Sunday, 27 February 2011

Ireland’s ruling party crushed as Fine Gael storms into government

Ireland's main opposition leader Enda Kenny has said his Fine Gael party has won a "massive endorsement" to govern after parliamentary elections. Votes are still being counted but Fine Gael is expected to be the largest party in the Republic's parliament, without having an overall majority. The dominant party for generations, Fianna Fáil, faces a crushing defeat. Mr Kenny said he would now work on renegotiating the previous government's 85bn-euro (£72bn) EU/IMF loan package.

The Irish Republic is the first EU member state to have received a financial bail-out to go to the polls. Mr Kenny said the "exceptional mandate" he had secured would enable him to put his case to other EU countries for changing the terms of the loan. "I look for co-operation and support across Europe," he told Irish national broadcaster RTE, adding that he intended to make an immediate start on revisiting the terms of the bail-out in the coming week. Mr Kenny is particularly keen to reduce the 5.8% interest rate imposed on EU loans.

He said European leaders knew of the difficulties that the Irish people had with the loan package and he saw "room to manoeuvre" over the interest rate. He aimed first to speak to the European People's Party grouping of centre-right parties in Helsinki on 4 March before tackling the issue at an EU summit in Brussels a week later.

The extent of his election success was emphasised by the 17,472 first preference votes he received in his Mayo constituency in the west of Ireland. It was the highest number of first preference votes for any candidate under the Irish system of proportional representation. RTE said Mr Kenny was now certain to be elected taoiseach (prime minister) when the Dail met on 9 March.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

The narcissism of minor differences

... men are not gentle creatures, who want to be loved, who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus [man is wolf to man]. Who in the face of all his experience of life and of history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously  and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities committed during the racial migrations or the invasions of the Huns, or by the people known as Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamerlane, or at the capture of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, or even, indeed, the horrors of the recent World War -- anyone who calls these things to mind will have to bow humbly before the truth of this view. 

The existence of this inclination to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure [of energy]. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Civilization  has to use its utmost efforts in order to set limits to man's aggressive instincts and to hold the manifestations of hem in check by psychical reaction-formations. Hence, therefore, the use of methods intended to incite people into identifications and aim-inhibited relations of love, hence the restriction upon sexual life, and hence too the ideal's commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself -- a commandment which is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man. In spite of every effort, these endeavors of civilization have not so far achieved very much. It hopes to prevent the crudest excesses of brutal violence by itself assuming the right to use violence against criminals, but the law is not able to lay hold of the more cautious and refined manifestations of human aggressiveness. The time comes when each one of us has to give up illusions the expectations which, in his youth. he pinned upon his fellow men, and when he may learn how much difficulty and pain has been added to his life by their ill-will. At the same time, it would be unfair to reproach civilization with trying to eliminate strife and competition from human activity. These things are undoubtedly indispensable. But opposition is not necessarily enmity; it is merely misused and made occasion for enmity.

The communists believe they have found  the path to deliverance from our evils. According to them, man is wholly good and as well-disposed to his neighbor; but the institution of private property has corrupted his nature. The ownership of private wealth gives the individual power, and waited the temptation to ill-treat his neighbor; while the man who is excluded from possession is bound to rebel in hostility against his oppressor.  If private property were abolished, all wealth held in common, and everyone allowed to share in the enjoyment of it, ill-will and hostility would disappear among men.  Since everyone's needs would be satisfied, no one would have any reason to regard another as his enemy; all would willingly undertake the work that was necessary.  I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communist system; I cannot inquire into whether the abolition of private property is expedient or advantageous.  But I am able to recognize that the psychological premises on which the systems based are an untenable illusion.  In abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, certainly a strong one, though certainly not the strongest; but we have in no way altered the differences in power and influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in its nature. Aggressiveness was not created by property.  It reigned almost before property had given up its primal, anal form; it forms the basis of every relation of affection and love among people (with the single exception, perhaps, of the mother's relation to her male child).  If we do away with personal rights over material wealth, there still remains prerogative in the field of sexual relationships, which is bound to become the source of the strongest dislike in the most violent hostility among men who in other respects are on an equal footing.  If we were to remove this factor, too, by allowing complete freedom of sexual life and thus abolishing the family, the germ-cell of civilization, we cannot, it is true, easily foresee what new paths the development of civilization could take; but one thing we can expect, and that is that this indestructible feature of human nature will follow at there.

It is clearly not easy for man to give up the satisfaction of this inclination to aggression.  They do not feel comfortable without it.  The advantage which a comparatively small cultural group offers of allowing this instinct an outlet in the form of hostility against intruders is not to be despised. It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.  I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other -- like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on.  I gave this phenomenon the name of "the narcissism of minor differences", a name which does not do much to explain it.  We can now see that it is a convenient and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier. In this respect the Jewish people, scattered everywhere, have rendered most useful services to the civilizations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows. When once the Apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance, part of Christendom towards those who remained outside its became the inevitable consequence.  To the Romans, who had not founded their communal life as a State upon love, religious intolerance was something foreign, although with them religion was a concern of the State and the State was permeated by religion.  Neither was it an unaccountable chance that the dream of a Germanic world-dominion called for anti-Semitism as its complement; and it is intelligible that the attempts to establish a new, communist civilization in Russia should find its psychological support in the persecution of the bourgeois. One only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after they have wiped out their bourgeois.

