Archive for Politics

That hole, Prime Minister, is a credibility gap!

Posted in Politics, PR with tags , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Troubling times for the Coalition with a series of ‘presentational’ or PR gaffes that have led to the inevitable headlines that the honeymoon is well and truly over.  Pasty-gate, charitable giving, jerry cans and the Granny Tax not only provide plenty of headlines, but also give the Eds (Miliband and Balls) an opportunity for a photoshoot at Greggs.

However, it would be wrong to blame the Government’s PR for this (although one suspects the No.10 communication team has had a bit of a roasting recently).  The sense I have is that something more strategic is going wrong.  Charitable giving appears to cut directly across the Big Society programme.  Whacking pensioners threatens the “we are all in this together” reasoning behind the austerity programme (and I suspect threatens to drive a large percentage of those who actually bother to vote into the arms of UKIP).

Next up, I suspect, is the Green Deal.  According to the Sunday Telegraph there is currently a battle royal going on between the Treasury and the rest of the Coalition about the Government’s flagship environmental initiative.  The Chancellor and a number of other Conservative MPs want it scrapped.  The Deputy Prime Minister on the other hand made a major speech last week, which can be read HERE, telling us all that it would revolutionise how we heat our homes.  Scrapping it would be rather uncomfortable for a Prime Minister who came into office promising to be the “Greenest Government Ever”.

Now, the Green Deal isn’t perfect and privately many across the building sector (and many MPs) will express deep reservations.  I specifically recall one former MP telling me that even a slight move in interest rates in a northward direction will turn the scheme from a ‘Pay As You Save’ scheme into a ‘Pay As You Pay’ scheme.

The point is, this has the potential to be the latest gap between PR and policy, what the American writer Walter Lippmann would have called a ‘credibility gap’ where rhetoric fails to match reality.  Whilst I do not expect the Green Deal’s demise to bring down the Coalition, the yawning gaps that keep appearing all have a corrosive effect and can perhaps explain Labour’s current position in the polls.

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The big story from the local elections

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on May 6, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Today’s Big news is not the LibDems getting kicked in the local elections or what it means for the future of the coalition or what it means for Nick Clegg’s future as Deputy Prime Minister. Neither is it the large numbers of new Labour councillors that have been elected in what appears like a half decent night for Ed Milliband.

The big story today is in Scotland and what it may mean for the future of the United Kingdom. For Alex Salmond to pull off a second term at Holyrood despite the electoral system up there being stacked against him (they use a form of AV, oh the irony!) is an achievement. For him to be in sight of an overall majority which could allow him to have a referendum on independence is earth-shattering.

If you consider that a mere two years ago Salmond was on the rocks having hung his hat on creating a banking “Arc of Prosperity” along with Iceland – only for Royal Bank of Scotland to pull the entire UK almost singlehandedly into penury – his comeback is astonishing. During the General Election campaign last year I met James Cook of the BBC and asked him whether Salmond was still in ‘Father of the Nation’ mode North of the Border. James was succinct in his answer. “Don’t underestimate him,” he told me “of all the party leaders he is the most skilled.” How right James was and you can bet your hat that Salmond is confident now that he can hold a referendum on his long-cherished dream of independence.

There will be many English today who take the view “let them see if they can survive without us”. It would certainly be interesting with the majority of the Scottish population employed in public sector and not wealth creating jobs. What’s more we must ask the question whether the Scots would want to go it on their own without the benefit of the Barnett Formula which currently allocates more than £1,500 of public money per person more for Scotland than England.

But, there are issues for the English as well. What would happen to our place on the United Nations Security Council? Would there still be a British Army, bearing in mind that a large proportion of our manpower is taken from North of the Border? What would happen to our renewable energy policy, bearing in mind that some of our biggest wind farms are situated off the coast of Scotland and tidal power is almost completely based up there?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but if anyone thinks that Salmond’s gains are purely a matter for the Scots then think again.

Bob and Digby fail the Sherman Test

Posted in Politics with tags , , on April 7, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Do Bob Warman or Digby Jones want to be Mayor of Birmingham? Both are fond of the spotlight, are regularly talked about as potential candidates and are doing little to stop the speculation.

