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Tag Archives: Gordon Brown

Rewarded for Failure?

So, Gordon Brown shares the public’s anger over former RBS head Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension which, it turns out, his treasury approved.

If he shares the criticism over failure being rewarded, something which of course never happens in the public sector*, then presumably he’ll be waiving a significant proportion of his own pension when he is thrown out of office.

* You may calibrate your irony meter now.
UPDATE: Great minds think alike … NotaSheep, Martin Day and Cato are also onto this.


Down and Downe We Go

Guido has the latest episodes in the long running series of Gordon Brown the Jonah, who brings a curse upon any company, institution or person he visits. This week it’s Honda and Velux, the poor blighters. Of course, that all pales into insignificance compared to the jinx he’s put on the whole country since Summer 2007. Mr Fawkes does also remind us that Tinkling Gordon has also been to Sellafield. Gulp. Anyone remember the chilling ending to the film The Medusa Touch, where Richard Burton’s character’s evil telekinesis is turned on Windscale (as Sellafield then was)?

In county news, the bid to have Down House and the surrounding area designated a World Heritage Site has been endorsed by the Government, in this the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s “On The Origin of Species …”. I just hope that Brown doesn’t feel the need to visit Downe to lend his “support”.

Back to 3/23rds?

The risk of this blog becoming a weekly affair is, I suspect, receding with the pre-budget report being delivered tomorrow.

Someone at the Treasury is clearly briefing the media and trailing a VAT cut from 17.5% to 15% – reversing a rise originally put in place to pay for the abolition of the poll tax and introduction of the Council Tax.

Frankly I would have thought making permanent this year’s rise in the personal allowance would be cheaper and just as effective in economic terms – more so, probably, as a VAT cut will undoubtedly be “shared” between suppliers and customers. However, an increase in personal allowances is not as effective a headline grabber, which is what this is all really about. Labour clearly want to goad the Conservatives into not supporting a tax cut, but in doing so they have failed to understand what Conservatives are all about when it comes to tax. We would cut tax by making government smaller – tax is, after all, the most visible measure of the size of government. Anything else is unsustainable. Unfunded tax cuts are no tax cuts.

One other idea being floated in the last few days is a Council Tax freeze. This is unworkable as the increase in government funding necessary would be too complex, as the rises necessary would be different for every single council. More likely, if we are talking a freeze, would be to use the capping powers to force a 0% increase – or, to be more precise, forcing councils to carry out rushed and thus damaging cuts in services – and those councils, mainly now Conservative, would know exactly who to blame.

BTW, the reference to 3/23rds is one that accountants of a certain vintage will instantly recognise: 3/23 is the fraction of VAT in a price that includes 15% VAT (i.e. £100 plus 15% VAT equals £115 … £115 x 3/23 equals £15 VAT). With 17.5% VAT the current fraction is 7/47.

Ha Blooming Ha

I saw a great comedy show this morning. It was a one-man stand-up routine, and the deadpan delivery would put Jack Dee to shame.

Here are a couple of the one-liners, delivered with a totally straight face but which had me in stitches:

  • People have an extra £120 this year as a result of a tax cut (the clever bit here is that the audience knows it was just mitigating a tax rise – clever, eh?)
  • The UK has less public debt than its G7 neighbours (of course, the joke is that it’s only because the government has swept so much debt off the balance sheet)
  • The banks should be more responsible, and not indulge in so much off balance sheet financing (hypocrisy can be funny, see?)

OK, so I guess you had to be there, and it’s never as funny when you explain the joke is it?

The name of the show was something like “Prime Ministers Monthly Press Conference” or something.

Councillor’s Rant

So Gordon is going to give the Icelanders what-for. He’s going to sue them. Eh? Does anyone actually believe this rubbish?

There has been much gnashing and wailing in the last 24 hours over the amount of money deposited in Icelandic banks by public authorities and charities. The critics fall into two broad camps:

There are those who think Councils shouldn’t have been so stupid to put taxpayers money in dodgy offshore accounts and why are they holding so much cash anyway. Why don’t they spend it on schools’n’hospitals buses. Let’s call these people the “financially illiterate” – the sort of people who, if they won £1m on the lottery, would probably blow it all in six months, rather than invest it and enjoy the returns for the rest of their days. In any case, the Heritable was a top credited-rated British based bank (albeit owned by Landsbanki), so was hardly a dodgy offshore arrangement.

