George Osborne

Youth in Revolt

george osborne laugh

My generation are selfish bastards. It’s a well-documented thing.

We’re the “me” generation, I’ve been told more than once. We’ve had everything on a plate, we’ve had it so easy. When our parents had to work, we got awards just for turning up. Our exams got easier every year, not like the O-Levels Mum and Dad did.

It’s background noise, the hum which shapes our daily lives. Ungrateful. Undeserving. Spoilt. It gets to the point that we tune it out and carry on with our lives. Because what else can we do?

The truth from our perspective — from my perspective — however is quite different.

Read on…

David Cameron: Schoolboy Prime Minister

One of the criticisms most frequently levelled at David Cameron and the little cabal of ministers he surrounds himself with is that the overwhelming majority are from wealthy, public school backgrounds. I’m not sure that this is a real issue with the Conservative frontbench — though the decisions that they have made in office, favouring people of their own circumstances far above the vulnerable and needy definitely are.

But as the ideological wheels have been falling off the Cameroon bandwagon on a seemingly daily basis, what strikes me as most alarming is that the politicians running Britain seem to act like they are still a gang of over-privileged schoolboys.

It’s been something I’ve thought for a long time. The crowded House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday afternoon has something of an air of a rowdy classroom, and the braying MPs certainly don’t help the overall image.

But looking at the actions of government ministers, and it seems that in their own heads they’ve never actually left school. Andrew Mitchell, swearing like a yob at the police. George Osborne, sitting in first class without a ticket and thinking he should get away with it because he’s head boy.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, when Chris Bryant asked about texts and emails David Cameron had refused to release to the Leveson Inquiry, we were treated to this bizarre display:

Which basically amounts to David Cameron saying:

I’m not answering his question because he’s mean to me!

Mental. Leaving aside that Bryant had apologised to the House, and what Cameron was looking for was some extra grovelling  to him personally, there’s something very distasteful about someone holding high public office flat-out refusing to answer a question from an elected representative simply because he doesn’t like him.

And not only that, but yesterday I saw this story on BBC News:

A man who shouted ‘no public sector cuts’ at David Cameron during a speech in Glasgow has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service.

He shouted at the Prime Minister. He shouted at him, and he got 100 hours of community service. I expect there are a lot of MPs feeling very worried at the moment, in case David Cameron should run to teacher with the refrain “He shouted at me!” and point at them.

Honestly, this is absurd. Our government is made up of schoolboys. And not the competent, high-achieving “gifted and talented” students. No, this lot have already proved themselves incompetent.

I’m afraid, people of Britain, we’re being governed by the Inbetweeners.

What they don’t tell you about political blogging

Now this is the story all about how my day got flipped, turned upside down. And I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there, I’ll tell you how I ended zipping across north London in a cab with the left-wing political blogosphere’s finest.

As a bit of background, the Chancellor of the Exchequer — George Osborne — was on a train from Wilmslow to London Euston. And he had a bit of an adventure, did our Gideon. I’ll let the original tweets from ITV journalist Rachel Townsend, who was on the same train, tell the story:

Oh dear! Osborne doesn’t want to have to sit with the plebs!

We did hear reports after that that Osborne’s aid was checking to see if they could get off before London, but sadly…

So the Chancellor had been caught out trying to blag a free upgrade to first class, and was on a non-stop train into Euston station in north London. North London, where the majority of major left-wing blogs in the country are based. North London where I was, working out of Political Scrapbook‘s offices.


So that is how I ended up in a taxi along with Scrapbook editor Laurence Durnan, newest recruit Dulcie Lee, and LabourList supremo Mark Ferguson. And the rest of the political press was also heading towards Euston.

We got there to find Harry Cole (of Guido Fawkes fame) toting a video camera, and had a bit of a stand off with both the station PR and the police about whether we were going to be able to film or photograph the disembarking minister. Sadly, when the train arrived the police closed off the gates to the platform, and smuggled him out the side.

We didn’t get a picture or video of Osborne. The one from the top of this post comes courtesy of ITV. What we did do is race across north London at a blinding pace, run all around Euston station, and get to see a very much The Thick of It story from the other side. No one ever told me political blogging involved so much running!

And then, of course, I got home to find that the Chief Whip, Andrew “f**king plebs” Mitchell, had resigned — which cements this as “the day all the news happened“.

