Tag Archives: Peter Oborne

Ignorance could lumber us with another Tory government


Why do people still believe the Conservatives are more likely to raise their living standards than Labour, even though they understand that they have become worse off over the last five years?

Why do political commentators brand Ed Miliband a “useless” leader, when even former Torygraph stalwart Peter Oborne has admitted he has been responsible for extraordinary successes and has challenged the underlying structures which govern Westminster conduct?

Let’s look at the first claim, courtesy of the latest Mainly Macro article by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis. He makes it clear from the start that people are being denied the facts; otherwise the economy would be the Conservative Party’s weakest point in the election campaign.

Look at the evidence: Since 2010 we have endured the weakest economic recovery for at least 200 years, with a steady fall in real wages (masked in average figures by the huge pay rises awarded by fatcat bosses to themselves). “The government’s actions are partly responsible for that, and the only debate is how much,” writes the Prof. “Living standards have taken a big hit.”

He continues: “There is no factual basis for the view that the Conservatives are better at managing the economy, and plenty to suggest the opposite. However this belief is not too hard to explain. The Labour government ended with the Great Recession which in turn produced a huge increase in the government’s budget deficit. With the help of mediamacro, that has become ‘a mess’ that Labour are responsible for and which the Conservatives have had to clean up.

“The beauty of this story is that it pins the blame for the weak recovery on the previous government, in a way that every individual can understand. Spend too much, and you will have a hard time paying back the debt.”

It’s a myth; the facts disprove it easily – so the Tories avoid the facts at all costs.

But why be concerned, if Ed Miliband is such an awful excuse for a Labour Party leader. Didn’t David Cameron describe him as “weak” and “spineless” to Scottish Conservatives only a fortnight ago?

Not according to Peter Oborne. Writing in The Spectator, he has praised Miliband because he “has been his own person, forged his own course and actually been consistent”.

Oborne praises Miliband for “four brave interventions, each one taking on powerful establishment interests: the Murdoch newspaper empire, the corporate elite, the foreign policy establishment and pro-Israel lobby… There is no doubting Mr Miliband’s integrity or his courage.

“Opposition is an essential part of British public life. Oppositions have a duty to challenge government and to give the electorate a clear choice. Ed Miliband has done precisely this and yet he has been written off. Does this mean that no opposition dare offend the big vested interests that govern Britain? Is this really the politics we want?”

It’s the politics the Conservative Party wants.

Professor Wren-Lewis notes that Miliband’s opinion poll ratings are low “because most people just see unglamorous pictures of him and note that he does not have that Blair appeal.

“That could be changed if they saw him in a one on one debate with Cameron, so there was never any chance that the Conservatives would let this happen. The debates last time had huge audiences, so no one can dispute that democracy has been dealt a huge blow as a result of what the FT rightly calls Cameron’s cowardice.”

He goes on to say that Cameron’s refusal to debate one-on-one with Miliband is “a key test” for the media, with Cameron counting on them letting his spin doctors dictate what people are allowed to see.

If that is true, then it seems Cameron has miscalculated.

Broadcasters have said the three TV general election debates planned for April will go ahead, despite Cameron saying he will take part in only one.

“It means Mr Cameron – who has rejected a head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband – could be ’empty-chaired’,” according to the BBC. Perhaps they really will put a blue chicken on the podium, as was suggested on this blog yesterday!

John Prescott has suggested that if David Cameron does not turn up for the TV debates, this should be placed on the empty podium.

John Prescott has suggested that if David Cameron does not turn up for the TV debates, this should be placed on the empty podium.

Perhaps the broadcasters were provoked by Cameron’s claim that they were the ones responsible for what he called the “chaos” surrounding the TV debates, when it is clear that he has been responsible for delays and indecision.

The end result is the same. Cameron has denied himself the chance to stand up and defend his record against an Opposition leader who is increasingly starting to come through as The Better Man.

Will the debates be enough to change the mind of the general public and mitigate against the mass ignorance nurtured by the Tory Press?

That will be up to Mr Miliband. If his performances in recent Prime Minister’s Questions are any indication, it should be a walkover for him.

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Is the Telegraph withholding emails that could help the inquiry into child abuse?

Tom Watson MP

Tom Watson MP

Thanks today go to Vox Political commenter concernedkev, who brought this writer’s attention to a piece by Labour MP Tom Watson. It’s self-explanatory so here it is:

I have had cause to write to [the Telegraph] about a disturbing allegation shared with me by Chris Bryant MP. They just ignored me.

My letter was prompted by a conversation I had with Chris. He told me that he’d had lunch at the Quirinale restaurant with Telegraph political correspondent Matthew Holehouse. [We won’t quote this part because there is a direct quote from Mr Bryant later in the piece, as follows:] “Matthew Holehouse told me at lunch at Quirinale that he had been accidentally included in a series of email exchanges between senior figures at Conservative Central Office who were speculating about which Labour sitting MPs were paedophiles and how they should deploy this ‘information’. Matthew seemed to think that this showed that CCHQ was run by a bunch of children and he said it was worse than Damian McBride. He reckoned the paper would be running the story later that week, unless the powers that be intervened. I asked him which senior figures were involved. He said ‘very senior’, but refused to elaborate. He also refused to tell me which Labour MPs were speculated about. He didn’t believe that any of the emails’ allegations were anything other than nasty vindictiveness and an attempt to smear Labour MPs.”

