardian. The fault is entirely its own. The coalition agreement, published just eight months ago, declared that "detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector" would be brought forward. There was no commitment on timing but, come on, everybody knew the next bonus round would arrive in January 2011. The government should have defined "unacceptable" by now.

    01George Osborne: still thinks Tesco is an oil company

    It's no use pleading, as the chancellor, George Osborne, does sometimes, that the bank levy, set to raise £1.25bn this year, is an adequate substitute. The coalition agreement was clear: the bank levy and the bonus proposals were separate items, and there was a pledge to implement both.

    Nor is it any use David Cameron calling for Royal Bank of Scotland, 84%-owned by the taxpayer, to be "a back marker" on bonuses. RBS is bound to be at the back of the pack because its profits will be lower than those of other big UK banks: the prime minister is appealing for something he knows will happen anyway.

    It is also disingenuous to point to the pan-European reform of bonus payments as evidence of change under this government. Reform to the structure of bonuses – limiting the proportion that can be paid up-front in cash – is welcome but the regulators had the matter in hand before last year's election. The coalition's use of the word "unacceptable" seemed to be directed at something else, like the size of bonus pools or the fact that most UK banks are still supping from the Bank of England's special liquidity scheme.

    Sunday, 9 January 2011

    The ultra-rich could solve this financial crisis

    Surely it is far better to inconvenience 1,000 of the country's richest people than destroy millions of lives, writes Prem Sikka in Wednesday's Guardian

    "The news that 'only' around 330,000 public sector jobs will be lost, is of little comfort to millions of people; especially as another 500,000 are likely disappear from the private sector. The government's austerity plans will hasten home repossessions, shop closures, increase hospital queues and condemn children to crumbling schools. Yet the chancellor has been quiet about the contribution expected from the ultra-rich.

    05 Loving the idea

    Warren Buffett, the world's third-richest person, estimated to be worth around $37bn (£24bn), has urged the US government to tax the rich more saying "people at the high end, people like myself should be paying a lot more in taxes. We have it better than we've ever had it". Yet there is deafening silence from his UK counterparts. The government can solve the financial crisis by inconveniencing the richest 1,000 people in the UK.

    According to the Sunday Times Rich List, the collective wealth of the 1,000 richest people in the UK rose to £335.5bn in 2010. 53 of the richest 1,000 are billionaires. In 1997, when Labour came to office, the collective wealth of the richest 1,000 stood at £98.99bn. No other group has received such a massive boost in its wealth. Even if they have all the clothes, mansions, cars, yachts and jets they want, they still cannot spend it all. They came into this world empty-handed and will exit in exactly the same way, but leave behind impoverished citizens and employees when they could easily give 25%, or some £84bn of their wealth away without any noticeable effect on the quality of their life. This redistribution would reduce and probably eliminate the need for deeper cuts.

    With a private fortune of £22.45bn, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal is thought to be Britain's richest man. He has connections with offshore tax havens, but his wealth has been amassed though cultivation of the UK political machinery. Tony Blair personally intervened to help him expand his empire in Romania and other places. Some years ago, he spent £38m on the wedding of his daughter and also bought her a £70m mansion in Kensington Gardens in London.

    Royal Family granted new right of secrecy

    The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a controversial legal reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William. Letters, emails and documents relating to the monarch, her heir and the second in line to the throne will no longer be disclosed even if they are in the public interest.

    Sweeping changes to the Freedom of Information Act will reverse advances which had briefly shone a light on the royal finances – including an attempt by the Queen to use a state poverty fund to heat Buckingham Palace – and which had threatened to force the disclosure of the Prince of Wales's prolific correspondence with ministers.

    Lobbying and correspondence from junior staff working for the Royal Household and Prince Charles will now be held back from disclosure. Buckingham Palace confirmed that it had consulted with the Coalition Government over the change in the law. The Government buried the plan for "added protection" for the Royal Family in the small print of plans called "opening up public bodies to public scrutiny".

    Maurice Frankel, head of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said that since the change referred to communications written on behalf of the Queen and Prince Charles it might be possible for "park keepers working in the royal parks" to be spared public scrutiny of their letters written to local authorities.

    The decision to push through the changes also raises questions about the sincerity of the Liberal Democrats' commitment to government transparency. In opposition, senior Liberal Democrats frequently lined up to champion the Freedom of Information Act after it came into force in 2005.

    God bless America

    Last year Sarah Palin published what she called her "hit list" of twenty names that were to be targeted by voters in the mid-term elections. This list included the name of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and was illustrated with the graphics of a rifle-like telescopic sight.

    Today Gabrielle Giffords is in intensive care having been shot in the head at a political meeting in Arizona. Six other people were killed by the gunman. Local media reports that a man called Jared Loughner is being held in custody for the shooting. A video posted by Loughner on YouTube entitled "My final thoughts" presents a text of incoherent, rambling statements about sleepwalking, numerology and grammar over a background of soft lounge music. Loughner writes about the US Constitution, about a currency not backed by gold and about him not being able to trust the government and its treasonous laws.

