Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’
The view from Holloway is probably quite different to that from Chipping Norton, the tory stronghold where the likes of Rebekah Brooks and Jeremy Clarkson hobnob with hapless Prime Minister David Cameron. Yet it is the view from Holloway with which Ms.Brooks may become most familiar.
The Phone Hacking scandal is shaping up nicely. If the allegations are true, then the cover concealing a web of influence extending from Wapping to Scotland Yard via Downing Street has suddenly been torn away, sending both practitioners and victims of the dark arts of persuasion scuttling for cover.
There are a lot of questions to be answered, but the one that is top of my list is this. If Sir Paul Stephenson deems it necessary to resign over his acceptance of a £12,000 stay at Champneys (represented at the time by News of the World journalist Neil Wallis who was also ‘advising’ the Metropolitan Police), then why does David Cameron believe that he has no cause to apologise for his staggering bad judgement in accepting Brooks’ advice to appoint Wallis’s sometime boss, ex New of the World editor Andy Coulson as spin doctor in chief to the government? And just as an afterthought, why is it also deemed OK for Cameron to accept the hospitality in 2008 of PR guru Matthew Freud (husband of Elizabeth Murdoch), being flown half way across Europe at a cost of £34,300 to meet the rest of the Murdoch cabal aboard their yacht in the Mediterranean? (see original story in the Independent)
Contrary to the Prime Minister’s assertion that the public are only interested in the phone hacking scandal, this member of the public is becoming increasingly interested in the extent of the influence exerted by Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks over his government. Parliament is about to go into recess and it’s possible Cameron hopes this will all be brushed under the carpet – indeed the timing of the arrest today casts doubt on Rebekah Brook’s appearance before the parliamentary committee on Tuesday. Conspiracy or Clouseau? The answer to that question is far from clear.
Is the phone hacking scandal David Cameron’s personal Watergate? We appear to have all the ingredients necessary to topple an unelected government for whom cynicism and self interest appear to be the only identifiable characteristics. So why is the press tip toeing around this story like cattle avoiding an abattoir?
For those who haven’t been paying attention, this dismal tale began to look interesting when News of The World Editor Andy Coulson was appointed chief spin doctor to Downing Street at a time when the paper was already under investigation by the police after allegations of phone tapping were made public. The official line was that the phone tapping was the work of a single private investigator operating under his own initiative and that Andy Coulson could not possibly have known about it. Fast forward six months and amid allegations that senior police officers were wined and dined by the News of The World, that David Cameron spent Christmas Day dining with Rebekah Wade-Brooks and James Murdoch, and the kind of connections started to be made that rendered Andy Coulson’s position at the heart of the government an embarrasment. Quite where the appointment of Murdoch acolyte Jeremy Hunt to oversee the sale of BSkyB to News International, and the editorial support for the Tory party adopted by the Murdoch owned newspapers fits into all this is a question that newspapers apart from the Guardian seem curiously unwilling to ask. And as revelations concerning the hundreds of thousands of pounds allegedly paid to senior police officers stack up, it seems extraordinary for News International to continue to claim that their executives were innocent of any wrongdoing.
The phone tapping scandal reached its nadir with revelations that the mobile belonging to Milly Dowler was tapped and messages deleted from the voicemail service to make room for more by private investigators. These people were employed by News of the World journalists under an editorial regime presided over by current chief executive Rebekah Wade-Brooks. The cynicism and cruelty of this act beggars belief since relatives desperately trying to contact Milly were given false hope by the fact that it appeared that she had deleted the messages herself. A full mailbox accepting no further voicemails suddenly became accessible. This demonstrates a level of cynicism matched only by Wade-Brooks fatuous excuse that she was ‘on holiday’ at the time this happened. The fact is that as editor at the time she should be held to account for the culture of journalism prevailing in the company. It almost seems appropriate to quote Bill Shankly on the offside rule: “If he’s not interfering with play, what the F*** is he doing in the area!” Even if Wade-Brooks did not personally order that telephone to be tapped, she was responsible for the culture that did.
