Oops I swore. Boris wouldn’t like that:
Action will be taken so that police can arrest members of the public for swearing at them, Boris Johnson has promised.
The London mayor attacked police guidance advising officers not to try to arrest those who verbally attacked them on the basis that police should have thicker skins.
“I reckon we need to get back to where we were before some judge given law of 1988 and be clear that if people swear at the police, they must understand they will be arrested,” Mr Johnson said.
“If people feel that there are no comebacks and no boundaries for the small stuff, I’m afraid they will go on to commit more crimes.”
What a complete load of shit. He and the police can…FUCK OFF. Such poor, timid things. There are so many things wrong with London, and all this Tory moron can do is collude with the new Commissioner Hogan-Howe to protect his own interests. It’s pathetic; it’s even more pathetic though that he’s likely to be returned to office next year.
What bullshit to say that more serious crimes are perpetrated by people who swear at the police. What about reforming the fucking police, Boris?! You know, the organisation which in the last month decided it could attack the freedom of the press itself? And people wonder why I resent Tories…
I’m going to the March for the Alternative on the 26th March (2 days from now as I write) to stand up against these bastards. If you have any shred of intelligence or decency you should too. I’ll be damned if I’ll just stand by and let them dismantle what little there is left of this society which actually works…
Johann Hari is outraged at Tory Westminster Council. You should be too:
the Tory-run Westminster Council, one of the richest in Britain, announced a ban on sleeping on the streets, or feeding anybody who does. They say giving Steven food only “encourages” him to be homeless. So on Tuesday night, I went on one of the soon-to-be-criminalized soup runs. I walked around the neon warrens of the West End – through the theatre-throngs, and past the fancy fashion stores – with two volunteers from the charity the Simon Community.
Cynthia Jameson and Mark Jones know by name all the homeless people they give soup, sandwiches and coffee to. They know their anxieties, their foibles, and their jokes. There’s Steven. There’s Greg, who believes he has discovered a cure for malaria, but the UN has stolen and destroyed it. There’s Andrew, shivering with heroin-withdrawal. There’s the Chinese man who can’t speak English but smiles with gratitude as he shovels five sugars into his tea. And, these days, there are new faces every time they come. Phil is a 27 year-old who has only been out on the streets for three weeks. “I worked in construction for twelve years, but this recession is so bad now there’s just no work,” he tells me. “I couldn’t pay my rent, so I got chucked out. I never thought this would happen to me. I’m so ashamed.” I tell him the Tory council believes he is “encouraged” here by the free food. He looks down at his sandwich and asks softly: “What planet are they on?”
Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP and notoriously less than fully truthful blogger has said (in said blog) of yesterday’s student demonstration against the proposed hike in tuition fees:
The NUS informed the Police that there would be 5000 students attending the demonstration yesterday. They upgraded that to 15,000 on Tuesday night. The final figure was possibly as much as twice that number.
The final figure was a lot higher than even that. It’s was demonstrable evidence that, far from being apathetic, students can get motivated to stand up for what they believe in.
The students arrived from all over the country, many in NUS organised coaches.
There are many eye witness accounts of NUS officials being right in the middle of the mêlée which ensued.
Are there? I’d be surprised if Ms Dorries can provide any evidence of this. I was there and saw no evidence of anything of the sort.
Many of the students who attended were visibly shaken at what was unfolding before their eyes.
The staff working in the offices at Milbank were terrified.
Someone threw an extinguisher off the roof which easily, so easily, could have killed someone.
Sir Paul Stephenson, has been incredibly professional in the way he has come out this morning and taken the hit on the chin.
Many of us MPs don’t believe that is right. Westminster was swarming last night with literally hundreds of Police officers. If Sir Paul had known the correct number of students attending, maybe he could have had enough Police in place quickly enough.
I think that’s an unbelievably naive position to take. So Aaron Porter underestimated the numbers he expected – that’s entirely beside the point. The point is the Met allowed a student protest to run past Tory Party HQ, and then chose to defend it with only a dozen beat cops. I’m not defending the violence in any way, but common sense should have told them that that sort of planning was downright incompetent. Well done to the Met – I agree – for not going in and busting heads the way I thought they were going to, and they should of course prosecute the rioter who threw the extinguisher down at the police, but to blame the NUS for the Met’s incompetent advance planning is just ridiculous.
