Listening on lobbying: Andrew Lansley proved exactly how trustworthy he is with the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Now he stands ready to hear discussion of his amendments to the new Lobbying Bill.
This seems nothing more than a filibuster. Now that Lord Lansley has a cushy job working for a lobbying firm, he doesn’t want it coming under scrutiny.
But doesn’t that raise the issue of conflict of interest? Why is Lansley being allowed to talk about this matter at all?
Come to that, after the atrocity that was the Health and Social Care Act 2012, why is this creature allowed to talk about anything at all, ever?
Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, who now advises health companies, has been accused of trying to stall a parliamentary bill that proposes to expose lobbyists in Whitehall to greater scrutiny.
The Tory peer has tabled 30 amendments to a bill before the House of Lords that seeks to establish a new register for lobbyists who meet ministers, senior civil servants and special advisers.
Labour and transparency campaigners suspect there will not be time for a parliamentary committee to discuss the amendments, and that the changes are in effect an attempt to scupper the bill.
Lord Lansley has denied their claims, saying he wants to ensure that the bill enshrines current regulatory powers and protects those being regulated.
The proposed legislation would replace the government’s much-criticised lobbying register with one that would be far more comprehensive.
It would cover in-house lobbyists as well as agency lobbyists, and would be extended to cover meetings with senior civil servants and special advisers. At present, only meetings between agency lobbyists and ministers and permanent secretaries are recorded.
If there’s one area of British life that needs reform, it’s politics.
Every day, Vox Political receives at least one comment from somebody saying that the system is corrupt and desperately needs an overhaul. Today (Tuesday, March 3), Labour is due to announce its plans for tackling this very issue.
The trouble is, of course, that many people are saying Labour is part of the problem.
The claim is that the party and its high-level members have a vested financial interest in keeping the system as it is – and the gravy train rolling along. How will Labour combat these?
There are plans to consult on new powers for the Speaker to tackle the worst and repeated instances of rowdy behaviour in the Chamber with a so-called ‘sin bin’.
Former Commons deputy speaker Nigel Evans described the idea as “rubbish”, pointing out that the speaker already has the ability to remove MPs in certain circumstances and has lots of discretion at present.
But the Speaker himself, John Bercow, has given a cautious welcome to the suggestion that MPs face a rugby-style “yellow-card” temporary ban for bad behaviour in the Chamber. Answering questions at a Hansard Society event at Westminster, Mr Bercow said: “I think there is merit in it, it’s not for me to decide, it’s for the House to decide.”
Other measures will be revealed at an event in Parliament, by Shadow Leader of the Commons Angela Eagle. They include:
Overhauling elections with measures including introducing votes at 16 and trialling online voting
Changing how Parliament works with a Prime Minister’s Questions for the public and a new process for law-making that gives people a say
Tackling vested interests by regulating MPs’ 2nd jobs and creating compulsory rules for lobbyists, and
Devolving power across the UK and replacing the Lords with a ‘Senate of the Nations and Regions’.
Some of these measures have already been trailed, like votes for 16-year-olds, public PMQs and regulation of MPs’ second jobs. One has been claimed by the Conservative Party, although Labour’s Austin Mitchell describes the plan for devolution to Greater Manchester as a “deathbed repentance by a government which had centralised continuously in a country that is over-centralised already”. He claimed that a concentration of power in London and the south-east of England “needs to be reversed so the rest of us can have a chance”.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Angela Eagle said: “The recent debate over MPs’ second jobs reminds us that so much needs to change in Westminster. When trust in politics and politicians is already at a record low, only radical reform will restore faith in our political process.
“Labour’s plan will deliver the reform our politics needs. We will reform the Commons to strengthen its ability to hold the government to account. And we will ensure our political system always puts people before rich and powerful vested interests.
“Our politics works on an adversarial system, but sometimes MPs take it too far and it turns the public off. A Labour government will consult on new powers for the Speaker to curb the worst forms of repeated barracking.”
This writer is particularly keen on online voting. It is to be hoped that the trials go well, so that this may help restore interest – and confidence – in democracy.
Does it go far enough? Undoubtedly people will say it does not – but at least, it seems, Labour will do something to arrest the corruption that seems to have seeped into the very bones of the Palace of Westminster (the building will be unusable within 20 years, it seems, unless expensive restoration work is undertaken).
