Category Archives: Ed Miliband

Bad taste alert 1

I say: get stuck in!

David Cameron, Prime Minister, House of Commons, 14 May 2014.

And then, on page 35 of The Times, for a moment (before I recognised this was foreign news, and Turkey) I thought we had Ed Miliband taking that advice:

Turkey PM gets stuck in

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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, politics, Times

Odds on morning after

I find that yesterday’s papers are where you find the gems … and the dross.

Yesterday The Times had a story:

High St ‘clusters’ of betting shops face clampdown

On line that became:

High streets ban for ‘clusters’ of betting shops

As far as I can see, the rest remains unchanged:

The proliferation of high street betting shops is to be curbed with ministers ready to give town halls powers to block “clusters” of bookmakers.

David Cameron is also convinced that greater restrictions are required on casino-style fixed-odd betting terminals (FOBT) to “minimise harm” and prevent the spread of problem gambling.

Inevitably, it has to be the former Labour government’s fault:

Successive governments have relaxed the regulations, notably Labour in 2005, when it said that gambling should be viewed as an entertainment.

Where that falls down is:

  • FOBTs only originated in 2002.
  • In 2005 they were still a disaster waiting to happen.
  • At the time of the 2005 Gambling Act, both Labour and Tories had been under pressure from the betting industry to permit their introduction. John Whittingdale, for the Tories, seemed an outright enthusiast:

For 30 years, the UK industry has been a model of responsibility. It has been largely free of organised criminal activity and the level of problem gambling is much lower in this country than elsewhere. It was for that reason that the previous Conservative Government felt able to introduce measures to liberalise the rules…

The Government’s attitude towards fixed-odds betting terminals remains uncertain. Will those machines be treated like other category B machines and allowed in adult gaming centres and bingo halls? Having listened to the Secretary of State’s speech this afternoon, that concern will grow because she appeared unwilling to accept the agreement between the Association of British Bookmakers and the Gaming Board…

  • In 2005 the then Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, Richard Caborn, said:  “High stake slot machines, including FOBTs, remain on probation and we will continue to adopt a cautious approach. Government will not hesitate to act should there be sound evidence of harm.”

Change and decay in all around I see…

Since then it has all got very gory.

There are now over 33,000 of these FOBTs across Britain. Since the limitation is “number of machines per premises”, the betting businesses have increased their penetration by multiplying the number of betting shops. Incredible as it sounds:

... bookmakers are categorised as “financial services”, so converting a former bank or estate agent into a betting shop requires no planning permission. When applications are required to change use, such as when a shop has become vacant, councils are reluctant to turn down bookmakers in case they are taken to court.

Now to my puzzlement about the other numbers in that Times piece:

The number of betting shops has grown only slightly since the recession, by about 600 to 9,000. However, it is the clustering on the high street that many councils and residents detest. Newcastle city centre has 16 within a few hundred yards. Overall, bookies account for 9 per cent of high street floor space, up from 4 per cent in 2008.

Presumably that depends on when the “recession” is supposed to have begun. Even so, an increase of 600 is over 7% — but a leap from 4% to 9% of high street floor space is more than a doubling. The numbers, as they say, don’t add up.

Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!

Around the turn of the year Labour — and the estimable Tom Watson in particular — had a fit of the vapours over FOBTs:

We’re in the grip of a new addiction – high-speed, high-stakes gambling.

What’s fuelling this destructive habit is the fixed odds betting terminal(FOBT), a machine that allows people to bet £100 every 20 seconds for 13 hours a day.

These digital roulette terminals are making millions for the gambling industry, and making losers out of those who can least afford to lose.

And there’s also growing evidence that they’re turning bookies from places where people have a flutter on the horses into criminal dens linked to money laundering.

That’s why I want FOBTs curbed and the government to get a grip of this disgraceful situation. David Cameron must stand by his pledge to me at prime minister’s question time that the government will take a “proper look” at FOBTs.

This was all to the considerable distress of, for one, Freddy Gray in The Spectator, who instantly saw it all as a political plot:

A FOBT ban could be terminal for high-street bookies – and great for a Labour donor

The Daily Mail likes to call FOBTs the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’, which makes them sound much more fun than they are. Campaigners claim that gaming companies use FOBTs to prey on ‘the most vulnerable’, by which they mean the feckless poor.

Miliband, a puritan at heart, wants to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. David Cameron, for his part, says that he wants to see ‘empirical evidence’ before he takes action, but he does believe that there are ‘problems with the betting and gambling industry’ and that it is his job to stamp them out.

And the Labour gain here is, precisely?

A FOBT ban on top of the new [Point of Consumption] tax could be a crippling double blow, even for giants such as William Hill and Ladbrokes. The most obvious beneficiary, however, would be Bet365, Britain’s biggest online operator. Interestingly, Bet365’s owners, the Coates family, have given the Labour party more than £400,000 over the last decade. I wouldn’t bet against them soon becoming Britain’s leading bookies.

Tom’s position was quite straightforward:

So how do we stop the growth of FOBTs, which continue to invade our high streets like Japanese knotweed and with the same destructive force? It’s simple. We reduce the maximum stake from £100 to £2. No other country in the developed world allows £100-a-spin machines on the high street.

Hmm: Knotweed doesn’t appear too frequently in the well-trodden streets of old York, but I’ll take Tom’s word for it. And in all truth, the official Labour proposal was very modest, even “localist” (which was, at least back in 2010, an essential principle of this ConDem arrangement):

Labour would empower local councils to ban fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from high streets, Ed Miliband has confirmed.

The Labour leader claimed the FOBTs, which let gamblers bet £300 a minute or £18,000 an hour, were being targeted at poor people.

Councils would be given a range of powers including stopping the spread of FOBTs, reducing their number or banning them altogether. On a visit to Kilburn in north London, Miliband said: “In towns and cities across Britain today, you can see how the old bookies are being turned into mini casinos. In the poorest areas, these are spreading like an epidemic along high streets with the pawn shops and payday lenders that are becoming symbols of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis.

“In Newham [east London] there are 87 betting shops with an estimated 348 machines and across the five Liverpool constituencies there are 153 betting shops with around 559 FOBTs.”

“Illiberal”

By the way, The Spectator‘s position was unreconstructed as late as mid-March:

Ed Miliband and Tom Watson, among others, want to give councils the power to ban FOBTs. That seems fundamentally illiberal. But Watson is right to say that the government’s latest levy on FOBTs means that the Treasury will ‘profit from the problem rather than deal with it.’ Once a government starts making huge sums of money from a frowned-on thing — like booze, cigarettes, and gambling — it is hard to taken them seriously when they express concern about the impact. Taxing vices is not in and of itself a virtue. Quite the opposite.

Another indecisive Cameron decision

The Times story, from which this post has derived, was little more than a spoiler (including ‘borrowing’ the numbers). The Guardian had already splurged the ‘leak’:

Downing Street is poised to announce a crackdown on high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines, with fresh penalties for bookmakers if they fail to enforce new limits on playing times and betting losses, the Guardian has learned…

This week Cameron is due to announce a clampdown on the terminals, with a range of regulatory and planning powers to curb the clustering of shops. These moves come a month after the chancellor’s surprise 5% tax increase on the betting machines in the budget.

The prime minister’s personal interest in the matter has rung alarm bells in boardrooms. In the letter, Cameron questioned whether the industry limits were too high and asked the Gambling Commission, the regulator, to see whether they should be reduced.

He also proposed making the strengthened measures part of the operating licence – essentially making the new code mandatory rather than voluntary, as the industry had wanted.

Excuses, excuses

What remains unexplained here is why Cameron & co. resisted the reasonable proposals of Miliband, Tom Watson & co. at start of the year, but now seek to impose centralised regulation.

We are about to find it was all her fault, again:

The betting industry had been prepared for an announcement this week, but it has been delayed, possibly because Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary and minister in charge, is the subject of a ferocious row over her parliamentary expenses. Mr Cameron fears that the announcement would be obscured by questions about her future.

Remember, folks: when you through someone under a bus, make sure you attach as much baggage as possible.

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., culture, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Fraser Nelson, Guardian, The Spectator, Times, Tom Watson MP, Tories.

That Murdochian agenda, again

Last week the Sunday Times screamer was all about the usual YouGov poll. Let’s be a trifle less biased and less hysterical, and get it from Anthony Wells:

The full details of YouGov’s weekly Sunday Times poll are now up online here. Topline voting intention figures are CON 36%, LAB 37%, LDEM 9%, UKIP 11%.

That means two polls today, from YouGov and Survation, both show a reduced Labour lead of just one point. As ever when you get a couple of polls indicating a shift straight after an event it’s tempting to conclude the event has had a big impact. Be a bit cautious – the YouGov and Populus polls conducted Wednesday night and Thursday morning didn’t show a narrowing, it’s these two polls conducted from Thursday to Friday that show narrower leads. They aren’t necessarily contradictory (many people in those initial polls wouldn’t have seen the details of the budget or the media reaction yet), but it means the evidence isn’t all one way. Wait a bit to see if this pattern continues into the week.

Well, the general pattern of a reduced Labour lead did persist through the week, and was — but naturally — hailed by the Tory press. The gem — again, but naturally — was the Daily Mail‘s spin:

Labour MPs demanded that Ed Miliband beef up his economic policies last night after his ‘lame’ response to the Budget gave the Tories a poll bounce.

And in further dispiriting news for the Labour chief, a survey revealed that voters think he is the ‘weirdest’ party leader in Britain.

The YouGov poll for BuzzFeed showed that 41 per cent think Mr Miliband is either ‘very weird’ or ‘somewhat weird’, while 34 per cent thinks the same of Nick Clegg and only 27 per cent believe that David Cameron is weird.

If that’s a strange, even weird, bit of polling, stranger still is the quality that was generally omitted from the commentaries: Miliband was seen as the most honest of the three party leaders.

And so to this week’s Sunday Times.

The regular poll is still on the front page, just. It is no longer the main headline. In fact, you have to scroll six paragraph through a very different story (on Labour will take axe to student fees) to find:

Miliband will take comfort from a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times that suggests Labour has beaten off the Conservatives’ post-budget bounce by opening a seven-point lead. The party is backed by 40% of voters, against 33% for the Tories. But another poll, by Opinium, shows a lead of just one point.

Note how the Sunday Times rubbishes its own paid poll, by puffing the Opinium poll in the rival Observer.

And, note too, how ConHome’s Newslinks manages to ignore the hard-Tory-linew Sunday Times (sales: 850,000ish) poll in favour of the liberal-lefty Observer‘s (sales 220,000-dh) Opinium. I cannot think why.

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Filed under Britain, ConHome, Ed Miliband, Murdoch, Observer, polls, Sunday Times

Odd things, mental associations

In the previous issue of the New Statesman, Robert Webb had a piece inviting us to consider how “normal” Ed Miliband might seem.

For some strange reason, the headline question was:

… can you imagine him eating a pear?

This was all accompanied by a stock photograph:

181727776

If the pear seemed something of an illogical leap, my mind has kept coming back to that domestic image. The carousel framed on the bedroom wall is Brighton beach, quite similar to Shutterstock 113447074 (by Neil Lang).

But that’s not my mental jump. Somehow that domestic scene seems an inversion of Hockney’s:

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy 1970-1 by David Hockney born 1937

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy.

Which is another blow for John Rentoul, who was vamping on SuperBowl footballers’ names, and concluding:

… the one I liked the most was Percy Harvin, who ran a kick-off back for a touchdown. It is not often that we British come across a Percy outside the pages of JK Rowling.

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Filed under Ed Miliband, Independent, John Rentoul, New Statesman

Putty medal to Yvette

On Tuesday, when Gids Osborne was shafting Ed Balls — to loud approval from his backbenches, everything was fine-and-dandy.

By PMQs on Wednesday, the shaft was thrusting the other way — to the extent that Quentin Letts had to construct a Mail sketch wholly ignoring the headline act.

Advantage, Dominic Raab

Then, today, total Tory chaos ensued with Dominic Raab (himself a distinguished lawyer) putting an amendment to the Immigration Bill. With its explicit and deliberately-intended ECHR-illegality, this was nearly wished upon Theresa May. A messy bit of on-off Tory whipping (allegedly the party line was changed five times during the morning) ended up with mass abstention by the pay-roll vote, and 87 Tory and 10 Labour votes in favour. Labour and LibDem votes saw the Home Office off this hook, for the time being.

We await, with some interest, how all this can be spun to the lasting credit of Tory HQ, Downing Street, the Home Office, and sold to the loyal Tory press.

Cue, Paul Waugh

Then we had this (continuing) exchange:

Twitter spat

 Kudos, Yvette Cooper

Earlier, Paul Waugh had been tweeting:

I suspect EdM, not Cooper, made the final call on Lab voting against Raab. Echoes of Liam Byrne kneecapped to vote against Benefits cap?

Whatever the truth there, Yvette Cooper was able to take chunks out of Theresa May and the Home Office — seemingly to enjoy herself thoroughly.

Of course, it will hardly be a lasting achievement. Somehow the amendment, had it been carried would have been mislaid somehow, somewhere, or sucked into the Black Hole that is the House of Lords. Had Labour been truly, deeply nasty, also abstained, let Raab have his wicked way, it could even have transpired (knowing the ironies and delays of these things) that after 2015 a future Labour Home Secretary would be paying good lawyers good money to defend this abomination before the ECHR.

Hence Ms Cooper deserves only a “putty medal”. Let’s consult the OED:

putty medal   n. humorous a worthless reward for insignificant service or achievement.

To which is appended a citation:

1893 Times 26 July 11/6 (advt.)  Our system..is as far removed from the little five and ten pound systems of dealing as is a genuine sovereign from a putty medal.

Malcolm’s Dear Old Mum had the expression too often for Malcolm’s self-esteem, but it seems to have lapsed in usage subsequently.

Welcome, Betty Martin

When the dust settled, the Raab amendment had been rubbished by 241 Nays to those 97 Ayes. In the run-up we had Norman Smith doing his impartial BBC bit:

No 10 say “relaxed” about Tory ‘rebel’ vote on Immigration Bill

and

No 10 say “not that far apart” from Dominic Raab over his ‘rebel’ motion but do not think it is is workable

Spinning away there, the afternoon press briefing.

Of which one can cheerfully say:  all my eye and Betty Martin. Let’s help the OED here, which simply calls it a noun, with no great explanation except the citations. Its modern equivalent would be along the lines of

“a load of old cobblers”

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Filed under Conservative Party policy., Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, George Osborne, Labour Party, Oxford English Dictionary, Paul Waugh, politics, politicshome, Theresa May, Tories.

Sartor resartus: new clothes for the “magic circle”

That’s a tricky title, unless your Latin is up to scratch. It’s “the tailor re-tailored”, and it’s a novel from 1836 by Thomas Carlyle — little read except as an academic study. A topic for another day, perhaps.

For the moment, the point here is that Carlyle puts his story in the form of a book-review of a fictional book by a fictional writer.

17.01-331x413Similarly, The Spectator has Vernon Bogdanor re-viewing and revisiting what, ostensibly, was a book-review itself. In the 17th January 1964 edition of The Spectator, the magazine’s then-editor, Iain Macleod, was running his blue pencil over Randoph Churchill’s account of how Lord Hume emerged as Tory Leader (and Prime Minister) in succession to Harold Macmillan:

In those days, the Conservatives did not choose their leader by ballot, but by ‘customary processes of consultation’, soundings conducted both inside and outside Parliament. These soundings were carried out primarily by five grandees, four of whom had been to Eton. So had Macmillan and Home. They constituted what Macleod, in a deadly phrase, christened a ‘magic circle’ that ruled the Tory party. The Spectator had exposed an establishment stitch-up — or so it seemed.

The article succeeded in casting serious doubt on the legitimacy of Home’s succession — and, ergo, his leadership. With a general election due within nine months, and some way behind in the polls, the Conservatives desperately needed to unite around Home. Instead, Macleod used his Spectator article in a way designed to reopen wounds which had been beginning to heal.

Macleod was that most unlikely of Tories: someone genuinely “bright” (though not academically) — indeed, so much so that he was deemed “too smart for his own good”.

The question has always been whether Macleod’s killer piece, denouncing the “magic circle” of Old Etonians who “fixed” the succession for Home, was what did for the Tory election campaign of 1964. Certainly, Harold Wilson — possessed of as sharp a tongue as Macleod — exploited the conceit ruthlessly.

And now?

That is all historical curiosity, except it may have been a factor in excluding Old Etonian toffs from the top job for the next four decades, all the way to David Cameron’s enstoolment:

The effects of Macleod’s Spectator article resonated down the years. The idea of a ‘magic circle’ was so potent that until the advent of David Cameron, an Etonian education was seen as a handicap rather than an advantage (as Douglas Hurd discovered when he stood for the leadership in 1990). Home was the last public school leader of a major party until the arrival of the Fettes-educated Tony Blair in 1994.

That’s a bit dodgy as a generalisation. It wasn’t a “public school education” which denied Tony Benn (Westminster School) the leadership “of a major party”. It also assumes that Leighton Park, the independent Quaker school in Reading — and the Alma mater of Michael Foot, does not provide that “public school education”. Jeremy Thorpe and Jo Grimond were Old Etonians, David Owen went to Bradfield, Shirley Williams to St Paul’s, but presumably their Liberal and Social Democrat Parties were not “major”.

Which brings us to David Cameron’s own “magic circle”

That includes the repetitive put-down that Ed Miliband always has to hand — and Mark Ferguson sees as his “safety blanket“, as at today’s PMQs:

… when Miliband moved onto the economy, he found it far more difficult to keep his tone civil. Tories cheered him saying unemployment had fallen while a confident Cameron took every chance to remind Miliband of just how positive the figures were. This prompted the rather Punch and Judy line from Miliband that Cameron was doing ‘his Bullingdon Club routine.’

Similarly, George Eaton in the New Statesman notes:

Having maintained his new restrained style up to this point, Miliband lapsed into traditional PMQs rhetoric when he accused Cameron of doing “his Bullingdon Club routine”, a sign of his frustration at failing to land any blows.

That leaves us with the lurking qualm that “Bullers” bully-boy stuff may actually work. If so, Iain Macleod — a stiletto, not a bludgeon man — would have been severely disappointed.

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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, education, History, LabourList, politics, politicshome, social class, The Spectator, Tories.

Good words are worth much, and cost little

— George Herbert, Iacula Prudentum, and all the way from 1651.

Last Wednesday at PMQs we had a lot of words, and discovered the worth of some of them:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): RBS is expected to ask the Government to approve bonuses of more than 100% on multi-million pound salaries. Does the Prime Minister think that that is acceptable?

The Prime Minister: What I can tell [1] the right hon. Gentleman is that we will continue with our plans for RBS that have seen bonuses come down by 85% and a bonus pool at one third the level it was under Labour [2]. I can confirm today that, just as we have had limits on cash bonuses [3] of £2,000 at RBS this year and last year, we will do the same next year as well.

Edward Miliband: We can all agree with the general sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expresses about bonuses, but today I am asking him a very specific question. RBS is talking to parts of the Government about the proposal to pay over 100% bonuses. He is the Prime Minister, the taxpayer will foot the bill, so will he put a stop to it right now by telling RBS to drop this idea?

The Prime Minister: I will tell [4] the right hon. Gentleman exactly what we are saying to RBS: if there are any proposals to increase the overall pay [5] —that is, the pay and bonus bill—at RBS, at the investment bank, we will veto them. What a pity that the previous Government never took an approach like that. [6] [Interruption.]

[1] What can Cameron not tell? And why?

[2] Totally ignores that RBS is now substantially down-sized from 20o8. SkyNews reported [13 June 2013]: The latest slew of cuts will take total number of jobs lost at RBS since the 2008 crisis to nearly 40,000. 

'I can't give you a bonus, but there's a £2m reward for the person who finds my unmbrella'

‘I can’t give you a bonus, but there’s a £2m reward for the person who finds my umbrella’

[3] Note “cash bonuses”, yet the top brass are loath to receive their divvies in cash (which is taxed) and prefer it rendered in kind or shares. [see Matt’s pocket cartoon, from today’s Daily Telegraph]

[4] See [1] above.

[5] See [2] above.

[6] And what would Tories have said were the previous Labour government to have interfered with remuneration among bankers?

Clearly there were:

  • two completely different value-systems evidenced here (note how Cameron totally ignores “acceptable”),
  • two totally different mind-sets (Cameron talks “overall pay”, meaning the whole wage-bill, when Miliband was specific about bonuses),
  • different vocabularies, and,
  • inevitably, different interpretations.

Hmm … surely Burke said something appropriate. Must look it up.

Update:

No, what was lurking in the mind wasn’t Burke himself, but Matthew Arnold on Burke. And it’s good. And it’s almost pertinent to the present mess:

Burke is so great because, almost alone in England, he brings thought to bear upon politics, he saturates politics with thought… His greatness is that he lived in a world which neither English Liberalism nor English Toryism is apt to enter; — the world of ideas, not the world of catchwords and party habits.

When comes such another?

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Filed under David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Edmund Burke