Is Civilization imposes such great sacrifices not only on man's sexuality but on his aggressivity, we can understand better why it is hard for him to be happy in that civilization. In fact, primitive man was better off in knowing no restrictions of instinct.  To counterbalance this, his prospects of enjoying this happiness for any length of time were very slender.  Civilized man has exchanged a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security.  We must not forget, however, that in the primal family only the head of it enjoyed this instinctual freedom; the rest lived in slavish suppression. In that primal period of civilization, the contrast between a minority who enjoyed the advantages of civilization and a majority who were robbed of those advantages was, therefore, carried to extremes. As regards the primitive peoples who exists to-day, careful researches have shown that their instinctual life is by no means to be envied for its freedom.  It is subject to restrictions of a different kind but perhaps of greater severity than those attaching to modern civilized man.

When we justly find fault with the present state of our civilization for so inadequately fulfilling our demands for plan of life that shall make us happy, and for allowing the existence of so much suffering which could probably be avoided -- when, with unsparing criticism, we try to uncover the roots of its imperfection, we are undoubtedly exercising a proper right and are not showing ourselves enemies of civilization.  We may expect gradually to carry through such alterations in our civilization as will better satisfy our needs and will escape our criticisms. But perhaps we may also familiarize ourselves with the idea that there are difficulties attaching to the nature of civilization which will not yield to any attempt at reform.  Over and above the tasks of restricting the instincts, which we are prepared for, there forces itself on our notice the danger of a state of things which might be termed "the psychological poverty of groups".  This danger is most threatening where the bonds of a society are chiefly constituted by the identification of its members with one another, while individuals of the leader type do not acquire the importance that should fall to them in the formation of a group. The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization which is us to be feared.  But I shall avoid the temptation of entering upon a critique of American civilization; I do not wish to give an impression of wanting myself to employ American methods.

[Source: Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, trans. and ed., James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1961), pp. 58-63.]

Dulce et decorum est

Martin Rowson, the Guardian

Friday, 25 February 2011

Stingray (1964) - Troy Tempest singing Aqua Marina

Parliamentary groups flourish as David Cameron fails to deliver reforms

A Guardian investigation reveals that more than £1.6m was channelled into Westminster by outside interests last year

For a time, it seemed the MPs' expenses crisis of 2009 would result in systematic reforms across Westminster. avid Cameron warned MPs that lobbying was the "next big scandal waiting to happen", and promised sweeping reforms. Last February he said: "It's an issue that crosses party lines and has tainted our politics for too long, an issue that exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money.

04 Sir Peter Bottomley is on 151 groups. He was awarded his knighthood for public service

"We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. We must be the party that sorts all this out." Twelve months later, promises of widespread reforms have failed to materialise, as the Guardian investigation into one form of lobbying – the funding of all-party political groups – reveals.

Outside interests channelled more than £1.6m into Westminster in 2010, and more than 280 groups receive financial support from corporations, lobbying associations or other interest groups. Last year 232 new MPs entered the Commons after the May 2010 election, one of the largest intakes in contemporary history. But in this respect the "new politics" barely differs from business as usual: 207 are already registered members of one or more all-party group.

The groups are described by parliamentary authorities as "informal, cross-party interest groups that have no official status within parliament and are not accorded any powers or funding by it". They are intended to function as informal organisations for MPs and peers with interests in specific countries or topics, either for research or recreation. However, as many groups receive extensive financial support from outside interests, one MP warned they risk appearing to the public as "merely a way for lobbyists to buy influence".

Despite the publication of some details of outside support – which formed the basis of the Guardian's data analysis – all-party groups do not have to record full membership or financial assistance. Groups are entitled to use parliamentary meeting rooms and equipment, but those who log financial support from outside interests and record 20 "qualifying members", with at least 10 from the government and 10 from the opposition, get priority access when booking rooms.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

NHS to lose 50,000 jobs, including doctors and nurses

The union-funded website ‘False Economy’ reveals big job losses across the NHS, despite coalition MPs' election campaigns to save services

More than 50,000 jobs are disappearing from the NHS, according to freedom of information responses, which reveal for the first time the extent of cuts by local health trusts struggling to save £20bn from their budgets. The survey, by the union-funded website False Economy, represents the most up-to-date picture of the effects of efficiency savings in the NHS and reveals that in England alone, 24,000 posts will be lost in hospitals, another 10,000 will go in primary care trusts and 6,000 will disappear from mental health trusts. They include doctors, nurses and dentists as well as administrative positions, undermining government pledges to protect frontline services.

Some prominent examples of big job losses across the country include:

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which will cut 1,013 full-time equivalent staff from 2010-15, including almost 50 doctors and dental staff, as well as 270 nurses, midwives and health visitors

Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which will lose 682 full-time equivalent posts between 2010 and 2013; 110 posts have already gone

University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, which is forecasting a reduction of 1,349 full-time posts between 2011 and 2015 – 22.5% of its entire staff

• Up to 1,600 jobs are to go at the Heart of England NHS Trust, which runs hospitals covering east Birmingham, Solihull and south Staffordshire. Mark Newbold, the trust's chief executive, told the Guardian he was committed to delivering "high-quality services" but he needed to make efficiency savings of 4% a year. "The NHS, like many other sectors, is facing unprecedented changes," he said.