This cartoon by David Simonds, from The Guardian, illustrates the problem – fat-cat businesses back Cameron while the working-class poor can only watch while they starve.
Looking at the headline, one might thing that is a bold claim – but it is what David Cameron’s party supported with their votes yesterday.
The Tories fended off a Labour Opposition Day motion for Parliament to ban MPs from having directorships or consultancies with private business interests with a vote of 287 against the motion, compared with 219 for – a majority of 68.
Shadow Commons Leader Angela Eagle said the public deserved to be “safe in the knowledge” that every MP was working and acting in their interests – and not for somebody paying them.
But her Tory counterpart, William Hague, pretended that unions were a far greater influence on MPs.
In that case, perhaps he should have explained the amount of influence that unions have held over the Coalition Government during the last five years, relative to big business – to illustrate his point.
No such demonstration was forthcoming – because unions have no influence on Tories while businesses dictate the Conservative Party’s every move.
This is what the last five years of Conservative-led Coalition Government have been about, you see – changing the system to make it easier for big business to make a profit – and to pass some of it on to the Tories in donations to party funds.
You won’t see any change in that while Tories are in office.
Labour has already changed its rules to ensure none of its MPs can hold business consultancies or directorships after this year’s general election.
That sends out a clear message about who voters can trust to make the right decisions.
David Cameron, meanwhile, just can’t get anything right.
Triumph: Ed Miliband had David Cameron on the ropes in Prime Minister’s Questions.
That’ll be another win for Ed Miliband this week, then.
Obviously, the topic of the leader exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions (or Wednesday Shouty Time, for political realists) was always going to be MPs’ second jobs and ‘cash for access’.
Both Conservative Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Labour MP Jack Straw were implicated in a ‘hidden camera’ operation to show they were selling their services as MPs for money.
Ed Miliband acted immediately with a plan to stop MPs taking high-paying consultancies and directorships, saying they cannot serve two masters. David Cameron, on the other hand, did nothing – putting him in a weak position before today’s battle began.
It started in civilised fashion: Ed Miliband said the reputation of all members of the House had been “damaged” by the recent revelations, and Cameron responded by saying they were “extremely serious” and it is right they are investigated.
Cameron went on to explain that he is not ruling out further changes on second jobs – but the existing rules should be “properly applied”. Meaning they’re not already? Whose responsibility is that?
Having built up a slight head of steam, Cameron then ruined it by suggesting the government has tightened up the rules on lobbying and introduced a right of recall. We all know that both of these measures pay lip-services to their stated aim, while in fact protecting lobbyists’ access to ministers and helping MPs keep their seats.
Miliband capitalised on this by pointing out that Cameron said – in a 2009 speech before he became Prime Minister – that he would end the practice of “double-jobbing” as he called it then. We all know nothing happened about it after he took office so this was clearly yet another pre-2010 election lie.
Cameron tried to parry by saying Labour’s proposals to ban outside directorships are “not thought through”, repeating a claim made earlier this week that they would allow someone to be a trade union official but not run a family business or shop.
He worsened his position by adding that he believes Parliament is “stronger” if MPs have outside interests. So he’s in favour of the kind of corruption exhibited by Rifkind and Straw?
Clearly, Cameron thought his line on “paid trade union officials” would hammer Miliband down – but the Labour leader batted it away without batting an eyelid. He said he was prepared to add trade union officials to the list of extra jobs that should be banned, in Labour’s motion on the subject to be debated later.
This left Cameron with nowhere to go. He tried to raise the outside earnings of current and former Labour ministers like Tristram Hunt and David Miliband, but the Labour leader said Cameron “talked big” while in opposition and should now “vote for one job – not two”.
Cameron’s final claim, that Labour is “owned lock stock and barrel” by the unions, fell flat following Miliband’s concession on union jobs, while Mr Miliband scored a final hit by pointing out that the Conservatives are controlled by wealthy hedge funds.
Now Cameron is in a corner.
He won’t want to let Labour score a victory by conceding this afternoon’s vote on consultancies and directorships (and now, it seems, trade union officialdom) because it would allow Labour to say it has again changed government policy – and also the rules of Parliament.