On Tuesday David Cameron performed another of his wonderful U-turns. Initially declaring that it would be inappropriate to order a government inquiry into the affair while an ongoing police investigation was erm ongoing, by the afternoon he had decided the affair could not be ignored and declaring the actions of the private investigators to be ‘dreadful’ he ordered the inquiry to take place. Meanwhile, BSkyB will be delivered to Murdoch on a plate, giving him control of approximately 50% of the media channels in this country.
The opportunism of Murdoch closing the News of the World absolutely demonstrates why we should be so concerned by the prospect of this company becoming the dominant force in the UK media. Before the scandal caused advertisers to pull out en masse (interesting that Tesco, Vodaphone and Orange saw no reason to protest), Rebekah Wade had already laid plans to merge the workforces of the Sun and the News of the World, and News International had already bought the domain name for the proposed Sunday Sun. All that has happened is that Murdoch has swung the axe more quickly and more widely than he had planned. This scandal has been opportunistically exploited to save Rebekah Wade Brooks at the expense of hundreds of jobs. Of course an executive with close ties to the Prime Minister is a valuable asset to the Murdoch enterprise.
Sometimes it feels as though the british public are like sheep being led to a slaughter. We are force fed salacious nonsense about second rate celebrities while unemployment rises, prices rise, inflation rises. The government ensure that what little money remains in the economy is channelled into the hands of the private sector, while peddling the line that all of this is somehow the fault of a Labour Government. David Cameron’s trade is public relations lest we forget. It is the one thing he really does excel at.
“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was persuading the world he didn’t exist.” appropriately, that quote comes from a film entitled “The Usual Suspects”.
File under ‘complicated’, but news of the allied coalition launching 110 Tomahawk missiles at Libya does not fill me with waves of patriotic pride. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m dismayed that David Cameron has embraced this opportunity to generate more political capital with an alacrity matched only by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy behaving like a starving wart hog placed before a basin of truffles.
There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Libya, just as there was in Iraq and just as there is in North Korea and Zimbabwe. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that interference in these matters occurs only in countries that have oil, the lifeblood of western civilisation. I’m doubly dismayed that our unelected government of arrogant, reckless berks feel that they have a mandate to sling missiles with a range of 1000 miles at a country that may well decide to fling something equally unpleasant in our general direction. I ask myself the question, “Why have the public not been consulted in this matter?”
The United Nations is a puppet of American foreign policy; the US are being remarkably coy about the precise nature of their involvement in this conflict. No doubt the hope is that we will succeed in reducing Libya to rubble so that ‘stability’ can be imposed on the area.
Personally I don’t believe that it is down to us to “sort this out”. That is simply a myth that Cameron and Sarkozy like to peddle so that they can reinvent themselves as sabre rattling saviours of the universe, in the hope that a fawning electorate will toe the line and these nasty riots and heaven forbid, debates about the NHS will just go away.
Sadly, history suggests that this conflict will not be over by next week, that instead we will get drawn into a long, tedious, expensive engagement with all the human tragedy that will entail. And afterwards, David Cameron and William Hague will scuttle back to the shires and shake their heads sorrowfully, insulated, as they always have been, by an indefatigable sense of entitlement, while the rest of us continue to foot the bill.
Andrew Neil’s polemic about the influence of the public school system on english politics and the evaporation of the meritocracy ushered in by the likes of Harold Wilson on the left and Margaret Thatcher on the right offered up some truly staggering statistics. Try this one for size – 75% of the coalition cabinet are millionaires. 66% went to public school. Men of the people they are certainly not.
The point the program made was not that private education and privilege should disqualify people from rule, tempting though that conclusion undoubtedly is, but that people whose access to an education of similar quality is denied, have little or no chance of becoming successful in politics these days. In this context, the draconian cuts that the coalition have imposed on education are even more alarming.
