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Government priorities gone bananas

By Angela Harbutt
January 13th, 2012 at 10:54 am | Comments Off on Government priorities gone bananas | Posted in Government

I was reading Professor Philip Booth’s excellent blog post yesterday on David Cameron’s red tape challenge to ministers. Here is an extract that caught my eye.. (emphasis is mine) .

Of course, this is just what we need – more employment regulation. It comes in a long line of announcements and enactments over the last two weeks about executive pay, council house tenancies, the disastrous implementation of the moratorium on employment regulation for small firms, alcohol regulation, the extension of employment rights to temporary workers and the regulation of the scrap metal industry. I am wondering if I have misunderstood the government’s red tape challenge – is the challenge to ministers to produce as much red tape as possible?

And I found myself cheering his point that..

“If somebody is not very clever but good at building networks, why should they be looked down upon more than somebody who is clever but not good at building networks? The hard work that one puts into networking is not obviously less virtuous than the hard work that one puts into developing one’s intelligence. The good luck that comes from being born with a good brain is no more virtuous (indeed it is not virtuous at all) than the good luck that comes from being born with a set of well-networked parents.”

But that is perhaps because I was not a particularly brilliant scholar but had “the gift of the gab” (though sadly no “connections”). Goodness only knows what job I would have ended up with if my application had gone in “blind” rather than me tracking potential bosses down to seedy pubs to pester them into giving me an interview.

Professor Booth’s point is not that dissimilar to a point I made recently. Why is it that Government seems happy to go after highly paid bankers and CEOs on such issues as bonus’/ pay differentials etc whilst ignoring the vast sums earned by Premier League Footballers, pop stars and the like?  After all the pay differential between the average Manchester United fan and their top players is vast – and the penalty for failure? they get transferred to another team quite often for even more money. Why is it, I wonder, that it’s OK to earn fortunes because you are good at kicking a ball about – but not if you happen to be masterful at running a company? (Note this is NOT a demand that the Government starts meddling in sports pay as well.)

But returning to David Cameron’s challenge – maybe it is time for him to reconsider giving a wider challenge to ministers and put it in really simple terms – since they do seem to be having trouble grasping the point.

“If it doesn’t cut costs, improve effeciency or help business get the economy going, then JUST DON’T DO IT – unless there is a bloody good reason why you have to – Dave”

I know ministers like their headlines, feel the need to be seen to be doing something, but really! Most of us are sitting in our homes wondering what the hell this government is up to? What we want are jobs, an economy that gets going, the clearing of our debts. What on earth has alcohol regulation or executive pay got to do with any of those things?

Mark Littlewood has been asked by the Government to help them on red tape. Perhaps the Government needs a similar expert to help them sort out Government priorities – ( I say “expert” all we need is a person with an ounce of common sense and a large red pen). Here is one example concerning my current hobby horse. Why is Andrew Lansley devoting vast amounts of time, money and resource undertaking a consultation on tobacco plain packaging, when we can sit back for six months and wait for the REAL evidence to come from Australia (where plain packaging is about to be introduced). With the time and resource released he could devote that to sorting out the current crisis in the NHS now- and return to plain packs if/when the evidence from down under suggests that it warrants it. It’s just about priorities. Surely?

Enjoy Professor Booth’s musings – definitely worth a read.

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Ordinary folks just don’t care about Europe

By Angela Harbutt
October 24th, 2011 at 6:13 pm | 10 Comments | Posted in EU Politics

Given the bile spewed out almost daily by certain national newspapers over recent years, telling us why the European Union is at the heart of every problem facing Britain today, it is perhaps surprising that most people in the UK do not give a stuff about Europe. Indeed, people actually care more about drug abuse, morality or the environment than they do about Europe!

I say this with confidence. The monthly Ipsos MORI issues tracker ,which is probably one of the best trackers of the state of the nation’s collective mind, shows that only about 3% of the population think that Europe is an important issue whereas some 60% think that our economic situation is important, 30% think that unemployment is an important issue, and 20% think immigration is important.

I have always liked this survey. Ask people if Europe is important they will say yes. Ask people if they want a referendum they will say yes (who says no to a referendum I wonder? ). Read the papers and you would think it was the subject of every single chat at the office water cooler every day. Hmm right. But ask them to spontaneously indicate which things they think are important and now we are getting to what people are really thinking about – not what some push poll or newspaper wants us to believe.

And yet here I am watching the ludicrous parliamentary debate on the EU referendum. An hour or two ago they were honestly arguing about the difficulties of deciding whether any referendum should be under a FTP voting system or a preferential voting system. OH the irony!

Had David Cameron left this as a back bench debate he could have focused today on the good news coming out Libya, his scrap with Sarkozy, his trip to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting etc. His ill-judged attempt to whip the Conservative MPs has backfired monumentally. MPs we have never heard of are threatening  to resign from  jobs we have never heard of over the issue. This story is not about Europe it is ” a test of Cameron’s authority”, or  “a test of whether the Conservative party trust their leader on Europe”…..