But if he opposes the move, then the electorate will see a Conservative Party that works for big business rather than the electorate, and supports corruption.
It’s farewell to your centuries-old right to free speech today, after your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs won their bid to get the Gagging Bill passed by the House of Lords. It won’t go back to the Commons because the Lords made no amendments.
While you, personally, will be allowed to continue complaining about anything you want, you will no longer have the ability to link up with others to protest government actions in any meaningful way as such action may breach Liberal Democrat and Tory government-imposed spending limits. Your personal complaints will be deemed unrepresentative of the people.
You will still be able to have your e-petition on the government’s website – if you win enough signatures to have it debated in Parliament – ignored by the Tories and Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons.
The Liberal Democrats and Tories have even managed to rub salt into the wound by creating a register of all the corporate lackeys who will still be able to influence their policies – freelance lobbyists employed by large companies for the specific purpose of swaying government policy. Lobbyists who are company employees will not be listed as the government says their purposes for meeting MPs should be obvious.
This means the new law will do nothing to restrict the power of corporations to write government policy or prevent lobbying scandals such as those involving former Tory MP Patrick Mercer, along with Tories Peter Cruddas and Liam Fox.
The new law protects in-house corporate lobbying operations from official scrutiny, while preventing the public from enjoying the same privileges of access to the government. That is what your Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs have fought so assiduously to obtain, over the eight months or so that this legislation, “one of the worst… any government produce[d] in a very long time”, has spent being digested by Parliament.
In a Commons debate in September, Glenda Jackson MP warned that her constituents “know that the Bill… would prevent democratic voices from being heard”.
In response, Andrew Lansley – the Conservative who gave us the hated Health and Social Care Act 2012, another incredibly poor piece of legislation – said; “I look forward to the Honourable Lady having an opportunity… to go back to her constituents, to tell them that the things they are alarmed about will not happen.”
@UKJCP immediately resurrected itself as @DeadParrotJCP and @Director_UKJCP. We’ll see how long they last.
Let us not forget, also, that the third part of this law cracks down on trade unions, enforcing strict rules on membership records to ensure, it seems, that it is possible to ‘blacklist’ any trade unionist who finds him- or herself seeking work.
With free speech flushed away, you may still resort to public protest – but the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has that covered.
ACPO is an organisation that has tried to put ‘agent provocateurs’ into legitimate protest groups and promoted ‘kettling’ to stop peaceful protests (as used in the student protests early in the current Parliament), among many other reprehensible activities.
Considering its track record, it seems clear that ACPO wants to use water cannons against legitimate political protests, on the assumption that the increasing imposition of ideologically-imposed austerity on the country by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives will lead to more political protests, as people across the UK finally realise that the Tories and their corporate lobbyist friends are actually working against the wider population.
ACPO’s report on water cannons makes it clear that “it would be fair to assume that the ongoing and potential future austerity measures are likely to lead to continued protest” and “the mere presence of water cannon can have a deterrent effect”.
The Home Office response? “We are keen to ensure forces have the tools and powers they need to maintain order on our streets. We are currently providing advice to the police on the authorisation process as they build the case for the use of water cannon.”
So there you have it. Take to the streets in peaceful protest and your police service will assault you with water cannons, with the blessing of your government.
There remains one option open to you – your vote. You could get rid of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats at the next general election in 2015.
But that leads us to ask why the government has launched its attack on free speech and free protest.
Perhaps it wants to control the information you receive, on which you base your voting intentions?
We already know the unelected Conservative and Liberal Democrat government is using the predominantly right-wing media for this purpose. For example: George Osborne made a great deal of fuss earlier this week, alleging a huge resurgence in the British economy. With help from Tory mouthpiece the BBC, he was able to put out the headline figure that the economy grew by 1.9 per cent in 2013 – its strongest rate since 2007.
Osborne also claimed that Britain is doing better than all comparable economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and that the upturn is due to his imbecilic “expansionary fiscal contraction” policy, otherwise known as austerity.
All of these claims are false, or intended to create a false impression.
Firstly, his 1.9 per cent of growth started at a much lower level of output than would have been the case if Osborne had not imposed austerity on us all and stopped the 2010 recovery dead. GDP would now be 20 per cent higher than its current levels if not for this single act of stupidity from the stupidest Chancellor in British history.
