Take Me To Your Leader Writer

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...has written more leaders (newspaper editorials) than anyone alive or dead, an honour still to be recognised by the Guiness Book of Records or the Nobel judges. I have produced them for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror, Today, the Sunday People, the Evening Post (Hemel Hempstead), the Caithness Courier and the Student (Edinburgh). My creed is: Have opinions, Will travel.

Friday 25 February 2011

Don't motivate bankers, just sack them

The chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, stoutly defends the payment of bonuses to his senior managers in a strange - and offensive - way.
For a start, he thinks it perfectly acceptable to hand over £1 billion when the taxpayer-owned company lost £1 billion, so it would otherwise have broken even.
But what particularly irked me was his insistence that bonuses had to be paid because bankers need to be "well motivated".
Does he think teachers need to be well motivated? Or nurses? Or social workers? None of them get bonuses but we expect them to be completely devoted to their work. If they make an error or don't achieve good results, they are vilified.
What is so special about bankers? They were attacked for almost destroying the economy a couple of years ago but normally they get away with making appalling decisions, losing massive amounts of money, and ripping off customers and the country.
Hester also said that the recent cut in bonuses (compensated for by huge salary increases, remember) had led to thousands of RSB employees leaving the company which had in turn led to profits being reduced by a billion. Pull the other one.
I take the rather old-fashioned view that people ought to be committed to the work they do. Apart from anything else, why should anyone be paid at all if they don't do their job properly, whatever it is.
Why should bankers be different? Even without their bonuses, they are the most highly-paid people in the country. Do they really not care a fig for putting in any effort unless they are rewarded with unbelievable bonuses on top of their salaries?
Anyone who had that attitude should be fired, not given a fortune. That isn't how Stephen Hester (bonus £2million this year) sees it, though.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

An awful sense of deja vue

Woke up this morning, listening to the Today programme, and thought I had travelled back in time.
Huge cuts in health service staff, tens of thousands of doctors and nurses losing their jobs. The nation's roads riddled with pot-holes and little prospect of dealing with effectively because there isn't the money.
Sound familiar? Younger readers should start here but for the rest of us we are being transported back to the bad days of Thatcher.
Except that this could be worse. The cuts are more savage and it is impossible to believe, unless  you are a member of the Government or one of their acolytes, that the consequences wont't be more brutal, too.
The report a few days ago that house prices could fall by 20 per cent was largely ignored by the media. Too terrifying to contemplate. But what do they think the result will be when hundreds of thousands lose their jobs and just about everyone else, apart from the bankers, sees a real drop in living standards? How much pain and destruction of lives is needed before this lot are satisfied?
There is a chance of resistance, encouraged by the U-turns the Government has already executed, notably over the forest sell-off. There are a growing number of bodies organising rallies, demonstrations and pickets, as I wrote about for the TUC this week http://www.strongerunions.org/2011/02/22/a-growing-movement/.
The demonstration on March 26 could be a turning point, uniting people from widely different parts of society in the determination to turn the tide of wrecking launched by the Government.
And by the realisatin that, if this goes on for another four years, there won't be much left for an incoming administration to restore.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Is THIS what they mean by the Big Society?

I got a parking ticket last week. Two actually. In my own road.
The resident's permit on my car - which has been parked there for seven years and is well known to the wardens - was overcome by gravity and decided to slip down the windscreen on to the dashboard.
So I was given a ticket. And then another the next morning as the warden was clearly waiting for the restricted time to begin. Luckily a neighbour noticed what was happening and I was able to restore the permit to its proper place before getting a third, fourt and fifth.
Assuming I won't have to pay the fine, all this means is that I have been terribly cross. But there is a wider significance.
Traffic wardens are the only people who walk our streets now. There used to be a road sweeper who knew us all and would keep an eye on the house and the children. He was sacked long ago as part of the council's efficiency drives that have kept Wandsworth council tax rises low. Can't remember when I last saw anyone cleaning our road since then.
The wardens could be performing a similarly useful social neighbourhood function but all they are interested in is slapping tickets on cars. They have no sense of society - they are just in it for the money.
Just about all the places where people could meet or get help in the community have gone. The garden centre, the police station, the post office. The residents play their part in fostering a sense of community but the council and government are working against us.
The criticism of the Big Society - that it will be undermined by the spending cuts - doesn't go far enough.  Since the days of Thatcher - the woman who insisted there was no such thing as society - all that has mattered to the authorities is cash. And New Labour was no better than the Tories.
Don't tell us we must be part of a Big Society when you are doing all you can to cut the feet out from under it. It's not just a matter of seeing if your elderly neighbour is OK. The Big Society can only exist as part of thriving communities. And successive governments have destroyed them, not only in industrial heartlands but in leafy suburbs and rural areas, too.

Monday 14 February 2011

So who pays for the Big Society?

