Sunday, 29 April 2012

Send the Tories a message they will never forget

Tony Benn writes for Labour List

“The stakes at the London election are not at all about the personality contest that the media prefer. They are much more important than that. If the Conservative Party win in London on Thursday there is a very real risk they will conclude that they can intensify their assault on working class people, trade unions, public services and the welfare state.

I have watched the Conservative Party for the whole of my life. They take every opportunity to improve the lot of the rich against everyone else. They are utterly ruthless. They need and want a victory in London and if they get it they will make lives worse for everyone.

Already the Conservative candidate in this election is making a direct appeal to his party’s core values, presenting himself as a “tax-cutting Conservative”. It indicates what would happen under a second Tory term in London. The office of the Mayor of London will be a right wing outpost, pushing the Conservative Party in ever more radical directions – opening up conflict and worsening the social divide in the capital.

Throughout this London campaign Ken Livingstone has been the subject of a ferocious character assassination attempt. For as long as I have been involved in politics the right wing media and the Conservative Party have tried to divert attention from the real issues in politics onto personal attacks and the soap opera of the Westminster bubble. That is all designed to get people to vote against their own interests.

In a few days time London voters have the chance to reject this and vote to make themselves better off, and get a Mayor who will stand up for them as a Conservative government attacks them from all sides – from student fees and the privatisation of the NHS to ripping off pensioners and cutting Education Maintenance Allowance.

Ken Livingstone’s Labour programme for London is rooted in Labour’s socialist values. It offers new and radical ideas to defend the 99%. Intervening in the private housing sector to improve standards and cut rents, or establishing an energy co-op to cut the cost of heating your home, are the sort of progressive measures our politics needs now.  Restoring EMA in London shows the total divide in values between the two parties.

By cutting fares Ken is tapping into his strongest London Labour traditions to help people facing hard economic times.

We are back with a right wing government punishing people on low and middle incomes whilst feathering the nests of the richest. If these people are let off the hook on Thursday in the single biggest election before the next general election they will not let up. They will go much further.

The real choice on Thursday is between Labour and Conservative.  Voting anything other than Labour in this election will damage the quality of life for millions.

I urge every Labour voter, every trade unionist, peace campaigner, community organiser, co-operator and campaigner for equality to turn out in massive numbers and send the Tories a message they will never forget.”

Written by Tony Benn and published on Labour List

The delusional mind of one Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg claims that his peers have changed government policy.

In fact, Liberal Democrat peers have helped defeat the government in the Lords in only SEVEN votes out of 236.

Thanks for changing the world we live in, Nick.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Tae a Tory by Jock Campbell

Wee, sleekit, brazen, pretentious Tory,
O, what a panic is thy story! 
Thou need na start awa' sae hasty, 
Wi' twitterin' twaddle!
Tho' I wad lo'e to rin an' chase thee...
Wi' murd'ring pattle! 

I'm truly sorry London's dominion, 
Has broken oor union's social cohesion,
An' justifies oor ill opinion, 
What makes thee startle at me,
Thy poor, Brit-born companion, 
And fellow-mortal! 

I doubt na whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? Poor beastie, thou maun live! 
A few billion barrels o' oor oil, is sma' request; 
We'll need jist enough tae fill oor tanks, 
An' never miss't! 

Thy wee bit Commons housie, in ruin! 
It's silly the way the winds are strewin! 
An' naething, now, to build a new ane,
O' moneys green! An' bleak December's winds ensuin, 
Baith brisk an' keen! 

Thou saw yer power laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin' fast, 
An' cozie here, beneath the blast, 
Thou thought to dwell - till crash!
The cruel referendum past clean thro' thy ego!

That ower grand heap o' stone an' spire, 
Has cost us railway, tram and fire! 
Now thou's shov'd out, for a' thy trouble,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble, 
In the queenie's castle cauld! 

But Davie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' Etonian men gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain, 
For promis'd joy! 

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me! 
The present only toucheth thee: 
But och! I backward cast my e'e, 
On past prospects drearie!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I nae longer guess an' fear! 

