Monthly Archives: October 2009

Gordon who indeed…

First published at http://www.pluto-online.com/?p=2481

So, Gordon Brown came up North for a painfully stage-managed forum with a choice group of people, where questions were vetted and there was no room for debate.

And what did we take away from it?

Almost nothing.

A token gesture, from, to quote the questionable Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, “the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued Government”.

When pressed on the issue of ‘frontloading’ by Parviz Shasva, owner of Rooms Nightclub, the PM suggested, “we could ask for an agreement among the retail trade and talk to Tesco and so on but then a number of shops may keep outside of that.”

“Could?”, “Ask?”.

Forgive me, Gordon, I’m a bit confused here. Aren’t you the most powerful person in the country? The leader of the country? And then clearly the best placed person to tell companies to change their practices if it is in the best interests of the people who you represent?

From Margaret Thatcher to date, power has become increasingly centralized in the hands of one person, the prime minister. And yet, his answers are feeble. He sounds powerless.

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. The Guardian reported last week (22nd October) that Lord Myners, the City Minister “insisted… that the government could not use its stakes in the bailed out banks, RBS and Lloyds Banking Group… to stop bonus payouts.”

£1.3trillion of taxpayers money has been pumped in to banks to keep the sector a float, and yet, it appears that our elected representatives cannot stop a practice that has rightly infuriated the public.

Lord Myners urged the banking sector to address the bonus issue itself in a bid to not “bash the bankers”. Ask them nicely not to give themselves lots of money?

One can’t help but compare this with MP’s ability, or not, to self-regulate. Richard Garside, a local estate agent asked of Jacqui Smith’s regretful plea in the House of Commons following her home ‘flipping’ that gained her more than £100,000, “can any employee caught stealing from his employer expect that an apology will suffice?” For the average employee, the answer is no.

So, do you get a bonus if you look after people as a nurse, and reach all the targets? Do you get a little extra if you get all the kids you teach through all the ludicrous testing forced upon you by central government as a teacher? No, you don’t. You are just doing your job.

So why then, when these people are just doing their job, and even when they aren’t, are they allowed to take home thousands of pounds in their already unfairly large pay packets?
Are some people above recrimination?

Lord Myners is addressing high street banks that have taken government money. Not even the investement banks that got us into this trouble in the first place.

The Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has come out with some headline catching rhetoric, but with little believable policy. He actually plans to cut cash bonuses while still giving rewards in shares. One can only look on in disbelief.

Maybe Mr Brown would have felt better with an easy question at the forum, like “what is your favourite biscuit”, a question posed to him at an audience with mumsnet. An easy question, that took him two days to answer.

Incidentally, it’s a choc-chip.

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Wikilegislature

First published in Pluto Student Newspaper.

The Conservative Conference has come up with some corkers this year.

From Chris Grayling labeling Labour’s appointment of General Dannatt a gimmick, only to find it was his own party doing the hiring; to Cameron’s multi-millionaire wife wearing ‘cheap’ shoes from Zara (she obviously hasn’t been to Primark), balancing out her vast designer wardrobe.

But aside from the gaffes, some policy proposed at the conference that could have huge consequences for democracy has largely slipped under the radar.

On Monday, William Hague announced a transformation to the way laws could be made if the Conservatives form the next government; voters will be given the power to alter bills that are going through Parliament. ‘Yeah, right’, ‘how?’ and ‘why’ you might ask.

But the idea was first championed by the President-of-New-Technology himself, Barack Obama, with a site called mixedink.com. So we shouldn’t shelve it right away just because it’s the Tories.

The website is supposed to allow voters to comment on and rewrite the broad principles of a bill, and individual clauses. Contributors would also rank comments so the most popular suggestions appear at the top.

The Internet is the most democratic platform we the people have ever had at our fingertips. And Wikipedia is the largest user-generated, collaboration the world has ever seen. It has over 3 million articles in the English version alone but has only been going since 2001.

I can almost envision a ‘Wikilegislature’.

But, despite the all-seeing-eyes of Wikipedia, its trusty cleaners and its charitable status, even it is open to ‘vandalism’; ‘silly vandalism’ and ‘sneaky vandalism’ to name but just two types of sabotage they see every day.

So even though the Internet opens up the discussion to those who want to contribute, so too does it open it up to anti-social people, who for reason or no reason want to slow everybody down.

In a country where the government has a crisis of legitimacy, where more people do not vote than vote for the winning party, this could give people a more tangible link with their legislature. Or, like the political process itself, people could still not participate.