What has happened in the past week? Apart from Mubarak getting out and uprisings flickering to life in various other countries.
It's the Big Society, isn't it. The Big Idea that was central to Cameron's election strategy and for which he was mocked and which probably played a significant part in his failure to win an overall majority.
Not chastened by that, he has now put it at the heart of his strategy and once again the Prime Minister is being derided and mocked for it.
Some say the Big Society is simply a cover-up for the cuts. A con to make voters think something positive and dynamic is happening rather than the slash and burn of thousands of services.
That isn't right. Cameron believes in it, even if no one else in government does. But equally incorrect is the ridiculous pretence peddled by the Tories and LibDems that volunteering and the third sector will not be affected by the billions being taken away from them.
Most volunteers work for nothing, agreed. But who do ministers think runs the bodies that organise the volunteers? Where to they think people involved in the third sector get an income from?
The Big Society as a concept - that we all help each other, particularly those who most need help - is fine as far as it goes. But Cameron and his ministers just don't understand that there isn't an army of upper-middle class ladies in twin-sets out there with rich husbands and plenty of time on their hands.
For one thing, the third sector employs large numbers of young people who will now be thrown out of work. No longer doing anything useful or having an income beyond minimal benefits. Where is the point in that?
If the Government were really going to pursue the Big Society, it needs to put Big Bucks behind it. Not cut its finances.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

The hero taking on the mouth-foaming swivel-heads

If VCs were awarded to journalists, Mary Riddell should be getting one today.
Not only did she write a fantastic piece in the Telegraph about the right of prisoners to vote but she so incensed the Telegraph green-ink brigade that an outpuring of bile was unleased at her on the website.
She is a hate figure for them anyway, with her impeccable background of the Mirror and Observer. But it is her fearless espousal of liberal ideas and, particularly, equating them with what this country really stands for which drives them nuts.
I have struggled to understand why the Right can't understand that Britain is most respected for is its history of liberal and democratic principles and what it is most despised for is its history of at times doing the opposite.
You have to hand it to the Telegraph for hiring Mary. One mouth-foamer today says it was only done to make people buy the paper. On the contrary, they buy it to read the Delingpole-like nutters (his word) and they are more likely to cancel their subscription because of Riddellisms. [Another swivel-head asks if readers have noticed that the real name of the evil Lord Voldemort is Riddle.]
Mary is involved in various justice/law and order groups so there is no doubt where she stands. Closer to Ken Clarke than David Blunkett or Jack Straw - or Telegraph readers.
I just can't fathom what the problem is about giving prisoners the vote. As she says in her column, most countries don't consider it an issue.
Why does it make David Cameron feel physically sick to think of a petty criminal having the right to vote? Does he have a weak stomach? Does he retch when he contemplates the destruction of higher education and selling off our forests to propery developers? Probably not.
The acid test would be how he feels when he reads a Mary Riddell column.

Monday 7 February 2011

Staring into the abyss...

How much time do I waste because my email isn't working or the computer has a hiccup or the printer cartridge is fading or any of those other marvels of the modern world have let me down?
I have spent much of today struggling to get the emails working. None on the PC since 5.36am; none on the iPhone since 9.59am. Did I forget to put a shilling in the meter?
This is the third time in a fortnight there have been problems with them and it's true that you don't know how much you need something until it isn't there. That saying originated as a barb to goad a partner who takes you for granted, as in: "You'll miss me when I'm gone." Nowadays it applies to dishwashers, the DVD player and, most critically, the central heating.
Last week I saw the film The Social Network and learnt that it was considered critical in the early days of Facebook that it would never, but never, crash or go down or go off air. As far as I know, it hasn't.  If it did, young people throughout the world would be distraught and walk around staring blankly into space as if they had been taken over by aliens. I feel a bit like that without emails.
Just a minute. The iPhone just pinged...Yes, it's come back. I have my emails, all of them. And a quick whiz through them shows that throughout the whole day I have missed....nothing of importance.
But I can't tell you how pleased I am they are back.

Friday 4 February 2011

Throwing the poor to the sharks

It has always baffled as much as outraged me that usury against the poor has been allowed to continue into the 21st century.
Most of us who pay 20-something per cent interest on credit cards would describe that as close on usury but those rates are nothing compared with the extortionate ones forced on the very poorest people. These run to hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of per cent.
Everyone knows it goes on. At least, they should.  MPs get told about it by their constituents and the media report it with a certain regularity. Though adverts for the usurers appear even more regularly in the papers and, apparently, on the television.
Even it we can understand why the loan sharks weren't cracked down on during the Thuatcher and Major years, it is beyond shameful that 13 years of New Labour did nothing to protect the poor from these vile firms.
The other night Labour MP Stella Creasy attempted to introduce a measure that would have set caps on interest. Hardly controversial, you might think. Surely we are all in favour of that.
And in the course of rather a good, passionate debate, all who spoke did say they were in favour of doing something about the rates charged to the poor for these outrageous loans.
So the Commons accepted Ms Creasy's proposal? Afraid not. It was voted down by 271 to 156 as Conservative and LibDems united to let the sharks carry on sharking.
The minister responsible - Ed Davey, a decent Liberal Democrat before he got into bed with the Tories - used as an excuse for their inexcusable actions that they needed to "gather evidence and assess it". How much more evidence do they need? How much more assessing?
What this was about was allowing a vile, cruel fraudulent industry to continue to exploit and ruin the lives of the poorest people in the country.
The excuse given by one Tory was that he wasn't in favour of more regulation. So why bother having any laws at all? Let's get rid of the regulations that apply to murder,  burglary and rape; will that make him and his kind happy?
It should be the primary role of government to protect the weak in society. A clear majority of MPs failed to meet that responsibility on Thursday.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Opposition to NHS reforms is in rude health