False Economy, which is campaigning to stop public sector cuts, sent freedom of information requests across the NHS asking for "confirmed, proposed or potential" job losses over the next four years. Although it admits some of the responses are merely proposals, there is little doubt of the scale of the job losses.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Covert climbdown over plans to axe mobility component of Disability Living Allowance

David Cameron actually made three policy concessions this week. At this rate, he may as well install a revolving door at No 10. It’s another Lib Dem victory of sorts, but they’re not really crowing about it. Buried in the documentation for the Universal Credit is a softening of the plan to cut payments for disabled people in care homes.

The spending review proposal to axe the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance, thereby saving around £130m, upset a lot of charities and many a Lib Dem. Cameron has now endorsed a discreet climbdown. The measure will be delayed by a year, so it only begins to be implemented in 2013. And there will be a review of how the principle is applied - which will effectively mean that it will affect a smaller group of people.

Cameron hinted at all this in PMQs. I suspect anyone who has spent the whole of their lives in a state care home will be able to carry on claiming the benefit. This may not be enough for the charities, but it is certainly a concession. The Treasury, meanwhile, are making clear that any minister performing a U-turn should not expect fresh money to cover the budget shortfall.

It will be interesting to see what needs to be done to compensate for this week’s about-turns on docking housing benefit for the long-term unemployed (£100m a year), the cancellation of the woodland sell-off (up to £350m), and the disability payments (up to £130m a year).

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Five Minutes With: Diane Abbott MP

Diane Abbott talks to Matthew Stadlen about the importance of optimism in politics, the best and worst things about being an MP, what she learnt from running for leadership of the Labour Party and why her friends live in fear of early morning phone calls.

Friday, 18 February 2011

You must have been a beautiful baby

01 'cause baby won't you look at you now?

If Getty Images is to be believed, Clarke sustained the injuries on his head after accidentally falling over at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. I thought I'd seen him there one night.

However, the BBC reports that Clarke tripped over getting out of his car in the grounds of Parliament (Speaker's Court, perhaps?) and hit his forehead on a step. "It's sort of spreading. It wasn't a black eye it was a lump on my forehead, but with blood seeping down or something ... "

Likely story Ken, you old soak.

Roxy Music to tour Australia and New Zealand

Student visa limits would result in 'dire consequences' for universities, says report

Proposed new restrictions on student visas would result in "dire consequences" for the UK's universities, a report warns. A study for the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) says the measures would cut the number of foreign students coming to UK universities, losing billions of pounds in income. The plans are better designed to cut recruitment than visa abuse, it adds.

01 The British government welcomes foreign students, really it does

The government said talented overseas students were vital to the economy. Its plans include reducing the number of foreign students studying below degree level, raising the students' language requirement and limiting their entitlement to work and bring their family to the UK. It also proposes to improve the accreditation process and inspections for education providers to weed out bogus colleges.

The report by Professor Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, points out that overseas students bring in vital income worth nearly £5bn a year in fees and off-campus expenditure. They are often charged much higher tuition fees than home students. "In a tricky funding period most universities plan to expand international numbers in the immediate future. The ability to do so reflects and enhances the reputation of UK higher education internationally," the report says. It also points out that many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses are only made viable by the presence of overseas students.

Although no overall targets have been set out in the Home Office proposals, the report says that had student immigration been pegged to existing targets since 2005-06, then the number of international students would have been cut by three-quarters. It also says the loss in fees alone would have been some £6bn - this rises to £12bn if off-campus expenditure is taken into account. "To implement the proposed measures as they stand would amount to a hostile act against Britain's universities," Prof Acton warns.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Caroline Spelman apologises in the Commons

David Cameron unveils welfare reforms

David Cameron has published a reform package that he said would deliver "the most ambitious, fundamental and radical changes to the welfare system" since it was created. The welfare reform bill will replace the complex array of benefits with a single universal credit, create a work programme to help the long-term unemployed into jobs and introduce incentives and sanctions to ensure that work always pays, said the prime minister. However, the government has ditched controversial proposals announced in last year's emergency budget to cut housing benefit by 10% for anyone on jobseeker's allowance for more than 12 months. 

01 It’s that faux-concern that gets on my tits - and IDS can’t even be bothered

Cameron said the changes would slash £5.5bn from the welfare bill in real terms over the next four years by limiting housing benefit, reforming tax credits and taking child benefit away from higher-rate taxpayers. He insisted that the bill was "not an exercise in accounting – it's about changing our culture". Speaking in east London alongside the architect of the reforms, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, Cameron said: "Never again will work be the wrong financial choice. Never again will we waste opportunity.

"We're finally going to make work pay – especially for the poorest people in society. And we're going to provide much greater support for unemployed people to find work – and stay in work. We're not just recasting the reach, scope and effectiveness of the old system – making it fairer and a genuine ladder of opportunity for everyone. We're also doing something no government has done before – and that is get to grips with the cost of welfare."