Why wade through all the legalese and boring by-laws when you could be watching a weird American kid called Tay Londay sing a weird song called ‘Chocolate Rain’ in a weird voice?

Forty-two million of you already have.

Or the idea could just as easily end up in the spin-bin.

Speaking of spin, who’d have though the Conservatives could get Bono, “live from a satellite orbiting his own ego” (Russell Brand), beamed into their conference to introduce the main act?

Well, probably the Labour Party, who the Guardian alleges also had Bono featured in a video as part of their Brighton conference a week earlier.

We trust all the proceeds are going to charity.


Jordan the next PM?

First published at http://www.pluto-online.com/?p=2148


WELCOME, and welcome back from your barbecue summer. Pack your bikinis away, say goodbye to the sun, and sense the sarcasm.

No matter how much sun there was in June, we will only remember having to ditch our umbrellas after wind meeting rain, culminating in us looking stupid and getting soaked anyway.

In fact, July has been provisionally touted as the ‘wettest on record’.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Met Office was in the business of weather prediction, but alas, at this stage long-term prediction is just hopeful guessing.

If they’d have guessed correctly, weathermen might have become the new slebs, rolling out of nightclubs. You’d never have to take a coat ‘just in case’ with your new bwf (best weather friend). But as it stands, they are now about as trusted as bankers, politicians and journalists.

Big Brother has been axed, although there will be one more series. The ‘great social experiment’ of the 21st century has ended up a refuge for the mad and fame-hungry.

And the golden couple, the ‘British Brad and Jen’, Peter Andre and Katie “don’t call me Jordon” Price have called time on their marriage. But don’t worry if you still need your fix, Ms. Price’s next tell-all show, ‘What Katie did next’, has been almost uncomfortably quick out of the pipeline. I’m getting a little weary.

According to recent news you Freshers are the brightest and best bunch yet to take your places at university. Congratulations, and welcome again.

Unfortunately a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development would have us believe you are all staggering half-cut to your desks with your illegitimate children in tow. Yes, you are the smartest stupidest group we’ve had yet.

A 97.5 per cent pass-rate, the 27th year on year increase has left everyone pointing the finger. The Government are hailing it as another success but even exam boards are admitting it’s a little bit unbelievable. The same happened last year and Labour made a botch-job of fixing it by introducing the… what was it that week… the Diploma. Is anyone elsebored of this?

According to Facebook, it seems you are. More than one million of you have joined the ‘I Hate being bored’ Facebook group, where you can trade your friends (who needs ‘em) gather balls if you’re lacking, or collect coins, although unfortunately they aren’t legal tender. All of which we are promised are ‘very addicting’.

Great games? Bad English.

For those of you looking for a new daily dose of drama, then the upcoming General Election might have the excitement you’re after.

Thanks to Lee Bradshaw, outgoing Campaigns Officer on the Student Affairs Committee, all Freshers moving into university accommodation this year will be entered on to the electoral roll. So no excuses! All you need to do now is pick a side.

The Conservatives have been touted to win, but, as New Labour struggled with its promise of ‘radical centre’ politics so too might Cameron’s cohort be dogged by their oxymoronof-a-slogan, to be ‘progressive Conservatives’.

Labour would need drastic action to win back public opinion, which could come in the form of a leadership challenge, most likely from Alan Johnson. But after 12 years of policy catastrophes, in everything from foreign affairs to economics, the lectorate have probably had enough.

Labour might even be so dramatically defeated that we could see the Liberal Democrats taking the opposition for the first time in their 21 years. The Lib Dems have seen their profile increase as Vince Cable has been spot-on on our troubled economy, but would they go into an election looking to win?

There are various fringe parties, from the Pirate Party, to the internet-selected Jury Party; the trusty Greens and Socialist Workers and even the British National Party and its dubious copy-cats springing up across the land.

Confusing, possibly. But do not fret. Pluto will be on-hand in the coming months to make sense of it all for you. But if what Katie is thinking of a career move into politics, my decision will be a little more easily made.

Picture commissioned exclusively for Pluto- by Ben Hill.

What do LibDems talk about? Mark Jewell, guest column

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Friday 18th September and I set off for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth. The sun is shinning, but the clouds of recession, high debt and unemployment set the scene for the last big autumn conference before the General Election.