Jock Campbell 2012

Monday, 23 April 2012

Socialism for all, not just the rich

There’s plenty of socialism in Britain …

… well, if you’re rich enough that is. By Owen Jones

The banks that caused the crisis were bailed out by the taxpayer, and allowed to carry on much as before. Private companies like A4e scrounge off the state, as do private profiteers throughout our public services: the NHS is about to become an ever-more lucrative opportunity for private health firms like Care UK. Train companies enjoy three times more public subsidies than were handed out in the time of British Rail. Private landlords are able to charge extortionate rents, knowing that the state will spend billions of pounds subsidising them through housing benefit. The wealthy enjoy tax relief on their pensions worth billions. Socialism for the rich is booming in Britain; for everybody else, it is capitalism with ever fewer restraints.

Instead of socialism for the people at the top, we need socialism for everybody else. But it’s worth clarifying what I mean by ‘socialism’. Certain ardent New Labourites were happy to appropriate the word, but strip it of any real political meaning. Odd though it is now to imagine, but when Tony Blair ran for the Labour leadership in 1994, he spoke of ‘socialism’ - but tried to redefine it as ‘social-ism’, or an emphasis on community values. For most of his followers – if they ever use the term – it boils down to platitudes like ‘fairness’ (who says they believe in ‘unfairness’?), or motherhood and apple pie.

But socialism – for me – is about building a society run in the interests of working people, by working people, instead of one organised around the interests of profit. It is about extending democracy to every sphere of life – and that doesn’t just mean the world of politics: it means the economy, too.

A coherent socialist vision has been lacking for a long time. That’s because the left was battered by a series of overwhelming crises: the rise of the New Right from the late 1970s onwards; the defeats suffered by the labour movement, long the backbone of the left; the demoralisation and desperation caused by the trauma of Thatcherism; and the neo-liberal triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, summed up by Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. Even leftists who vehemently opposed Stalinist totalitarianism were consumed by the tidal wave of ‘There Is No Alternative’ that swept across the globe – which saw European social democracy shift rightwards; the old Communist movements dissolve, splinter or collapse; and even African national liberation movements like the ANC abandon their previous commitments to nationalisation.

We remain in the midst of a very serious crisis of capitalism, but it was never certain that the left would automatically benefit from it – in the 1930s the Labour Party was nearly wiped out in Britain, and fascism swept across Europe; after the 1970s, we ended up with Thatcherism and Reaganism. But if we start offering a coherent alternative, we could have at the least the opportunity to tap into the growing sense of anger and frustration that exists – and, crucially, organise it and give it political direction. Back in October, ICM found that 37% thought the Occupy movement was naive because there was no alternative to capitalism; but 51% felt that ‘the protesters are right to call time on a system that puts profit before people.’

Democracy would be at the heart of such an alternative. Take the bailed-out banks: a classic example of ‘socialism for the rich’. The British people were forced to prop them up with billions of pounds, but they don’t have any control over them. Instead, they should be taken under genuine social ownership, with elected management boards. The banks would then be forced to operate in the interests of society as a whole, rather than their shareholders - for example, helping to promote those parts of the economy, like renewable energy, we should want to build.

We wouldn’t have a return to the old-style form of nationalisation developed by Peter Mandelson’s grandfather, Herbert Morrison, in post-war Britain. That created bureaucratic top-down public corporations that were not properly responsive either to their workers or to their consumers. We should call for real democratic ownership. If we reversed the disastrous privatisation of the railways, for example – a policy backed by the overwhelming majority, according to polls – we could have a management board with elected representatives of workers and passengers. It would be a public service directly accountable to those who use it. That’s a model that could be equally popular elsewhere – starting with the energy companies, perhaps.

A new socialism would build an economy run in the interests of the real wealth-creators – the workers who keep the country ticking. A society built around the interests of profit is as irrational as it is unjust. But it will never end unless we start developing a genuine coherent alternative that resonates with working people. It’s nearly four years since Lehman Brothers came crashing down – what are we waiting for?