Secondly: The US economy recovered from an eight per cent fall after 2008 to a five per cent rise above its previous peak by the third quarter of 2013. Germany is the only major European country to enjoy growth of two per cent or higher, after an initial recovery based on increased public expenditure – not austerity. Even France has nearly reached its pre-crisis peak. The UK remains two per cent below its previous economic peak.
Finally, Osborne did not even get to this miserable excuse for a recovery by imposing austerity. He quietly adopted a stimulus policy to avoid going back into recession. What do you think ‘Funding for Lending’ is? Or his mortgage guarantee scheme?
If George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May, ACPO and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition in Parliament had their way, you would not have access to any of these facts.
You would be led to believe that the governments policies are working, exactly the way the government says they are working.
You would not have any reason to believe that the government is lying to you on a daily basis.
You would be tranquillised.
Would you vote against a government that tells you such wonderful things, even when your own circumstances might not reflect that story (real wages fell by seven per cent in the private sector and five per cent in the public sector between 2007-13)?
David Cameron is betting his career that you won’t.
Corporate trade a-greed-ment: Notice that this image of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has mighty corporations straddling the Atlantic while the ‘little’ people – the populations they are treading on – are nowhere to be seen. [Picture: FT]
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is bitter pill for anyone to swallow, if they have spent any time defending Britain’s membership of the European Union.
The partnership between the EU and the United States would open America to the kind of free trade deals that have been going on in Europe ever since the original Economic Community was formed – but there is a problem.
It isn’t a problem for businesses; they are in line to get a deal better than anything ever experienced in the world of trade. Citizens and national governments, on the other hand – you, me, and the people who represent us – will be railroaded.
This is because the agreement includes a device called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’, which allows corporate entities to sue governments, overruling domestic courts and the will of Parliaments.
In other words, this could be the biggest threat to democracy since World War II.
In the UK, it could be used by shale mining companies to ensure that the government could not keep them out of protected areas, by banks fighting financial regulation, and by cigarette companies fighting the imposition of plain packaging for cigarettes. How do we know? Because these things are already happening elsewhere in the world.
If a product had been banned by a country’s regulators, the manufacturer will be able to sue them, forcing that state to pay compensation or let the product in – even if this undermines health and safety laws in that country.
It seems that domestic courts are deemed likely to be biased or lack independence, but nobody has explained why they think the secretive arbitration panels composed of corporate lawyers will be impartial. Common sense says they’ll rule for the profit, every time.
Now ask yourself a question: Have you ever heard about this?
Chances are that you haven’t – unless you have read articles by George Monbiot (one in The Guardian this week prompted this piece) or have insider knowledge.
The European Commission has done its utmost to keep the issue from becoming public knowledge. Negotiations on the trade and investment partnership have involved 119 behind-closed-doors meetings with corporations and their lobbyists (please note that last point, all you supporters of the government’s so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill), and just eight with civil society groups. Now that concerned citizens have started to publicise the facts, the Commission has apparently worked out a way to calm us down with a “dedicated communications operation” to “manage stakeholders, social media and transparency” by claiming that the deal is about “delivering growth and jobs” and will not “undermine regulation and existing levels of protection in areas like health, safety and the environment” – meaning it will do precisely the opposite.
Your Coalition government appears to be all for it. Kenneth Clarke reckons it is “Scrooge-like” to inflate concerns about investor protection and ignore the potential economic gains – but if the US-Korea Free Trade Agreement is any yardstick, exports will drop and thousands of jobs will be lost.
Green MP Caroline Lucas has published an early day motion on the issue – signed by a total of seven fellow Parliamentarians so far.
Labour MEPs are doing their best to cut the ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ out of the agreement, but they are fighting a lonely battle against the massed forces of greed.
So now ask yourself a second question: Why is the European Commission lying to Britain when we are already halfway out of the door?
Britain is not happy with the European Union or its place within that organisation. People think too much of their national sovereignty – their country’s freedom to do what it wants – is being stripped away by faceless bureaucrats who do not have the best interests of the population at heart. Now the European Commission is trying to foist this upon us.
