All posts tagged 'tony-blair'

Pleading business

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Wednesday, October 20 2010

Business is not normally supportive of a Chancellor’s statement. Especially when Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling were doing the job.

But now George Osborne is in the hot seat, they have changed their tune.

While much of the public will worry about benefit cuts, while public sector workers will fear that their job will be among the 500,000 on death row for the next four years, business was pretty upbeat.

All the usual suspects like the CBI, FSB and EEF were surprisingly supportive of the overall spending cuts strategy.

I guess that in their own business, they know how important it is to be prudent. In the early years of Gordon Brown‘s tenure as Chancellor in 11 Downing Street, there was a lot of talk of prudence. He seemed to speak the language of business.

But a boom seemed to give him licence to spend, and prudence was left abandoned at the church door as the global financial crisis coincided with a spending binge.

That combination of events, however you explain them, led to the present £109bn deficit, the largest, so the present Chancellor says, in Europe. The UK was on the brink of bankruptcy, he claimed.

But the £80-plus billion pound cuts will not make a lot of difference to the overall level of spending which continues to rise over the next few years to around £700bn.

As Mr Osborne said, the debt “supertanker” takes a long while to turn around. And interest payments, currently running at a staggering £120m a day, will continue to be onerous.

But at least with the CSR, the UK has signalled it is doing something about a problem that every household faces from time to time. As Mr Micawber said to David Copperfield: “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds and sixpence, result misery.”

And we have had plenty of misery. There is lots more to come. But at least George Osborne leavened bad news with good, although the nasties could still be in the small print.

He pleased business, protected key infrastructure projects like Crossrail, bashed the banks a little, boosted apprenticeships, protected education and health, and not been too hard on the elderly.

That he has robbed middle England to bear much of the pain will be hard to take. Whether they sympathise with Mr Micawber’s dictum will determine whether Mr Osborne remains in Number 11 after the next general election.

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Categories: Business | National Politics

Sergeant quits

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Monday, October 18 2010

Just days before George Osborne unveils his much-trailed Comprehensive Spending Review, former BBC and ITN political correspondent John Sergeant claimed in Kent that the Government was getting its communications all wrong.

The lugubrious less-than-twinkle-toed star of Strictly Come Dancing two years ago, gave the annual Kent College Pembury birthday lecture on Friday. (15)

Of course, he spoke about his Strictly experience and explained his decision to quit. He said it would have been wrong for the worst dancer to win. And, no, he has not seen Ann Widdecombe on the latest show and could not comment on her performance!

More interesting perhaps was his take on the way the Government was conveying messages about spending cuts. He criticized the Chancellor for smiling while speaking about cuts that would have a profound impact on people’s lives.

“They appear to be enjoying making cuts in public services,” he said. “Big mistake. They should be thanking the people who work in the quangos. It’s all kill, kill, kill.”

The Government should be paying tribute to the “remarkable men and women” in the axed bodies and saying they hoped the  best brains would find work in other capacities.

The new Coalition Government lacked experience and “they’re making a series of technical errors.” He blamed Andy Coulson, the Government’s chief spin doctor, for failing to give the right advice.

As for Tony Blair’s memoir “A Journey,” Sergeant said it was “an amazing read because it’s so incoherent at times.” And he certainly did not wish to know the intimate secrets of Tony and Cherie revealed in the book

Sergeant is interviewing the former Prime Minister this week. It should make for fascinating viewing!

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Categories: Business

How Ed's election will go down in the business community

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, September 30 2010

The election of the “wrong” brother to lead the Labour Party is unlikely to be good news for business.

That Ed Miliband owes his position so much to the trade unions will be a running sore. If activists threaten a winter of discontent, he may try to restrain them but they will always be able to retort “we put you there - keep quiet.”

Employers may find a revival in union militancy insufficiently curbed by a new leadership that is likely to be more pro-union than New Labour.

I read a lot about the end of New Labour and getting back to core support under a “new generation.” But surely it was Tony Blair’s creation of New Labour and its shift to the centre ground of British politics that ensured those election victories. It engaged Middle England and that engagement is vital to Labour if it wants to get back into power.

I’m sure that most Middle England voters in Kent would have preferred David Miliband, and it is strange that Labour rejects a man with so much experience at senior level in favour of someone with so little. I suppose it’s a bit like businesses that turn their back on an experienced employee in favour of an outsider with shiny-new appeal. But that lustre often fades as the organisation has second thoughts about their choice.

It is curious to think that had David been more ruthless about deposing Gordon Brown, he may well have been PM today, rather than playing second fiddle to his kid brother and quitting frontline politics.

I interviewed him at the Thames Gateway forum a few years ago and even then he seemed a leader-in-waiting, with an accessible personality, lots of intelligence and popular support.

Ed may surprise us, but he has a lot of obstacles to surmount if he is to win the wholehearted support of business  and a majority of Kent voters.

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Categories: Business | National Politics

Why Tony Blair is wrong about FOI

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, September 6 2010

"You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it."

So, is Tony Blair's assessment of the Freedom of Information Act his government introduced right or valid?

I know there will be some Conservative politicians at County Hall who will be shaking their heads in agreement with the former PM - and that's an unusual consensus.

For Blair, FOI has been a mistake because it has been used by the media rather than the public, for which it was primarily intended (which rather overlooks the fact that the public look to the media to act as a public watchdog).

He claims in his autobiography: "For political leaders, it's like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, 'Hey, try this [FOI] instead', and handing them a mallet."

Of course, as a politican in opposition, he had completely different opinions as you can read here.

At that point, greater access to information was all about forging a new partnership between government and the public it was there to serve.

I am a regular user of FOI and it won't come as a surprise to hear that I believe it has proved genuinely helpful in providing voters - yes, and journalists -  with a powerful tool with which to hold public bodies to account.

One of the very first FOI requests I made was to Kent county council asking for information about visits made by councillors and officers abroad and why they had gone.

We were provided with a vast amount of information which I readily concede provided us with a good old fashioned scoop as we detailed how various individuals had travelled to the furthest-flung corners of the globe on assorted fact-finding visits.

Why Blair has got it wrong on FOI: read this piece by Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information here>>>

I cannot think that - prior to the FOI Act - there would have been any way in which any of this information would have been provided to me (or indeed anyone else) by the council had I requested it. Yet who would argue that it wasn't in the public interest?

We have made this request several times over the years under FOI and there has been an interesting trend. Each year, the number of international visits has gone down, as has the amount of taxpayers' money being spent on them.

Now, there may be some people - I can think of one or two - who regard it as rather unfortunate that there is less foreign travel being undertaken by our elected members and officers but I suspect they will be in a minority.

You could argue that the moves towards forcing councils and others towards publishing more detail about the earnings of senior officials have their origin in FOI. Had it not been for various requests made for such data - and the frequent refusals by certain authorities including KCC -  I doubt very much whether the government would have taken steps to introduce legislation compelling the disclosure of senior officers and civil servants.

And the whole expenses scandal involving MPs began with an FOI request.

Councils and others often complain they are wasting time and money on dealing with 'pointless' requests with no real purpose. Of course, that makes a presumption about what they believe is valid or legitimate.

But good authorities who are genuinely committed to transparency have shown that there is a way of minimising the burden through simple measures such as much more routine publication of information. If the information is already out there, there's no requirement to deal with it under FOI.

The problem is that council officers who are genuinely keen on transparency come up against politicians who are dead set against it because it means they must relinquish control of information they consider "theirs"rather than "ours".

Blair's despair at ever having introduced FOI is in effect, the most powerful argument that can be made in support of it.

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Categories: National Politics | Local Politics | Councils

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