Andrew Neil is a brilliant journalist and a shining example of someone who has benefitted from living through times when the UK was a meritocracy. His interviews were drawn from a genuine cross section, including Sarah Teather, minister for education, Douglas Hurd, David Davis – the man who lost out to David Cameron in the Tory leadership contest, the ludicrous Jacob Rees-Mogg (“I’m a man of the people,Vox populi, vox dei.”) and Lord Mandelson. What emerged is the surprising fact that for the first time, we are seeing career politicians who have never actually had a proper job.
The route to power goes roughly like this – public school, preferably Eton or Westminster, University, preferably Oxford though Cambridge has a part to play, a stint as a researcher or ‘Spad’ – Westminster speak for ‘special advisor’ then ushered into a safe seat. It is worth noting that the roles of researcher and special advisor are extremely badly paid, requiring some private means in order to make ends meet. Of the Trade Unions, traditionally a route to power for the working man in the sixties, we heard nothing. Ironically, Margaret Thatcher, the last beneficiary of the meritocratic seventies, smashed this route to power with some deliberation.
We are left with the uneasy feeling that the rise of the new Tories was inevitable and that the meritocracy we thought we had achieved under New Labour was an illusion. The system has the last word and if you strangle the supply of talent, you are left with the government we have. How this is to be fixed is unclear. Equality begins with education and what is suggested by the evidence presented here is that until the comprehensive system provides an education that can match that provided by the public schools, the bias will continue.
As a parting thought, I believe that some exceptional people will flourish in the comprehensive system. I know that some teachers continue to do an excellent job of imparting the fundamental skills in the traditional manner. Of child centred learning I believe there are questions to be asked. I’d be interested to know which public schools employ these methods. The flaw in the concept of grammar schools was the eleven plus exam. It produced a two tiered system at an impossibly early age, both unforgiving and unfair. The tragedy is that the grammar schools worked.
I wonder sometimes if there are any limits to the Tory leadership’s contempt for the people of this country. It appears not, as a cursory examination of the background of Baron Browne of Madingly, the peer entrusted with the responsibility of achieving a sustainable future for higher education all to readily reveals.
The ‘official’ version is that Browne’s glittering career in BP, starting as an apprentice and ending as group chief executive from which lofty position he trousered a renumeration package of approximately £5.7m in 2004, equips him, as a man who has been there and done it, to make sound recommendations, not on corporate governence, of which more, later, but on education. Presumably on the basis he has attended a university at some point in the distant past. That would be Cambridge in case you were wondering.
From 1997, Browne sought to re-brand BP as a “green” energy company. The company linked itself in its corporate communications with green issues by the overt link of its BP initials with the phrase “Beyond Petroleum”. Browne stated that the right to self-determination was crucial for people everywhere, and that he saw his company’s mission as to find ways to meet current needs without excessive harm to the environment, while developing future, more sustainable sources of energy. He promised that BP would cut its production of CO2 by 10% by 2010, although it is as yet unproved whether BP met this goal.
All good and well, though I doubt the inhabitants of the Congo basin would applaud the oil industry’s efforts at conservation. However, Tom Bower, an investigative journalist who began his career on Panorama and went on to publish unauthorised biographies of Tiny Rowland, Mohammed El Fayed, Richard Branson and Robert Maxwell amongst others, disagrees.
Bower claims that Browne, far from prioritising the safety and sustainability of the environment, was responsible for a “ruthless” programme of cost-cutting at BP that compromised safety, and was therefore the man most responsible for a string of major accidents including the Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005 and the notorious Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Bower also accuses Browne of tolerating only “sycophants” in his “corporate court”, including the hapless sailor Tony Hayward who succeeded him as BP Chief Executive. Browne has of course rejected Bower’s account, saying that he actually increased the number of engineers appointed to BP and flatly refused to take part in a BBC documentary in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. However, according to the Guardian, ”Browne’s reputation was tarnished by a string of accidents in the US which hastened his retirement”.
Incredibly, the rewards heaped on Browne’s sloping shoulders include a knighthood awarded in 1998 and a Baronetcy in 2001. The peoples of the gulf of Mexico will no doubt be tickled pink by his FIRST Responsible Capitalism award in 2000.
Ruthless cuts? Just the man for the job then. Set aside the embarrassing environmental record, after all, as David Cameron knows too well, if you say something often enough, it eventually becomes the truth. In any case, surely even the Tories would appoint a man of the utmost probity to the sensitive task of safeguarding the future of the next generation, wouldn’t they?
Well, apparently not. When Browne was eventually persuaded to resign his profitable position at BP, in the aftermath of some embarrassing allegations about the misuse of company funds, he successfully sought an interim injunction preventing details being published about his private life. Naturally, this quickly went pear shaped. In April 2007, after a court case lasting over four weeks, Browne appealed to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, who ruled that he could not prevent Associated Newspapers from printing allegations about his romantic life and the alleged misuse of company funds. Browne finally resigned from BP on 1 May 2007, and resigned as a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs on 10 May 2007. More embarrassing still, Browne faced charges of perjury for lying to the court over how he met his former partner.
In a deposition to the court Browne initially said the pair had met when they were both exercising in Battersea Park. Browne later admitted this was a lie. He acknowledged that he had actually met Chevalier via a commercial gay escort website, Suited and Booted. Mr Justice Eady, the presiding judge in the case, said he decided not to refer the matter to the Attorney General with regard to possible perjury charges, as disclosure in the judgement of Lord Browne’s behaviour was “probably sufficient punishment”, adding Browne’s “willingness to tell a deliberate lie to the court, persisted in for about two weeks, … is relevant in assessing his own credibility … So too is his willingness casually to ‘trash’ the reputation of Mr Chevalier and to discredit him in the eyes of the court”.
Of course the judge could not possibly have forseen the phoenix like revival of Browne’s fortunes under the Tory government, but at the very least this displays (yet again) questionable judgement by David Cameron in appointing this man as an advisor on government policy? Or outright contempt? Is Cameron simply taking on anyone who will help implement his political agenda?
It may be a personal thing, but I don’t want people of this stripe to be involved in governing the country. I’ve never been known to be particularly engaged in politics, but I don’t like what I see going on in this unelected government. I don’t want to be governed by liars and hypocrites. Is that too much too ask?
Actually, I disagree. It is a blessing for a number of reasons, not least that it spares us the ordeal of listening to David Cameron’s ghastly triumphalist spin for a minute longer than we have to.
FIFA is an organisation that England has absolutely no influence in. The notion that sending a couple of old Etonians and a washed up pro would somehow change this is absolutely laughable – we wouldn’t do it in business, so why on earth did we think it would work with FIFA?
It’s a good thing we failed, for the simple reason that the humiliation of being knocked out in the early rounds as hosts would unleash another round of self serving rubbish, culminating in a statement from the FA insisting that no review of the way we run football in this country is necessary.
So, how do we run football? Well, Michael Gove, the Tory minister for education is so enthusiastic about sport that he is to replace the current offer of up to five weekly hours of PE and physical activity with “an Olympic-style school sport competition”. Marvellous news! so what exactly does this competition consist of? Well, an opportunity for a tiny minority of exceptionally gifted children to compete once every four years. So, basically more Tory cuts masquerading as a good thing.
Let’s have a look at the FA – clearly after all the criticism of FIFA, and the flouncing resignation of Peter Burden, the ‘acting’ chief executive, they must be whiter than white? Er. no actually, the FA, like FIFA is run as a fiefdom, unaccountable to anyone. You don’t even have to be a football fan to work out that the FA is doing a pretty poor job.