It appears that the President of the NUS, Aaron Porter, did not brief him adequately. The NUS organised a demonstration which has resulted in people in hospital and students with criminal records, before they have even had time to fill in a job application form.
It was an NUS demonstration. It is not good enough that today they want to distance themselves from what happened with a ‘not me Gov’ statement. They cannot.
Sure they can, and they are right to. It’s preposterous to hold the NUS to account for the behaviour of every single person associated with the protest, be they student or not – there were far more than the 50,000 some reports have suggested attended. How on earth could the people responsible for organising a peaceful protest be expected to manage each and every participant on the ground? Porter himself strongly denounced the violence from an early stage, the Met were extremely slow to respond (I know – unlike Ms Dorries I was actually there) and the stewards were desperately trying to shepherd demonstrators away from Millbank Tower. Maybe they should have been better trained, or there should have been more of them, but I doubt that would have had any noticeable effect on what happened. I also doubt the numbers attacking the tower would have been that much fewer, if the total overall number of protesters had been lower.
It is not good enough that the police are expected to shoulder all of the blame.
Aaron Porter should resign. He was the architect of a dangerous demonstration which could have resulted in the loss of life.
An ignorant thing to say, based on at best questionable motives. He was the architect of a peaceful, legitimate demonstration and had nothing whatsoever to do with the violence which impinged on it. Ms Dorries should be ashamed of herself.
The Police should be congratulated for what they did manage to achieve in the face of adversity.
Everyone has a right to peaceful demonstration. No one has a right to terrify and endanger the lives of others. Aaron Porter was responsible for that. It was an NUS demonstration and therefore they are fully responsible.
Yes they should – those on the ground had to put up with a mob, some of whose members were throwing missiles at them for no discernible reason. But to blame Porter for that is contemptible and I believe Ms Dorries should be condemned by every right minded person associated with or aware of the protest. Same old Tories, eh?
It seems as though the Tories really are engaging in disaster capitalism (Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’):
Councils in London have privately warned that low-income families will be driven out of richer neighbourhoods to the suburban fringes and parts of the deprived inner city, putting pressure on social services and schools and potentially “triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness”.
Freedom of information requests to London boroughs revealed the disturbing consequences of government housing measures since July. The main measures cap payments to private landlords by councils for benefit claimants from next April – with four-bedroom homes limited to £400 a week. Six months later all rents paid from the public purse will be pegged to a third of market rates, down from a half. Claimants of jobseeker’s allowance will lose 10% of housing benefit from 2013. Places such as Oxford, Blackpool and Brighton will be affected but the capital will bear the brunt of the changes.
George Osborne says the taxpayer should not be expected to pay for families to live in expensive city centres, but many councils have balked at the proposals. London boroughs estimate that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers.
The result would be “social flight” to poorer parts of the capital as the reforms, according to one local authority, “effectively make it impossible for low-income households to rent in the private sector in inner London”
London Mayor Boris Johnson attacked the proposals, saying:
“What we will not see, and will not accept, is any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.
“On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”
Despite the prime minister’s insistence that the measures would go ahead unamended, Johnson indicated today that he was in talks with Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, to press the case for a three-pronged plan to mitigate the impact on Londoners.
Tim Montgomerie went on the offensive against Boris:
London’s Conservative mayor supports the principle of the government’s housing reforms – calling them “sensible” and describing the current position as “unsustainable”. He does, however, have a perfectly reasonable concern that the change from the current payments regime to the new system should be handled carefully. Some high-end estimates suggest 80,000 London families might be affected by the new system, and that’s a lot of potentially angry voters who Johnson – facing an uphill re-election battle in 2012 – needs to worry about.
In talking, however, of “Kosovo-style social cleansing” he risked insulting the memory of those murdered in that benighted part of Europe in the late 1990s. The mayor of London has since issued a statement saying he was quoted out of context but has yet to apologise for those poorly chosen words.
Where Johnson is right is in saying that a nationwide cap is going to be much harder on Londoners than any on other part of the country. The same housing benefits that would provide a very reasonable place to live in most of the UK will not provide particularly comfortable accommodation in the nation’s capital.
In discussions with Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, Johnson is arguing for more transitional relief. He wants a £30m pot of money to smooth the move of families from their current homes into new and more affordable properties. I hope he gets some of that money, but it must be transitional. As soon as possible, we must move to a system where people on benefits are not able to afford a better lifestyle than those who are working.
