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.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Tories take the flame thrower to the arts

In theory, the Tories should be the great defenders of the arts. It would be Labour which saw them as unnecessary fripperies while the Conservatives were the ones who enjoyed the theatre, concerts and art galleries. Their former leader Ted Heath, with his love of classical music, symbolised that.
But today's Tories are heathens. From Heath to heathens in one bound.
The funding cuts to 200 arts groups are cruel, stupid and short-sighted. They impoverish the country because the arts bring something which money alone can't buy.
They can't be done without money, though.  The days of poverty-stricken artists living in garrets and rich benefactors funding brilliant composers and painters are long gone.
State funding of the arts has allowed countless numbers of young people - and the not-so-young - to participate in theatre, particularly, and all sorts of other artisitic activities. It has also made them accessible to audiences who would otherwise have no option but to get their "creative input" from the television.
It won't make any difference to the Tories and their friends.  They can afford to carry on going to the Royal Opera House and other major venues which pull in wealthy audiences at high ticket prices.
It is the small arts organisations around the country that will suffer, wither and die.
Another assault in the Government's scorched earth approach to Britain's future.

Friday 25 March 2011

Good idea/rubbish idea

Many years ago when I was on the late Today newspaper there was a brilliant IT guy who knew nothing about politics, economics or finance. But, boy, could he write a computer programme.
In the run-up to Budget Day, I would sit down with him and explain the intricacies of taxation. He would look bemused, ask a few questions, then go off and produce the most incredible tables that allowed any movement in tax announced by the Chancellor to be fed in and - hey presto! - seconds later these wonderfully detailed tables were produced and fed straight into the paper.
Today was years ahead of the rest of Fleet Street (in fact, no one has ever really caught up - they don't bother nowadays).
One year I asked him to do something a bit different. I wanted to work out what the effect would be of merging income tax and National Insurance so I could write a feature in advance of Budgtet Day proposing that revolutionary move. He did.
The result was so startling I never wrote the feature. It was just impossible that any Chancellor could ever be so crazy that he would introduce such a merger.
Yet in this week's Budget, George Osbornbe announced that was what he was planning to do, though not quite yet.
Haven't the Treasury got a computer expert like my former colleague on Today? Of course they have. So doesn't Osborne realise what merging tax and NI does?
Put very simply, the merger doesn't make much difference to anyone earning under the cut-off point for National Insurance contributions (about £44,000 I make it) but as soon as you go above that, you are paying an extra 10 per cent tax - except anyone earning in excess of £150,000 a year, who is already paying that amount more, until Osborne abandons the 50p rate.
So the Middle England Tory voters who aren't in the super-rich class would be seriously hit. At £50,000 a year, an extra £600, at £60,000, another £1,600, at £80,000, you will pay an additional £3,600. These are the backbone of Tory voters. Why would even this insane anti-middle class government do that?
It might make sense to merge income tax and NI, as I worked out 25 years ago, but it just is too politically difficult.

Monday 14 March 2011

My pledge is to fight the Pledgers

It saddens me that Mark Seddon, an old friend and comrade, has become director of the People's Pledge, the latest organisation to be pressing for a referendum on EU membership.
Even though it is described as cross-party, there is no doubt what the vast majority of its leading figures want.  They want the UK out of the European Union.
The consequences of that would be catastrophic.  With all the growing economic pressures on the country, why on earth should we decide to remove ourselves from the biggest trading block in the world?
I don't deny that there are all sorts of things wrong with the way the EU is run. As there is with the Government and the local council and any other body you can mention, including private companies. But the doomsday scenario - "it's not working to my entire satisfaction, so let's get rid of it" - is absurd.
The huge growth in antagonisim to the EU is due to an overwhelming campaign run in the Murdoch press as well as the Mail, Telegraph and Daily Express - which is now calling openly for withdrawal, which is at least honest - and the failure of politicians to explain the benefits of membership.
There is also the nasty involvement of anti-immigration sentiment, which wants the Poles and other East Europeans banned from these shores in the same way it does migrants from the Indian sub-continent.
Who is funding the People's Pledge? It will have shedloads of money, as all the anti-European movements do, thanks to extremely wealthy benefactors.
Meanwhile, the money that is really relevant - the billions that this country gains through trade with our EU partners - is put at risk by this senseless hatred.
Even those arch anti-Europeans Cameron, Osborne and Hague have moderated their attitudes since coming to power. They were faced with the reality of the benefits that membership of the EU brings.
Yet we are heading in only one direction. Out of the European Union and on to the long road to economic disaster and international irrelevance. It is way beyond time that we made a stand against the Pledgers and their fellow travellers.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Double standards: Part 86

