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The Times
#1
[Image: times-black-73c7473721.png]

A widely read and widely respected national paper. Ideologically, The Times swings from centrist to centre-right.
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#2
1997 election endorsement: No party endorsement, encouraged voters to support euro-sceptics from any party.

2002 election endorsement: Labour but the Sunday Times endorses Conservatives. Both papers encouraged supporting anti euro candidates across party lines.
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#3
State of the race: Liberal Democrats seek new leader
Both candidates receive high-level endorsements

The Liberal Democrats are seeking a new leader after Charles Kennedy resigned to accept the position of EU Commissioner.

Two candidates have put their names forward. Simon Hughes, an MP since 1983, is the more well-known of the two candidates and has received the backing from other high profile LibDems including Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Menzies Campbell. “Simon is the right choice. He will continue to grow our party, both inside and outside of Westminster. I am confident he will make a stellar leader.”

Considered a long-shot for the leadership, European Affairs Spokesperson and MP for Montgomeryshire Rebecca Flair has also entered the race. Flair, an MP since 1997 has made it clear that she intends to advance social justice issues as part of her leadership, with a push towards marriage rights for gays. Flair has received one high-profile endorsement from MEP Nick Clegg, who said “Rebecca is the right choice for the Liberal Democrats in a time of change. She will ensure we offer a compassionate and credible alternative to voters looking for a change from the status quo.”

What it all means

For Mr. Hughes, this is not his first kick at the leadership can. He was the runner-up in the 1999 LibDem leadership race, losing to Mr. Kennedy. Considered to be on the left of the party, Mr. Hughes seems to be the natural choice for LibDems who are looking for a clear way to distinguish themselves from the Labour government.

For Ms. Flair, her campaign asks the Liberal Democrats to take a leap into the unknown. Having only served in the House of Commons since 1997, Flair brings limited experience—but perhaps a new vision and way forward—for the party. Her support inside the Parliamentary party stems from those who would see the Liberal Democrats propose a radically different social agenda. That became very clear in a recent conversation with Ms. Flair about her campaign. She told The Times “What the Liberal Democrats offer to the country, and what I offer to the Liberal Democrats, is moderate leadership in the interest of all people in the United Kingdom. We have a united stance on Europe, we are anti-discrimination in all of its forms and we are 100% committed to a truly meritocratic society rather than that facade that the Tories have built.”

Flair also spoke of her roots and why she’s best equipped to serve as leader, saying “I am not from the liberal elite. I may be middle class but I grew up in the Welsh border region, I played in the fields of Wales with my brothers and sister when many of my contemporaries were standing for election. I have half a decade's experience in the financial sector and I have a clear set of policies and objectives that I shall be communicating to my party as the campaign progresses.”

Who should ultimately win?

Ms. Flair, so far, seems to be running a misguided campaign in that she touts her financial background and purported anti-elite background. Her comments, thus far, are silent on economic policy—she’s very much pro-Europe, but we don’t know if Ms. Flair would take Britain into the Euro (though we highly suspect this to be her view). As people experience longer wait times for health services in the NHS, Ms. Flair is silent on how she would position the Liberal Democrats to address the issue. Issues that are top of mind for voters have, so far, been ignored by the Flair campaign (at least publicly). But for Liberal Democrats looking for a new direction and to break free of the two party monopoly, Ms. Flair might be the best choice. For those looking for stability and less risk, there is no question that the experienced hand of Mr. Hughes is the way to go. Ultimately, the choice belongs to card-carrying Liberal Democrats. The rest of us will just have to wait and see.
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#4
EXCLUSIVE: TANNER-FINCH LABOUR LEADERSHIP MANIFESTO 

As the race for Number 10 heats up inside the Labour Party, sources have released to us the manifesto shared with the Labour Parliamentary Party by candidate Elizabeth Tanner. By and large, the manifesto is a document of continuity. That's made clear in its opening sentences where Tanner says "As we look to electing John’s successor the manifesto on which we were elected in 1997 should remain our focus and our vision - anything else we do must build on that and on John's vision for our country."

The Times' source commented on the economic section of the Tanner manifesto, saying "...their economic plan...consists of three pledges that is basically no plan."

There is no question that the leaks in recent days from the Labour Party indicate just how tight the race for the leadership, and thus the Prime Ministership, really is. As pundits elsewhere have stated, it remains to be seen how the government can unite after what is looking to be a divisive leadership race. View the manifesto in its entirety, thanks to our sources.

