Saturday, 12 February 2011

This week belongs to the People

Less than two weeks ago, I did my weekly roundup post with a very heavy heart. Slammed about the place like cripple-flotsam, we'd been fobbed off and stonewalled at every turn.

This week however, Suey liked very much.

To say the government wobbled would be an understatement. Firstly, Andrew Lansley tried to make a case for his NHS reforms in the Guardian and not one single comment supported him! It was a sight to behold. Tories, Lefties, Libs, Doctors, Nurses, Carers, GPs and Patients all told him what they thought. The comments were so universally damning that they became news in their own right. Along with a raft of scathing press from the Mail to the Telegraph, his reforms look very shaky indeed.

Suddenly, by the end of the week, it all came at once. A letter, written by 88 senior LibDem criticised the speed and scale of local authority cuts, FINALLY putting a voice to all the grassroots LibDems who'd been so silent for so long.

As if to legitimise this criticism, 6 councils won a high court challenge to Michael Gove's decision to scrap projects under the Building Schools for the Future fund. He must now go back over the decisions "with an open mind." The judge ruled that in 5 out of the 6 challenges, the decision was so unfair as to result in an "abuse of power". Surely many other school projects will now mount legal challenges of their own?

After endless pleas from the voluntary sector and the Citizen's Advice Bureau, the coalition have been forced to announce £27 million pounds to ensure that people continue to get face to face advice on debt and other legal issues after the government scrapped the Financial Inclusion Fund, leaving hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people with nowhere to turn at all.

Forests have been given a reprieve after an explosion of outrage at the government's plans to sell off our woodland. Gone, but not forgotten, at least the policy is "under review" and protesters scent victory.

In Scrounger news, Iain Duncan-Smith finally apologised for the tone of DWP rhetoric on Welfare Reform. He admitted that his department were "wagging their fingers" and "stigmatising" people on benefits as committing fraud despite their innocence. After numerous complaints to the Press Complaints Commission and Parliamentary Standards, it seems campaigners like myself and the Broken of Britain might just be getting through. Just a little bit.

Underpinning it all were the extraordinary events in Egypt. Through sheer determination and unity, the Egyptian people showed the world that people can come together - Christian and Muslim, military and civilian - to claim their own democracy. Peacefully but doggedly, in just over two weeks, a country that had been ruled by an oppressive dictatorship for 30 years, took to the streets and stayed there until they won the right to decide their own futures. Regimes around the world and particularly in the Middle East, must be shaken to the core, wondering who will be next? Campaigners here in the UK took great heart in knowing that protest can be effective. My favourite factoid from the whole event is that Mubarak finally stepped down 21 years to the day after Nelson Mandela was freed from goal.

When the coalition formed, I made a few predictions :

1) The cuts were beyond comprehension. Nothing on the scale Osborne is now attempting had ever been done before and I predicted that when they truly became clear, there would be chaos. What's more, I have always doubted that they will reduce the deficit.

2) The cuts would not in fact be the downfall of this government - incompetency would be. Gove's rail-roading and la-la-land "free schools", Lansleys ham-fisted NHS privatisation, cutting police numbers in the middle of a recession, forcing millions of the sick and disabled off benefits at a time of high unemployment.... I could go on all day. It's a car crash.

3) The economic recovery would not go well under Osborne's austerity plans. I said from the start that we wouldn't really see the effects of his ideological rampage until the second quarter of 2011, but the 4th quarter GDP figures of 2010 shook economists and gave a very worrying indication of the future.

4) Finally (and this is the risky bet) that the coalition would fall apart in 2012. When something looks unlikely, or unsustainable, it usually is and soon, we'll see the AV referendum and May local elections on the agenda. There is little evidence to show that these will go well for the LibDems and with their jobs on the line and the prospect of a rout at the next General Election, I find it hard to see how - or more to the point why - the Lib Dems would continue to prop up a Tory party that makes Maggie look like Mother Theresa.

So there we are. Cards on the table, bets placed. with a few more spins of the wheel and many more weeks like this one, we might not have to wait 5 years to end the destruction of UK PLC after all. I'm sure any Tories or Libs reading will dismiss this as partisan nonsense, but my great love is strategy and living through 13 years of Labour in power made me very good at knowing when it was head-in-hands time and when I was just hearing "Daily Mail White Noise". This was not white noise week, it was the start of an unravelling. When a Tory PM resorts to "rivers of blood" style rhetoric that the BNP describe as a "legitimising" of their message all is not good in the world of Westminster.