Written by Owen Jones and published on the LRC website

Owen will be partaking ‘In Conversation with Tony Benn’ at the Brighton Fringe 2012

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Labour peer Lord Ashley of Stoke dies

The Labour peer and campaigner for disabled rights Lord Ashley of Stoke has died, aged 89. Jack Ashley, the first deaf MP, died on Friday night after a short illness. His daughter and Guardian columnist, Jackie Ashley, paid tribute to him on Twitter. "My wonderful, brave and adored father, Jack Ashley, Lord Ashley of Stoke, has died after a short battle with pneumonia."

Her father's death was announced earlier by her husband, the BBC presenter Andrew Marr. He said: "Lord Ashley of Stoke, the former Labour MP Jack Ashley, died last night, April 20, after a short illness, at the age of 89. The campaigner for the rights of the disabled, who had been the first ever deaf MP, won major victories for the victims of the drug Thalidomide, for victims of army bullying, and for victims of domestic violence. He is survived by his three daughters, Jackie Ashley, Jane Ashley, and Caroline Ashley."

Ashley won the seat of Stoke-on-Trent South in 1966, but lost his hearing less than two years later after an unsuccessful ear operation. He recalled in his autobiography that the last voice he heard was that of the late rugby commentator Eddie Waring. After initially fearing he would be forced to give up politics, Ashley learned to lip-read. Other MPs, including political foes such as the former prime minister Edward Heath, turned towards him during Commons debates so he could get a clear view of their mouths.

Ashley worked hard to modulate his speaking voice, which he could no longer hear. However, his deafness never affected his combative attitude. "Early on when I first lost my hearing, I think people were a little fearful about attacking me. But as I re-established my confidence, that soon fell away," he said.

As his fame as an advocate for disabled rights grew, Ashley became president of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. He played a major role in the campaign for better compensation for children disabled by the drug Thalidomide, which was given to mothers to treat morning sickness during the 1950s and 60s. In 1993, a year after he was made a life peer, Ashley's hearing was partially restored by a cochlea implant, an electronic device which stimulates the nerves in the inner ear.

Ashley worked in a factory after leaving school at 14, becoming a shop steward and a local councillor. He studied at Oxford and Cambridge universities on scholarships, and worked as a producer for the BBC before entering parliament.

The Guardian

Ed Miliband has paid tribute to Jack Ashley:

"Jack Ashley turned his own tragic experience of losing his hearing into a mission of courage and determination for deaf and disabled people. He was a pioneer as the first deaf MP to sit in Parliament, but he did much more than that. There are many millions of men and women with disabilities who will have better lives thanks to Jack Ashley. He succeeded in changing the law and in changing attitudes."

He added: "Jack Ashley will be missed by his family, his friends and his colleagues in the House of Lords. He led an amazing life and will be remembered with deep affection, profound respect and great admiration."

The Evening of the Battle of Champaubert


Nicolas Charlet, 1814

Dave Brown, 2012

Friday, 20 April 2012

UK Uncut's Great British Street Party

UK Uncut, the anti-cuts direct action group, has announced a new plan of action to start shortly before the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic period. The group, best known for targeting tax dodgers, will hold street parties in major towns and cities across the UK in the run up to the Jubilee and Olympics which will ‘resist the cuts and celebrate a future that is decided by us, not a handful of billionaires'.

The UK Uncut planned events will take place on the weekend before the Queen’s Jubilee. UK Uncut has dubbed these events as street parties with a ‘twist’. They plan to block major roads and high streets up and down the country to call for a ‘future uncut’ and protest the government’s cuts, austerity agenda and the closure of local public services.

In a statement on their website, UK Uncut drew heavily on parallels with British society in 1948, the year when the Olympics were last held in London. They stated that although Britain’s post-war national debt was much higher than it is today, there was a future for people to look forward to. This included free universal health care, a new welfare state - that would protect and support the most marginalised in society - and human rights. They argue that these are being axed by the present government and that people can choose to fight for a future which they decide.

UK Uncut will hold training sessions across the UK in the coming months to encourage people to organise mass street parties in their regions and block roads in major cities across the UK.