At some point all this flirting has to stop though. If neither are interested could I suggest that they take a leaf from William Tecumseh Sherman’s book who put down a benchmark by which all statements on political aspirations should be judged. Sherman became famous as a Union General during the American Civil War, famously raising Georgia to the ground, including the burning of Atlanta during his scorched earth ‘March to the Sea’, which led to the ultimate capitulation of the South.

He was famously straight talking, once declaring that all newspapermen should be shot – an interesting take on media relations strategy I think you’ll agree. However, in order to put to rest any hopes that his supporters had that he would use his popularity in the North to run for the Presidency in the aftermath of the Civil War, he famously declared, “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” Now that is unequivocal!

Both, Bob and Digby therefore currently fail the Sherman Test. One can only conclude that, in the absence of an actual statement, both are interested but are unwilling to formally throw their hats into the ring until they have taken ‘soundings’ or there is a groundswell of popular support.

It must be uncomfortable sitting on that fence!

No Minister!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on March 22, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I’ve neglected you. I apologise, holidays, email backlogs and children have led to a near month’s hiatus between my rants. Time to put this right!

I couldn’t help but notice a fascinating little article by James Forsyth in this week’s Spectator which can be read HERE. The article describes near panic in the Tory party over their inability to deliver on many of the promises made, in large part due to Civil Service intransigence.

There is a particularly juicy little anecdote in paragraph six which goes like this: “It is difficult to understate the depth of ministerial frustration. One secretary of state is so fed up with his department’s refusal to answer his questions that he has asked a friend of his, an MP, to put in a Freedom of Information request.”

I mean honestly, you can’t write comedy like this, it’s like something out of Yes Minister. It would appear that Project Cameron is falling foul of the one cast iron laws of British politics, namely that the Civil Service will only do what it wants to do and has every trick in the book to bring things to a grinding halt.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame might have said: “There are five ways of delaying doing anything Bernard. First, publish a consultation document. Second, hold a full department inquiry. Three, commission some academic research. Four, announce we are going to do something but only when the time is right. Five, as a last resort, hold a full public inquiry, that will take years!”

My guess is the secretaries of state in question are either Chris Huhne at DECC or William Hague at the Foreign Office who will undoubtedly come in for ever more flack as this term of Parliament goes on. Hague is clearly struggling with the FO brief and Huhne is tackling the big issues (and big targets) that this country faces in terms of climate change which need big decisions. The Civil Service will meanwhile remains protected by the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility ie. the Minister takes all the blame.

Now it’s not often I’m right, but I questioned before the General Election whether Cameron would be able to do half of what he wanted due to Civil Service foot-dragging. If this report is true and Project Cameron is to succeed he needs to get a grip quick

Should the Telegraph stops its MP’s expenses investigations?

Posted in Media, Politics with tags , , on June 2, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It is interesting that the fall of David Laws, who resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the weekend, has not been greeted with the same “serves him right” attitude that greeted last years’ revelations about duck houses, moats and second homes. 

None of the weekend’s revelations concerning either Laws or Danny Alexander are new, in the sense that The Telegraph is merely mining the CD of information it bought from Parliament’s Fees Office early last year.  Why haven’t these revelations about Laws or Alexander come to light before?  Because, simply, prior to joining the Cabinet, The Telegaph had not deemed either important enough to question or investigate the raw information it acquired, which merely tells them what was claimed, namely rent in Laws’ case, but not the identity of the landlord.

There can be little doubt that the initial Telegraph investigations of early 2009 was landmark investigative journalism and did the country a great service in exposing the corrupt ‘anything goes’ atmosphere at Westminster.  However, the collateral damage inflicted by this story with the effective ‘outing’ of Laws has left a nasty taste in many mouths and split many papers down the middle.  Michael White in The Guardian has questioned whether the press has lost the plot on this one, while Roy Greenslade in the same paper defends The Telegraph and calls it a legitimate public interest story.

The sense I have is that the general public, far from being outraged at Laws’ behavior, appears at best concerned at the violation of privacy and at worst apathetic.  It would appear that the law of diminishing returns might also be at work here for The Telegraph, with each revelation grabbing less and less attention outside the Westminster bubble. 

We now have a new Parliament.  The rotten apples have either been thrown out or been forced to account for themselves at a General Election.  Certainly, our newspapers should remain vigilant and call MPs to account but, while dragging up information that is nearly a decade old in Laws’ case can constitute a legitimate public interest, I’m not sure his resignation and ‘outing’ serves the public interest .  Perhaps it is time to move on.