But the reform package has come under attack from unions, who accused the coalition of punishing the unemployed and impoverished for their own misfortunes. "Long-term unemployment has doubled not because of a sudden increase in work-shy scroungers, but as an inevitable result of economic policies based on cuts that destroy growth," said the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber. "Making low-income working families thousands of pounds worse off through welfare cuts over the next two years to claim that they will be slightly better off in 2013 is an absurd argument that will ring hollow as families suffer the toughest income squeeze for nearly a century."

Housing benefit cuts: how much will the council pay out in your area? Find out here.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Aaaah, Silvio


Tories abandon sale of forests

David Cameron has ordered ministers to carry out the government's biggest U-turn since the general election by abandoning plans to change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland. Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, will announce on Friday that a consultation on the sale of forests will be ended after a furious backlash that united Tory supporters with environmentalists and the Socialist Workers party. "The consultation is going to be terminated," a government source has said. A No 10 insider added: "It's a cock-up. We just did not think."

The prime minister, who told MPs that he was not happy with the government's handling of the issue, has ordered Spelman to:

• End the consultation on plans to dispose of about half of the 258,000 hectares of woodland in England run by the Forestry Commission by 2020.

• Establish an independent panel with environmentalists to reach consensus on reforms to improve access and biodiversity in forests.

• Drop clauses in the public bodies bill that would allow the government to sell off all of England's forests. Under current laws only 15% of forests can be sold.

One government source said: "We have heard, we have listened. The consultation will be canned. The consultation will be terminated. It is now a case of coming up with something everyone is happy with."

The U-turn represents a victory for an unlikely coalition of disparate groups launched in October. The grassroots website 38 Degrees started a petition which, by last night, had attracted more than 531,000 signatures. One poll suggested 84% of the country opposed the sale. Cameron indicated at prime minister's questions that he was backing away from the sell-off when Ed Miliband asked him if he was happy with his "flagship policy on forestry", which could have raised £350m.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Quango praised by David Cameron is scrapped along with 300 jobs

A quango that David Cameron praised as one of the organisations that will "bring the wealth, the jobs and the opportunity our country needs so badly" is being scrapped with the loss of more than 300 jobs. The prime minister sent a video message praising Advantage WM after it won a top prize at the Midlands Excellence awards earlier this month.

"These awards celebrate precisely the kinds of things that will get our economy back on its feet," Cameron told the audience on a video link. "You are the doers and the grafters who are going to bring the wealth, the jobs and opportunity our country needs so badly." However, most of the 340 staff who worked for Advantage WM expect to be made redundant in September and the organisation, which has an annual investment budget of £300m, will be wound up in March next year.

"For once, I agree with the prime minister, or rather, he agrees with us," said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union. "Like the other RDAs [regional development agencies], Advantage WM plays a vital role in the economy and this is exactly the sort of alternative to spending cuts that we've been talking about. Instead of arrogantly swinging the ideological axe, the government should be investing in the public sector to help our economy to grow."

Cameron was forced to re-launch his "big society" project this week after allegations the government's cuts were hitting public sector and voluntary groups that deliver local services. During his address to the awards ceremony he appeared to acknowledge that organisations such as Advantage WM had a role to play in the "big society". "Everyone in your from tonight has a huge impact on our society and our culture and it is great that those who take their responsibility seriously are really being recognised. That is one of the things the big society should be all about."

Advantage WM won the main public sector award at the Midlands Excellence ceremony at Birmingham ICC on 3 February. Mick Laverty, chief executive of Advantage WM, said the award was testament to the professionalism and commitment of the agency's staff. "We have made a difference. Independent evaluation has shown that every £1 invested by the agency generates an average £8.14 return back into the region's economy - as public sector activity goes that's an outstanding return."

The government is scrapping RDAs and replacing them with local economic partnerships. In November Vince Cable, the business secretary, described the abolition of RDAs as "a little Maoist and chaotic".

The BIG Society?

Sunday, 13 February 2011

You Can Dance | Bryan Ferry

If There is Something | Roxy Music

ComRes poll cuts cold comfort for the Coalition

Most voters think the austerity spending cuts are unfairly hitting the poor as the government admitted it was struggling to get its message across. A ComRes poll for The Independent on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror found that 63 percent thought the impact would be felt more by poorer households than those better off. It came after Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, warned that the middle classes did not yet understand the scale of Britain's economic woes.

The poll blow comes as he attempts to re-launch his "Big Society" drive which he admitted had been met with attacks and negative headlines. "Building a stronger, bigger society is something we should try and do whether spending is going up or down," he wrote in The Observer. "But there is a broader point to be made. As the state spends less and does less - which would be happening whichever party was in government - there would be a positive benefit if some parts of society were to step forward and do more."

ComRes found that 57 percent thought the scale of the planned cuts was "too severe and too fast", while 69 percent expected to be personally worse off as a result. Some 41 percent thought that the need for cuts at the scale proposed had been exaggerated by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition parties to suit their own ends, while 38 percent disagreed.