UPDATE: It seems Osborne has form for this sort of thing:

The REAL origins of George Osborne’s shares-for-rights idea

George Osborne is an increasingly desperate man. A chancellor of an economy going down and a debt going up, who was elected promising an economy that would go up and a debt which would go down. The biggest sign of his desperation comes from his lead policy announcement at the Conservative Party conference.

Gideon said:

You the company: give your employees shares in the business. You the employee: replace your old rights of unfair dismissal and redundancy with new rights of ownership.

Give up your employment rights, which were hard won over hundreds of years, and get shares in exchange. It sounded awfully familiar to me when I first heard it, and I couldn’t figure out where from. No, it’s not from the slavering anti-workers rights wing of the Conservative backbenches. It’s from somewhere altogether more worrying.

In an episode of The Simpsons — “Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk” — Homer receives a phone call from his stockbroker, which goes as follows:

Broker: “Your stock in the power plant just went up for the first time in ten years.

Homer: “I own stock?

Broker: “Yes, all the employees got some in exchange for waiving certain Constitutional rights.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is taking advice on economic policy from The Simpsons.

God help us.

George Osborne is not the problem

George Osborne is a man whose one and only idea has failed him — but if the Conservative Party think their problem begins and ends with him then they are sorely mistaken.

It must be tough for George Osborne to decide which of his recent run of bad days has been the worst — but today must rank pretty highly on that list. The announcement by the ONS that the economy has shrunk by an estimated 0.7% shocked and alarmed many, but few more than the Chancellor.

Predictably the shout has gone up for Osborne’s head on a spike. Not just from his adversaries on the left, but also from many of his former cheerleaders on the right. Big names on the Tory side are calling for Cameron to shuffle Osborne out of the Treasury, and replace him with someone else. William Hague is the one I’ve heard most, in the last week or so.

This would, in my opinion, be both a mistake and a misjudging of the problem.

Yes, the economy has nose-dived since he got his hands on it. And yes, his most recent budget was a public relations disaster. But that is a symptom of the real problem, and it’s a problem that Chancellor Hague would have to face up to as well.

Namely, that austerity isn’t working.

Like the Titanic, we were sold this idea as unsinkable, and like the Titanic it’s currently slipping beneath the icy waters of oblivion, with the rich taking all the lifeboats and filling them with tax cuts and obscene bonuses. But whilst Osborne has been the face of this ideology, and the chief axe wielder, he and it are not one and the same. Austerity was the defining policy of the Conservative Party at the last election, and in a desperate gambit to win (which, it might be remembered, he didn’t) Cameron lashed his own and his party’s credibilty to it.

So austerity isn’t working. It has taken the wind out of the economy’s sales, and destroyed the recovery that was in process when the coalition took over. The promised expansion of the private sector hasn’t happened, and we are now enduring the worst double-dip recession since the Second World War.

In order to turn this situation around, the government need to abandon their “cut at all costs” approach, and start taking serious action to stimulate growth, create jobs, and get the economy moving again. But Cameron can’t do that, because it means admitting that he was wrong, and that the entire basis on which he built his economic credibility has bee a fallacy. He won’t do that because he doesn’t have the courage to face the electoral consequences.

So George Osborne is not the problem with economic policy in the UK. He isn’t helping it, and his fingerprints are all over it, but the problem is deeper than one man. And if the Conservative Party forces him out of Number 11 Downing Street, then they’ll feel a bit better for a while. But in three months time, the figures will still be awful, the recovery still won’t have arrived, and the Titanic will still be sinking.

Messrs Cameron and Osborne, purveyors of endless austerity

David Cameron and George Osborne, snake oil salesmen with only more failed austerity to sell.

Do you recall when, according to the Conservatives, austerity would be over by 2014, in time for a glorious year of tax giveaways leading up to the election? Then when it — predictably — didn’t all go to plan, we were told that we’d have to keep cutting until 2017.

Now David Cameron has said that we’re stuck with it until 2020. In fact, that’s  not all he’s said:

I can’t see any time soon when the pressure will be off…I don’t see a time when difficult spending choices are going to go away. We are in a very difficult situation.

So there you go, folks. This economic misery we’ve been slogging through for the last few years? Here to stay. Despite the fact that we were sold this as a quick, sharp fix, it’s looking like a permanent regime as far as the right is concerned.