When reached for comment, Ms. Tanner took aim at those looking to take her down anonymously, saying "I hold no stock in unattributed sources, if someone has something to say about the introduction to my leadership platform then I recommend they put their name to it. I am running to be the next Prime Minister of this country and I have made it clear that my leadership will be fulfilling the promises this Government made when we won power at the last election. If they believe that is not a viable plan for Government I recommend they take a long hard look at the party they are a member of."
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#5
A 6 Year War on The Buses.

‘Bus wars’ have a long history in Great Britain stemming from the deregulation introduced by Margaret Thatcher In 1986. Until the 1990s, competition on the roads of Britain steadily but sustainably increased. 1994 saw the first problems with a privatised bus network in Darlington. Using unscrupulous practices, Stagecoach flooded the town with free buses and poached 60 drivers from Darlington Transport Company (DTC), a rival smaller company. Within four days DTC, who had operated in Darlington for 92 years, went bust.

In March 1995, the Competition Commission’s inquiry into the Darlington bus war branded Stagecoach’s actions “predatory, deplorable and against the public interest”. After 25 inquiries into Stagecoach’s practices across the country, the Conservative Government in 1996 forced the company to not raise prices or reduce bus services for three years on any route where its price cuts have forced a rival to abandon a service.

It is clear that Government action in the past against Stagecoach has not deterred either that company or another rival, Arriva UK Bus, from engaging in questionable tactics to beat the competition. One Arriva UK Bus driver said: “The pressure placed on us is immense. We have to meet a minimum number of passengers per route, or we get warnings from our bosses. It is no surprise that bus drivers have become more reckless in trying to get passengers but all we want is to keep our jobs and incomes. When we complained about the pressure this target was putting us under, our manager said they were looking at poaching the inspectors that Stagecoach had to help us. It is getting ridiculous

Offering free or deeply discounted journeys, increasing the number of services on single routes, utilising older and dirtier buses are just some of the tactics that bus companies are using in an increasingly cut throat competition over passengers and routes. . Supporters of the new system have argued that greater choice has led to better service. Smaller operators are struggling to compete.

Over-bussing in urban areas often caused traffic chaos, at one point up to 350 buses an hour were running through Sheffield's city centre. In Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, a small town of 40,000 people, a bus left its tiny bus station every 30 seconds in the weekday daytime peak period, but on an evening or a Sunday were a rare sight indeed. Local authorities have few powers to coordinate services.

Campaigners are clear about the action that they believe needs to be taken by the Government. They suggest that deregulation has led to a free-for-all with passengers in the firing line. The distance travelled by bus fell by 25 per cent between 1970 and 2000, yet the number of miles travelled by bus has increased. They contrast this with the still regulated London, which has seen passenger numbers and miles increase over the past few years.

Henry Stringer, a spokesperson for National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, has said that “voluntary agreements between local councils and operators, in place of proper regulation, have not delivered what was expected.” There is no evidence, the RMT suggest, that proper regulation would deliver fewer services, cheaply and sustainability, in a way that protects passengers, bus drivers, and cities as a whole.”

Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the Local Government Association and former leader of Newcastle City Council, suggested that local authorities needed powers “that would allow us to plan the whole network, including those bus services that may run at a loss but act as a lifeline for local communities.”

Regulations were already tough enough, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, the trade association for buses and coaches, suggested: "We already ensure that any company which is in breach of the regulations can be fined, have its services withdrawn or ultimately lose its operating licence. That is a sensible means of ensuring competition is working for all. Our members are working with local councils to deliver good services for all passengers. "
Liberal Democrat Adviser

Admin for Foreign & Defence, Health & Social Security, and Local Government, Regions and Devolution. 

“If socialism is a matter of total abstinence and a good filing cabinet, some of us will fall by the wayside.” - Anthony Crosland.
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#6
FUELLING THE FLAMES OF DISCONTENT

Britain has been rocked by protests over the price of petrol. Refineries are being blocked and Prime Minister Tanner has been clear in the government's response, saying that the government will not bend to the will of "those who seek to hold the country hostage to force policy change against democratic principles we all hold dear." 

It is strange to hear such words from the Prime Minister. After all, peaceful protest is the right of anyone in British society. But, when the protests embarrass the government, it is easy to be heavy-handed in response to them. What concerns us is the fact that the government seems content to punt this issue down the field until Chancellor Sean Manning can manage to cobble together his budget—the first he will introduce as the new man in charge of the finances.

