All 147 entries tagged Politics

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March 26, 2007

Don't work with children or animals… or politicians.

Phew… They say you shouldn’t work with kids or animals in television, but I’d recommend avoiding politicians too. It’s not that they run around uncontrollably or piss on the studio floor, but they’re a bit of a chain around your neck. What would have been a fairly flexible deadline is suddenly made precise by having a few demanding egos in the room.

We’ve been recording a Question Time programme with participants from Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and Plaid, and things started going badly when the Labour person pulled out about six hours before filming. Three hours of phoning later and we had a stand-in.

We were running predictably late, and started filming at the last possible moment. One candidate was having a nervous relationship with their wrist-watch. As soon as we were done with filming the main take, they got up, even though we needed them to sit and film a couple of inserts. Nope, not gonna happen, it seems. Politician has somewhere else to be.

Later it turned out that they could just about hear our talkback system, meaning anything I was saying in the gallery was getting through to them. Er… right. That’s the presenter’s prompts? The questions being read in advance? The lines of attack? And presumably it included the derogatory comments from the gallery as well then?

Live telly. Pain. In. The. Arse.

March 25, 2007

No no no no no no no no no… I mean Yes?

Jim Trott from the Vicar of Dibley The sky is green. The sky is green. The sky is green. No matter how many times you say it, it still won’t be true.

But still, newspapers continue to say David Miliband should – perhaps will – run against Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. But it still won’t happen.

Today’s Observer reckons Tony Blair wants Miliband to run. That in itself seems a bit unlikely, but even if it’s true, the story ignores one crucial thing about Miliband.

He’s a bit clever.

No serious challenger with their head screwed on would actually run against Gordon. His “Gord Giveth, Gord Taketh Away” budget is evidence that he can just about get away with anything. Only a major slip-up would change that.

Miliband would, I reckon, make a better job of PM than Gordon. But he’s not ready for it, Gordon’s going to win anyway, and if you look hard enough, he doesn’t even look like he wants it.

When Miliband says no, he doesn’t mean yes.

March 23, 2007

Cameron tries to win over the Welsh

Doidge Meets Cameron

David Cameron’s fishing for votes in Wales. His Conservatives have eleven seats in the Assembly, and are hoping for a big increase in May. But he might have to do better than his flying visit today, where he didn’t announce any policies for Wales and didn’t hang around long either.

He told me Plaid Cymru stood for nothing, and that his Conservatives could protect the Welsh identity better. Perhaps a contentious claim.

And he’ll have to work better on his stage management. In an attempt to look eco-friendly, his shadow cabinet followed him in minibuses. Not entirely becoming for Theresa May and her sparkly shoes. And with one bus completely empty, plus two others only half full, you have to wonder whether their environmental concerns are genuine or half-hearted. Mr Cameron himself got out and walked so we couldn’t see what gas-guzzler he’d arrived in.

The whistle-stop tour included a meeting with Conservative Assembly members and a brief – and not entirely natural – chat with children from a local primary school. He’ll be pleased to know they approved, even if his new hairstyle got a less enthusiastic reception.

March 22, 2007

Gordon Brown's Budget. And some cheese.

Gordon and Cheese

A 2p TAX CUT!!! And the scrapping of the lower rate of income tax to cancel it out.

A BETTER DEAL FOR BUSINESSES!!! And an increase in corporation tax for small businesses.

AN INCREASE IN CHILD TAX CREDITS!!! And a change in the threshold so that you’ll get less.

A TAX CUTTING BUDGET!!! And firm promises that taxes will actually go up in future years.

CASH BORROWING IS DOWN!!! Except for last year, but I won’t mention that.

THE LOWEST INCOME TAX RATES IN DECADES!!! And the highest stealth taxes ever, to make up for it.

A BUDGET THAT LOOKS TO THE FUTURE!!! Ah… yes, he got that bit right. Half of the measures he introduced won’t actually start until next April. Howzat for the next Chancellor, eh?