And there can only be one outcome from this…. On a matter that only a tiny minority of us ordinary folk think important, the nation will come out of this concluding that  David Cameron is leading a divided Conservative party. That’s not good news for him or his party.  Where has David Cameron’s political antennae gone?  It left with Andy Coulson. Further evidence that someone more in touch with the mood of the nation, the way stories gather momentum, twist and turn, is needed at NO10.

Nick Clegg has not come out of this without criticism (read Simon McGrath’s excellent article on “Why won’t Nick Clegg trust the people..”). We stand for democracy, claim to be in favour of parliamentary reform and at the first sniff of democracy in action (the EU referendum brigade’s so-called e-petition) whips his party into voting against it. Better, I suppose, than whipping the party to abstain.

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Has Cameron made his last “liberal Conservative” speech?

By Angela Harbutt
October 9th, 2011 at 7:40 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in Nudge Dredd

Am I the only one who is getting increasingly annoyed at the two-faced Cameron that seems to be emerging ?

On the one hand he urges us all to engage with his Big Society project – insisting that this is about “treating adults like adults” and asking people to “take responsibility for their lives” – but falls back on nannying and legislation at the first sign that society isn’t marching to his new tune quite as quickly as he would like.

Back in 2009 – before he was elected he was very clear that society was broken because big government interfered too much:

Why is our society broken? Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility”…. “But this idea, this approach, that for every problem there is a government solution, for every issue and initiative, for every situation a tzar….”….”you know the biggest problem with this big government, it’s not the cost, though that’s bad enough, it’s the steady erosion of responsibility and it is our task to lead Britain in a completely different direction”

Even in February 2011 his mantra was still along the lines of personal responsibility:

“The big society is about changing the way our country is run. No more of a government treating everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions. Instead, let’s treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives.”

“And the big question we have to ask ourselves is this: do we want a country where politicians, bureaucrats and the powers-that-be treat everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions and taking responsibility for their lives? Or do we want a country where we treat adults like adults, and give them more power and more responsibility over their lives?”

Now it all seems to be about government getting involved in the way people bring up their children, introducing another consultation into tobacco (plain packaging), stopping all “explicit” advertising on hoardings and even considering a FAT tax for everyone (despite the fact that back in 2008, when on the hunt for votes, Andrew Lansley said “..Providing information is empowering, lecturing people is not. So, no excuses, no nannying..”).

Now Cameron tells us…. “…we’ve got to be less sensitive to the charge that this is about interfering or nannying”.

So what on earth is going on?

Do we simply accept that Cameron is a just another two-faced politician who says what ever suits? He may have felt the need to appear “liberal” pre-election but is, at heart, an old fashioned Tory that can’t help but look down his sneery nose at those who are too fat, too chavvy or too stupid to help themselves and knows in his heart that Nanny knows best?

Possibly. He has an interfering gene in him that’s for sure – having a go at WHSmith for putting chocolate oranges at the check out, BHS for its sale of tiny tots padded bras, Lily Allen for her song lyrics etc.

But if we do believe his stated desire to be a “liberal Conservative”  why is he seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but?

I really don’t know. Perhaps he has given up on the fight with the Tory right. Perhaps he doesn’t have sufficient control over his Ministers to ensure that departments stick to the plan. Or perhaps his Ministers don’t have enough control over the Whitehall bureaucrats that ultimately formulate policy. It’s possible Cameron’s reliance on polls and focus groups have driven him into the arms of Mumsnet/Mothers Unions/ASH/BMA.

Whatever the reason, it looks right now as though Cameron has decided to leave liberalism to the Liberals.

He is seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but.
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Is this what Cameron’s “liberal conservatism” looks like? er no thanks….

By Angela Harbutt
October 5th, 2011 at 6:11 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in health, Nannying, Nudge Dredd

Ignoring the fiasco of the PM’s speech today, something caught my attention at Tory party conference yesterday that left me literally gobsmacked. “Call me liberal-Dave” has come out into the open and confirmed that a FAT TAX may be introduced in Britain in order to curb what he describes as soaring health costs and falling life expectancy (and there was I thinking that people were actually living longer these days).

I suppose that we should not be surprised.. For every so-called liberal step forward this Government claims to make, the Conservative instinct to re-shape society into some perfect 1950s Utopia takes us 4 steps backward. So much for the end to the nanny state that was promised when the Conservative party was on the hunt for “liberal” votes.

The optimists amongst you will say…Ah but he is only saying that a FAT TAX might be introduced. And that might be fair. After all wasn’t it this Government’s public health minister (Anne Milton) who said,  just last month, that the government believed the best way to achieve results on obesity was through a collective voluntary effort...and that “We have no current plans to impose a ‘fat tax’, but we are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available”…..