The Premier League – the self styled ‘Worlds Biggest Football Competition’. Well, if it were measured in terms of salaries and egos, it probably is. The sad thing about the premier league is that it encourages the english to imagine we are actually good at football. This is emphatically not the case. we have a few stout yeomen who bring an element of physical prowess to the game, but compared to the continental and south american teams, we fail time and again to measure up.
The arrogance of our players, in thinking that they were guaranteed at least a place in the semi finals of the world cup, mirrors the arrogance of David Cameron in thinking that we were guaranteed to win the hearts and minds of the FIFA committee just because he could be bothered to turn up. Leaving aside for another day the worrying fact that miscalculation on this scale is hardly the trait we look for in a prime minister, this was hubris of epic proportion.
We did not lose because the BBC upset the members of the committee, nor because the Guardian chose to engage in the very thing we want a free press to engage in – investigative journalism. We lost because as a nation, we just don’t get it. We don’t matter any more. We are not the home of football, we’re not even particularly good at it.
By their economics shall you know them. Are the Tories about to pull off the most dramatic economic rescue of modern times as they would have us believe, or are they taking an irresponsible and potentially catastrophic risk with the economy in order to impose their ideology on the national consciousness?
The Tories have always advocated a free market with minimal state intervention. What we are seeing now is a government hell bent on dismantling the public sector using the excuse that the deficit can only be recovered by cutting public spending.
Let’s look at some of the facts. The Tories have just announced a bank tax of less than 0.1% on the wealth accumulated by the banks. The banks have responded with the usual veiled statements about reviewing the feasibility of the UK as a base. The money raised by this tax is calculated to be £2.5 billion a year by 2013. Seems like a lot of money? How about the £81 billion the Tories are extracting from the public spending budgets? Are 490,000 (yes, nearly half a million) jobs really going to be created by the private sector?
The Tories attacks on the quangos betray their agenda. The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues in this article that the attacks follow a pattern. That many of the quangos dissolved are bodies that hold corporations to account. That almost all of the surviving quangos are dedicated to increasing corporate profits and in so doing, sweeping large amounts of money into their own coffers. This is not about cutting back on waste, this is about increasing the power of the free market.
The economic policies espoused by the Tories have their roots in the extreme free market model created by Milton Friedman in the seventies. Friedman argued that the only successful economy was one where the market was unregulated and government intervention via public bodies was minimised. In such an economy, a kind of natural selection will ensure the survival of the fittest.
It’s worth considering the history of Chile. General Pinochet’s regime was advised by a group of CIA funded economists. Alumni of Friedman’s classes at the University of Chicago. All the usual suspects, privatisation, deregulation, massive tax and spending cuts were in place and the effects were catastrophic. By 1974 inflation had reached 375%, the highest on earth. Incredibly, on a personal visit to Chile in 1975, Friedman persuaded General Pinochet that the reason the experiment had gone wrong was that the cuts had not gone deep enough and that he should hit much harder. The result was another massive hike in unemployment and the near eradication of the middle classes. By 1982, unemployment had reached 30% and personal debt had exploded. However, the rich were richer and corporate interests thrived, with most of the money finding its way out of the country. Pinochet finally acted decisively. He sacked the economists and re-nationalised key industries. The economy responded and Chile came back from the brink.
It couldn’t happen here? Could it? Well Friedman’s policies are still being imposed on any disaster ridden country that will listen. Iraq being the most recent. I’ve saved the worst bit for last. Friedman preached that ”only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. After a crisis has struck, he added later, “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.” Ring any bells?
This post may be a long one, and it may well degenerate into an angry rant, but in the immortal words of Peter Finch in the classic movie, Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore…”
It’s this government, it’s the so called Big Society, it’s every time I hear David Cameron telling me what’s good for me, it’s every time I read that the Northern Rock have taken just 12 months to recover 50% of the deficit that had the tax payer bail them out, every time I read that the cuts in public services are for keeps and that HSBC have earmarked several million pounds to cover their bonus payments, but it’s especially when I hear Jeremy Hunt waxing lyrical about public service television whilst simultaneously axing the Film Council that provides funding for the film industry this country is so rightly proud of.