Clarke told The Daily Telegraph the middle classes did not understand the scale of spending cuts they face, which would only emerge in the coming year. "If someone says it's not as bad as all that, I say [they] just don't realise the calamitous position we're in." The cuts have hit government departments from the military to education, with plans to increase university tuition fees sparking violent protests in London last year.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said it was time for some "home truths", saying Britain would spend nearly 43 billion pounds next year on interest payments alone. "We need to live within our means and compete in the global economy. It is wrong to borrow now and expect our children to pay," he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph. "Either we deal with the financial crisis to give Britain a fighting chance, or we allow a slow, managed decline."

ComRes interviewed 2,009 adults online on in Great Britain online on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The people of Egypt unseat their president

Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as president of Egypt, after weeks of protest in Cairo and other cities. The news was greeted with a huge outburst of joy and celebration by thousands in Cairo's Tahrir Square - the heart of the demonstrations. Mr Mubarak ruled for 30 years, suppressing dissent and protest, and jailing opponents. Announcing the resignation, Vice-President Suleiman said the president had handed power to the army.

Mr Suleiman said on state TV that the high command of the armed forces had taken over. "In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country," he said. "May God help everybody."

Later an army officer read out a statement paying tribute to Mr Mubarak for "what he has given" to Egypt but acknowledging popular power. "There is no legitimacy other than that of the people," the statement said. The military high command is headed by Defence Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. US diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks described Mr Tantawi as "aged and change-resistant", but committed to avoiding another war with Israel.

Mr Mubarak has already left Cairo and is in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where he has a residence, officials say. In Cairo, thousands of people gathered outside the presidential palace, in Tahrir Square and at state TV. They came out in anger following an address by Mr Mubarak on Thursday. He had been expected to announce his resignation but stopped short of stepping down, instead transferring most powers to Mr Suleiman.

High Court rules against government over school building programme

The government has been defeated in the High Court over its decision to scrap England's school building programme. Six councils claimed Education Secretary Michael Gove's decision to scrap Buildings Schools for the Future projects in six local authority areas was unfair and unlawful. Mr Gove will now look again at his decisions in these six areas.
Under the scheme, every school was to be rebuilt or revamped at a £55bn cost. Mr Gove had said the scheme was inefficient and beset by overspends. The axing of the scheme in July last year meant that at least 700 school rebuilds in England would not be going ahead. This sparked an outcry among teachers, councillors and pupils alike, many of whom had worked hard on developing the projects.

The councils - Waltham Forest, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell, Kent County Council and Newham - sought a judicial review on the grounds that the stopping of projects in their areas was arbitrary and legally flawed. They asked Mr Justice Holman to order Mr Gove to reconsider individual schemes, properly taking account of their merits.

Lawyers for the councils argued the education secretary failed to consult properly, and that he did not give adequate reasons before stopping projects. They also claimed he breached legitimate expectations that the multi-million pound schemes would be funded. But lawyers for Mr Gove argued his decisions were not made lightly and were not open to legal challenge.

In written statements put before the court, his lawyers said the coalition had inherited "the largest budget deficit in peacetime history", and spending cuts had had to be made "quickly and significantly". A set of general principles was applied to decide which projects were to be scrapped, but Mr Gove did not consider it "practicable or appropriate" for him to arbitrate between the claims of a large number of different authorities, or an even larger number of individual schools.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Project Merlin: a Mickey Mouse deal

“Anger and retribution will not bring one percentage point of growth or create one single new job? Britain needs to move from retribution to recovery.” George Osborne

The Government’s long awaited deal on banking reform was under fire from all sides last night as critics dismissed it as a damp squib. “Project Merlin” began to unravel almost as soon as the deal, negotiated by Chancellor George Osborne and former Barclays chief executive John Varley, was announced. Banks will agree to lend £190 billion to businesses including £76bn to smaller companies, and have their lending scrutinised by the Bank of England.

They have also said they will show “restraint” over bonuses and Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland will pay less than last year. Details of the pay of the top five managers at banks under board level will be published. But cast-iron commitments on this most contentious of issues was lacking and no details will be given on the bonuses of high earnings traders – dubbed “casino bankers” – whose pay can be many times higher than even that of bank chief executives.

A further £200m will be advanced to finance the so-called “Big Society Bank” that will fund community projects. However, this amounts to a loan, with the money eventually intended to come from so called “dormant accounts” which have often been held for many years with no activity by banks.

The deal has been signed by Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays, and HSBC – Britain’s four biggest lending banks. Spain’s Banco Santander, the number five bank in Britain though its ownership of Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, said it would agree only to the lending commitments.

Announcing the deal George Osborne – who on Tuesday increased his banking levy by £800m – called for an end to “banker bashing” so that the banks could help the economy to grow. He admitted the public would remain angry with the bankers but said: “Anger and retribution will not bring one percentage point of growth or create one single new job? Britain needs to move from retribution to recovery.”