Criticism of the government's response has been swift, and has come from all sides. Labour MP Harriet Roth said "...the Chancellor mishandled this matter from the outset." While she went on to say that the protests should end and that, by and large, the government's approach is right, the criticism from the backbench is not helpful to the government's argument. The Liberal Democrat leader, Rebecca Flair, seems to be toeing the Labour line on this issue, saying "The fact of the matter is that the Government cannot afford give in to short term populism and cut fuel duty, the future of our country and our planet are at stake, we need more pollution cutting measures not fewer."

The government has ordered the fuel supply to move again, issuing an order in council under section two of the 1976 Energy Act. This means that tankers will begin moving again, though perhaps this is much too heavy-handed of an approach.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have taken two positions: first, Sir Harold Saxon launched a Tory-led fuel protest, encouraging drivers to avoid putting petrol in their tanks every Tuesday. This might be an effective statement, but we are doubtful it will work in practice. The much more effective approach the Tories have taken—one this paper agrees with—is the call for the government to table an emergency budget to deal with the issue. The argument for this is strong: a new Prime Minister and a new cabinet are confronted with a serious issue. They cannot wait any longer.

Instead of hoping the issue goes away by condemning protesters and saying "stay tuned" for the next budget, the Chancellor ought to choose his tipple, dig out the red box and make his way to the House of Commons for a budget. Might we suggest a very strong gin, Chancellor Manning? You're going to need it to deal with this issue.
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#7
ASSESSING BRITAIN'S NEW LEADERS

The first year of the new century is nearly over. As 2001 looms, so too does the possibility of the next general election. While not constitutionally required until 2002, given that all three major parties have changed leaders, don't be surprised to see Prime Minister Tanner outside Number 10 announcing the election date sometime next spring. 

With the new leaders firmly ensconced in their jobs, it's time to look at how the first few months of their leadership has shaped the political discourse and the direction of the country. 

Prime Minister Elizabeth Tanner

Things did not look good for Tanner when she assumed the leadership of the Labour Party. The race to win the job was marred by infighting. Manifestos were leaked. Accusations were hurled, and Labour looked like it was about to do what it historically does best: enter a civil war. Tanner, however, seems to have muted most of her critics and is moving on social reform. The government's first notable bill under her premiership aims to increase parental leave allowances, and is largely well received. She demonstrated resolve in standing up against fuel blockades, though some in her own party feel she may have gone too far. With the issue ended, though, the Prime Minister got her way. Tanner might just be stealing the mantle of Iron Lady. If she can hold her party together, she'll surely see continued success. 

Sir Harold Saxon

Coming off a decisive leadership victory, Saxon seemed to be leading a united Tory party. That was until he was hit with accusations of not being socially conservative enough; that criticism has been silenced in recent weeks, and by and large, Conservative MPs seem to be behind him. Saxon hit a good note in calling for a fuel protest, with an enthusiastic speech and public awareness campaign. Beaten to the end game by the Prime Minister, though, Saxon didn't really have a chance to see his campaign make change. But his tactics were noted, and he followed up with a strong call for an emergency budget. If Saxon can find his feet messaging wise and hammer the government on its perceived screw-ups and missteps, he may find himself closer to Number 10 than many imagined possible. Of course, one issue could rip his party in half: Europe. Saxon would be well-placed to stick to issues that unite the Tories: economic management and fiscal responsibility. Avoiding the culture war and Europe are keys to Saxon's success.

Rebecca Flair

Flair is very good at hitting the well-known Liberal Democrat talking points. She even has gone so far as to working in the word 'liberal' as much as possible. Shrewdly, Flair is constantly bringing up the issue of Europe. This works for her party, as they are widely seen as friends of Europe. But it also plays to her party's best interests: it forces the issue to the top of mind and it means that the two major parties are forced to walk the tightrope that is the issue of the European Union and the Euro. Much like Sir Harold needs to turn voter attention to the economy, Flair is well positioned if she can keep attention on Europe. She also plays to the base by focusing on electoral reform, and is the only leader actively talking about Britain's gay community. Whether that plays to a larger base remains to be seen (and is doubtful) and if the debate does turn to the economy, Flair seriously risks being outplayed by the other two leaders.

