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Hung Parliament – the photo op that exposes Clegg’s strategy

By Mark Littlewood
April 30th, 2009 at 6:51 pm | No Comments | Posted in UK Politics

I punched the air when I saw the impromptu photo op outside St. Stephen’s gate after the Ghurkas victory. Am I the only one who hopes this signals Nick Clegg’s future coalition strategy…?

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…because in the event of a hung Parliament, I’m well up for a coalition with Joanna Lumley.

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Councillors join the Gravy Train

By Angela Harbutt
April 28th, 2009 at 2:53 pm | No Comments | Posted in UK Politics

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Whilst we have all been preoccupied in recent days with the hows, whys and wherefores of MPs allowances. I was stunned by a report I stumbled across on Radio 5 on Sunday evening concerning the incredible rise and rise of Councillors allowances. Listen to the report here: http://odeo.com/episodes/24506564-5lr-Councillors-expenses-26-April-09

The BBC looked at figures for Councillors expenses across the 388 Councils in England, comparing figures over the 4 years 2004 to 2008.

What they found was that around 300 of those Councils had awarded themselves above inflation rises. Some councils have awarded themselves rises in the 100% range.

Example: Rochford District Council in Essex has more than doubled its allowances bill. 3 years ago the Council Leader was claiming around £10,000, now he claims £25,500. His excuse ? That this was done to put Rochford “in line” with other Councils in Essex. Oh please.

Councils appoint a remuneration panel to recommend Councillors allowances – but crucially the Councils can ignore or be selective about what recommendations they take up. And indeed too many do ignore them.

Unlike MPs, Councillors can only claim a flat rate (no John Lewis list here) , though some also can claim a “special responsibility allowance” if they hold what they laughably call a “cabinet post” or are a council leader etc. And of course, some will be eligible for other allowances from elsewhere within the Government system. What is pretty shocking is that Councillors dont even have to turn up to claim the allowance – and again, believe you me some of them dont. All aboard please… the Gravy Train is about to leave the station.

So whilst we are in the mood for “cleaning up” and hopefully, slimming down, politics, let’s not focus all of our attention on Westminster. Let’s spend some time examining the increasingly huge amounts of our money, many Councillors are spending on themselves.

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“National economic emergency” – concedes New Labour

By Mark Littlewood
April 24th, 2009 at 11:15 pm | No Comments | Posted in Economics

Geoffrey Robinson, the New Labour talking head on this evening’s Newsnight, has just admitted that the country faces a “national economic emergency”.

I don’t remember Alistair Darling using this term in his budget speech. Such words are not in the Draper-McBride lexicon, of course.

So,  Robinson gets a half-mark for (unintentional) honesty.

But he also claimed that the Chancellor’s shameless  lie slight statistical misunderstanding that the economy had shrunk by only 1.6% in the last quarter was “within the range”.

The range of what exactly?

Labour’s numbers are only within the “range” of predictions if you’re insane enough to listen to them at all.

And if you’re gullible or mad enough to do so, you will find these charlatans’ numbers are  always at the extreme optimistic end of the “range”.

That’s doesn’t count as a prediction “within the range”.

It counts as bullshit.

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Nick Clegg has it and David Cameron lacks it

By Mark Littlewood
April 21st, 2009 at 2:43 pm | No Comments | Posted in UK Politics

The fallout of Smeargate has seen a marked and welcome upswing in the LibDem poll ratings – averaging out at around the 20% mark rather than bobbling around in the mid-high teens. Today’s Ipsos MORI poll shows the party within six points of Labour. And all of this is against a backdrop of fairly limited LibDem coverage over the whole Dolly Draper-Mad Dog McBride scandal.The Tories have pretty much flatlined.

However bad sleaze is for the wider body politic, it seems to encourage people to plump for the LibDems. Nick Clegg’s easy television manner and the fact that you can’t really picture the bloke up to his eyeballs in corruption (or even up to his ankles) can only help. Although Nick is, I think, the only mainstream to have confessed to a “crime” (he rather endearingly admits to having over-stepped the mark in a practical joke involving a greenhouse in Germany as a boy), it was hardly grand theft auto.

Although Cameron has done much to revive the fortuens of the Conservatives, the polls from the Smeargate fallout suggest he hasn’t decontaminated the Tory brand.  Nick Clegg and the LibDems seem to have the ability to capitalise on sleaze. Cameron’s Tories just don’t.

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New LibDem tax policy (sort of)

By Mark Littlewood
April 20th, 2009 at 6:33 pm | No Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

Two-and-a-half cheers for Nick Clegg, who seems finally to have settled on the policy the party will take into the next election – namely, raising the basic income tax threshold to £10,000, shedding about £700 off the annual bill of the average worker.

The party leader loses half-a-cheer for having moved away from an overall tax-cutting agenda to one of “tax neutrality”, although I’m reliably told by Cowley Street that Nick’s overall long-term aim to reduce the overall tax burden remains in place.

All those of us who applauded Nick’s determination to go much further in cutting tax last September when he spoke to the Sunday Telegraph’s Melissa Kite, need to continue to press against the old approach of recycling 100% of identified expenditure cuts back in to alternative public sector programmes. Economic times may be tough, but we don’t want to fall into the trap of simply shifting government expenditure from one department to another. If spending reductions can be made, at least some of these savings should be passed on directly to the taxpayer.

I gather that the reasoning behind changing the tax policy from a “4p cut in the basic rate” to a “raising of the threshold” is because Chris Rennard believes it’s easier to communicate to voters a £700 tax reduction rather than a 4% cut. £700 sounds bigger too.

The key thing now – as I argued on the BBC’s six o’clock news this evening (15 mins in) – is to make sure this message is aggressively communicated. The party’s spent four years arriving at a new tax policy, but only has one year before the election to make the case to an electorate who will probably find it counter-intuitive that the LibDems want to lower the average income tax bill.

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