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Fat cats, fat cheques, fat chance

"Yesterday the chancellor made much of his decision to raise the levy on financial institutions by £800m. While the new total of £2.5bn sounds a lot, it is roughly the same as the pool for bonuses at just one British bank, Barclays. It is less than the £3.5bn raised last year by Labour's bonus tax, and about a fifth of the money that will be paid by shoppers and businesses as part of the coalition's VAT rise. Scrambling around for new policies, all Mr Osborne managed was to bring forward a tax rise that he had already announced last summer. So much for a new toughness. "Cash for the economy – not cash for the bonuses," promised Mr Osborne in one of his many tough speeches as shadow chancellor. In office, however, he and Mr Cameron have presided over the very opposite." The Guardian

"Some 58.5% – £9,150,064 – of Tory donations in 2010 came from the City, with 60 fat cats handing over £50,000 of their own cash – enough to buy them a face-to-face meeting with the PM. The top 10 City donors [below] gave £13.1million over five years, and two of them – Stanley Fink and George Magan – were made peers in 2010.” The Daily Mirror

1. David Rowland - £4,031,016

Such was the uproar last year when the prime minister appointed David ‘Spotty’ Rowland as Conservative party treasurer that the property tycoon and former tax exile resigned before taking up the post. Stories appeared in the media about his private life and business dealings that cast doubt about his suitability for the post in the minds of Tory MPs. In the 60s and 70s Rowland, nicknamed Spotty because of his ­lingering acne and relative youth, made his mark as a swashbuckling financier, who built a personal ­fortune of £700m. He retreated to the Channel Islands to avoid the steep tax rates for millionaires imposed by the Labour governments of Wilson and Callaghan. But Rowland, 65, returned to the UK from Guernsey two years ago, where he became a leading party donor, giving the Tories nearly £3m in the run-up to the 2010 election. The son of a scrap metal dealer who left school without qualifications, he is said to have made his first million by the time he was 23.

2. Michael Farmer - £2,973,850

In the City, Michael Farmer is known as Mr Copper after he turned MG Metals into the planet’s biggest copper trader during the 1990s. Within months of floating his company on the London Stock Exchange, he received a takeover bid from Enron, the US energy company that crashed amid a massive fraud. The offer price was 60% higher than the float price and was in cash. Farmer walked away with tens of millions, secure in the knowledge he would never have to work again. But he couldn’t stop making money (although he took two years off studying the Bible). He founded RK Capital Management whose main fund, Red Kite, is one of the world’s biggest industrial metals hedge funds. He said last year: “I’m giving away (money) because I believe the Tories will be a far better government than Labour. I’ve always tried to keep a low profile but this is important.’’ Both his parents were alcoholics. His father, a successful metals trader, died when Farmer was four.

3. Stanley Fink - £1,945,141

Stanley Fink, the Conservative party treasurer, has been described as the “godfather” of the UK hedge fund industry, building up Man Group into one of the largest global hedge fund companies; his personal fortune is estimated at about £120m. Educated at Manchester grammar school and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Fink was chief executive at Man between 2000 and 2007, stepping down, some would say shrewdly, a year before the worst of the financial crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. In late 2008, he emerged from retirement to become head of International Standard Asset Management, a small hedge fund group, in partnership with Lord Levy, former chief fundraiser for the Labour party. His charitable giving increased markedly after a brush with death four years ago when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In one year alone, 2006, the 51-year-old gave away £35m to charity. Fink backed Boris Johnson’s successful campaign to become the mayor of London.

4. Michael Hintze - £1,235,000

Michael Hintze, an Australian who founded the hedge fund CQS in 1999, is worth more than £1bn, according to the latest Forbes rich list. After a stint in the Australian army, Hintze moved to the US where he embarked on a career on Wall Street. Later, he moved to London with Credit Suisse First Boston before defecting to Goldman Sachs where he became head of equity trading and one of the investment bank’s star performers. A regular giver to the arts in London, Hintze supports the Old Vic theatre, the V&A museum and Wandsworth museum.

5. Adrian Beecroft - £537,076

Adrian Beecroft was chief investment officer at Apax, the private equity fund, and now chairs Dawn Capital, a venture capital investment fund that is backing, the short-term loans company, among others. Beecroft has chaired the industry body, the British Venture Capital Association, and is well known in private equity circles. His former firm Apax owns Hit Entertainment, the owner of the Thomas and Friends and Bob the Builder brands. The Sunday Times Rich List in 2010 suggested Beecroft was worth just shy of £50m.

6. Jon Wood - £500,000

Jon Wood founded Monaco-based hedge fund SRM Global. He invested about £50m in Northern Rock after it ran into trouble but before it was nationalised, losing his stake, and was a vocal critic of Labour’s handling of the crisis. He also had a bruising spat with former business partners at the Gadget Shop which ended in court – the judge concluding that Wood was an unreliable witness, saying: “I do not consider that he is being honest in everything he says. I found him evasive in the witness box.” Wood was not a fan of Gordon Brown and his handling of the economy. “For reasons of nothing more than his own self-interest, the prime minister has destroyed the good work of the previous two decades before he became chancellor. I off-the-scale hate Gordon Brown,” he said in an interview.

7. James Lyle - £500,000
James Lyle is a partner and chief investment officer at Millgate Capital, a US-based hedge fund which he co-founded in 1997. Educated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, he has had spells with leading financial institutions including investment bank Morgan Stanley and fund manager Fidelity. Lyle is vice-chairman of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and a “friend” of the Atlantic Partnership, an organisation that aims to foster debate about the relationship between the United States and Europe.