Now, there’s going to be different views on this. Some will think that it’s a deliberate conspiracy, to further a “small state” agenda on the part of Cameron and his political “strategist” George Osborne. They’ll cite, not unconvincingly, the bonfire of regulation that the Coalition seems to be engaged in, despite the fact that lax regulation was exactly the thing that caused this mess. They’ll cite the tax cuts dolled out to millionaires, even as we’re told that there is no money, and the poor and vulnerable are made to bear the price.

As tempting as this stance is, I don’t buy it myself. I’m sure that some in his party follow this line of thinking, but I don’t think Cameron is nearly ideological enough to think like that. Rather, I think that he’s just clueless.

Cameron only did as well as he did in the 2010 general election by making spurious economic arguments. That we were in the same position as Greece (we weren’t). That government debt was like maxing out a credit card (it isn’t). That Gordon Brown was singularly responsible for a global economic crisis, which I don’t think even brooks a response.

But the real nub is austerity. The promise that cutting and cutting hard would solve all our ills was like the proverbial snake oil salesman. We are at present back in recession. Cameron and Osborne have managed to turn a growing economy back into a shrinking one, through a failed economic strategy. So much money has been taken out of the economy that the private sector cannot make up the difference, and the result is crash.

The utter shambles that was this year’s budget is a symptom of that. As is the shambolic situation of the government in general. They’re out of ideas. The only one they had has failed, and they have staked so much to it that in claiming that we our situation is “like Greece”, they have created a self-fulfilling prophecy — if they stop cutting and start focusing on growth, the markets will panic.

This is all we are going to see from the Conservatives for a long time now. They know that this isn’t working, but in order to fix the problem they would have to admit they were wrong on the central issue that they’ve staked their political reputation on. They don’t have the courage to launch the mass investment that is needed to get the economy growing, so what will they do?

Keep selling us more austerity, and pray that we don’t notice the harm that it’s doing.

Falling on Your Sword

"You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords." (Serenity, 2005)

Joss Whedon’s Serenity is one of my favourite films. It’s fun, exciting and smart. In it, there’s a certain scene where the bad guy confronts the director of a facility from which a “patient” has escaped, and delivers this telling little line:

You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords.

It’s that line that occurs to me today, as political disaster after disaster explodes, rocking the ship of government to the point of capsizing. Politicians desperately scramble for excuses, for any scapegoat that will save their skins from the situations they have put themselves in.

Look to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt was well and truly “dropped in it” yesterday by James Murdoch’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry. Hunt, it seems, was leaking information to News International and helping get their bid to take over Sky approved- a bid that he was adjudicating on.

What is Hunt’s response? He’s forced out his special advisor, trying to create a scapegoat despite the fact that the ministerial code clearly says that it is Hunt himself who bears responsibility.

Another example: today saw the announcement of the growth figures for the first quarter of 2012. They were terrible. So terrible, in fact, that we are now technically back in recession. This is a double dip that George Osborne assured us all that we would not suffer, and that anyone saying we would was wrong and profoundly irresponsible.

What was Osborne’s response? A lot of fluff about how it’s down to the Eurozone. When Labour left office the economy was recovering. Conservative economic policy started to turn that recovery into another downturn before the impact of the Eurozone could reasonably be blamed.

Both men have failed in their duties. Both have tried to deflect blame and responsibilty to save themselves and their positions. The scrabbling around to look for excuses is utterly undignified.

I’m not saying that previous administrations have been innocent of this same political grubbery, because they haven’t. It’s not just down to these particular individuals, but rather a malaise that has infected our political sphere as a whole, from top to bottom.

Look, for example, more locally to Wokingham. In the light of the disastrous new rubbish scheme the Conservative administration: firstly went into hiding; secondly came out fighting trying to smear anyone who criticised them; thirdly blamed anyone else they could think of.

There is a slimy, selfish inability to take responsibility in a dignified and honourable way that has taken hold. The present government seems, in every aspect, to embody this. From Theresa May’s spurious claims about cats, to Jeremy Hunt’s shadowy connections to News International, to the shattering mismanagement of the economy at George Osborne’s hands. If someone of import at least displayed a willingness to fall on their sword in penance for their failures, then there might at least be some confidence in the political system.

Why I Support the Strikes

So two million public sector workers are out on picket lines today, so naturally most of the internet is debating whether or not the strike is justified.