In short

It's too early to say who of these three has been a success or who has not been. They all have faced challenges in the early days of their leadership, and there will surely be more to follow. Britain is just getting to know these three new faces. Do they like what they see? We can't say just yet.
Josh
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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#8
Britain needs a responsible opposition
By Rt. Hon Sean Manning MP.
 
Britain’s democracy thrives on a strong and robust opposition to the government of the day. It pushes us to do better, to deliver policies that improve the country and the livelihoods of everyone. It holds us to account for our mistakes. It gives the British people an alternative to vote for.
 
But that relies on the opposition being responsible – offering a clear alternative that could take on the reins of government and make the necessary judgement calls if needed. If it is not, then it cannot hold the government to account or scrutinise its mistakes to its full effect. On that score, Harold Saxon and his Conservative Party are letting the British people down.
 
Take the last year in British politics as a clear example. When it came to the fuel protests, Harold Saxon broke with all responsible tradition and endorsed unlawful activity that was responsible for putting our public services at risk. In doing so he almost certainly prolonged the dispute. His “solution” to the unlawful action was an “emergency budget” – something that has never been delivered in Britain outside of wartime. This hysterical reaction came despite the government’s assurances that it had listened and would take action in the forthcoming budget – which I ultimately did, by cutting the fuel duty by 5p funded by a levy on bumper oil profits.
 
That reaction was unprecedented. No opposition has ever so brazenly sided with action – unlawful action no less - that put the public at risk. Labour in opposition did not side with the miners’ strike in the mid-80s, or the poll tax riots in the early-90s, nor did the Tories side with the unions against the government’s incomes policy in the Winter of Discontent. In every case the Opposition condemned action that put the public at risk, supported the government taking proportionate action, and made its case calmly and clearly in the aftermath. In each case, like Harold Saxon, the oppositions broadly agreed with the ideological aims of the actors. But unlike Harold Saxon, Neil Kinnock and Margaret Thatcher understood the importance of having a responsible opposition and of Parliamentary democracy.
 
We have seen this attitude slip into how the Leader of the Opposition now acts on the European Rapid Reaction Force. Whatever you think of the prospect of defence co-operation in Europe, it is unprecedented for the Leader of the Opposition to use private conversations with the President of the United States to make a political point. No one knows what Mr. Powell and Mr. Saxon discussed at a private dinner Mr. Saxon was invited to by the courtesy of the Prime Minister except the two of them. But the special relationship – and its transcendence of different governments and different policies in Britain – is bigger than Harold Saxon. The Leader of the Opposition should know better than to attempt to politicise Britain’s international alliances.
 
And in responding to the Budget, the Leader of the Opposition and his Shadow Cabinet – having felt they had lost the debate – proceeded to lie about oil and fuel taxes. When caught in what could have been an honest mistake, they doubled down. Rather than debating the issues, Harold Saxon’s opposition seems to make nothing sacred in its pursuit of power. And in order to do that, the Opposition has increasingly ignored Parliament and run to the press at every opportunity – knowing full well that a number of the things that they say in the press would be censured by the rules of the House of Commons. 
 
Harold Saxon’s reactionary, irresponsible opposition has bled throughout his party. One vocal MP on the issue has now been named in the House of Commons for misleading the house about the words of the Foreign Secretary. His immediate reaction – rather than to admit the error and move on to debating the issues – was the run to the press and call the Foreign Secretary a “wuss” and a “sissy”. We should not hold Harold Saxon entirely responsible for the actions of one MP, but the fact is that this sort of behaviour has become acceptable because Harold Saxon’s irresponsible approach to opposition has made it acceptable.
 
This approach to opposition has meant that many matters discussed in Parliament have simply gone unremarked upon. Measures to increase maternity leave got barely a contribution from the opposition. Legislation to set binding targets to reduce child poverty got not a single mention in parliament or the press by a single Conservative MP, and the Conservatives have since proposed a shadow budget that would remove Labour’s £1,000 child credit for the poorest families. 
 
I have no doubt that Harold Saxon will respond to this piece in his typical manner. But before he does, he should consider. Britain needs a strong and responsible opposition that can hold us in Government to account. It needs an alternative Prime Minister that can offer a responsible alternative government to the people when they come to vote in the coming year. Harold Saxon is failing Britain by failing to offer that alternative.
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#9
Tories u-turn to a better road?

Some could say the Tory Party has found a renewed sense of purpose and passion (perhaps too much passion) under their new leader, Sir Harold Saxon. Protest votes against the government which gave the Tories a small lead during the fuel crisis solidified after what was seen as government paralysis in the face of chaos and the Tories have effectively pushed popular visions on a variety of issues such as transport, education and perhaps most notably crime. 