When what he told me had sunk in I was furious. It showed that senior offices at CCHQ were either a; holding back vital intelligence from the police abuse inquiry or b; engaging in a smear campaign against their opponents. Either way, it showed appalling conduct.

I felt it needed addressing at a senior level in both the Conservative party and the Telegraph.

Here’s the letter I wrote to David Cameron about the matter on 26th January:

Dear Mr Cameron,

Child Abuse Allegations

As you know, the scandal of child sex abuse at every level of society, including in the highest reaches of political life, has caused deep distress to many thousands of sex abuse survivors. Your party, with others, has been arguing for a full, open inquiry into these matters and for the police to pursue perpetrators.

You have also rightly been among the first to deplore the fact that — amid the speculation that this scandal has caused — a number of individuals have found themselves the subject of baseless, hurtful and defamatory allegations, often spread in an irresponsible way on social media networks and by email. Just this weekend Lord Selwyn Gummer condemned online “innuendo” as “wicked”.

With the above in mind, I understand that there has been an email exchange between several members of staff at CCHQ in which the staff are reported to speculate about which sitting Members of Parliament might be paedophiles.

It is possible that it is a serious piece of investigative work. In which case I urge you to hand this evidence over to the police immediately, so that they can investigate -rather than keeping it in the confines of the party. You recently publicly declared that all documents held by party whips will be made available to the police. I trust the same is true of internal party emails.

If, however, it is a scurrilous and puerile attempt to smear sitting politicians, then that is a different but no less serious matter.

First, I am sure that you would consider it your duty to report the existence of such an email and the identities of those who originated and circulated it, in the same way that other instances of unfounded smears disseminated by political advisers have rightly been condemned by you in the past.

Second, I would hope you also see it as your duty privately to share the relevant material with the MPs who are mentioned in this email, so that they can take necessary legal action to protect their reputations if they want to do so.

I hope you would agree that it would be wholly inappropriate for you and party officials to sit on these emails and refuse either to confirm their existence, or inform those whom it defames. That would be a disservice to the public interest, it would further harm the proper process of getting to the truth of child sex abuse and it would damage your personal reputation.

I do not intend to publicise this letter at this stage, as I appreciate you may not be aware of this matter. I do not want to put undue pressure on you while you are investigating the issues I have raised and taking the necessary actions.

However, I look forward to hearing your response as a matter of urgency.

[Needless to say, he didn’t get an urgent response and had to write a follow-up letter which got the brush-off from Grant Shapps, Tory party co-chairman. He continues:]

We tried to chase up the Telegraph for a formal response but they kept ignoring us. I even asked my researcher to call the switchboard to ask for Robert Winnet’s mobile number but they refused to give it him. If I’m being honest, at this point I gave up. You can only fight so many battles.

Despite giving up I still think that Chris’s account of Holehouse’s allegations are in the public interest and would ordinarily have been jumped at by a newspaper editor.

When I read Peter Oborne’s article yesterday I felt I should at least explain that he was not alone. He did a brave thing and today he is being mocked by his former employers and others in the industry.

They’re closing ranks and trying to traduce the character of a respected journalist because he spoke truth to power like he’s supposed to, though on this occasion it was a powerful media mogul.

It’s not right.

You can read the full article (this is just an excerpt) here.

Withholding evidence is a serious offence. If the Telegraph does have this material, and does not intend to use it in a story, then its writers, editors and publishers may be accessories to the crimes of child sexual abuse to which they are said to relate; by holding them and not releasing them to the police, they would be allowing the perpetrators to remain at large.

That is criminal.

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Peter Oborne is right to support the 50p tax rate


… but wrong about many, many other matters.

The Torygraph‘s chief political commentator was right to come out as a supporter of Ed Balls’s pledge to raise the top tax rate back to 50p in the pound.

He was right to say it was “profoundly shaming and offensive” for Conservative voters – especially those who are not super-rich – when George Osborne lowered the top rate to 45p, two years ago.

He was right when he wrote that “to make the rich richer at the same time as making the poor poorer – what George Osborne has been doing – is simply squalid, immoral and disgusting.

“Any decent human being must surely feel sick in the stomach that he is taking this action at the same time as cutting the amount of tax paid by people earning more than £150,000.”

To that, let’s add a point about the kind of people who are benefiting from the lower tax rate – the kind of people who take home around £1 million a year in basic pay, who are promised bonuses of up to twice those yearly salaries, and who caused the financial crisis that has allowed Osborne to pursue his policy of impoverishing the poor.

That’s right: George Osborne’s 45p tax rate is a £100,000 extra bonus, every year – in gratitude for all their help, one must presume – for bankers.

Oborne is also right to say that Labour’s decision in the 1970s, to impose a top tax rate of 83p in the pound, was a huge mistake – for whatever reasons. It genuinely drove people out of the country, whereas at 50p they just grumble and threaten to go.