Polly Toynbee explains what’s really happening:
This month people who lost their job have had their help with mortgage interest payments cut in half. Expect more arrears and repossessions. Next year housing association and council rents will risefrom their present heavily subsidised rents to 80% of the market rent for new tenants – about £100 more a week. New social housing will no longer be available to the poorest, but only to those who can pay high rents.
People in private rented accommodation will see their benefits capped from April. From October only rents below the 30th percentile for the area will be eligible. The Department for Work and Pensions says families will pay an average £22 more a week, but evidence suggests in many places it will be far more. But that’s only part of it. In a radical change to benefit philosophy, anyone out of work for more than a year will lose another 10% from their housing benefit. This is a departure into the realms of US welfarism, influenced by the architects of American time-limited welfare who have been visiting David Cameron. Conditionality now gives way to punishment, shadow DWP secretary Douglas Alexander points out, regardless of how hard someone tries to find work that isn’t there. This arbitrary cut is the first step to an entirely new policy.
But that’s not all. The sum paid towards the rent will fall every year, in perpetuity: it will no longer rise as average local rents rise but will be pegged to the consumer price index. If that had happened in the last decade most people would have been priced out: rents rose by 70%, but the CPI only rose 20%.
Now add in something more sinister. Council tax benefit, worth an average £16 a week, is to be cut by 10% and then handed over to each local authority to decide how much benefit to offer: if some councils want to push poor people out, they can pay virtually nothing to their residents. But hey, that’s localism.
And addresses Montgomerie’s point swiftly:
Meanwhile housing benefit claims soared as lack of cheap council housing saw councils put people into expensive private housing instead. The crash meant new claimants among the unemployed and those whose hours and pay were cut. Councils put people into private rentals for lack of cheaper social housing, and of course the number of households is growing as people live longer. The shortage will get much worse with the housing budget halved.
All fairness to Tories – they know how to wield power when they get it. But this is social engineering on a scale which would make Dame Shirley Porter blanch. The objection the Right has with benefits is Tim Montgomerie’s last line, but those rare examples happen for a reason, as Polly points out. Grant Shapps though disagrees with her:
Grant Shapps, the housing minister, embarked on an unwavering defence of his government’s reform of the housing benefit system last night, dismissing some of the concerns of opposition MPs, housing charities and London councils about the likely impact of the changes as “complete nonsense”.
As London Labour MPs warned that tens of thousands of poorer residents would be forced to leave the capital, Shapps rejected suggestions that the reforms could push large numbers out of London.
“The caps are not somehow draconian or unfair,” he told the Guardian. “The average taxpayer does not want to see £21bn, more than the whole police budget, spent on housing benefit.”
But what the ConDems don’t want you to think about is tax avoidance – they want you to rail against the poor, who after all weren’t the people responsible for the economic crash, but who are well placed to be the fall guys for an exercise in fundamentally reorienting the role and position of the state; Thatcher may have been Friedman to the core, but this will be Friedman on acid. Accordingly Vodafone not paying its tax bill won’t bother the coalition at all, as Johann Hari shows:
For years now, Vodafone has been refusing to pay billions of pounds of taxes to the British people that are outstanding. The company – which has doubled its profits during this recession – engaged in all kinds of accounting twists and turns, but it was eventually ruled this refusal breached anti-tax avoidance rules. They looked set to pay a sum Private Eye calculates to be more than £6bn.
Then, suddenly, the exchequer – run by George Osborne – cancelled almost all of the outstanding tax bill, in a move a senior figure in Revenues and Customs says is “an unbelievable cave-in.” A few days after the decision, Osborne was promoting Vodafone on a tax-payer funded trip to India. He then appointed Andy Halford, the finance director of Vodafone, to the government’s Advisory Board on Business Tax Rates, apparently because he thinks this is a model of how the Tories think it should be done.
By contrast, the Indian government chose to pursue Vodafone through the courts for the billions in tax they have failed to pay there. Yes, the British state is less functional than the Indian state when it comes to collecting revenues from the wealthy. This is not an isolated incident. Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, calculates that UK corporations fail to pay a further £12bn a year in taxes they legally owe, while the rich avoid or evade up to £120bn.