8. Peter Hall - £493,540

Peter Hall is an Australian fund manager whose company only invests in companies which it believes are “ethical” and do not harm the environment. Hall gives away a quarter of his income to charities and other worthy causes. A founding member of the Sydney Rainforest Action Group (SRAG) and a campaigner against whaling, Hall believes property rights may be the solution to environmental problems. “I believe the oceans should be turned into property. If people had economic interests in preserving biodiversity and biomass through taxes and tax credits, we would be in a much better position,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008.

9. George Magan - £485,000

George Magan, a former treasurer for the Conservative party, was one of the founders of Hambro Magan, a small City investment bank, and is currently a partner in Rhone Group plc, a private equity firm. But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Magan. In 2005, he put Lion Capital Advisers, the private equity firm he launched in 2001, into voluntary liquidation. Magan, non-executive chairman of Lion, said at the time that “certain directors had severe concerns as to the financial position of the company.” From 1996 to 2001, Magan was a trustee of the Royal Opera House.

10. Paul Ruddock - £465,000 [pffft! lightweight! – Ed]

Paul Ruddock, with his partner Steve Heinz, are the founders of London hedge fund Lansdowne Partners. According to Trader magazine, the pair earned £75m-£100m each during the last year of the boom in 2007. Lansdowne manages about $8bn in assets and its two co-founders have stakes in the company worth an estimated £200m apiece. Lansdowne had the City gasping when it reaped an estimated £100m in profits from its short position in Northern Rock, which it had started to build up four years before the credit crisis. Although its normal investment philosophy has been to take large long-term positions in companies such as Tesco, Lansdowne is also prepared to take more opportunistic bets. It wins more than it loses.

Sources: BBC News, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror,  Daily Telegraph, Guardian

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Most Liberal Democrat MPs oppose coalition's NHS reforms, poll reveals

Few Liberal Democrat MPs support the coalition's plans to let private firms play a bigger role in the NHS, according to research. Many Lib Dems are closer in their views on the NHS to Labour than their Conservative partners in the coalition, which could lead to tension as the plans pass through parliament, a poll of 151 MPs suggests.

More than half the Lib Dems questioned (56%) said the NHS should not outsource more of its work to the private sector. That is likely to happen under plans by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to let "any willing provider" – part of the health service, a private healthcare provider or a charity – be paid out of NHS funds to treat NHS patients. That is one of the most keenly-contested issues in the health and social care bill, which will impose the most radical restructuring on the NHS in England since it was created in 1948. Only 24% of Lib Dems agreed with the proposal.

Their views are closer to those of Labour MPs – 12% backed the idea while 83% opposed it – than to Tories, of whom 84% supported it and just 10% did not. Only 34% of Lib Dems agreed with the plan to let private companies work alongside new GP consortiums across England, paid for by the NHS, while 45% were opposed. Among Labour MPs, 64 were against it and 26% for, while 90% of Tories were in favour and only 2% against.

The MPs – 49 Tories, 81 Labour, 13 Lib Dem and eight others – were quizzed by the polling agency ComRes on behalf of the lobbying firm Westminster Advisers. It said: "The aligning of the Liberal Democrat and Labour party views indicates that health services may be a fracture point for the coalition government, possibly provoking tension in the future and indicating a key battleground at the next election."

Of the Lib Dems' 57 MPs, 21 did not attend last Monday's vote on the bill's second reading, two of whom – Andrew George and John Pugh – raised concerns about it during the preceding debate.

The shadow health secretary, John Healey, who recently wrote to all Lib Dem MPs urging them to examine the bill in greater detail, said: "This shows a serious simmering concern among Lib Dem MPs. The harder they look at the detail of David Cameron's high-risk plans for the NHS, the more they understand that this is purely Conservative policy in its design and intent."

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Police to lose '10,000 officers by 2012'

More than 10,000 uniformed police officer posts are set to disappear by next year in England and Wales, Labour Party research suggests. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the loss would be "brutal" and called the level of cuts "crazy". The coalition's Spending Review set police budget cuts at 20% by 2014-15.

The government has always insisted that front-line jobs can be protected, despite the savings they want, but it has yet to respond to Labour's figures. The coalition has said it hopes that chief constables can cope with the cuts by saving on backroom staff, bureaucracy, and pooling more resources with other forces.

BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said Home Secretary Theresa May has always insisted that the cut in police budgets of 4% this financial year and 5% next year, should not have to mean a cut in the number of police officers. But after Labour collated figures from police forces in England and Wales the party claims that hope cannot be realised.

Ms Cooper said their figures for the next two years were "only the beginning", with a third of forces yet to announce their cuts for next year. Most of those that have announced their cuts have only looked at the next two years, she added. "Cutting so fast and so deep into police budgets is crazy. It is completely out of touch with communities across the country who want to keep bobbies on the beat," said Ms Cooper.