Then we have those who are opposed to any compensation on the back of the British taxpayer, whether it’s to retail depositors or anyone else. I can see their point as it happens, though I would have had no problems with a properly funded insurance scheme that doesn’t burden the public purse. However, to shift overnight the goalposts of the existing arrangements (however imperfect they are) hardly encourages those of us who have been careful and spread our risk – mindful of the £35,000/£50,000 guarantee limits, but whose taxes will now be bailing out the imprudent (such as the idiot woman on the radio the other night who had put her life savings of £190,000 into Icesave, and this a year on from Northern Rock – jeez!)

Given that the Treasury has now extended 100% cover for UK retail depositors of Icelandic based/owned banks, local government’s position is simply that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The government argues that Councils are in a different positions, having received professional advice and acted as professional investors. That’s true, but given that councils do indeed work to professional advice and make use of credit ratings such as Fitch’s, they are by most measures being more prudent (despite my heated remarks of yesterday) than a good few retail depositors who will be compensated 100%.

Then again, has this government ever regarded local government as anything more than a dumping ground for the tough decisions that Gordon Brown and co have regularly bottled out of in the least eleven and a half years?

The Slow-motion Car Crash Continues

Sky (h/t Guido) are reporting that “a small number of Labour MPs have requested Labour leadership nomination papers”

Good stuff. Nothing substantial will come of it of course – i.e. Gordon being kicked out – which is a good thing for Conservatives (even though the Labour ship would carry on sinking quite satisfactorily, whoever was at the helm). At most this is Labour at their Anthony Meyer stage. The reality is like asking for an application form to join the Forces – it’s still a long way from actually peering over a garden wall in Helmand province while the bullets whistle past.

More mundanely, most Council groups at their AGMs will send out nomination papers for all sorts of positions. If they’re like Bromley’s Conservative Group, those papers will always include a nomination form for Leader. Quite often someone (usually the same person) will, each year, fill out that form in a fit of rhino-thick-skinned sado-masochism, and trigger a “leadership challenge” which does nothing more than defer the AGM finishing time by a few minutes while we go through the motions. It’s become so regular that no-one, not even the local rags, bother to comment on it anymore.

But this is for the Prime Minister’s job. Even if none of those forms are sent back, it happily sets the scene and chimes with the mood music that has been playing for some time in the media, and which will reach a crescendo in just over a week’s time.

(In the meantime, the Lib Dems are meeting at their conference, with Nick Clegg also facing questions over his leadership, but who cares?)

How Not To Spin

So now we see that Gordon Brown heads a government so incompetent that they can’t even handle a leak consultation properly. Yet it seems they have friends in the Sun.

Yesterday morning the Sun was leading with the news that Alistair Darling Gordon Brown was considering scrapping stamp duty for a while. Then during the day the Treasury spinners were pushing the “deferral” line.

Deferral of stamp duty is likely to make as much difference as an ice lolly in the underworld. The money will normally have to be set aside at the time of completion anyway, and if you find yourself having to break into your stamp duty fund then surely a forced sale isn’t far behind.

The Sun’s sources got the spin wrong, assuming they gave George Pascoe-Watson the full list of options being considered. The Sun obviously went for the big headline – that of “scrapping” stamp duty – when in fact that was probably the least likely option. So the Treasury had to spend most of yesterday back-pedalling as they realised that what should have been a PR coup had been turned into an expectations management disaster.

Either that, or the Sun was fed the single option and if so the sources will have lost credibility (though given that Brown managed to cheese off most of the media last October anyway this won’t make too much difference). This morning, though, without missing a beat, The Sun has switched from the “scrapping” story to the “deferral” line and still gives a positive slant to the idea (though with a more tempered editorial). This is despite much of yesterday’s general coverage pointing out that with the news of a potential change in the open, the housing market now risks going from a downturn to flatlining until the Autumn statement. Now the Sun could have gone in hard with the “back-pedalling” line but has chosen not to – why?

After Glasgow East, Labour Lemmings Peer Over the Edge

There is much talk today of a “suicide election”, along with the speculation of who will succeed Gordon Brown (this weekend’s choice, after the deflation of Harriet Harman’s appalling PMQ performance recently, is Jack Straw). Certainly, albeit with an outsider’s view, the Labour activists I happen to have heard and talked to recently do seem to see some merit in “getting it overwith”. While suicide may be an apt analogy – in that calling an early election knowing you will almost certainly lose goes against the DNA of any party – it is inappropriate in that there is a mortal afterlife for most of those involved.