March 21, 2007

Brown finishes with a Jobs

The Chancellor’s been watching Steve Jobs, the maverick boss of Apple. In his final budget, Brown saved the big news until the end, just as Jobs always does – a 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax. It’s not a new iPod, but the iPod generation will be happy…

...until they see the small print. Less trumpeted was the scrapping of the lower rate of income tax at 10p. So the cut in the basic rate of income tax will be almost ‘revenue neutral’. Put in laymans terms, the BBC reckon Brown will get £8bn more by cutting the lower rate, but lose £9.5bn by reducing the basic rate. The £1.5bn will probably be made up partly through a rise in small business tax – sure to be controversial – and by selling more government buildings and the student loans, both short-term gains.

I still don’t understand why tax on beer and wine goes up by 1p per pint or 5p per bottle, yet spirits – which surely contribute to anti-social behaviour as much as beer – is frozen. Measures on the environment will be welcomed, but are hardly radical. The inheritance tax threshold went up to £350,000 (by 2010), by which time many houses will cost that much.

It was a big-headline budget, but beneath the surface, Brown did little more than tinker at the margins. As Menzies Campbell said, it was a budget of a man ready to move on.

Chancellor Doidge's Budget, 2007 Edition

Last year, your prudent Chancellor unveiled his measures to make Britain economically strong and ethically sound. This year, he shall repeat the exercise bearing in mind the strong likelihood that he will take over the reins of the sinking ship from Tony Blair in the coming months.

Last year, I began with a shameless attack upon the poor. That’s right. “Multi Stamp Duty”. The more houses you own, the more you pay in tax when you buy another one. Anyone buying a second home would pay 5% stamp duty, while anyone buying a third home (greedy buggeers) would pay 10%. Well this year Chancellor Doidge will scrap stamp duty altogether for people buying their first home (down from 1%). This undoubtedly popular move will come into effect as soon as possible, pissing off the rich no-end.

Talking of which, 4×4s. Last year I linked car tax to your MOT test. The more miles you do, the more you pay. If your car is a ‘big-emitter’, you currently pay (in Doidgeland) £100 if you do over 2,500 miles per year. Well I’m going to add a top-rate of £250 per year if you do over 10,000 miles per year. That’ll catch the estate agents in their Mondeos. Because no-one likes them anyway.

I’m not planning to tinker much with my simple tax rates that I imposed last year:

People earning between £15k – £30k pay 25% tax
People earning between £30k – £50k pay 35% tax and
People earning over £50k tax pay 45% tax.

But I’m going to launch a consultation on charging an extra 5% on anyone earning over £1m per year (in City bonuses presumably). We rely on the City of London for a huge amount of our income, but I don’t think charging the highest earners will really result in an exodus of executives to Luxembourg. And even if it does, at least house prices will fall.

And so to house prices. They’re clearly not starting to fall, and they’re not about to crash either. So along with the Department for Communities and Local Government, I can announce that by 2010, 20% of all new homes in Britain must be three storeys tall. In theory, this will mean less land is used, and we can build the millions of homes we need without encroaching too much on the green belt. I’m also sending every house a brick to put in their toilet. Less water used, you see.

Another thing about new homes that disappoints me is the small amount of garden space. True, this is slightly contradictory with what I just said, but I want to make sure there are plenty of green spaces in residential areas. Many local councils have a policy of ‘filling-in’ spaces between homes rather than building new housing estates. I think those spaces are a commodity in themselves and am launching a new national ‘green spaces’ fund to buy them from private landowners and turn them into community spaces, rather than squash more houses into them. Also, any new housing estate will have to have some arbitrary amount of shared green space per dwelling. Let’s say 20m2 per house.

Last year I scrapped BBC Three. The BBC ignored me, and put Anthea Turner on, just to inflame my bowels even more. In revenge, I’m taking BBC Two Wales off them as well. They’re filling it with programmes about Welshness – see here. BBC Two Wales will be replaced on Satellite (and moved onto Freeview too) with a sports channel. I’m still working on BBC Three, and fully intend for it to become a channel full of quality U.S. imports. I’m still planning to use the analogue TV signals for free-to-air High Definition, too.