Rachel Woodhead, supporter of UK Uncut said: “We know we are paying the price for the banks’ greed and recklessness. We know that the government lets big business dodge tax and slashes tax rates for the wealthy while choosing to punish us. We know that multi-national companies rake in billions in profits but contribute next to nothing, despite sitting on massive surpluses of cash. We know it’s not right. And so we have a choice. We can let the government and corporations control our future. Or we can fight, taking our future out of the hands of a tiny group of millionaires to instead create a future which benefits everyone.”

UK Uncut has no plans to directly disrupt the Jubilee ceremonies or Olympic games. The group says it will resist the cuts and celebrate the future people want to see during the summer through The Great British Street party - because the future is not what it used to be.

Co-op's legal website 'expired'

I thought I'd have a look at the website for the Co-op's new legal services and see what they had to offer. Anyway, having googled (that is a verb, right?) the appropriate title I was confronted with  a page informing me that 'The above domain name [] has expired.'

Not a great start although I'm sure by the time you've read this the problem will have been sorted.

UPDATE 20/4/12 - As predicted the website is now up and running.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

New fuel crisis in the pipeline as tanker drivers reject deal

About 60 officials from the Unite union overwhelmingly turned down an agreement drawn up after six days of talks that ended amid optimistic signs last Friday. But the union also urged motorists not to panic-buy and said it had not yet decided whether to name any strike dates.

Tax-free charity giving threshold set to be lifted to appease furious philanthropists

The cap on tax-free charity giving is set to be lifted to appease philanthropists who are threatening to cut off funding to good causes, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Nick Clegg made clear the Government was preparing to climb down when he met rich philanthropists at a private reception in Whitehall on Tuesday evening. The Deputy Prime Minister told them that the Government had been “beaten around the head and neck” and wanted to encourage them to start giving again.

Nick Clegg senior aide resigns

'Richard Reeves, director of strategy for Nick Clegg and one his most influential advisers, has resigned. Reeves stressed he was not deserting his boss due to disillusionment with the party's prospects after the latest national poll showed the Liberal Democrats trailing Ukip. He regards judgments about the outcome of the next general election as ridiculously premature. Reeves's departure will be a huge loss to Clegg, who had come to rely on him for strategic advice ... '.

Oh, dear.

Monday, 16 April 2012

NHS redundancy costs force government to 'sacrifice a core principle of its health service reform'

The following article was written by Sally Gainsbury and published on the Financial Times website on 15th April 2012

The government has been forced to sacrifice a core principle of its health service reform to avoid a potential multimillion-pound increase in the redundancy bill for NHS administrative staff. The health white paper originally stated that groups of GPs – who will be handed responsibility for up to £65bn of NHS spending from next April – would have the flexibility to run their organisations as they saw fit. But the government is now preparing to tie the groups to a pre-existing agreement with trade unions, committing them to collective bargaining and fixed terms and conditions for their staff.

The move – described by one GP leader as leaving “a yoke around our heads” – is the latest compromise the government has had to make to its health reforms to make them politically acceptable and affordable at a time when the NHS faces the most sustained period of spending restrictions in its 63-year history. The compromise has been forced because of a technicality in the employment contracts of some 35,000 administrative and managerial staff who work for the 151 NHS primary care trusts that are scheduled to be abolished next April and replaced by the GP groups as the main purchasers of NHS care for patients.

At least a third of those staff are forecast to lose their jobs. But around 10,000 are expected to be offered new posts with GP groups, which would keep the redundancy bill at about £800m. GP groups are not currently party to the national NHS pay and conditions deal with unions, and the government has been advised they therefore do not formally constitute “NHS organisations” for the purpose of staff employment contracts. If that is not changed, existing NHS staff would be able to turn down posts in the new organisations without invalidating their ability to claim redundancy – which averages £63,000 a head.

If half of those expected to be offered jobs in the new GP organisations refused the posts and instead claimed redundancy, the lay-off bill would soar by £300m, tipping it over £1bn. The advice sent a ripple of panic around NHS organisations late last month. The director of one large organisation told the Financial Times: “We’ve got to find more to spend on redundancy costs because the [health] department has messed this up”.