One of the main arguments Tories use against the education system is that Labour, egged on by liberal educationists, want to level down teaching.
Instead of accepting that some pupils should be allowed to do better than others, they say, the comprehensive system forces the brightest to be pulled down to the level of the rest.
That point of view doesn't extend to pensions, however.  In fact, the Tories now say the opposite. They insist that it isn't fair for public-sector workers to have a better arrangement than the majority of those who work in the private sector.
Why should this be? They don't complain if, say, banks or oil companies continue to provide final-salary pension schemes for their employees.
It is clearly prejudiced nonsense for the Government to insist that those who work in the public sector should have their pensions cut so they can do as badly as those in private schemes.
It is also rubbish, though still widely accepted, that "the nation can't afford" it. Like it can't afford to pay for higher education and all those essential services which are being axed.
We can afford to pay for it all  - remember how £70 billion was conjured up for the banks to sort out the crisis created by their naked greed.
The one arguable case for changing pension arrangements - and valid for private as well as public schemes - is that we live longer and remain fitter and active til far later in life. So those of us who can work on - which tends to mean people who have had a comfortable working life, not ones who have dug roads or performed other heavy manual tasks - should work on to offset the increasing demands to fund pensions.
That is what the debate should be about. Not a nasty campaign based on it being fair to drag public-sector workers down to the level of exploited private-sector employees.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

The beginning of the end for Cameron

Never before has a government been in such a mess of its own making before it has got anywhere near its first anniversary.
Today's newspapers are a catalogue of misery for David Cameron. The traditionally Tory-supporting ones are the worst for him.
It seems there is little he and his ministers can do right. But what can they expect when they attack the middle classes, our frontline troops, the police, the countryside....need I go on?
When at Prime Minister's Questions Ed Miliband challenged Cameron to do another U-turn - this one on the assault on Sure Start - I thought the PM hesitated for a moment because he thought what I did: that Miliband was actually about to call on him to change tack on everything. Not just the deepest ever cuts but the wild schemes such as HS2 and the revolution in the NHS.
The latest polls show Labour would win an election held now by 78 seats. And that is before the cuts start to bite. And with Ed Miliband still an unknown. And petrol still below £1.50 a litre, which it won't be for long.
The LibDems are finished; and I say that with regret. But they have nailed themselves to a ridiculous government driving through absurd policies without thought for the consequences.
The picture of the new Communications supremo arriving (almost late) for his first day at No. 10 said all you needed to know about him and the state of the Prime Minister's operation. Craig Oliver wouldn't last a week working for Murdoch.
If Andy Coulson was still there, would we have had all those hostile headlines and columns today? I doubt it.
We may not be heading for Ed Miliband in Downing Street by Christmas, but there are long dark months ahead for David Cameron and his government.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

The fast train to political oblivion

This country is so bankrupt (at least, that is what the Government tells us ad nauseum) that we can't afford to pay for higher education, care of the elderly, libraries, a properly-funded national health service and a thousand other services we had come to take for granted.
Yet we can afford to lavish £17 billion to shave ten minutes off the train journey from London to Birmingham.
There are several unanswerable objections to proceeding with HS2, the high-speed train line that will scar some of the most beautiful countryside in England.
There is the ruin of the environment and the destruction of lives and homes. Not to mention rural Britain having all the pain and none of the gain (such as it is).
But it is the economic argument against this crazed delusion of grandeur which is the killer.  Why should we spend so much money when we are told there is so little around so that a small number of businessmen and women can travel from London to Birmingham (nowhere else) very slightly faster?
Apparently this is David Cameron's passion and Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, has to persuade the nation that it is a Good Idea.  He is usally quite a good advocate but even he can't sell this lunacy.
It can be stopped because all the constituencies which will be affected are held by the Tories and some are going to be lost if HS2 pushes ahead. Add to those the Tory constituencies that could be lost because the NHS "reforms" will lead to their local hospitals being closed and you have a lot of worried and disaffected backbenchers.
If you were a Conservative MP, at what point would you openly question, if not rebel against, the wild policies being forced through by the leadership of a party which already doesn't have a majority?
No one will remember that HS2 was originally a Labour idea, dreamt up by Andrew Adonis, who history will remember with incredulity. But more about him some other time. And a lot more about HS2.