In the world of journalism (for which I have what you might call a soft-spot), I intend to ban the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Democracy? Pah. They’d both rather have a monarch run the country on a daily basis, especially if they could get Diana back to do it. Fox News is also getting kicked off Sky. There are already rules about impartiality in the UK. It applies to Fox just as it does to Sky News, and yet we’ve done nothing about it.

I’ll sweeten the blow of losing BBC Wales by building a railway from north to south Wales. It takes ages to get there at the moment, and it’s silly. I’ll also build a decent railway from Cardiff to its airport, which is miles away and useless.

Last year I promised you I would introduce two things in 2007. I lied. I’m still going to give you free childcare by paying nurseries directly, but I’m not going to put Fathers 4 Justice into community service. Instead I’m sending them to Afghanistan. They can breach security like no-one else, so hopefully they can infiltrate Al-Qaeda too, and find Bin Laden for me.

As I’m about to take over the government, I thought I’d announce a few things I’m planning to do when Tony goes on his lecture tour. Firstly, I’m going to revoke his passport. Secondly I’m going to take out a banning order on his – and Alastair Campbell’s – memoirs. And finally I’m going to rent out his expensive new homes (incl. flats in Bristol) to poor people. It’s all for his own good. I saw that Channel 4 drama about ‘The Trial of Tony Blair’ and I reckon if he leaves the country we’ll forget about him pretty quickly.

I’m going to pull troops out of Iraq. Sorry, George. They’d be of more use in Zimbabwe, but we can’t do that because we’re not black and we’d look like the imperial aggressors that we, er… are. I’ll send half of them to Afghanistan because that’s a war worth winning, even just to kill the opium trade once and for all. And the rest I’ll retrain as rapid-response peacekeepers, like the S.A.S., but with incense sticks rather than AK-47s.

And finally I’m planning to invade Australia. I like the Aussies, I really do. But they’ve got a lot of unused land. And we have a lot of asylum seekers. I don’t think we should send them back to where they came from, because there’s usually a good reason they left. But with a few water pipes and a few traps for the snakes, I think we can make the bush hospitable. And with a few years’ climate change, we might even be able to grow strawberries out there!

And so, I present my final budget. It’s full of holes, but I don’t care. Someone else can come into the Treasury and clear it up. I’m moving on to new pastures. Well, next door, at least. It’s been an exciting ten years. I’ve cured world poverty, kept Blair and Bono in jobs, and only screwed up the universities, trains, hospitals and schools. Not bad. Now I can move to Number 10, fix it all, and say 1997 – 2007 was all his fault.

March 19, 2007

Why would we want 'personalised' public services?

“eBay-style” ratings for doctors and teachers… Student reports on school websites… Competitive street cleaning and foster care…

Do any of these sound like good ideas to you? It’s all part of the government’s obsession with putting technology to good use. They’re obviously assuming that naming-and-shaming doctors and teachers will make them care how they’re doing. In fact, if one of them is rubbish, an online rating by miserable ‘customers’ is unlikely to change their ways. What people really want is a GP who they can see at short notice, and who remains their doctor for years.

Student reports and marks online? What a stupid idea. Few schools have anyone capable of building a simple one-page website, let alone a database that isn’t susceptible to hacking. Only those with an internet connection – not to mention the interest in it – would bother. And imagine the work required for teachers to input every mark.

But surely making companies compete to clean streets is a good idea? Er… no. People want clean streets, and yes, they want value for money. But the government is breeding a thousand companies who devote 90% of their time to watching their back, rather than nurturing a company who can provide something valuable and build on years of experience.

People want a good, local school and hospital. For a large proportion of the country living outside of the cities, there is no such thing as choice. And if they really wanted us to have choice, they wouldn’t have shut a load of hospitals.