But many political commentators agree that despite this, there are two big barriers that prevent the Conservative Party from truly being seen by the public as a government in waiting and ousting Callum Finch from Downing Street:

The first, deserving of perhaps an article on itself and being something the Conservative Party need to have a serious discussion on, is convincing the electorate Harold Saxon is himself a statesman. As the Chancellor opined in this very publication recently, Harold Saxon's actions surrounding his private dinner with the President of the United States makes it clear he must think before he speaks and not see every situation he finds himself in as a reason to protest the government. If Saxon wants to do that, he can leave Parliament and join marches and the like - Parliament and the opposition has a higher purpose than protesting against the government of the day.

The second is one that has more cause for optimism, and is something the Opposition seems to be more astutely solving. The Conservatives need to be seen as having a clear alternative plan for the economy that the British electorate can be comfortable with. 

Since Black Wednesday the Conservative Party has lost their mantle as the party of economic competence, and Saxon's Newsnight interview made it clear they had mountains to move before they were to ever reclaim it: people weren't going to buy massive cuts to fish out 'wasteful spending' during a record surplus, and during a time they felt public services were in desperate need of cash. In fact, to all too many in the electorate, Harold Saxon's words were somewhat horrifying.

Following that interview, it seems like small but extremely significant steps have been made. Scott Webster, the Shadow Chancellor who had been seen as neither caring nor competent due to his perpetual silence and inactivity, was shuffled out and replaced by the Tories' Shadow Health Secretary Ralph McKowen. 

Despite being from the Thatcherite wing of the Conservative Party, McKowen has also shown a strong pragmatist streak. His budget has represented a u-turn in Tory economic policy, one which is more friendly towards public spending and investment than Harold Saxon initially signalled (and, if his response to the Labour budget is anything to go by, still signals). Temporarily, this u-turn could deliver a small backlash against the Tories as u-turns do. But sometimes it's better to u-turn than to drive down a dangerous road of definite electoral oblivion. 

McKowen's Thatcherite stripes haven't left him completely, which means he has proposed a series of tax cuts: scrapping the starting rate of corporation tax, reducing the main rate even further, cut the lower rate of stamp duty and reduce the normal rate, a fuel duty reduction of 4p, a series of levy freezes and raising both the starting and basic rate of income tax. 

Since many of these taxes do affect the majority of British people, they can be popular ones the electorate can buy. McKowen, however, tactically combines this with a series of popular spending investments in the NHS, police and even in social security, at times matching or even outflanking the Labour budget. He is sending a clear message: 'we're not only the party of tax cuts, but we can invest in public services too.'

The downside? Well, other than what strikes as an apparent u-turn, there are a few things McKowen really needs to consider and concerns raised by the Shadow Budget's critics: firstly, the Tories may be able to claim the fiscally populist mantle now, but that doesn't always translate to them having a fiscally responsible mantle: their giveaway budget is so giveaway it squanders a record surplus in almost a single swipe. 

McKowen's justification for this might be that it will stimulate the economy and the proceeds of growth from that stimulation could keep things afloat. But that analysis is dubious. With growth already high, artificially giving the economy an adrenaline boost could have some pretty nasty side effects, such as unnecessarily high inflation. 'Boom and bust' rings to mind. 

The budget also does include some notable political faux paxs that the Labour Party have effectively seized on, such as the lack of extra cash towards Scotland and Wales - two regions the Conservative Party should be looking at wooing, if anything.

So McKowen does need to be upfront that the tax cuts and spending spree aren't permanent if he wants this budget to maintain credibility. Beyond that, though, the British public aren't going to look at it with heavy analysis - they probably appreciate the cornucopia of giveaways the budget has to offer beyond the analysis. The Shadow Chancellor might still have some way to go before he convinces people of his economic marksmanship, but his political manoeuvring seems to be effective.
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#10
Rail's Three Rs

There is almost no one who believes that Railtrack will continue in its current form. The company - despite an initial success that left John Smith content to leave the company in the private sector - has lurched from crisis to crisis. While the company itself is keen to point blame at the regulator or the government, it cannot ignore some fundamental truths. No well functioning company starts a £1.8 billion project and realises two years later that it will cost £14.5 billion.