“How do they think it helps the fight against crime to force so many experienced police officers onto their pensions or trained police community support officers onto the dole, leaving the rest of the force overstretched as a result? Chief constables are being put in an impossible position. They are working hard to fight crime, but the government is pulling the rug from underneath them," she added.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Andy Carroll weighs up the odds of leaving Newcastle

Save Our Libraries Day


Saturday 5th February 2011

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Big society tsar Lord Wei 'doesn't have enough time to perform role'

It could become the allegory of the "big society" age. The man appointed by the prime minister to kick-start a revolution in citizen activism is to scale back his hours after discovering that working for free three days a week is incompatible with "having a life". Lord Wei of Shoreditch, who was given a Tory peerage last year and a desk in the Cabinet Office as the "big society tsar", is to reduce his hours on the project from three days a week to two, to allow him to see his family more and to take on other jobs to pay the bills.

05 Picture: Ulysses Oliver

A common criticism of the plans, under which the government hopes that communities will take over the running of local services such as schools and charity projects, is that people don't have time to run a public service on top of holding down a job and seeing their families. Wei has told friends he is cutting his hours to allow him to earn more money and "have more of a life". He originally worked three full days a week and will now work two days, with the hours split over three, while taking on more non-executive directorships with private companies.

The role is voluntary and Wei had to to give up jobs in the charitable sector when he was appointed to avoid a conflict of interest. Whitehall sources said that when he was invited to take the role he had expected it to be remunerated but was told only the night before that it was a voluntary post and there would be no salary. Other unpaid coalition advisers include Lord Heseltine and the "digital champion" Martha Lane Fox – both millionaires.

Much of Wei's work has focused on how to free ordinary people from the daily grind to give them more time to do voluntary work and involve themselves in their communities under the big society plans. Since taking the post, Wei has had a relatively low profile and there have been suggestions that he has not made enough impact on the public understanding of 'big society'. The scheme is reported to be facing Whitehall resistance and the stretched capacities of local authorities.

Wei, 34, is a former management consultant who has no private income to fall back on [aaawww – Ed]. He was one of the founders of the Teach First scheme, then worked for Ark, one of the biggest sponsors of academies, before setting up the Shaftesbury Partnership, a social entrepreneurial company. A Cabinet Office spokesman suggested that Wei had worked extra hours in the early phase of the programme. "The government remains committed to devolving power to citizens and supporting a big society," he said.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

If you go down to the woods today ...

Matt, the Telegraph

Torres turns his back on Liverpool

What today's charter of workers' rights looks like

Vince Cable should be ashamed of his 'employer's charter', which incites bosses to take advantage of workers' vulnerability, says Keith Ewing in the Guardian

Last week Vince Cable, the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, produced a disgraceful document entitled "The employer's charter", proudly published on his departmental website.

In the same week that the governor of the Bank of England told us inflation-adjusted wages were falling in a manner unseen since the 1920s, Vince Cable is inciting bosses to take advantage of workers' vulnerability, by telling them in his charter that they have the right to ask their workers to take a pay cut, and to contact women on maternity leave about when they are planning to return.

Apart from the unnecessary nastiness of this initiative, it does provoke thought about what a corresponding workers' charter would look like, in a country where employers are constantly moaning about the great regulatory burden they face. Behind the government's nastiness and hyperbole, the stark reality is that a charter of workers' rights would currently look something like this:

The end of our National Health Service

Editorial: The Lancet, 29th January 2011

There is a crisis in the National Health Service (NHS). The publication of the Health and Social Care Bill last week heralds dramatic changes for the NHS, which will affect the way public health and social care are provided in the UK. Those changes alone will have huge impact, but it is the formation of an NHS Commissioning Board, and commissioning consortia, that will once and for all remove the word “national” from the health service in England. The result, due to come into force in 2013, will be the catastrophic break up of the NHS.

Maintaining the status quo in the NHS is not an option. The NHS is not delivering the care that patients need. Patients with cancer, for example, are less likely to survive in the UK than in Australia, Canada, Sweden, or Norway. Michel Coleman and colleagues' Lancet Article, published last month, reports that the survival of patients with primary colorectal, lung, breast, or ovarian cancer is lower in the UK than in other countries with similar wealth, universal access to health care, and good cancer registration data. Survival is, they argue, “the key index of the overall effectiveness of health services in the management of patients with cancer”.

Despite the huge sums of money pumped into the NHS over the past few years—particularly into the salary budget for staff—translation into benefits for patients is hard to identify. Moreover, the unyielding mountain of bureaucracy that is integral to the NHS stifles innovation, such that it is difficult to design the services needed for local populations.

Will the changes outlined in the Health and Social Care Bill solve these problems within the NHS and improve care for patients? The truth is that we do not know. What we do know is that putting general practitioners (GPs) in charge of commissioning health services for their patients is similar, in some respects, to the fundholding experiment in the 1990s. The principle then was that GPs controlled the budgets to buy the specialist care their patients needed. Fundholding took years to implement, but evidence on short-term or long-term benefits for patients is lacking. In the current Bill, health outcomes, including prevention of premature death, will be the responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board, which has been asked to publish a business plan and annual reports on progress. That business plan is urgently needed to allow transparent appraisal of how the Board plans to monitor patients' outcomes.