The first thing I heard on the news on the first day of conference was Nick Clegg’s “savage cuts” call. Such language was itself a bit savage for Lib Dems. But behind it was the stark reality of needing to fix the great black hole in the public finances, whilst only making firm commitments we can afford.

I was born and brought up in the east end of London and went to the local Comprehensive school. As the one and only of my family to go on into tertiary education, I went to Thames Polytechnic to get a BSc (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, I have felt that opportunity has favoured me.

It was not until the turn of a new millennium that I became active in politics; I felt strongly about the introduction of tuition fees and a war in Iraq based on a wholly false premise.

It was thus with some angst that I went to conference knowing that there were murmurings that we could not afford to scrap tuition fees.

Nonetheless, our draft manifesto A fresh start for Britain includes a pledge to scrap tuition fees. The issue is not will we, but when. What is clear is that unlike Labour we are not planning to charge students up to £7,000 per year for university tuition alone. Unlike the Conservative, we are not planning a massive hike in the interest you pay on your student loan.

For me the issue is one of harnessing the full potential of all sections of our society so that we can compete in a world market and build a more robust, fairer society.

Nonetheless, If you’re poor, you’re still far less likely to go to university than if you’re better off. If you’re from an ethnic minority, you’re more likely to be stopped by the police, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. If you’re a women, you’ll probably be paid less than the men you know.

If we are to build a fairer society, then we must do things differently. If we end the Child trust fund, we can pay for smaller class sizes for five, six and seven years olds. We can save billions by reducing the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised state, scrapping ID and other databases and by saying no to the like for like replacement of Trident. . Only if we can save enough , will we still be able to include in our manifesto some of the pledges for new investment that we hold dear.

m/f

We must be ‘savage’ and bold in resetting our priorities from excessive bureaucracy and waste to building our infrastructure.

No doubt the debate will go on, but The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party where the members will decide policy, unlike other parties, where policy is at the dictate of the leader.

Reflecting on the weeks events, on my journey home, I can picture a better future for Britain. Now I want to make it happen.

Mark Jewell is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Preston.

Gordon the Gopher

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First published in Pluto Student Newspaper.

The Labour Party Conference began on Sunday, and with that, you rightly expect some Labour Party Bashing. But I would actually, first like to congratulate Gordon Brown.

Following talks at the G20 in Pittsburgh last week, he has made it part of his party’s promise to use new laws and unprecedented ministerial pressure to come down hard on banks that still give out big bonuses.

He will also give regulators powers to force banks to build up their cash reserves, rather than paying out massive cash rewards.

But, Gordon, I ask. WHY NOW???

It is almost a year since bankers hit the headlines, when Fred The Shred made his fall from grace and swift disappearance from the media’s watchful gaze ( apparently a genuine photograph of Sir Fred will fetch you a cool thirty grand. But the holiday to whichever exclusive island he, Tupak and Elvis are cohabiting… is priceless).

People were outraged. Bankers were hung. Windows were smashed. And where was he?

So now, after having time to think about it, as our PM is famed for doing a lot of, he has come up with policy that the man in the street could have told him, after falling out of Wetherspoons, with his opinion informed only by The Sun.

The conference hall at Brighton was reportedly deserted as even loyal Labour supporters showed he couldn’t tell them anything they hadn’t already raged about after reading it in the Mail. Damage done.

The hall was however, packed for the real star of the show, back (for the third time in the Cabinet) by popular demand (from some factions), unelected and unafraid, Lord Mandleson of Everything. Tony Blair once said that the Labour Party would only change when it “learned to love Peter Mandleson”. If that is what has happened, it is only because they can’t stand Gordon the Gopher any longer.

Labour has pitched itself on the side of the middle classes at the conference. As opposed to Cameron’s Crew who have only committed to tax cuts on inheritance. Because they know which side of the fancy cracker their caviar is on…

But middle-class unemployment has trebled since the recession began, hitting everyone from six-figure-salaried-executives to the 300,000 young people who graduated in 2009 into the ever shrinking professional jobs market.

And Labour’s response has been too little, too late. The Job Search Support Scheme for Newly Unemployed Professionals has been given just £3million, compared to the£5billion floating around in Job Centre Plus. And as middle-class workers opt for lower-paid jobs, there are fewer jobs for people down the chain.

From bankers, to Gurkhas, to the recession, it’s like Gordon has been shut in a bunker only to emerge with policy after after policy after everyone has already gone home. And for this, it seems Labour might be finished.

Switch off the lights in the conference hall on your way out will you Gordo?