But you optimists are going to be sadly disappointed I fear. When the Prime Minister says “Don’t rule anything out, but let’s look at the evidence then you know that we ordinary folks are in trouble.Because we know how this will be played out.  Any day now we’ll be told that there will be another “consultation” on health (costing who knows how much money) to “consider the evidence“. The “evidence”  that “liberal-Dave” refers to will come from tax-payer funded health lobbies, the BMA and other interest-groups whose position on this point is already clear. They are the ones who have been calling for a FAT TAX in the first place. So much for goverment groups not lobbying government. And, of course, that “evidence” will be nothing more than a long lament about how much the NHS costs and some rather feeble “modelling” of the “likely effects” of increased tax on our waistlines.  Doubtless being told along the way how “all academics” are 100% in agreement with the “research”. The narcissistic celebrity chefs will fall over themselves to get their sound-bites broadcast out across the nation. And the treasury will sit there quietly calculating just how much money will pour into the coffers under the guise of “helping the nations health”. Against the sheer might of the ludicrously over-funded health lobbyists, luvvie chefs and needs of the treasury – do you really think that this will be a balanced debate?

Yep I am sure that we will hear from the Food and Drink Federation, individual manufacturers and the like explaining what has been done so far and will be done in the future. Too little and too late my friends. The health lobbyists will point to your corporate interests and your huge profits and say that you are BIG Business and anything you say cannot be trusted. Only they – they purveyors of truth – must be listened to. And, oh yeah the BBC and the politicians will buy that line hook line and sinker.

Of course we normal folks know it is not at all clear that “FAT” is the problem. There is no clear agreement amongst scientists on exactly what is causing us to pile on the pounds. It might be the sugar, more likely the carbohydrates, possibly the salt etc. Not to mention lack of exercise – or indeed – stress. That of course won’t be a problem for the health lobby. When they have their FAT tax, they can come back again for a SODA tax, or a SALT tax…They have plenty to go at – and go at it they will. How else will their fat salaries be paid?

We have seen this played out before with tobacco, then alcohol and now food. We have seen governments and organisations (national and international) take £millions of tax from us to fund academics to sit in their ivory towers and tell us how much fat we should limit ourselves to; how many units of alcohol we can “safely” consume; how many litres of water we should drink; how many portions of veg to eat; how much exercise we should take;  how we should eat more fish (but not the small ones we throw back into the sea by the tonne, the nice middle class line-caught ones don’t you know);why we should eat less red meat (though we are now told that some red meat is good for us); eat more chicken (well Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall style chicken, not Bernard Matthews style chicken); how processed meat is linked to cancer so eat less; why Fair trade 100% dark chocolate is good for us (so eat more)…and on and on…

Frankly if they shut down every government funded health lobby group in the UK alone and gave the money back to us, the taxpayers, we could all probably afford to eat more healthily. We would certainly all be a lot less stressed.

In the meantime “liberal Dave’s” threat to “consider the evidence” on the FAT tax is not only insulting and nannying – it is downright dishonest. There is no evidence – just a range of well-funded lobbyists with too much money and influence and too little commonsense. Glass of wine anyone?

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BBC ban on term “electoral reform” even more preposterous

By Angela Harbutt
February 20th, 2011 at 7:35 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in AV referendum, BBC

As recently noted, the BBC powers-that-be have decided to ban the term “electoral reform” being used by its correspondents because the word “reform” sounds too positive (see previous post on why this in itself is preposterous).

But now it looks even more absurd!

The Prime Minister – who is standing with the NO campaign is still using that self-same term.  In his speech on Friday (and i will say this again!), arguing against AV, David Cameron himself uses the term “electoral reform” again and actually defines AV as a type of reform …quoted on the BBC website…

“(David Cameron) said he believed the Alternative Vote was “completely the wrong reform” and would be “bad for our democracy” – leading to unfair results and an unaccountable political system” (source bbc website)

If AV is -according to the PM – the “wrong sort of reform” ..then definition-ally it is “reform”. Any reason why we can ALL agree that this vote is about ELECTORAL REFORM – except the BBC? 

Surely there is something very odd going on…The Prime Minister of this country can make a speech against electoral reform in which he uses – once again –  the term “electoral reform” … and in that speech define  AV as a type of reform (if the wrong one). That the BBC can report that speech, quoting the PM using the term “electoral reform” and showing the highlights of the speech in its website. BUT the BBC journalists are banned from using the term themselves? 

The dictat looks more preposterous and untenable with every day that passes. 

On a related issue – any reason why the main BBC News political story on AV runs with the title “Votes referendum: Cameron rejects Clegg AV call” . Is that really fair? to headline the story with reference to Cameron’s view (what’s wrong with “Clegg and Cameron go head to head over…..”) …. is it really impartial to list the PMs objections extensively at the top of the article and drop in Nick ‘s arguments much further down the piece?  Maybe it doesn’t matter – but for a BBC that appears obsessive about impartiality this seems a tad..oh how can I say this…biased?

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