Railtrack is done. Investors are jumping ship; banks are barely willing to continue lending; staff are leaving for better opportunities. There are three ways it can now go. Restructuring, renationalisation, or receivership. 

Restructuring the company would mean persevering with a privately owned infrastructure manager, but under very different terms. This is Railtrack's preferred option: it believes that with a substantial injection of government cash and less regulation from the rail regulator for the next few years, it could reform and get back on track. It would be a mistake to let them do that, but we should not dismiss any form of private solution. Alternatives include breaking Railtrack up into regional companies more aligned with train operators, replacing Railtrack with a new national company that is not permitted to outsource all of its work, and handing the rail track to the train operators - who have been a quiet success of rail privatisation. However, any of these options would require immense political will, huge amounts of government money given to a private company, and a leap of faith. All are likely to be in short supply, even if long-term a private sector solution is for the best.

Renationalisation is the obvious choice for many on the government benches - and there are questions abound about why the government hasn't just got on with it, especially with left wing firebranch Harriet Roth in the department. It is almost certainly a matter of cost. Renationalising Railtrack would cost £2.5 billion and add Railtrack's debts to the government's. And it would not solve all ills unless a new publicly owned company was willing to end outsourcing and push huge sums of money into the maintenance and renewal of the track neglected over the past few years. The advantage of renationalisation, however, is that it would allow much needed restructuring - ending excessive outsourcing, mass repairs and renewals, and dealing with expected overspends - without the thorny issue of billions of pounds of taxpayer money being handed over to private interests. There has rightly been anger that a company largely funded by the government and on life support has continued to pay out dividends. The tricky issue is that nationalisation would, effectively, bail out the company and the shareholders who took a risk on it with taxpayer cash: a fact that left-leaning parliamentarians are too free to dismiss.

The final and most radical option is receivership. The government could keep to the principle of rail privatisation and simply allow Railtrack to fail, using emergency powers in legislation to keep the asset of the rail track running even as the company that owns the track winds up. There are obvious issues: it would mean an extension of the already long and painful saga that continues to cause travel delays and drama. It would kick off a furious backlash by Railtrack's shareholders - among them pension funds - who would almost certainly lose hundreds of millions of pounds. There is every possibility that it doesn't improve the situation if the asset of the railway is simply sold to another Railtrack. And it could undermine confidence in privatisation and privatised utilities not only in Britain but across Europe. It is a nuclear option: not one it is easy to recommend. 

In any situation, we are clearly at a turning point. How the government proceeds will have huge ramifications. But most important is that they do proceed: Britain and its railways deserve better than this crumbling, half-speed, crisis-laden mess that was once the pride of the world.
Steve
Will be doing things soon
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#11
What Labour's Deputy Leadership Election Tells Us:

After Belinda MacDonald's resignation, which followed a media storm of pressure to resign following her personal life being broadcast for the nation to consume, a new void was left open in Labour that the Labour left and right attempt to fill. The campaign saw Public Services Secretary Omari Omondi and left wing backbencher Barbara Bond fight to become Labour's second in command. It ended in a shock win for Barbara Bond.

The leadership contest seemed uneventful, but if you read between the lines there are perhaps some things that can be discerned following almost five years of government and a year after John Smith's death. 

Labour are scared of division

And could you blame them? In the aftermath of John Smith's death, Labour went from a polling high to being bested by the Tories. Some of that blame lies on their failure to respond either popularly or at all to events like the measles outbreak, the fuel crisis or the death of Damilola Taylor, but the rest of Labour's poll dip may very well have been destroyed by people from within the party than from the Tories or other opposition politicians.

The leadership campaign saw both frontrunners - despite being from the same faction of the party - leak and attack each other on a personal and political level. Harriet Roth, then and now a backbencher, made a particular splash by sharply criticising the government from the backbenches and refusing to hold back when brought into the frontbench. This exposed a division between and within the Labour left and right that had been swept under the carpet under Smith. This has recently been captured by the Conservative Party, who have only very recently tried to pick (sometimes successfully, sometimes questionably) at perceived Labour division. 

Knowing how well infighting had gone for them in the eyes of the public, it was clear through the campaign that was keen to be avoided which led to an oddly quiet race where the two leadership candidates nominated each other and very few public endorsements were made. The frontrunners also had peculiarly little to say about each other. It may have made for good PR, but it raises long term issues: what does Labour have to hide, and could they be so scared of division that they stray into dangerous timidity?

