The Thick of It


Monday, March 26, 2012

Cameron presides over a reactionary government

David Cameron has belatedly allowed the publication of a list of dinner guests to 10 Downing Street, after the former Tory treasurer Peter Cruddas was caught claiming party donors would get a dinner invite and access to the PM and Chancellor George Osborne

Cameron caved in after constant pressure from Labour and the media but resisted strongly. He wheeled out Tory "dirty work man" Francis Maude for the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme and Five Live breakfast. He just wanted to bang on about Labour being funding by the trade unions that founded them, as if that was some sort of crime. It didn't wash and Maude "trended" on Twitter all morning. Poor Franny.  Why should he take the blame?

Unfortunately today's poor political management from Cameron and his team is part of a long running pattern. In opposition Cameron was quick to jump on any bandwagon he could. This included repeatedly talking down his country, remember "Broken Britain"? Apparently that was all because of family breakdown, yet 2011's youth rioting was instead due to a moral breakdown.

Whenever there has been a political storm under Cameron's premiership he has resisted weakly, then given in. The list is growing, with today's meek climbdown following these other highlights:

  • Being reluctantly forced into allowing a public inquiry into phone hacking at News International
  • Telling us all Liam Fox was doing "a good job", which he tried in vain to keep him in as pressure grew around his friendship with Adam Werrity
  • Telling us all that his spin doctor Andy Coulson was doing " a good job" which he tried in vain to keep him in as pressure grew around his involvement in phone hacking
  • Reluctantly bowing to public pressure to intervene and limit bonuses at state owned bank RBS

Cameron clearly doesn't feel that his government is strong enough to resist in such cases. If that is so why not just limit the political damage by admitting so immediately the next time something like this trips him up? That way he'd be able to recover and move on more quickly.

He won't do that because he either doesn't have the political judgement or the right advisers with that required judgement who are continually leading him down a path towards a lack of control that if faced with a more serious crisis of Black Wednesday proportions could fatally damage the government.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An ideological Tory budget

Compassionate Conservatism has come to an end with yesterday's budget. David Cameron and George Osborne can no longer claim that they are on the side of the lest well off. We've all been given a tax cut, but this helps the richest more than anything else.

Replacing a tax on earned income with a mansion tax means many of the top 1% will be much better off, while the few who buy £2m+ homes will be worse off, but there aren't many of those. There are plenty more pensioners or low paid working families reliant on the savagely cut tax credits.

The Tories have been brash and bold. This was an ideological budget, cutting tax for the rich while squeezing the workless poor. It also did nothing to stimulate growth, so crucial in creating jobs and easing the pain for those at the bottom.

This was both brash and risky from the Tories, who are now upsetting an ever widening set of key groups:

  • Doctors - unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS
  • Nurses -  unnecessary reorganisation of the NHS
  • Teachers - cuts
  • Police - cuts
  • Army - cuts
  • Pensioners - cutting their tax allowances
  • Families - cutting access to child benefit and tax credits
  • Students and middle classes - trebling tuition fees
How big will the list become? Will Labour be able to take advantage? It can if it continues to focus on the tightening belt on the squeezed middle and not on class war. This represents a golden opportunity for Labour to capitalise on the government's growing unpopularity. The narrative for the next election has been set by the cut to the 50% tax rate. What hasn't been decided is whether it will make any difference. Except to the top 1% of earners who are quids in. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Boris Johnson ignores the suburbs & Ken gets a kicking

Further news of Boris Johnson ignoring his fans in the London suburbs fails to have dented his popularity. At a time when the Tory Party is consolidating a lead over Labour in the opinion polls despite doing lots of unpopular things, mayoral candidate Johnson is following suit. The latest mayoral opinion poll puts him ahead of Labour rival Ken Livingstone on both first and. crucially, second preferences.

An example of Johnson's "relaxed" attitude to his suburban vote was demonstrated by his ignoring of a 3,000 name petition against plans for a high rise development on top of Twickenham station. He approved the development, despite Richmond Council, run by the Tories stating that they believe in "low density" developments. Johnson himself has opposed/said what he thought people wanted to hear Richmond Council's planned development of the nearby riverside side as being "inappropriate" for the area. He can't have it both ways.

Or can he? Just like the Tories nationally, saying and doing unpopular things seems to only increase their poll position. YouGov's poll today put Johnson ahead, 54% to Livingstone's 46% in the race for mayor. Today's Guardian ICM poll also put the Tories ahead by three points over Labour, with 39%. Perhaps this suggests that while unpopular, the Tories are trusted more than Livingstone and Labour more generally at the moment.

Polls and election results often come down to gut feel and who looks more like a leader than what a candidate is actually proposing to do. Both Johnson and Livingstone have as many fans as enemies which means there will be more changes in support right up to election day, with both bucking national (Tories more popular than Labour) and local (Labour more popular than Tories in London) trends.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Better off with Ken bus to tour London

Ken Livingstone today announced that he will tour every London borough in his "fare deal" bus to promote his "better of with Ken" election message.
Fare Deal Express
 I have only got one question about this: how much does this bus cost and how does that compare to Boris Johnson's new Routemasters, the most expensive buses in the world?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

UK government debt in context

A couple of charts on an A-level tutorial site, Economics Help shows in context the level of UK government debt over time:

This shows that despite the recent increase in government debt after the bailout of the banks, we're at historically low levels.

Monday, March 05, 2012

NHS reform infographic

Support for NHS the reforms proposed by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition is scant as the fantastic infographic below shows: