Thursday, 23 September 2010

Saint Vince of Shell is a Tory Shield - for now...

Saint Vince Cable of Shell (a small eco-friendly, non-corporate business run by environmentalists in Brighton, I think), said yesterday in his keynote speech to Lib Dem Conference:
"On banks, I make no apology for attacking spivs and gamblers who did more harm to the British economy than Bob Crow could achieve in his wildest Trotskyite fantasies, while paying themselves outrageous bonuses underwritten by the taxpayer. There is much public anger about banks and it is well deserved."
This reminds me of  my letter in The Independent of 25 April last year, in which I wrote:
"I wonder what these people would be saying had the economy suffered the worst catastrophe since the Second World War as a result of action by the trade unions, terrorists, or organised criminals. I imagine they would be calling for at the very least punitive and wholesale legislative and criminal sanctions against the perpetrators of such economic destruction, and possibly the declaration of a state of emergency". 
 Vince Cable has form on this subject and as Mark Peston ably analyses, there is a perfectly sound critique to be made of the current pros and cons of modern-day capitalism.  While it is refreshing to hear genuinely radical voices, such as Cable's, speaking from inside the Establishment bunker, I fear that he is being used somewhat.

While I have no doubt that many Orange Book Lib Dems and pretty much all Tories will have winced inwardly at his description of their dinner party guests and (in the cast of the latter) major donors as "spivs and gamblers", there may be a more subtle game at play.  For while the received punditry is that Vince is a thorn in Osborne's side and will probably quit before long, the wiser Tories are probably willing to tolerate his radicalism for the ideological cover it shields them with.  That is not to say that Vince won't jump ship, just that in a perverse way, he helps Cameron et al further detoxify the Tory brand in the eyes of the public. While most people know that Tories have an eternal love affair with big business, the City, hedge funders, etc (just check who funded the private offices of the Shadow Cabinet), they will surely double take upon hearing Vince, perhaps asking themselves, "if Cameron keeps someone like this in his Cabinet, perhaps they really have changed".

But as many have already pointed out, the devil will be in the LACK of detail.  For Vince was short on specifics.  He didn't tell us how he would control the excesses of the City or big business, just that he intended to do so.  Nearly three years after the economic crisis begun, this is surely a less than radical response.  A Vince launching his missives without specificity is tolerable to the Tory (and Clegg Dem) High Command.  If he wishes to move from rhetoric to reality, the story might be very difficult.  City grandees are likely to call in some big favours with their chums in the Tory party and Saint Vince may decide it's time for martydom. 

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Pope should engage with "pro faith atheists" like Alastair Campbell

Alastair Campbell blogs today that Baroness Warsi has completely missed the point of his "we don't do God" from the halcyon days of the Blair govenment.  In the blog, he sets out, quite plausibly, that "it is entirely possible to be an atheist without feeling the moral superiority that so many atheists seeem to display, and without denigrating those who do have a faith."

This leads me to wonder whether any of the plethora of 'inter-faith' charities have ever bothered to engage with the 43% of the UK population who describe themselves vast majority of Britons who are agnostic or atheistic (according to the British Humanist Association).  It's perhaps time for for the organised religions to engage more with this sizeable minority of humanists, agnostics and atheists who are, if present trends continue, soon to become the majority.  A world inhabited by humanists is no more to be feared than than our present world, so dominated as it is by organised religions.  We humans make our own utopias and dystopias.  If there is any hope for humanity, it must be that those of different faiths, nations and ethnicities, together with those who do not profess a faith, are able to work together in the shared interest of humanity itself.  So Alastair Campbell is right, it is possible to be a "pro faith atheist".  But it is equally important that more people of faith, even perhaps the Pope himself, become "pro atheist believers".

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Polly Toynbee on top form today about religion

Polly Toynbee, President of the British Humanist Association, deploys all her rhetorical gifts today in an excellent article about religion and secularism in light of the Pope's visit.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Guardian's Diary picks up on my research into Parliamentary Questions

From today's Diary in The Guardian:

There's a war on waste and what a debt we owe the likes of Tory Matthew Hancock. He's a member of the Commons public accounts committee and, more importantly, a star in the area of asking parliamentary written questions. It's a crowded field. In the first two days back, MPs asked 1,900 questions, which at the going rate cost the taxpayer £292,633 to answer. Hancock alone asked 118 of them. He's a stickler and no mistake. "To ask the secretary of state for defence how many chairs his department has purchased in each year since 1997; how much it spent in each such year; and what the five most expensive chairs purchased in each such year were," is a prime example. And this volley of questions cost the taxpayer £20,000. But it wasn't money wasted. For his inquiry into chair procurement across government allowed him to have a moan in the Sun about Ed Miliband's past purchases of furniture at the energy department. That's questioning Hancock-style. You spend a bit, we save a bit; you make a mark.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Mention in The Guardian Diary today re huge cost of Parliamentary Questions tabled by MPs

The Guardian's Diary column gives a mention today to my uncovering the amount of money MPs have cost the taxpayer in asking Written Parliamentary Questions since the General Election. 

POSTSCRIPT:  I'm a staunch defender of the right of MPs to hold the executive to account and one of the main ways they can do this in Parliament is by asking Parliamentary Questions.  All I can say is that there are two problems: 1) MPs who abuse the system to ask spurious questions of each department, such as 'how much does department X spend on pot plants; on trade union meetings, etc, etc'.  2) MPs are currently spending large amounts of time lecturing the rest of society and the public sector on the need for austerity and cuts.  In view of this, it's importnt that the public are aware of what taxpayer costs are associated with the operation of the Parliamentary system.  As my story in The Guardian shows, they seem oblivious to the huge costs to the taxpayer of funding all their Parliamentary Questions.  Many or most of these PQs are undoubtedly legitimate points of enquiry and our democracy is healthier for these MPs holding civil servants and the Government to account.  But at a time of austerity, perhaps even our MPs ought to show a little more economy before they walk off to the Table Office.

Some of my previous tips to The Guardian Diary show the huge amount of taxpayers' money which had to be spent as individual MPs tabled over a hundred PQs in a day (see re Priti Patel; Ian Austin and Francis Maude.)  Today's story shows just how much money they have notched up in PQs in little more than two months of this so-called 'austerity' Parliament.  Hugh Muir didn't mention in today's piece that I'd discovered the Top 10 of MPs tabling the largest number of written Parliamentary Questions, at £154 a pop), and the MP coming in number 1 (Tom Watson), generated costs for the taxpayer of £64,526 - just £1000 shy of the £65,738 an MP earns in a year.

Top 10 for number of Written Parliamentary Questions tabled since the General Election:

1) 419  Watson, Tom (Lab)

2) 347  Evans, Graham (Con)

3) 290  Austin, Ian (Lab)

4) 224  Nandy, Lisa (Lab)

5) 207  Wishart, Pete (SNP)

6) 201  Amess, David (Con)

7) 201  Anderson, David (Lab)

8) 187  Bain, William  (Lab)

9) 181  Wright, Iain (Lab)

10) 172  Davies, Philip  (Con)

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

5 Reasons To Vote DAVID Miliband

I support David Miliband for the following reasons:

1) He's the only candidate for the leadership who has the skills to reach out beyond our core vote to parts of the electorate whose support we need if we are to win the next election.
2) He has the strength of purpose to challenge his own party and indeed the country about what is necessary to rebuild Britain's strength in the coming years.
3) He truly understands Britain's place in the world and our role for good. Being Prime Minister is about more than domestic politics. We need a statesman able to engage internationally. Unlike some of the other candidates, he has not disowned decisions such as the liberation of Iraq, which indicates he is a man who stands by his decisions. International relations are unlikely to be calm in the coming years.  We need a leader of substance who both understands the international system and has the strength of his convictions to take the tough decisions that may be necessary.
4) He is the most credible alternative Prime Minister.
5) He understands that while many in the Labour Party may feel in their heart that now is the time to move leftwards, such a move would be disastrous electorally. The public will only take us seriously if we resolutely hold the centre ground of politics, while developing what I call PRAGMATIC IDEALISM.

More on Pragmatic Idealism at a later date.