It’s all very predictable. The Tories think that it’s absolutely wrong, and even in some cases that striking is immoral. I really do get the impression from some of them think that workers should have no rights, no recourse and no pay. Sounds lovely… The Liberal Democrats for the most part seem silent, unless they’re the coalition-supporting almost-Tories. In which case see what I said about Tory views. Labour is, naturally, split on the matter.

But I support them. On a general level, I absolutely support the right of workers to withdraw labour in protest at their employers. But on a more specific level, I support public sector workers striking over changes to their pensions. I know this might be seen in some quarters as radical, and that there are many who will disagree with me, so I’m going to summarise why I feel this way. You’re welcome.

  • The pensions renegotiation is being used as a ram-raiding exercise by the Treasury to pay off the deficit. I accept that we’re all going to have to contribute to paying it off, even if it only exists because of the greed and failures of the bankers, but the public sector seems to be bearing the brunt. Workers have been demonised by the Conservatives as the root of all evil. In fact, most of them are ordinary people, trying to make a living, and giving their service to the state. Even yesterday, George Osborne was deciding that they had to pay the price even more.
  • “Gold-plated” public sector pensions are a right-wing tabloid myth. The report by Lord Hutton, upon which the government is using as justification, particularly refutes this. The average pension is £7,800 (1.11). I wonder what the average banker’s pension is?
  • Public sector pensions are not unaffordable. The same report (Chart 1.B) shows that this is also a myth. According to the report upon which Osborne relies, the cost of public sector pensions are set to decline from 2009/2010.

Lord Hutton's report demonstrates that public sector pensions are NOT unaffordable

  • The Government has never been serious about negotiations. The unions only have one real weapon; calling a strike. Ministers have been playing games of brinkmanship since the off, threatening and haranguing public sector workers and the unions who represent them. And if, as has been reportedly claimed by David Prentis (general secretary of UNISON) that there have been no face-to-face meetings with ministers since 2nd November, then it’s hard to see the government in a positive light here.
  • The differences between public and private sector pensions is a reason to improve the latter, not slash the former. I’ll never understand the mindset of people who look at what someone else has, and if seeing it’s better, want to destroy that, rather than get the same thing for themselves. Public sector pensions aren’t “gold plated”, as I said above. Private sector pensions are appalling. This needs to be sorted, not distracted from.
  • The unions have a democratic mandate to strike. This has been something that the right have been going on about incessantly. Somehow, because the turnout was low, the strikes are undemocratic. At the by-election I fought in July, the winning candidate (John Halsall- Con) won 65.9% of the vote on a 29.4% of the vote. That’s 19.4% of the electorate. It’s also less mandate to sit on the council than GMB (27.6%), UCATT (22.4%), Unite (23.3%) and Unison (22.6%) have to strike.

There are countless more reasons. Most of them have names, faces and reasons of them all. The thing which seems to be forgotten in all of this is that these are hard-working people, not lazy spongers. So I do support the strikes, as I know a great many people across the country also do.

But I’m a writer. I have no picket line to stand on. So I’ll do what I can- I’ll defend the strikers to the last stroke of my pen. And I’ve decided to join a union- GMB, to be specific, in recognition of the assistance they gave the Labour Party in Brighton, during my time there. If feel the same as me, why not do the same? Show the government that you won’t be manipulated, by standing in solidarity with your fellow citizens.

No Win, No fee, No Access

The cuts to legal aid, and proposed restrictions on No Win No Fee represent an assault on democracy, and a real threat to justice in the United Kingdom

I’m currently deep in the studies for my final year exams, so I had decided I wasn’t going to blog until those were done. But life is unpredictable, and occasionally something will come along that outrages me so much that I have to rant about it, just so I don’t have a coronary.

Some background first. I’m a third year law student (studying at the University of Sussex, if you really want to know). I’m also a left winger, a Labour Party member, and a keen believer in equality and justice (of the social and legal variety). And I have a keen interest in politics, hence why I was watching the Budget on Wednesday afternoon.

And it was there that I heard George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer in a government increasingly dedicated to social and economic vandalism, announce that No Win No Fee cases were to be restricted, as part of a “growth” strategy to free small businesses from, I’m guessing, frivolous cases. This is part of a larger assault on the rights of employees, but that’s not where I’m coming from with this.