It really begs the question who an informed taxpayer would really be more bothered about, doesn’t it? By all means deal with the fall out of the economic collapse, but what’s being done is ideological. Noone on either side of the political divide should be unclear about that.
The responses to Chancellor George Osborne’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) yesterday have been dramatic. From Polly Toynbee:
Newspaper anecdotes of a less favourable kind will show pensioners losing housing benefit evicted from their homes. Sick people queueing for admission on A&E trolleys will suddenly show that NHS ring-fencing was bogus, its inflation needs far higher than the tiny extra it was given. Try closing even one under-used library and hear the local protests, let alone leisure centres, school sports and youth clubs. Sure Start is not saved: without ringfenced funds, it will be left to local councils to wield the axe. Schools will cut teachers and teaching assistants, while a 10,000 cut in police will be blamed for any local crime. The stories of waste and welfare cheats will soon turn to horror tales of cuts. Will the comfortable 70% care then? You bet they will.
The “big society” is now an empty aircraft carrier with no jump-jets. The voluntary sector is in no state to fill the void, with many charities near bankrupt. That £100m “transition” money Osborne gave will not even cover their redundancies and closures: transition to what, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations asks? A third of their funds – £13bn – come from government, mostly from local authorities.
But localism triumphs, the Liberal Democrats boast. That is their proud contribution – devolving the axe to local authorities. Pickles has told councils all targets are gone, freedom is theirs at last! Freedom to take the blame, obliged to cut almost everything not cemented to the floor by law. KPMG said that some councils would go bust. Many companies and charities depending on councils will also collapse. Meanwhile, rejoice, for the bank bonus season is upon us soon.
And this is the bit I don’t remotely understand. How can ‘Gideon’ possibly claim the cuts aren’t ideological when they’ll hit the people who didn’t cause the economic collapse the hardest? Banks are paying outlandish bonuses once again, now in many cases with taxpayers’ money, whilst people in the public sector (or at least those remaining in the public sector after the projected half a million job losses) will have to contribute more to their own pensions, whilst most of them have to survive on a wages freeze. Has there been any mention made by the ConDems about a Robin Hood tax? Hell no. This is an ideological shift – shock doctrine disaster capitalism the likes of which Naomi Klein has repeatedly warned us of. The Tories don’t like the welfare state or the public sector so they’re decimating them both, and it’s certainly not because they have to.
My father lost his job at the height of the last Tory recession, and had to leave the country to get another one. I remember how that felt. I remember what that did to my family.
Now it’s going to happen to a million more families and probably more. For the private sector to get all these people into work, as Osborne claims, there would have to be the most rapid business growth in my lifetime. Does anyone think that will happen? Osborne has chosen the weakest people to take the worst cuts. The poorest 16-year-olds were given £30 a week to stay on in education, so they could afford to study – until Osborne’s team dismissed it as a “bribe” and shut it down. The frailest old people depend on council services to wash them and feed them – yet Osborne just slashed their budget by 30 per cent, which service providers say will mean more pensioners being left to die in their own filth. Every family living on benefits is set to lose an average of £1,000 a year – which, as I’ve seen from living in the East End of London, will mean many poor kids across Britain never getting a birthday party, or a trip to the seaside, or a bed of their own, or a winter coat. This isn’t just On Yer Bike, it’s On Yer Own.
There is one stark symbol of how unjust the response to this economic disaster caused by bankers is. They have just paid themselves £7bn in bonuses – much of it our money – to reward themselves for failure. That’s the same sum Osborne took from the benefits of the British poor yesterday, who did nothing to cause this crash. And he has the chutzpah to brag about “fairness.”
I’m not the world’s best economist. But I fail to understand how chucking a minimum half a million people out of work, with the loss of tax revenue resulting from that (as Caroline Lucas mentions below), the redundancy payments and benefits payments arising on top, can possibly make economic sense. The gaps in public sector provision will be picked up by ‘Big Society’ charities? With what money? The private sector? With what incentive? There is no doubt that wasteful practices throughout the public sector need to be tackled, and it was one of the many failures of the New Labour government to have ignored the issue, but decimating it can’t possibly work. Then again it’s not like higher education is going to be growing any time soon, with tuition fees going through the roof and ‘new’ universities going to the wall. Those who can afford to pay through this crisis won’t have a care in the world, but I wonder just how big that catchment is, or what they’ll think when crime starts to rise as the police service is itself decimated by cuts.