    Ms Giffords herself had warned of the danger of the list after her office was vandalised in March. She said: "We're on Sarah Palin's 'targeted' list, but the thing is that the way she has it depicted, we're in the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realise that there are consequences to that action."

    Ms Palin hasn't directly commented on whether she thinks there were consequences to her actions but she did issue a statement saying: "My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice."

    It had been widely reported that Ms Palin would stand as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential elections. While she has yet to confirm these reports, rumours are rife that a second season of her television show, Sarah Palin’s Alaska, has been put on hold thereby indicating her intention to proceed with the nomination.

    UPDATE 10/1/11 09:00
    Loughner note reveals aim to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords, the Guardian

    Saturday, 8 January 2011

    David Miliband considers television role

    The Labour leadership candidate, who lost out to his brother by the narrowest of margins last September, after a bitterly fought contest in which he started as clear favourite, has approached the BBC with a number of programme ideas. It is unclear whether Miliband wants to front one-off documentaries or a series of shows, but it is thought all his proposals would involve him taking a starring role on screen.

    02 Pebble Miliband at One?

    Such a move would inevitably invite comparisons with Michael Portillo, the former Tory cabinet minister who has developed a thriving television career after his own ambitions to lead his party came to nothing. Portillo made a documentary series for Channel 4 after the humiliating loss of his parliamentary seat at the 1997 general election.

    The one-time darling of the Tory right later returned to parliament but, after failing to win the leadership of his party in 2001, when he was defeated by William Hague, he reinvented himself as a successful presenter, pundit and documentary-maker – most recently revealing his fondness for railway travel.

    There has been intense speculation about the elder Miliband's intentions since his dramatic defeat by his brother. Sources close to the former foreign secretary insisted that he had no intention of giving up his South Shields seat and said the TV idea was "one of many things David is thinking about".

    They added that the plans "may or may not materialise" and strongly played down suggestions that he was thinking of following in Portillo's footsteps. In a statement, a spokesman for Miliband said: "David is talking to a range of organisations about his interest in foreign and environmental policy."

    Cuts to disability benefits could breach human rights laws

    Plans to cut disability benefits could breach human rights laws, the government has been warned. Ministers want to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new Personal Independence Payment. The change would mean new assessment tests for claimants who would also need to have had a condition for six months. Disability lawyer Mike Charles has told the BBC that the moves could be unlawful if they denied individuals the right to quality of life.

    Mr Charles said: "The human rights act says individuals have a right to family life, have a right to a quality of life, the whole purpose of the DLA is to put them on an equal playing field with everyone else. Any proposal that fails to appreciate those fundamental rights could find it is an infringement of the law. My view is even if its not against the letter of the law, it is against the spirit of the law." His opinion is backed up by other specialist disability lawyers.

    Charities including Disability Alliance claim the proposals are not about simplifying the system but are about removing 380,000 claimants from it. Disability charity Scope said it was unhappy that the mobility component of the DLA for care home residents, which supports people who need help getting around, would be scrapped.

    Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said: "We would say that that is quite a callous decision. It will result in people being prisoners in their own homes, they won't be able to do those daily things that everybody else would take for granted."

    The government, which claims the changes could reduce spending by 20%, says it is committed to helping disabled people live independent lives and that the changes are needed. The proposals are part of a consultation process that ends on 14 February.

    BBC News

    Friday, 7 January 2011

    Coalition's quango cull condemned

    Plans to axe scores of quangos will not deliver significant savings or improve accountability, MPs have warned. A cross-party Commons committee carried out a review of the government's cull of quangos and concluded the whole process was "botched". Its chairman said the audit "was rushed and poorly handled" and missed a "Big Society" opportunity to grant greater powers to charities. The report found the legislation would give MPs excessive powers to axe more.

    In October the government announced it was axing 192 of the public bodies - such as the Film Council and the Audit Commission - while 118 would be merged. The review was overseen by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude. Quangos - "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations" - are arm's-length bodies funded by Whitehall departments but not run by them. They are advisory bodies, consumer watchdogs or organisations carrying out public services. The government reviewed 901 bodies - 679 quangos and 222 other statutory bodies.

    A review of that review was carried out by the Commons public administration select committee, which found the tests used to judge the quangos were "hopelessly unclear" and had not been applied consistently. "The current approach is not going to deliver significant cost savings or result in greater accountability," the report found. "There was no meaningful consultation, the tests the review used were not clearly defined and the Cabinet Office failed to establish a proper procedure."

    Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, chair of the committee, said: "The whole process was rushed and poorly handled and should have been thought through a lot more. This was a fantastic opportunity to help build the Big Society and save money at the same time, but it has been botched. The government needs to rethink which functions public bodies need to perform and consider transferring some of these functions over to mutuals and charities."