According to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, broadcasters need to go beyond issue-raising and embrace problem-solving. “Our investment in public service broadcasting in this country is substantial, so we want PSBs to have a real impact in informing, educating and shifting opinion.
“We have one of the best PSB systems in the world but it’s time to move it on. We need it to take responsibility for advancing people’s understanding of issues for themselves and to come up with concrete solutions.”
Like so much Tory rhetoric this appears to be almost reasonable, but taken in conjunction with the pronouncements made by the same Jeremy about the axing of the film council, I start to worry about the quality of thinking behind the changes the Tories have in mind.
“Many of these bodies were set up a considerable length of time ago, and times and demands have changed. In the light of the current financial situation, and as part of our drive to increase openness and efficiency across Whitehall, it is the right time to look again at the role, size and scope of these organisations.”
Role, size and scope? Of the Film Council? Or perhaps he was thinking of bigger fish, even the BBC? This is what Tory advisors, free market thinktank the Adam Smith Institute have to say on the subject:
” ….The BBC would, over a limited period of time, allow licence fee payers to either lapse or switch to voluntary subscription.
“Public Service” would be redefined to essentials and the monitoring of these would come from a specialist unit within the relevant Government department.
Core public service content would be “free” and include news, but not entertainment genres or most documentary and factual output. The over 75 free-access options would continue.
Content intended to promote the UK (like the present World Service) should be directly funded by Government as it is now.”
So looking forward to the formation of a government department monitoring the public service – why I’d almost describe it as a nanny state.
But I’m being bitter and sarcastic, instead, let’s consider the position of the Public Service Broadcaster we have, the BBC. The BBC has it’s hands tied by the BBC Charter which dictates that the BBC must remain editorially impartial. The BBC is also forbidden from (ab)using it’s position for commercial gain, a situation that poses real problems for an organisation attempting to plan ahead in the face of anticipated Tory cuts. Jeremy Hunt would like the BBC to have a real impact in informing, educating and changing opinion. He’s moved decisively to kill off the film Council, so what is his plan to change the role of the BBC? It’s a problem.
What if the nightmare scenario, that the Film Council cut is a first step designed to take the heat out of a much more decisive and vicious swipe at the heart of our broadcasting industry, turns out to be true? Let’s take a look at the alternative, the free market. Independent television is run along free market lines more or less, subsidised inadequately by advertising revenue, bodies like the Film Council, the BBC, and, as the more successful indies are talking to the likes of Time Warner, American money.
Commercial television, by definition, is unlikely to provide the kind of socially informative content that will make a real difference to British society, precisely because of the free market. There is very little money in making TV that appeals to UK only audiences. The indies need to sell their programs abroad to remain competitive. At the same time, commissioners are ruled by viewing figures pulling advertising revenue and while this is the case, we will continue to be fed a diet of reality tv and ‘celebrity’ led documentary. One person who arguably kicked the trend was Jamie Oliver, and he produced his ground breaking ‘School Dinners’ program for Channel 4, five years ago. This was crusading television at it’s best, informative, entertaining and it made a difference. The government of the day (Labour, not Tory) sat up and took notice, and acted. It was, as the resounding emptiness of our TV schedule ever since reveals, exceptional.
I’m sick of the Tory party and their patronising chatter. It’s like being surrounded by a gaggle of hectoring seagulls. If they are serious about the power of public service television, then let them free the BBC from the confines of it’s charter, because nobody is better positioned to deliver quality game changing television than the BBC. Let them also forget about trashing the film council – not because we don’t want to sponsor more Keira Knightleys, exceptional as she is, but because the next game changing idea will come from the independent sector and it will need funding. But I’m rambling, the cuts, as David Cameron took the trouble to explain today, are here to stay. Sadly, at least for the next five years, so is this coalition, this confederacy of dunces.