But the government are still after their ‘urban’ dream where millions can choose between good and bad schools, clean and ‘dirty’ hospitals and where, inevitably, the rich, educated elite make better choices than those without an internet connection and broadsheet newspaper.

Stop trying to get ‘personal’. Get real.

March 08, 2007

A night of good results; Democracy at last?

  • Man United go through to the Quarter Finals of the Champions’ League
  • Arsenal go crashing out to PSV
  • Oh, and the House of Commons votes for a fully-elected House of Lords.

I might be a Man U fan, but it’s the third result which I’m most pleased about. Given the recent debacle surrounding nominations to the House of Lords – as well as its countless historical anomalies – it’s high time the Lords was made accountable to the public and relevant to the 21st Century.

For sure, the Lords themselves will reject the plans. But even though the electorate will be wary of yet another round of elections, I think there’ll be a lot of support for kicking out the hereditaries.

But I have a solution which I’ve been kicking around for a few years. The Lords should be elected by Proportional Representation, using the same votes from the General Election. Votes would be added up nationally and a party list system would be used. It would keep the tradition of having ‘experts’ in the second chamber, rather than just useless party grandees.

True, the leading party in the Commons would probably have the majority in the Lords, but counting votes rather than seats would dramatically reduce the bias in favour of the winning party. Additionally, you could give Lords 8-10 year terms, with only half re-elected each time there was a general election. That would provide continuity and dampen the effect of fluctuations in the Commons’ composition.

Jack Straw, leader of the House of Commons, should be congratulated for achieving the result he did tonight. If the House of Lords is reformed to the extent voted for today, it would almost certainly be Labour’s most memorable achievement since the formation of the NHS.

March 06, 2007

Who's leaking in the Cash for Honours debacle?

So the cards are on the table. Ruth Turner, the Head of Government Relations at 10 Downing Street sent an e-mail to her boss, Jonathan Powell, saying Lord Levy was telling porkies to the police.

But here’s the interesting bit…

The BBC has not seen the document containing her concerns but has been told about it by more than one source.

For the Beeb to fight so hard for a story – about a document they haven’t seen – their sources must be damned good. And I reckon they must have got their information from at least one of these two people: Ruth Turner and Jonathan Powell.

It sounds like there’s a lot of nervousness in Downing Street. And they seem to have chosen Lord Levy as the scapegoat. Levy himself has been fighting back – “friends” of Levy have told newspapers how the story is nonsense. Except Levy has no friends. It’s an open secret he’s the “friend” making the calls.

So if you see someone from the government complaining about leaks, ignore them. They’re the ones making holes in the bucket.

P.S. It seems I broke part of the story on this one – you would have read it here first the e-mail was to do with Ruth Turner. It might – technically – have been pushing the boundaries of the injunction issued on Friday, but my guesswork was right.

March 05, 2007

Politics, 1921–style

How times have changed (or not):

[Winston Churchill] then, and subsequently, delivered himself of a number of well-phrased and semi-contradictory aphorisms. “The British government is the greatest Moslem state in the world,” he said at the time, “and it is well disposed to the Arabs and cherishes their friendship.” Then, three months later, he told a Manchester cotton audience: “In Africa, the population is docile and the country fruitful; in Mesopotamia and the Middle East the country is arid, and the population ferocious.”1

You could get away with a lot before broadcast news was invented. It makes you wonder whether, under relatively constant scrutiny, Blair et al are doomed to fail.

1. Churchill by Roy Jenkins, p.360

March 04, 2007

The Lib Dems could get crowded out in 2009

If the next parliament is hung, Sir Menzies could have either Gordon Brown or David Cameron or both of them at his door. The closer we get to the election, and the more the possibility of a hung parliament begins to intrigue the media, the more interest there will be in the Lib Dems. They may suddenly find themselves centre stage – Andrew Rawnsley, writing in today’s Observer.

Ming CampbellI agree with what much of Andrew Rawnsley says in his article, but not his conclusion. He says that with the Lib Dems a potential coalition partner in a hung parliament, they’ll become much more important to British politics in the next three years.