8 comments:

  1. I appreciate your articles and this weekly round up - incisive as ever. Have just read a really good piece on the 'left foot forward' website by Declan Gaffney on how the right wing press gets IB/ESA stories so wrong.

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  2. But IDS didn't apologise! He didn't admit that his department has been responsible for fuelling the fraud myth, and took no responsibility for Ministers (like himself and Grayling) presenting the 'scrounger' narrative in their press releases and interviews for the tabloids. Here’s what he actually said:

    IDS: There is always this "fraud, fraud, fraud" and everyone wagging their finger at everyone else, but the truth is that quite a lot of we hear about politically and constantly as fraud is often complexity error. It is very easy for us to say it is fraud, and people feel quite stigmatised by that.

    In IDS's world it's as if the media’s working in a vacuum, unbriefed by government and DWP.

    I watched the meeting live and was left angry and despondent by the difficulty faced by members of the committee in getting some pretty basic points through to him. He didn't seem to have the first idea what they were talking about or how things work in the real world. How Dame Anne Begg, Glenda Jackson and Kate Green kept their tempers, I do not know.

    ‘Maybe I am missing the point’ he says at one stage. Hmm, yes, you quite patently are.

    To present what IDS said as an apology, or even an admission is, sadly, stretching things too far. I see absolutely nothing to celebrate.
    The minutes of the meeting are here: http://bit.ly/fSJLn7
    Read it and weep.

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  3. Before you get too excited, IDS' apology was somewhat half-hearted and is unlikely to be followed by behaviour typical of someone full of regret.

    The hard evidence to see if IDS is likely to change his ways can be seen in plans for the Work Programme - coercion, work placements and patronsing casework by inexperienced and unqualified staff.

    Yup, sounds really apologetic to me.

    Read my blog at http://bit.ly/eLwJ9p

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  4. Sue

    I agree that this government is on the defensive but as Johann Hari indicated in his latest article in the Independent ... This government has form in doing the exact opposite of what they say they're doing. Rather than write the same thing again in different words, I'll repost my comments from The Green Benches thread:

    "I wonder whether the whole forest sell off was to distract from Lansley's health reforms because in a few months time, when the Public Orders Bill is passed, Caroline Spelman will have absolute power to sell off whatever she wants without any consultation. In other words, why bring up the possibility now?

    As seems to be the usual pattern, the Forestry Commission is being dismantled prior to the legislation being debated/passed in the HoC, so the current system is already lethally impacted. The PCTs and SHA are in the same position in the health service.

    We also see the same pattern in the apparent reprieve for the Woodland sell off, as with the apparent reprieve for the Debt advice body today, and last month's Books for Children, Sports for Schools etc. The reality is that limited funding will be made available for a year or so, and then the original plans will be fully implemented. Nevertheless, the public is given to understand that the government has responded to their real concerns and wishes, and the cuts will occur silently, the media having moved on."

    I think that the Public Bodies Bill has far reaching consequences... and as another political geek, I only become aware of it in the last week. Syzygy

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  5. Depressing responses, though I see why

    Compared to last week though, at least it felt like there was SOME movement, SOME retreat.

    If not, Egypt at least showed us the way xx

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  6. Sorry Sue ... but I agree with you that they can't go on like this ... something has to break ... and it really seems to be in the hands of the Tory right wing. I'd like to think Osborne would be the one to go but Cameron seems to be the one that is vulnerable. Whatever it is that 'breaks', I cannot believe that realists like David Davis, Ken Clarke, even Theresa May are comfortable with the sort of anarcho-capitalism which is being implemented .... apart from anything else Osborne and Cameron may be happy with one term but the many of the rest of the blues will not be.... and the threads on Conservativehome or Fraser Nelson's column are to say the least unsupportive of Cameron.

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  7. I do wonder if the Stiff Upper Lip culture is capable of amassing for revolution. Anything which seems upset the status quo seems to be treated with suspicion and alarm in the UK and I don't think there's been a successful revolution ever on UK shores (yes, I know Cromwell, but how long did that last before the Restoration, which was even more decadent than the period before). After all, they turned the drawing and quartering of a revolutionary anarchist into a holiday here!

    Again, as I said I would have felt a lot more satisfied if the pseudo-apology had appeared somewhere on BBC but it didn't. Well and good it got published elsewhere but that's not exactly in the mainstream eye.

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