But the department has now told the Financial Times it would try to avoid the extra costs by adding the new GP groups to the list of organisations subject to the agreement with NHS trade unions, known as Agenda for Change. The 275-page agreement dates from 2004 and sets national pay and conditions for NHS staff. It includes a contractual right to automatic annual pay increments, in addition to cost of living increases, and national job evaluation criteria for setting pay rates for posts.

The health department denied that using NHS employment contracts contradicted the government’s original vision, saying the Health and Social Care Act “isn’t about employment terms”. “It’s about more control for patients, more power to doctors and nurses and less bureaucracy in the NHS,” it said. However, Michael Dixon, chair of the NHS Alliance, which represents GP commissioning groups in the NHS, said that would leave the new organisations “between a rock and a hard place”. “We want to avoid the restraints of the terms and conditions, but in order to stop people claiming redundancy we have this yoke around our heads of Agenda for Change which is contrary to [GP groups] being fleet of foot and able to decide their own destiny.”

Charles Alessi, chair of the National Association of Primary Care, which similarly represents GPs, added: “It’s certainly not part of what [GP commissioning groups] were originally meant to be”. “If all they are is part of the original establishment, then one questions as to why one bothered to do this in the first place.”

Sally Gainsbury, Financial Times

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Memo to Health Minister: Keep your mean, dreary views out of my life

88 by David Hockney

“I don't suppose Andrew Lansley has noticed, but the last by-election was won by a smoker – one George Galloway – who was perfectly happy lighting up in front of the cameras. That is something a Tory or Labour politician or Nick Clegg would never have the courage to do. Or, perhaps, be allowed to do.

The anti-tobacco professionals have gone far too far in a country that prides itself on freedoms. Denying cigarette companies the right  to decorate their cigarette packets is a draconian measure of which Stalin’s censorship police would have been proud. It suggests that the Government thinks it can control our thoughts and our desires.

Well, it can’t. I admit there are many people who don’t like smoking, and things should be made convenient for them, but there are ten million people (myself included) in the UK who do. According to Lansley, they are all fools, slowly killing themselves (who isn’t?) and, according to him, others around them.

I don’t believe the second-hand smoke stuff. How can you know? It is all highly exaggerated. I speak as someone who has smoked for 58 years and I’m still here (and I’m fine, thank you). I’ve no doubt Mr Lansley’s friends in the pharmaceutical industry are pushing this to increase the supply of their ghastly antidepressants on us but I prefer the calming effects of tobacco.

As you might have noticed, the consumption of antidepressants is on a steep rise as smoking declines, and we have no idea of the long-term effects of that. Why is it that not all smokers die younger, as it says on the packets in that ugly typography? Could some people have weaker lungs? I don’t know. Neither does he.

I see his chum David Cameron was selling arms in the Middle East lately. It was the armament manufacturers who were called the ‘merchants of death’ in the last century. Now, according to Mr Lansley, it’s the tobacco trade, which has given enormous pleasure to millions. I say to the Health Secretary: we all die. It’s what you do in between birth and death that’s the concern of most people.

It is a very natural thing to seek out pleasure, and this will never end with human beings, hence the popularity of mood-changing substances. The Americans say no taxation without representation. Well, as a buyer of cigarettes, I pay £7 for a packet and about £5.50 of that goes in tax. You take the money, Mr Lansley, but do not think you can take our freedom to think. And be warned: it is a dangerous thing to try to diminish the right of expression.

You should remember also that you are not running a school, I am not a schoolboy and I prefer to prescribe for myself some medications. I smoke for my mental health as I’m much too hyper normally. I thought I lived in a ‘free’ country but see now I have little say in how it is run, or even what debates there are.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin, a pipe-smoker, used to say Britain is not a wounded country because we have not been conquered for many centuries. What is happening now is that, thanks to people like Mr Lansley, we are wounding ourselves. There are now a lot of very angry people in this country, and I am one of them. Very, very fed up with arrogant politicians who treat us like children. We seem to be governed by very naive people who are not keeping abreast of technological developments.

Restricting advertising is not going to be as easy in the future. I can read reviews of pipe tobaccos on the internet, as can any savvy young person, and there will be enormous difficulties stopping that.