I repeat: where’s the talk of a Robin Hood tax?
Caroline Lucas MP, leader of the Green Party can have the last word for now:
Still refusing to speak with one voice, the ConDemNation coalition has now announced it doesn’t intend to repeal the Digital Economy Act:
“We’re not going to repeal it,” the new UK government’s Conservative culture secretary Jeremy Hunt told paidContent:UK.
Instead, the administration will wait to see how the act’s measures perform and, if alterations or something more is needed, take action later, Hunt said.
That means the graduated-response anti-piracy action – which would level education or warning letters against freeloading ISP customers, leading to possible account suspension – will remain in place, along with all the bill’s other measures (see our recent quick-hit guide).
But the proposal for blocking sites containing infringing material was never part of the act, it was part of a separate parliamentary process instituted by Labour in the previous government’s dying days; so it is unlikely to see light of day.
The section of the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government’s detailed joint plans about media contains no reference to the Digital Economy Act.
Opposition to the act during its bill stage was vociferous from some online quarters, and the campaign is still going even though the act is law. Some party members of the coalition Liberal Democrats appear to still favour repeal.
But many sections of the media and cultural creation industry will welcome the retention of measures that seek to protect their intellectual property.
It’s a painful reminder that the coalition won’t speak with one consistent voice – Clegg may be pushing civil liberties and rollback of the surveillance state, but he’s still in coalition with the Conservative Party. The Deputy PM may have insisted on repeal of the Act before the election, but it does appear to be something he’s traded off in the coalition agreement. It’s a good lesson that we must all vote for whom we want at election time, but must then get involved in civil society pressure groups in order for what we voted for actually to get implemented. Sadly it also suggests that the coalition’s claims to want to roll back state intrusion aren’t quite as total as they want us to believe.
Geoffrey Robertson asks whether new Home Secretary Theresa May (and indeed new Deputy PM Clegg) will see reason on Gary McKinnon’s behalf, following her party’s and the Lib Dems’ long opposition to his extradition:
The first acid test for Britain’s new government is not the economy, but whether it is capable of an act of simple humanity. Can Theresa May deliver on the repeated promise of Tory and Lib Dem leaders to end the torment inflicted by the state on Gary McKinnon, the hacker with Asperger’s syndrome, whom the Home Office wants to send to lengthy imprisonment and likely suicide in a US jail? His courtroom cruelty is scheduled to begin again on 24 May: the time has come to end it, once and for all.
So, over to May, then. Her main difficulty will be to override her Home Office advisers, who have for years fought an unremitting, expensive and merciless battle against this poor man and his indomitable mother. They will, perhaps, tell their minister that if she reverses the Smith-Johnson decision, the Americans might take her to court for judicial review. But this is unrealistic: the Obama administration is unlikely to challenge a decision of the new British government. And even if it does, it is unlikely to be successful. And even if that happens, parliament is sovereign and can sweep away any adverse court decision simply by passing the Gary McKinnon (Freedom from Extradition) Act (2010).
Of course the truth is even simpler than that. Alan Johnson admitted that he did have the power to stop McKinnon’s extradition – he was just loath to use it for fear of setting an unwelcome precedent. Theresa May has an enormous task on her hands, not just to prove to a sceptical public about her suitability to be Equalities Minister, but to prove that she’s less of a hostage to the (as Robertson puts it) ‘uncivil servants’ in her department than her immediate two (if not four) predecessors. If this coalition is to mean anything, if its civil liberties agenda is going to have any believability whatsoever then at the very least Gary McKinnon’s extradition should be halted. Given that what evidence there is wouldn’t stand up in court (and none is needed to extradite him to the US) no further action should probably be taken against him.
I’ve been wondering for a few days what the real, unique selling point of getting into coalition with Clegg was for Cameron. Was it out of weakness, given the right was calling for his head, after he failed to pull off a majority in the Commons? Was it because he could decapitate them after sharing the blame for the upcoming budget cuts? My personal opinion seems to be shared by a number of Tories, and is cross-posted from conservativehome:
“Cameron is deliberately using the alliance with the Liberal Democrats to reduce the power of the Conservative Right”
I’ve already published two sets of findings from the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel:
- 43% of grassroots members think Cameron gave away too much to Clegg in order to get a coalition deal (51% do not); and
- Tory members approve of Coalition by more than three-to-one.