For Eurosceptics in Parliament – of all political hues – this is a gift. For those of us who accept that we are better off in Europe – as it is currently constituted and without the new trade agreement – it is a poisoned pill.
Are we being pushed into a position where we have to choose between two evils that could have been avoided, if only our leaders had had an ounce of political will and an inch of backbone?
The Coalition government’s latest attack on democracy has been halted before it reached the House of Lords, after ministers realised peers weren’t going to put up with it.
The ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration’ Bill was due to be discussed by peers this week, but the part dealing with third-party campaigning such as that carried out by charities and popular organisations has been put back until December 16 after a threat to delay the entire bill for three months.
The government wants to “rethink” its plans to restrict campaigning by charities, it seems. Hasn’t it already done so twice before?
Andrew Lansley tabled a series of amendments, including one reverting to wording set out in existing legislation, defining controlled expenditure as any “which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success”, on September 6.
But the plan was still to “bring down the national spending limit for third parties, introduce constituency spending limits and extend the definition of controlled expenditure to cover more than just election material, to include rallies, transport and press conferences”, as clarified by the government’s own press release.
Remove the additional test of “otherwise enhancing the standing of a party or candidates”. This is to provide further reassurance to campaigners as to the test they have to meet in order to incur controlled expenditure. A third party will only be subject to regulation where its campaign can reasonably be regarded as intended to “promote or procure the electoral success” of a party of candidate,
Replace the separate listings for advertising, unsolicited material and manifesto/policy documents with election “material”; this is the language used in the current legislation that non-party campaigners and the Electoral Commission are already familiar with, and on which the Electoral Commission have existing guidance,
Make clear that it is public rallies and events that are being regulated; meetings or events just for an organisation’s members or supporters will not be captured by the bill. “We will also provide an exemption for annual events – such as an organisation’s annual conference”,
Ensure that non–party campaigners who respond to ad hoc media questions on specific policy issues are not captured by the bill, whilst still capturing press conferences and other organised media events, and
Ensure that all “market research or canvassing” which promotes electoral success is regulated.
But this blog reported at the time that anyone who thinks that is all that’s wrong with the bill is as gullible as Lansley intends them to be.
New regulations for trade unions mean members could be blacklisted – denied jobs simply because of their membership.
Measures against lobbyists – the bill’s apparent reason for existing – are expected to do nothing to hinder Big Money’s access to politicians, and in fact are likely to accelerate the process, turning Parliamentarians into corporate poodles.
Where the public wanted a curb on corporations corruptly influencing the government, it is instead offering to rub that influence in our faces.
In fact, the Government’s proposed register would cover fewer lobbyists than the existing, voluntary, register run by the UK Public Affairs Council.
And now a bill tabled by Andrew Lansley has been given a “pause” for reconsideration. Is anybody else reminded of the “pause” that took place while Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act was going through Parliament? In the end, the government pushed it through, regardless of the screams of outrage from the medical profession and the general public, and now private health firms are carving up the English NHS for their own profit, using Freedom of Information requests to undermine public sector bids for services.
In the Lords last night, according to The Independent, ministers were pressured to include in-house company lobbyists in the proposed register, if it is to have any credibility.
But Lord Wallace said the proposed “light touch” system would be more effective and the register was designed to address the problem of consultant lobbying firms seeing ministers without it being clear who they represented – in other words, it is intended to address a matter that isn’t bothering anybody, rather than the huge problem of companies getting their chequebooks out and paying for laws that give them an advantage.
We should be grateful for the delay – it gives us all another chance to contact Lords, constituency MPs and ministers to demand an explanation for this rotten piece of legal trash.
If they persist in supporting this undemocratic attack on free speech, then they must pay for it at the next election.
Loss of freedom: Every day the Coalition government tries to take something away from you; at the moment, it’s your right to criticise.
Here’s a long-standing Conservative policy that has served that party very well over the years and continues to be alive today: Incrementalism.
This is the process of putting several changes into a single policy – or using one change as an excuse for another – so that, even if the main aim is defeated by public opinion or Parliament, others are achieved. Their plans progress by increments.
This week we are seeing it in several ways.
Did you think Chris Grayling’s announcement about Legal Aid was a victory for common sense and freedom? Think again.
He announced yesterday that plans to cut the Legal Aid bill by awarding contracts only to the lowest bidder have been dropped, after they attracted huge criticism.