... But it still may well exist

Despite the quietness of the campaign, it's clear that there are still cracks held by the Labour Party that are both inter and intrafactional. Having seen himself as the moderate candidate and probably expecting to be coronated into the Deputy Leadership, it's clear Omari Omondi was less than pleased to not only lose but to have fewer members of the PLP supporting him. When he resigned from Cabinet he said he felt the PLP - which tends to be the most moderate wing of the Labour Party - did not support Labour going in a modern direction. 

His rhetoric seems similar to Ben Maulty, who ran for leader last year and made news recently for a strange joke involving the previous Chancellor and an avocado - or, more sinisterly, for covering up Solomon Trevitt's misdemeanours. He flared up much ire, including from the moderates he grouped with, by suggesting Labour had to modernise further and be pushed to the right. It's clear as well as the left finding the party too right wing and soulless, there are a cluster of moderates who think the party has strayed too far to the left, particularly now Callum Finch is Prime Minister and has shown both an acceptance of left wing MPs and policies and a reluctance to pursue more modernising policies such as public service reform or reforming the party's rules and constitution.

The Labour left has increased its influence

Naturally. This is likely due to a mixture of factors: the left has learned to organise and present their case better and more practically, and the new Prime Minister is much more willing to be flexible compared to some of his predecessors. There were hints that this was in the making for a while: Harri Pollitt had done better expected and following Elizabeth Tanner's resignation Harriet Roth was one of the memberships' favourite to take the Labour crown. Now, albeit without the memberships' blessing, Barbara Bond holds important symbolic power and likely has the Prime Ministers' influence. 

It's worth emphasising this was no easy journey - unlike Harriet Roth before her, Bond built bridges with her more moderate colleagues instead of burning them (especially the socially liberal ones - it is suspected her commitment to feminism and other equal rights had won her the PLP vote and had female moderates throw their support behind her more than they had Omondi) and has shown a fierce pragmatic streak. But other left wing MPs have shown this similar talent. The Labour left is no longer on the fringes of the party, and it's plausible they've nudged the party very slightly in their direction. If they play their cards right, who knows what's in store. 

But the Labour right still rule the roost

But nobody should listen to sensationalist headlines that pretend that Labour are once again the party of Foot, mass nationalisation or isolationism. As aforementioned, Barbara Bond won due to her own personal talents, and she is the exception to the rule. While the Cabinet may have nudged slightly to the left, they're still the moderates that were in power half a decade ago and that seems unlikely to change.

What can we expect from Barbara Bond?

Now that she leads, what can we actually expect from Barbara Bond? As well as being the most influential left winger in the Labour Party for potentially a decade or more, we expect her to carry through with her campaign promises of increasing Trade Union influence, championing diversity and AWS' in the party and, popularly following recent events, making MPs within the party more accountable.

The question mark will be over the two big reforms Labour modernisers wish to pursue: getting rid of Labour's electoral college and scrapping clause four, with John Smith failing in the former and refusing to do the latter. Callum Finch, perhaps wisely, seems himself reluctant to pursue any of those avenues. We know Bond will likely fiercely protect the latter, but with the former she's in a difficult situation. The Bennite section of the left have long stuck to the principle of stronger grassroots, but if the grassroots aren't on board with her will she hold that principle close and pursue it, or would she wish to resist scrapping the electoral college in order to safeguard the voices of Trade Unions? That remains to be seen.
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Conservative economic plans earn business approval

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The Institute of Directors has praised the economic plan set out by the Shadow Chancellor, Elizabeth Atwood. The Institute highlighted the support for businesses and entrepreneurship in the “New Economy” plan set out by the Conservatives.

An spokesman for the Institute said “We are pleased to see a plan that not only makes use of traditional forms of support for a strong business environment, such as simplified regulation and a competitive taxation regime, but also delivering targeted public investment into infrastructure and into areas in need of regeneration. We also welcome the assistance for young people in getting into business, through support for innovative entrepreneurs and for apprenticeships, which give young people a vital first step to the world of work.”

While praising the Conservative plan, the Institute also raised concern about changes to taxation in Labour's Budget. “Raising tax rates can actually drive down total tax revenue,” warned the Institute's spokesman. “Its a move of the politics of envy. It's indicative of a Labour Party who, despite any moderate tone, will leap instinctively back to socialist tendencies.”

(This is a Conservative Party reward)
Andy
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I forget Andy has political opinions. I always just think of him as a Civil Servant in real life - Mac
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