The third is something Cameron needs to nip in the bud:
I’d disagree that it’s something he needs to nip in the bud. It’s entirely possible that Cameron has acknowledged that a significantly right wing Tory Party still can’t win a general election outright in the UK. By going into coalition he can sideline his right wing nutjobs and tack towards the centre. Obviously that poses significant dangers for him, but pulling any sort of success off with the coalition may very well yet be his ‘Clause 4′ moment – the point at which he stared down the elements in his party who had prevented it from becoming electable in its own right. If Cameron has used the coalition to ‘seal the deal’ with his party (which he had blatantly not done going into the election), then it poses severe challenges for the incoming new Labour leader, be it a Miliband or a Cruddas. I’d be very interested in seeing what a Tory leader not in hock to the most extreme elements of their party could end up doing.
Of course we didn’t, but of course we can’t vote for a coalition – you can only ever vote for the one party you’d most like to represent you in parliament. So why the vicious diatribes are continuing is a complete mystery to me – we got the result we voted for, regardless of actual intent. But commentators are disagreeing, suggesting that the ConDemNation coalition is illegitimate and not reflective of the will of the people. From Johann Hari:
Elections are supposed to be an opportunity for the people to express the direction in which they want the country to travel. By that standard, this result is an insult. Don’t fall for the people who say the Lib Dem vote was “ambiguous”: a YouGov poll just before the election found that Lib Dem voters identified as “left-wing” over “right-wing” by a ratio of 4:1. Only 9 per cent sided with the right. Lib Dem voters wanted to stop Cameron, not install him. So before you start squabbling about the extremely difficult parliamentary arithmetic, or blaming the stupidly tribal Labour negotiators for their talks with the Lib Dems breaking down, you have to concede: the British people have not got what they voted for.
Clegg has betrayed progressives across the length and breadth of Britain. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the century-old rift on the centre left and forge a radical and progressive alliance in favour of electoral and constitutional reform. I suspect Labour will now sit on its hands in any future referendum and the Lib Dems might be on their own campaiging for a “Yes” vote. Their new partners in government have already stated their plans to oppose any change to our dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.
Clegg has also betrayed the longer-term strategic interests of his party for crude and short-term tactical gains.
What neither of them calculates however is what the likely effects of forcing the Tories into a short-lived minority administration would have been. Getting blamed as the party which refused to underpin ‘strong and stable government’ would have been an appalling (and probably disastrous) moniker to enter an October election with, which remember the Tories could easily have fought and the Lib Dems not. It’s all well and good to decry the loss of a mythical ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour but a) that coalition would have been an unstable, minority alliance and b) has collective amnesia suddenly struck about Labour’s 13 year record? ID cards, abuse of the National DNA Database, attempts to lock people up without charge for 45 and 90 days, interference in inquests and the right to jury trial, destitution of asylum seekers and the detention of their children, the Digital Economy Act, Section 44 of the Terrorism Act, denying the vote to prisoners, the Iraq War, RIPA and SOCPA legislation – were ANY of these pieces of legislation and invasions of privacy, breaches of civil liberties and human rights ‘progressive’? I think not. Why Hasan, Hari and others ignore these points is a complete mystery to me.
I don’t like the Tories in Number 10 - I really don’t. But we have a Great Repeal Bill on offer, which is likely to include some, if not all, of Deputy PM Clegg’s Freedom Bill, and indeed have seen initial successes such as the end of ID cards and the National Identity Register, not to mention the end of detention of refugees’ children. Is it entirely likely that early, and ‘savage’ budget cuts will cause serious social and economic disruption over the next 12 months? Yes, and the Lib Dems might well damage themselves beyond repair by being directly associated with them, but given that Labour rebuffed their advances to attempt a coalition with them, I don’t know why there’s so much sniping at a party which at long last finds itself to enact large swathes of its platform. It was the best out of a bad set of choices. How on earth is that a betrayal?
So Brown has finally done the honourable thing and offered his resignation as a price for coalition with the Liberal Democrats. He’s offered an immediate switch to AV via legislation, and a later referendum on STV. So shouldn’t the Lib Dems join him in a minority coalition? Erm no.