The policy had been mocked because it meant smaller legal firms would be priced out of the market and replaced by legal outbranchings of large firms like Tesco or even Eddie Stobart. For these companies, there would be no financial incentive to fight any cases and they would most probably advise defendants to admit any crime, even if they were innocent. Meanwhile, habitual criminals, used to accepting the advice of their regular representative, would distrust that of the man from Eddie McTesco in his ‘My First Try At Law’ suit and would most likely deny everything. Result: The innocent go to jail and the guilty go free.
That was the headline issue; it has been defeated.
But Grayling still intends to cut Legal Aid fees by 17.5 per cent across the board. How many law firms will find they can’t operate on such lowered incomes?
The government’s war on immigrants will be stepped up with a residency test; only those who have lived in the UK for more than 12 months will be eligible for Legal Aid. Otherwise, for poorer immigrants, there will be no access to justice here.
Thousands of cases brought by people who have already been imprisoned will no longer be eligible for legal aid. Grayling says it won’t be available “because you don’t like your prison”. One supposes we are to hope this loss of one more right will not adversely affect people who are fighting wrongful imprisonment, or who have crimes committed against them while they are in prison, but we should all doubt that.
There is one block on Legal Aid that we may support, in fairness: An income restriction meaning that people with more than £3,000 left over every month after paying their “essential outgoings” will not be entitled to it. That’s a lot of money, and people earning this much should definitely be paying their own legal fees and not asking the taxpayer to do it for them.
According to the BBC report, Labour’s shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said the dropping of ‘price competitive tendering’, as the plan to award contracts to the lowest bidder was known, was “a humiliating climbdown”.
It would have been better for him to take a leaf out of the charity Reprieve’s book. Its representatives said blocking Legal Aid to immigrants who have been here less than a year would deny justice to people wronged by the UK government, ranging from victims of torture and rendition to Gurkhas and Afghan interpreters denied the right to settle here. Legal director Kat Craig said the government wanted to “silence its critics in the courts”.
Another attempt to silence critics of the government is the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, which is due to be discussed in Parliament next week.
The publicised aim of this legislation was to curb what comedy Prime Minister David Cameron himself has called “the next big scandal” – but none of the measures in the first part of the Bill would achieve this. A statutory register of all consultant lobbyists – those working for independent companies who represent the interests of others – as recommended by the Bill, would have prevented none of the lobbying scandals in which Cameron has found himself embroiled during his premiership.
Instead, it seems likely that this will make lobbying by smaller-scale individuals and organisations more difficult, while larger concerns, with in-house lobbyists, may continue to walk through the doors of Number 10, chequebook in hand, and buy any policy they deem beneficial to their business. If this Bill becomes law, they’ll be rubbing our faces in it.
The Bill was introduced on the very last day that Parliament sat before the summer recess – and ministers waited until the very last moment to bolt two new sections onto it. There had been no consultation on the content of these sections, and the timetable proposed for the Bill meant there could be only limited discussion of them.
These were the provisions for gagging political campaigners who do not belong to a political party, and for tying up trade unions in excessive and unneeded red tape. The only possible reason for the first of these is to stop anyone from publishing material that criticises the government in the run-up to the next election – a totalitarian move if every there was one.
And the restriction on trade unions, having their memberships audited independently, is totally unnecessary as the unions already adhere to very strict rules on membership. The real reason would appear to be a plan to make union membership a matter of public knowledge in order to allow businesses to ‘blacklist’ anyone in a union – stop them from getting jobs.
The Bill “will now undergo more detailed scrutiny from MPs”, the BBC website story states. This scrutiny will last a mere three days, next week. This is far too short a period, and rushed onto the Parliamentary schedule far too early, for MPs to subject it to proper scrutiny.
Some of the provisions will be altered, but the Tories are sure to get their way in others. The possibility that union members will be ‘blacklisted’ seems extremely likely, since this is something Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats are not keen to oppose.
And then there is Iain Duncan Smith, who came under fire from the National Audit Office yesterday, over his extremely expensive and utterly unworkable bid to remake social security in his own image – Universal Credit.