That may be true, but I’m not expecting much of a rise in their representation in Parliament.

If, as expected, the Brown v Cameron election is a close-run thing, perhaps resulting in a hung parliament, then I’d be surprised if the Lib Dems’ number of seats didn’t fall. The margins between Labour and the Conservatives will be so small, people will find it hard to ‘waste’ their vote on a party who will probably end up governing – at least in some small part – anyway.

The next election won’t be about the composition of the Commons. It’ll be a straight fight for who should choose the Cabinet. And in such a situation, the Lib Dems might be key players, but could also find themselves left out in the electoral cold.

March 03, 2007

Lib Dems' bonkers tax plans

At the last election, the Lib Dems wanted to scrap Council Tax in favour of a local income tax. There’s some sense behind this – many people, often retired, live in expensive houses but don’t have enormous incomes. Council tax in its present form ignores income and ability to pay, charging people purely on the value of their home.

Well now, they’ve come up with another proposal which sounds completely contradictory. They want to charge a Wealth Tax on people with homes worth more than £1m.

It’s a nice idea. It sounds like a tax against those nasty rich people. But it’s based on the same fallacy that makes council tax so stupid. It simply isn’t true that people in expensive houses are always rich. Many older people have lived in one house for more than half a century – and house price inflation has pushed their house value up to silly levels. That doesn’t mean they have a large income, and certainly doesn’t mean they’re able to pay – or deserving of – a wealth tax.

Surely a wealth tax on incomes would be far more sensible. And far less hypocritical.

March 02, 2007

Breaking: Injunction slapped on BBC over Cash–For–Honours story

Breaking NewsFrom BBC News Online:

The Attorney General has obtained an injunction against the BBC to stop it broadcasting an item about the cash for honours investigation. The injunction was obtained on Friday night at a hearing which lasted around two hours at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The Attorney General was successful in obtaining an injunction against the BBC. The BBC said its reporting of the story is a matter of public interest. (Link)

It hardly needs to be said the Attorney General is not exactly an unbiased observer to proceedings in the Cash for Honours investigation.

Interestingly, the BBC accompany this story with a picture of Ruth Turner, the head of Government Relations who has been arrested in relation to the Cash for Honours saga.

It sounds like something big could be brewing.

Edit (22:20): I’m convinced the story’s to do with Ruth Turner. The photo’s disappeared.

Edit (22:38): Benedict White suggests the banned report was about a leaked e-mail concerning Lord Levy.

Edit (06/03/07): So it was about Ruth Turner then. You read it here first.

March 01, 2007

Let's scrap Council Tax

Council house - Who pays for this?It’s that time of year when we find out how much Council Tax we’ll have to pay for the next year.1 For years, rises have been above the rate of inflation, and people have got increasingly angry at their local councils.

Oddly, central government often escapes the blame. But the reality is it’s usually their fault.

Whenever a bill is passed in Parliament, it usually requires local councils to make changes to their policy or carry out something on the government’s behalf. But rarely does the government increase their budget to pay for this. It’s a clever way of making policy without having to pay for it.

Since 1997, the proportion of Council income coming from central government has fallen dramatically. The slack’s been made up by getting more money directly from Council Tax. It’s all part of a long-term push towards depoliticisation, which began in the Margaret Thatcher era.

It was the same logic behind privatising the railways. Take them out of central government control and all controversy will subside.

Didn’t that work well?

Well now it’s time to change Council Tax. It’s become a ridiculous system, and not just because it’s based upon the value of your house. It’s ridiculous because the demands being made on the Council’s income aren’t coming from the Council – they’re coming from Westminster.

So I suggest we scrap Council Tax altogether. If initiatives are going to come from central government, it should be central government who has to pay for them. Bring in direct funding for Councils and you’ll end this opaque taxation merry-go-round which is just making a lot of people poorer. Make government accountable for their actions and they’ll soon slow down their spending plans.

1. Okay, so I’m still a student and don’t pay it, but that’s not the point.

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