How can the Lib Dems possible ally themselves with the party which unrepentently ushered in our surveillance state? Right through to last week they were crowing about just how authoritarian they needed to be, ironically for a country they insisted wasn’t ‘broken’. Could Clegg work with Alan Johnson, who is still defying the European Court of Human Rights on his department’s abuse of the National DNA Database? And what about the Home Office’s defiance of the Court on prisoners’ voting rights? Could Clegg work with Prime Minister David Miliband, who is still defending the government’s right to torture, and trying to prevent us knowing about it? Could New Labour ever walk away from ID cards, given that its ID strategy for the 21st century depends entirely on them and the real problem – the identity register?
Would a New Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition repeal New Labour’s Digital Economy Act? Would they shut down the Independent Safeguarding Authority? How on earth could New Labour ever agree to any aspect of the Freedom Bill whatsoever? Given that there are no moves visible (yet?) showing the demise of New Labour, how could this coalition be better than one with the Tories? Don’t say have it be led by Nick Clegg because that’s just not going to happen, despite his popularity. Unless New Labour dies or the Tories offer AV+ for the Commons at the very least, I can’t see a coalition of any kind working, at least not without destroying the Lib Dems. Brown’s manoeuvre was super, no doubt timed by Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, but he really must not be the only stumbling block to working with the Labour Party.
Word has it that the Tories will try to declare themselves the winners even if they fail to win a majority in the general election tomorrow. The Constitution however has something else to say about that:
Despite the claims of certain media commentators and aggrieved Conservative politicians at the weekend, there has been no “new rule” dreamt up in the Cabinet Office for the event of a hung parliament. The constitutional position has long been clear: if no party secures an overall majority then Gordon Brown, as the incumbent prime minister, has the constitutional right to remain in office to try to form a government.
Constitutionally, a PM cannot be forced to resign because the opposition believes it has a better mandate to govern. But in practice, whether the PM stays in office and tries to form a government is dependent on the political circumstances in which he finds himself.
Britain’s system is unusual in that the prime minister does not have to resign if his party fails to secure a majority. Until a deal is done he would serve as a caretaker premier, whose powers and authority are limited by the rules governing electoral “purdah”. The constitutional conventions and precedents are designed to provide continuity – to ensure that at no time is the sovereign without a government.
The basic principle is that the government must command the confidence of the Commons. That is not the same as securing an outright majority – merely that no combination of parties can form a majority against it. If the incumbent PM has the confidence of the Commons then he can continue in office.
And this I suspect will be what comes into play on Friday. I still believe that Cameron will command the largest party in the Commons, but will fail to win a majority. I also think Brown and Labour will try to find a solution immediately to keep the Tories out. I’m not convinced they’ll find it – partly because Brown is an unpalatable partner for the Lib Dems (Clegg is known to hate him), partly because it seems highly unlikely that New Labour will agree to dismantle its aggressive, torture-supporting authoritarian state, just because its preferred coalition partner wants it that way. Would David Miliband really be a break from old politics? What about Alan Johnson?
The pressure on Brown from the Murdoch/Mail Axis of Evil will be merciless, the political pressure from the Tories themselves possibly much greater, and the will of the people thoroughly subverted. Cameron will do what it takes to run a minority administration, which through trampling on the Constitution and ignoring electoral reform, will within a short span of time destroy itself. Cameron and the unreconstructed Tories are on the wrong side of history.
Well I guess his party needs all the votes it can get in the run-up to Thursday, but this is makes alarming listening:
Note how Hague answers a different question to the one answered. He suggests that Philippa Stroud hasn’t been suspended as Sutton & Cheam’s Tory PPC because isn’t in favour of discrimination against gay people, yet that wasn’t what was asked, nor is that what the controversy around her centres around:
Question: “If Philip Lardner, Conservative candidate for North Ayrshire & Arran was suspended after writing on his website that homosexuality was ‘not normal’, why hasn’t Philippa Stroud been suspended – she clearly thinks the same thing?”
Hague: “Well I hope she doesn’t think the same thing and she’s made the statement that I referred to yesterday about her current views, and about the suggestion that she is in favour of discrimination against gay people would be false. I think she has put that right.”
He clearly wants this story to go away, but what if this story is true? Don’t anyone let this drop. Religious extremism, despite what Hague wants you to think, is not the same as straightforward bigotry – it’s far more insidious, and at the heart of a new Tory government it would make the Thatcher years feel like a walk in the park.