The report hammered the project for the poor leadership shown throughout – nobody knew what Universal Credit was supposed to do or how its aims were supposed to be achieved, the timescales imposed for it were unrealistic, the management structure imposed on it was unorthodox and (it turned out) unworkable, there were no adequate measures of progress, and nobody working on the project was able to explain the reasoning behind any of these decisions.
Smith himself, whose likely inadequacies as a bag-carrier in the Army have led to him being labelled ‘RTU’ (Returned To Unit, a sign of shame in the armed forces), was revealed to have lied to Parliament last year, when he claimed the process was running smoothly just weeks after having to order a rethink of the entire project.
The article in which that description was made also described ministerial attacks on civil servants as “the Conservatives’ latest wheeze”. Michael Gove has already hammered morale in his Education department by making huge staff cuts and then employing his ignorant mates to impose their stupid views on the professionals.
It also foreshadowed RTU’s outburst this week, quoting a Spectator article that said, “If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either”.
So the scene is set for the government to attack the very people who try to enact its policies. This blog stands by its words in the previous article, when the plan was described this: “Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows”.
Meanwhile, ministers such as Mr ‘Denial’ Smith have made the British government an international laughing-stock.
Sydney Finkelstein, Professor of Strategy and Leadership at the Tuck School of Business in Dartmouth, in the USA, tweeted the following yesterday: “Shocked to hear top guy not take full responsibility for bad execution. Never happens in America.
“140 character twitter not enough to convey amateurism of leader who can’t lead.”
He might not be able to lead, but – by devious means – he and his odious ilk are getting almost everything they want.
You can tell the priorities of any administration by its programme for government.
Look at the Coalition: Practically the first thing on its agenda is an attempt to ‘fix’ the next election by ensuring that anyone supporting opposing parties (or attacking the parties in power) is gagged.
The ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’, if passed, would end free speech in the United Kingdom and usher in an era of propaganda-led “do as we say, not as we do” totalitarianism.
It will not stop corporate control of the political agenda – the threat to consultant lobbyists means Big Money will take them in-house, where they won’t have to be registered, and then it will be business as usual. This government works hand-in-glove with big business; that’s one reason it has been so easy to compare the Coalition’s UK with Nazi Germany.
(I make no apologies to Michael Gove for repeating this terrible accusation. If he wants to come and thump me, let him. Then we’ll find out how well he can work from a hospital bed.)
It will, as Owen Jones put it in his Independent column, “stifle the voices of charities, campaigners, trade unions and even blogs [yes, Vox Political would be under threat, despite the fact that it has no budget]; … shut down rallies and demonstrations; … prevent groups such as Hope Not Hate from taking on the poison of organised racism.
“Trustees of charities will fear anything that invites criminal investigation, shutting down scrutiny of government or campaigns for changes in policy. It will entangle organisations in a bureaucratic nightmare, forcing them to account for all of their spending… The TUC suggests that it could make organising its 2014 annual congress a criminal offence, as well as prevent it from holding a national demonstration in election year.
“Political blogs… could be included too, since they are campaigning entities that attempt to impact the outcome of an election.”
He went on to quote the TUC’s assessment that this is “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”, which this writer has taken as implying that an “authoritarian dictatorship” is exactly what we have now.
The campaigning organisation 38Degrees is also threatened by this proposed legislation. The government would consider its loss to be an enormous victory, as it has been a thorn in the sides of Cameron and his cronies (both in government and big business) ever since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010.
An email to members states: “From May 2014, draconian new rules would prevent non-politicians from speaking up on the big issues of the day. A huge range of campaign groups and charities – everyone from The Royal British Legion, to Oxfam, to the RSPB – are warning about the threat this poses.
“It’s telling that so many groups who wouldn’t normally agree with each other have united to oppose the gagging law. Groups that speak out in favour of hunting, windfarms, HS2 or building more houses are joining together with groups who say exactly the opposite.
“That’s because there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on: in a healthy democracy, everyone should able to express their views. And everyone should be allowed to get organised to highlight what politicians are saying and doing on the issues that matter to them.”
The email contains a link to a form letter that you can send to your MP, to make sure your feelings are known before they go into the debate. Then they won’t have an excuse to support the government and, if they do, you’ll have a reason (probably another reason, in the case of Tory MPs) to vote them out, come May 2015.
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