It won’t happen though, anymore than it would have happened in 1995. The general election won’t be as bad as Glasgow East, the reasoning will go, and that reasoning would be correct. But that leads back to the comfort zone thinking that it really is mid-term blues and things will swing back before the election, if only we give them time.

In truth: no, things clearly won’t be as bad as a by-election result. General elections don’t work like that. But to put off the election only gives the mantra of “time for a change” longer to soak into the electorate’s mindset. Two more years for the idea of a tired and rudderless government to become accepted fact among the media. The longer Labour go on, the larger the Conservative majority in 2010, and the longer Labour will need to de-toxify their own image (as well as David Cameron having a larger majority to cushion himself against the inevitable hiccups of government).

Of course, it won’t likely be Gordon Brown calling an early election anyway. A new leader could call it, get the expected result (but by less of a margin than feared under Brown) and get on with the real job that he/she was elected for and rebuild the party. That, after all, is an opposition leader’s main job: they can’t win elections as such (as the old saying goes, it’s governments who lose elections, not oppositions who win them), but they can pull a battle fatigued and demoralised party together and prepare them for the long slog back to power.

In the Conservative’s case, it was a task that initially fell upon William Hague – a party leader before his time, he nevertheless did a lot of the hard work: he lanced the boil of Europe and enacted some important internal reforms.

But I don’t see it happening with Labour. Those may sound like words ready to be eaten, but if I do find myself brandishing the cutlery over my digital scribblings, I won’t be too upset, as it will mean that Labour have had less time to screw things up, which means less repair work for us to do (including the pain which some will try to blame us for) before making things genuinely better for the country.

The Ubiquitous Crewe and Nantwich Post

So I’m off shortly to work the phones for Crewe and Nantwich. Before then, though, my obligatory pre-post-mortem on the by-election result.

If we Conservatives do win (and it’s still “if” as I’m not one to tempt fate), there will be inevitable talk of the wise men in grey suits (or Labour’s equivalent – is it brown synthetic suits?) filing into Number Ten with offerings of scotch and revolvers.

They are wasting their time. If Brown is suffering from chronic bunker delusion, then so will be those in the senior ranks of the party. As I’ve said before, we Conservatives were here in the mid-Nineties. In fact, Dizzy has demonstrated the point quite graphically (literally). Despite the omens from Newbury to Wirral South, many in the party thought we could turn the tide, Canute-like, with a few popular initiatives, and anyway the polls were understating our support, just like last time.

I had a conversation along similar lines earlier this week with a local Labour councillor. Frankly, Labour could announce a cure for the common cold and it would only be worth a couple of points in the polls.

The “toff” campaign not only underlines how politically inept the party, once of Blair, Campbell and Mandelson, has become, but also how such plainly desperate measures are now being considered. Get rid of Brown if you will, but it is Labour’s entire political mojo that has disappeared – and neither Miliband, Johnson, Straw or any of the others will be able to fix it this side of a spell in opposition.

With any luck, it’ll be a long spell.

Miliband’s Worst Nightmare .. A Conservative Win in Crewe & Nantwich

Of course David Miliband doesn’t want Labour to lose the by-election. He’s loyal to the Leader, as a serious leadership challenger hard-working Minister with his party’s and the country’s interests at heart.

Yet he probably has more reason than most for wanting to see Gwenyth’s daughter keep the seat – for seeing Gordon’s display of deck-chair rearranging yesterday actually helping to scrape a win in C&W. If Labour lose, then the pressure will be on him, either from the hotheads to go for broke, from fellow challengers wanting to flush him out early to do the initial dirty work, or simply a temptation to be seriously (and in an inevitably semi-visible kind of way) preparing for a bid when the time is right. The last thing he wants is to have even more of a spotlight on him right now – after all, in politics how many times do the front-runners at the start of the race actually win? Who wants to be the Heseltine or Portillo – the one who is out in the open for so long that he gives a clear shot for anyone who wishes to take it?

No, any serious challenger will want to see Gordon carry on and lose at the General Election. After all, what future leader wants to be at the helm of the ship just as it’s been left too late to avoid the iceberg? Better to revel in the luxury of opposition, with four years to regroup, lose the baggage and work on your prime-minister-in-waiting image.

And the best thing is, it’s easy to do – he can genuinely put all his efforts into backing Gordon to the hilt during the next two years, assuring the PM that he is behind him at all times, while omitting to mention that it’s because Gordon is acting as his human shield.