I am sick of the constant negativity in Britain, the utter meanness of spirit (possibly not good for the health) that seems to have taken over everywhere. Let us have a proper debate about this issue. No other European country has a smuggled tobacco problem, caused here by high taxes. So we get spreading lawlessness (which is possibly not good for the health) from some ridiculous Utopian goal that depresses present laughter.

I was told by an anti-smoking fanatic (and I know about them as my father was one, although my smoking elder brother has now lived longer than he did, as I will this year) that tobacco ‘killed’ one hundred million people in the 20th Century. I pointed out one hundred million people were killed in the 20th Century for political reasons and their deaths were very unpleasant indeed. You cannot use a word such as ‘killed’ with smokers.

Who is going to stand up for the England of freedom? Baldwin, Attlee, Churchill, Macmillan and Wilson were five Prime Ministers who smoked. They wouldn’t believe what has happened to this country.

The low-grade, low-intellect people now ruling us seem to have no vision at all.

Mr Lansley, Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Mr Clegg: Keep out of my life. I don’t want your dreary view of life infecting me. It’s not good for my health, or others around me.”

Written by David Hockney for the Daily Mail

Original artwork by David Hockney for the Daily Mail

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Cameron's NHS Betrayal

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Coalition want people with mental health issues to get working. And what work would that be then?

The following article was written by Sonia Poulton and published on the Daily Mail website on 3rd April 2012

“Every now and then I find myself shouting, uncontrollably, at the radio or television as someone is allowed to express views which perplex and dishearten me. This occasional burst of profanity is often accompanied by rapid jabs of my index finger as if the offending person is in front of me and subject to the full force of my anger.

So it was that I experienced something not dissimilar to this while listening to a radio interview with the Employment Minister, Chris Grayling. Mr Grayling had joined the mid-morning show on BBC Radio Five Live - via telephone - to tell the millions of listeners about the importance of work when it comes to the well-being of our mental health. He talked about how we must justify the use of questionable testing methods for those with mental health issues because, after all, we are helping these poor unfortunates in the long run.

Just when I thought I couldn’t listen to any more of the conversation - if for no other reason than the good of my own personal health - Mr Grayling issued the Coalition’s favourite trick: the single person anecdote. Just like David Cameron who dug up that one doctor who supported NHS Reforms - and then turned out not to after all - Mr Grayling proceeded to relay to the radio audience the story of the woman he had met who had been unemployed for over a decade as a result of long-term depression.

He talked about how she lacked confidence in returning to work. Fair enough. I can see the sense in that. Long-term unemployment can certainly take its toll on people. So, no disagreement there. Anyway, eventually she was given a job - donating her free time to a charity shop, presumably like one of those lovely Workfare arrangements - and she couldn't thank Chris Grayling enough for helping her overcome her lack of self-esteem and the mental health problems that accompanied it. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Where to now with the NHS?

The Health and Social Care Act is now law.

This Act of Parliament outlines the basic policy that will underpin the NHS, but it does not give the detail. The detail of the policy will be determined through secondary legislation and how these regulations will be carried out will be determined locally.

This is where you can get involved: join the organisations that are being set up and volunteer your time to make the NHS work for our benefit and not for the benefit of big business.

Richard Blogger has written an article for False Economy, listing these organisations and how you can become involved.

Over 25s 'could sue companies given taxpayer cash for employing the young'

The Deputy Prime Minister yesterday launched a flagship “youth contract” programme to help 18 to 24 year-olds into work, as he said unemployment is having a “scarring effect” on young people. Under the scheme, the taxpayer will give companies such as Morrisons and Barclays more than £2,200 for every new young person they employ. However, lawyers immediately warned that people over the age of 25 may have a legal case against employers who use the scheme, because they are more likely to lose out on jobs to younger applicants.

29 “Wait a minute. Did you say ‘sue’?”

The Government’s official guidance advises employers to seek their own legal advice about taking part in the scheme. It also admits that older workers could sue the Government itself. “It is possible that a legal challenge could be brought against DWP,” it says. “If this happened, we would strongly argue that the Youth Contract, including the wage incentive scheme, was justified. “It is also possible that employers could face a legal challenge. If this happened, an employment tribunal would wish to consider the employer’s reasons for participating in the scheme. Each case will turn on its merits.”