I’m not an ardent supporter of No Win No Fee (otherwise known as Conditional Fee), because it does have the potential to encourage both ambulance chasing on the part of law firms, and frivolous cases by claimants. However, the background and context of Conditional Fees should be considered.

They were introduced in 1990, in the Courts and Legal Services Act, as a part of the reduction in the scope of legal aid. The idea was that instead of the state paying large sums in legal aid, lawyers could be allowed to charge no fee to their client, except upon victory. Not a particularly positive move in my view, but you can see where it was coming from.

The current proposal to restrict Conditional Fees comes in a climate of heavy cuts. The Legal Aid bill has not escaped this. Legal Aid is being removed for matters of family law, clinical negligence, education, employment, immigration, benefits, debt and housing. Which is a fairly sweeping attack on the civil law.

The cynics amongst you may notice that certain of these areas are subject to cuts and “reform” in themselves, and that the cuts to legal aid in these areas will reduce the number of challenges the government will face on those matters. Whether or not you want to think that is deliberate is up to you, but it certainly seems suspicious to me.

But the really chilling aspect of this is just how many people will now be unable to access the courts in search of justice. One of the key principles of a free and democratic society is that the courts should be open to all, and that justice should be for everyone. Or at least, that’s what I believe is essential in a free and democratic society. Apparently the government disagrees. Restricting Conditional Fees is one thing, but when it excludes thousands of people from pursuing just cases simply because they don’t have the money, it becomes a disgrace and a repression of justice.

Please note, when I say “poor”, I don’t in fact mean poor. Lawyers are expensive. Very expensive. Whatever you think of that is irrelevant, because it’s how the situation stands. Only the richest can afford to pay lawyers to fight their case in the courts- anyone on middle, low or no incomes will not be able to afford it.

This will, no doubt, be lost in a squall of other arguments. The rest of the budget was far from exclusively good news, and I expect that arguing over tax cuts, cuts to inheritance tax, and economic growth will take precedence, but this is essentially important. The whole concept of the rule of law requires that unlawful behaviour and unjust acts can be challenged in the courts. These measures threaten that ability, and represent a chilling, terrifying assault on justice and democracy. This needs to be seen for what it really is.

And Osborne Starts to Sweat

Are you panicking yet, George?

Regular readers of this blog (if there are such things) won’t be surprised by my reaction to the latest political news to hit the press. Alan Johnson has resigned as Shadow Chancellor. Ed Miliband has replaced him with one of his competitors in the leadership race: the Rt. Hon. Ed Balls MP.

Given that he was my preferred candidate for the leadership, I’m obviously ecstatic with anticipation at this. In my opinion, it’s where Balls should have been from the word go- though I know there are probably plenty within the party who would disagree (I look forward, in particular, to discussing it with my fellow Sussex Uni Labour Society member Rob Brown, come Tuesday). Balls is an economic heavyweight, who has the qualifications for the job, and the tenacity to do it in opposition.

My opinion on Osborne  (economically illiterate, Thatcherite, trust-fund baby) is also not exactly secret. So I’m particularly looking forward to the first face off between the two. Given that Balls is the Labour MP whom the Tories are most frightened of, Osborne must be shitting bricks right now. Particularly after what Balls did to Gove in the few months he was shadowing the Ministry of Education. Balls has the economic expertise to cut Osborne’s nonsense to shreds, and the oratorical talents to have him cowering behind the dispatch box.

The corresponding promotion of Yvette Cooper to Shadow Home Secretary is also a triumph for the opposition. Placing one of the most prominent female Labour MPs (probably second, after Harriet Harman) opposite the woman who voted against almost all equality legislation to come through the House in the last government is sure to prove interesting. Added to that the fact that Cooper is similarly talented to her husband, Balls, and that a home affairs storm is brewing over both control orders and 28 day detention, she could be in for considerable success in the role.

The downside of all this, of course, is that Alan Johnson has retired from frontline politics. He will be missed, without a doubt. He embodied Labour’s roots entirely, coming from a poor background, and work in the unions, to be a political heavyweight. His absence from the frontbench will be keenly felt, and we are the poorer for it. But the Labour backbenches seem to be overflowing with political heavyweights lately.

So all in all, a good day. A good day for Ed Balls; a good day for the party; a good day for the country; and a very bad day for Osborne.