An interesting column by Ben Brogan in the Daily Telegraph. He warns of the dangers Tory MPs may face because of the so-called reforms of the NHS.
David Cameron's support for the health service did as much to get him to No. 10 as anything. However much people moan about it, they cherish the NHS and don't readily forgive governments that harm it.
This Government is about to do it irreperable damage. Don't take my word for it. There has been almost universal condemnation of the Lansley Plan (if "plan" isn't too grand a word for something that looks as if it was sketched out on the back of an envelope over a long lunch) and not just from Labour MPs and the unions.
The letters pages of Tory newspapers have contained many critical missives from doctors, consultants, the editor of The Lancet and others who know what they are talking about.
The beloved NHS is finally being broken up and sold off to private medical firms. As we know from all the other privatisations which have gone wrong, once something is placed in private hands, there it stays, no matter the consequences.
Brogan points out what the impact is going to be when local hospitals are closed and the "reforms" are blamed (that, of course, assumes any local hosptials are left once Labour had finished closing them).
The Government has already backed down on a series of proposals, with the sale of forests about to become the latest (hopefully). But surely it can't be seen to stumble away from something so major as the plans for the NHS.
Lansley would have to go, obviously, but that would be the least of their problems. The Government would look fatally weak, so it won't happen. But pressing on would be another nail in the coffin of the coalition - and Britain.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

The fearful consequence of poking the raving Tory lion

Oh what a bunfight there was in the Commons as MPs tackled the ludicrous Bill that sort of sets out sort of conditions for sort of holding referendums if at any time in the future more powers are sort of given to the EU. Yes, it's that vague and bonkers.
I was at a Foreign Policy Centre meeting and Wayne David, from Labour's front-bench foreign team, popped in for a brief respite from the madhouse.
He said the Opposition just sat there a lot of the time with a smug (my word) look on their faces and their arms folded while the real opposition launched wave after wave of attacks on the Minister for Europe, David Lidington.
As I may have mentioned before, Mr Lidington is rather a revelation. He believes in Britain having a proper role in Europe.
He said so, too, insisting that it was good for Britain and good for business and the economy that we are in the EU. To say this to the mad anti-Europeans who infest the Conservative backbenches is like denouncing Mohammed to a branch meeting of Al-Qaeda.
They attacked him, they raged at him, they tore their hair out and rent their garments. Such fun for bystanders.
This Bill breaks the fundamental rule that you should never poke hungry lions with a stick. David Cameron didn't have to poke the anti-European opposition but felt he needed to appease them with a bit of legislation.
It hasn't done that at all. It has only inflamed them. And will almost certainly land us with what Wayne David says was described to him by a long-serving Commons official as the worst piece of legislation he had ever come across - completely impossible to understand and leading inevitably to confusion and the courts.
The passage of the Bill may be fun while it lasts.  The hangover is likely to be very painful.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Toughen the PCC or the politicians will control the press

To the annual Cudlipp lecture last night - held in honour of the great man - delivered by Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times.
As with previous lecturers, he wasn't afraid to stick his head above the parapet. He didn't pull his punches when dealing with the crisis facing journalism and the threat that brings.
He said what I have been saying for some time, that politicians will find a way to get back at the press for their exposure in the expenses scandal. They had a chance to do this over the Telegraph entrapment of LibDems but flunked it, as Barber pointed out.
But phone hacking is manna for them. All the focus has so far been on the News of the World but it is beginning to spread out and hardly a paper will avoid being targetted in the weeks ahead.
So where is the Press Complaints Commission in all this? A pathetic irrelevancy, I am afraid. It was described as having failed by Barber.
When I was on the PCC review group of the Media Standards Trust, I fought to get its report to acknowledge the difficulties journalists and papers work under, while proposing changes in the workings of the PCC that would make it effective.
The danger for the press is that eventually the Commission will be shown to be so hopeless at dealing with the excesses of the industry that the politicians say, Well, nothing for it then, we are going to have to regulate. That would be a disaster for freedom of the press. Look at whatr is happening in Hungary.
Self-regulation is the only acceptable way to control the press but whenever the PCC is faced with a really challenging problem, it backs off. That may allow editors to breathe a sigh of relief but it is only momentary relief. It is just storing up a huge disaster ahead.
I could never believe that the PCC let Piers Morgan off the hook over the Slickergate scandal. It actually had emails which proved he knew what was going on but still claimed there was no evidence that he did.
Now it has failed to act over phone tapping. So the police will and the courts will and, ultimately, the politicians will.
Journalists have most to lose from curbs on their freedom. It is beyond time we demanded that we have an effective, tough Press Complaints Commission that recognises the restrictions on the press, fights on behalf of the media but comes down very hard on transgressors.