Camilla Palmer, an age discrimination lawyer at Leigh Day, said older workers may well have a good case against the Government or employers. “A 25-year-old is not going to be able to take advantage of this scheme, even though they may be in exactly the same position as someone who is 24,” said Ms Palmer. “I would be the first to agree that youth unemployment is a big issue. But in my view it should not just be open to young people. It’s up to the courts ultimately to say whether it’s justified.”

Joseph Shelston, an employment law expert from Brabners Chaffe Street, said age discrimination cases were possible, but tribunal judges might also simply accept that the scheme was justified as a matter of public policy. “Theoretically, I can see potential claims, if there is a certain number of jobs at an organisation earmarked for younger workers and it limits the number of jobs in the open market,” he said.

Andreas White, employment partner at Kingsley Napley, said the scheme was "prima facie age discrimination" but it would be possible for governments and employers to argue that it is "objectively justified in the circumstances". "My own view is that this scheme should be capable of objective justification because it's addressing the very serious issue of growing youth unemployment," he said. "The scheme could face legal challenges directed at the Government, or employers directly, but ultimately I would be surprised if they succeeded."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, called for a similar scheme to help older people find jobs, since they are the worst affected by long-term unemployment. “The Government is absolutely right to take measures to help reduce youth unemployment," she said. "However the statistics show that long term unemployment is higher in the over 50s than any other age group, and the Government needs to take similar measures to get older people back to work.”

The Telegraph

Monday, 2 April 2012

Gove and the law

Financial Times Comment

When the coalition came to power, David Cameron, prime minister, said he wanted it to be the “most open and transparent government in the world”. Such pledges of see-through politics are hard to square with the conduct of his education secretary, Michael Gove.

Having been caught by a Financial Times investigation repeatedly failing to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Gove has just mounted a legal challenge against a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office calling for the release of government data from a private email account.

For an administration publicly committed to openness such a step is puzzling. The aim of such a challenge can only be to weaken the act by creating new exemptions that could be used to block disclosure. The precise basis of Mr Gove’s appeal cannot be divined as he has not disclosed it.

The current legal position, however, is very clear. Mr Gove conducted official business using a private email address registered in his wife’s name. He declined to disclose data from it to FoI requesters because it was a “political discussion”. He also cited Cabinet Office advice that private email accounts were outside FoI law.

This advice has since been confirmed by the ICO to be erroneous. Government business, which is subject to the law, remains government business whether conducted over official or private emails. The ICO also rejected his claim that the discussion was political, saying that the email in question clearly related to “the business of the public authority”.

That appears to leave Mr Gove with no choice but to ensure he has complied with all past requests, releasing any pertinent data from his private accounts and those of his staff. True, this might involve disclosing private emails to officials, so they can release the public data. But that is the price that Mr Gove’s team pay for storing official data among the private.

What Mr Gove seems to be after is a blanket exemption for any official email touching on political business. But this is neither necessary nor a good idea. The act already contains sufficient exemptions, for instance shielding the policy process and cabinet discussions from public disclosure. In any case, if the law needed to be changed, the correct place for that to happen would be in parliament.

Compliance with the law is non-negotiable, and Mr Gove should stop resisting. The longer he prevaricates, the more he raises questions about his motives.

Financial Times

Hague, Lansley and Jones on Marr

Speaking on Andrew Marr's Sunday morning show on the BBC, William Hague declared that: "The country is in a better state of preparedness now then it was a week ago for the eventuality of a tanker strike. I think they've handled that correctly." He did, however, say that Francis Maude's comments - which prompted safety warnings by the Fire Brigades Union - were a "technical error".

A technical error?!

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told Sky News it was a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't" over warnings about a fuel strike, adding that the government was "building resilience in the system".


And then there was the Green Party candidate for London mayor, Jenny Jones, who said the situation was "a shocking indictment" of the government's environmental policy, and ministers should have been "moving us towards a less oil-dependant economy" for the last two years.

Whatever, love.