    Thursday, 6 January 2011

    Ed Miliband accuses Tories of 'great deceit' in blaming Labour for deficit

    Labour leader says government is trying to rewrite history by claiming deficit was caused by Labour overspending rather than the global financial crisis

    Ed Miliband accuses the Conservatives today of a "great deceit" in blaming Labour for the national deficit and warned that they have concocted a false narrative to justify politically driven cuts. In announcing a raft of swingeing public spending cuts the coalition government has repeatedly sought to portray that its hands are tied because of the size of the deficit it inherited from the last government.

    The same argument was rolled out this week to defend this week's rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20%, after warnings of the likely impact on low and middle-income families and the fragile economy. Amid Labour concerns that the opposition has not been forcefully contradicting the coalition's narrative on the deficit, Miliband insisted that it was not caused by Labour overspending but by the global financial crisis.

    "My concern is that a great deceit designed to damage Labour has led to profoundly misguided and dangerous economic decisions that I fear will cause deep damage to Britain's future," he writes in today's Times (paywall). The Labour leader says that by blaming the deficit on overspending the Conservative-led government is seeking to win consensus for its policy of cutting the deficit "as far and as fast as possible". But he accuses the chancellor of "gambling on a rapid rebalancing of the economy" and says he is going "too far and too fast on the deficit".

    Wednesday, 5 January 2011


    Tuesday, 4 January 2011

    Is George Osborne the dodgiest dodger of them all?

    38 Degrees have reached their target of £200,00 and have bought the first round of ads - they'll be splashed all over the papers on 4th January. Next they're going to put their tax dodging ads on billboards and bus stops across the country - they need to raise at least £10,000 in the New Year to get the next round of adverts up - any money donated now will go towards that! You can help sponsor them here.


    UPDATE 5/1/11  New media give popular protest a fresh voice, the Independent

    Forest of Dean protesters fight woodland sell-off

    There's been nothing quite like it in the ancient Forest of Dean since the last time a Conservative government tried to privatise Britain's largest oak forest

    In 1993, the threat to sell off 42 square miles of woodland between the rivers Severn and Wye in Gloucestershire was only repelled after huge protests by locals and ramblers. At the rally today more than 3,000 people, backed by celebrities, bishops, leading conservationists and politicians, pledged to defend "the people's" trees from what they fear will be a corporate land grab.

    04 "The green heart of Britain is not for sale," said conservationist David Bellamy.

    Today, more than 110,000 people had signed a petition against the coalition's proposed sale of all Forestry Commission land in England. Opposition to the sale of nearly 20% of all England's wooded area is fiercest in Gloucestershire where yellow ribbons and posters have been tied around thousands of trees.

    If the public bodies bill, expected to be debated in the House of Lords within three weeks, becomes law, the entire 650,000-acre forestry commission estate in England could be sold to developers, charities and power companies, possibly raising hundreds of millions of pounds.

    The government argues it wants more land to be forested and is hoping local communities will buy and manage much of the acreage put up for sale. But objectors say the selloff is short-sighted and fear that woods will be bought by developers and energy companies who will limit access to trails and seek to fell as many trees as possible for a quick profit.

    "It is extraordinary that one of the country's most ancient forests – a place of great beauty that is enjoyed by so many people – is also one of its least protected. The Forest of Dean … should continue to be managed as a whole for the widest public benefit," said the writer Bill Bryson, president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

    Monday, 3 January 2011

    Politics of the mind

    Shame, vanity, laziness and the desire to fit in are all to be used as tools of Government policy by ministers acting on the advice of a new psychology unit in Whitehall, writes Martin Hickman in the Independent

    The first glimpse into the confidential work of the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insight Team came on Tuesday when ministers suggested members of the public should be able to make small charitable donations when using cashpoints and their credit cards. On Friday, the Cabinet Office again followed the unit's advice in proposing that learner drivers be opted in to an organ donation scheme when they apply for a licence, and also floated the idea of creating a lottery to encourage people to take tests to prove they have quit smoking.

    These initiatives are examples of the application of mental techniques which, while seemingly paradoxical to the Coalition's goal of a smaller state, are likely to become a common feature of Government policy. The public will have "social norms" heavily emphasised to them in an attempt to increase healthy eating, voluntary work and tax gathering. Appeals will be made to "egotism" in a bid to foster individual support for the Big Society, while much greater use will be made of default options to select benevolent outcomes for passive citizens – exemplified by the organ donation scheme.

    A clue to the new approach came early in the life of the Coalition Government, in a sentence from its May agreement: "Our Government will be a much smarter one, shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past and finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves," it read. David Cameron established the seven-strong unit in July, since when the Government has declined to divulge all its members and the full extent of its work. However, The Independent has learnt its guiding principles and some of the projects that have used its favoured techniques.

    One experiment involved Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) secretly changing the wording of tens of thousands of tax letters, leading to the collection of an extra £200m in income tax. Other ideas tried elsewhere that have been studied by the unit include reducing recidivism by changing public perception of ex-prisoners, and cutting health costs by encouraging relatives to look after family members in "patient hotels". The unit draws inspiration from the Chicago University professor Richard H Thaler and his colleague Cass Sunstein, whose book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness is required reading for Conservative frontbenchers.