All of the above being said, Oborne continues to espouse some utterly wrong-headed nonsense. He claims that “the Conservative Party is not an interest group which represents only the very rich” when all of its actions since getting into office in 2010 demonstrate ample proof that a minority group representing only the very rich is exactly what it is.

Oborne actually puts in print: “The Coalition government has devoted a great deal of effort to lowering the living standards of the poor. I support this project.”

It’s great to see a Tory voter actually admitting this, but imbecilic behaviour for a columnist who (one presumes) wants people to respect his point of view.

He goes on: “I believe that Gordon Brown’s welfare state forced some people into a life of dependency… There have been many people on welfare who need much more of an incentive to return to work.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason many people are without jobs and claiming benefit is, there are almost five jobseekers for every job. This is a situation created by the Tory-led government in order to keep wages low; with so many people clamouring for jobs, people who do have work but are on the bottom rung of the employment ladder can’t ask for a raise – they would be jettisoned and replaced by a jobseeker (most likely on lower basic pay than the original holder of the job).

Nobody was forced into a life of dependency by Gordon Brown; the vast majority of unemployed people genuinely want to improve their situation with a job that allows them to avoid claiming benefits – and it is good that the Labour Party, if returned to office next year, will work hard to bring the Living Wage into force for all working people.

You see, Mr Oborne and his ilk conveniently forget that the vast majority of people whose living standards have been hit by the Tory war on the poor are in work. They are so poorly-paid by George Osborne’s corporate friends that they have to claim tax credits – or, as I like to call them, Employer Subsidy – and housing benefit – otherwise known as Landlord Subsidy.

That’s improper use of our tax money. We should not be subsidising fat corporates with our hard-earned taxes, so they can deliver ever more swollen dividends to their shareholders; and we should not be subsidising greedy landlords who charge multiples of what their properties are worth to tenants who have nowhere else to go if they want to keep their pittance-paying job.

It is valid to criticise Gordon Brown for allowing this to happen, but who knows? Maybe this figurehead of neoliberal New Labour was using tax credits as a stop-gap, intending to persuade corporate bosses round to the Living Wage in good time. We’ll never know for sure.

There remains a strong argument that government schemes to get people into work should have checks and balances. As underwriters of these schemes, we taxpayers need assurances that the firms taking part will not abuse their position of power, using jobseekers until the government subsidy runs out and then ditching good workers for more of the unemployed in order to keep the cash coming. That is not a worthwhile use of our cash.

We also need assurances that participants won’t drop out, just because life on the dole is easier. I was the victim of several personal attacks last week when I came out in support of Labour’s compulsory job guarantee, because they hated its use of sanctions. I think those sanctions are necessary; there should be a penalty for dropping out without a good reason.

In a properly-run scheme, those sanctions should never be put into effect, though. That means that any government job scheme needs to be driven, not by targets but by results.

Look at the Welsh Ambulance Service. Targets imposed by the Welsh Government mean that ambulances are supposed to arrive at the scene of an emergency within eight minutes – even if they are 20 minutes’ fast drive away, on the wrong side of a busy city like Cardiff, when they get the call. This means the Welsh Ambulance Service faces constant attack for failure to meet targets.

But what kind of results does the service achieve? Are huge numbers of Welsh patients dying, or failing to receive timely treatment because an ambulance arrives a minute or so after its target time? No. There will, of course, be some such occasions but those will most likely be the result of many contributory factors.

So: Results-driven schemes will put people into jobs and improve the economy; there is no need to impoverish the poor; the very rich never deserved their tax cut; and Ed Balls is right to want to re-impose the 50p rate.

The Conservatives are wrong to attack poor people; there is no need to impose further cuts on social security as part of Osborne’s failed austerity policy; and these things show very clearly that the Tories are a minority-interest party supporting only the extremely rich.

In the end, I find myself agreeing with one more comment by Mr Oborne; Ed Balls really has “given ordinary, decent people a serious reason for voting Labour at the coming election”.

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Osborne v Smith, according to the Telegraph. Oh, really?

Peter Oborne’s attack on Gideon George Osborne would be extremely amusing if he was defending almost anyone other than Iain Duncan Smith.

Oborne’s article in the Telegraph suggests a rift in the Conservative leadership between Osborne and Smith, with Osborne – whose attitude to welfare comes down to numbers – trying to take over the Department of Work and Pensions covertly, firstly by knocking £10 billion off the welfare budget without telling the work and pensions secretary, then by trying to replace him with a ‘yes’ man.

I have two problems with that. The first is that Oborne is probably right in suggesting that Osborne would not make matters better for the millions who are suffering persecution due to the welfare cuts and a demonisation strategy in the right-wing press. The second is his description of Smith himself.

“A committed Christian, he ultimately understands his task in terms of human redemption,” witters Oborne. “He does not believe that people are out of work because of their own fault. He believes that the vast majority are victims of a cruel system, partly created by Gordon Brown, which creates perverse incentives that encourage men and women to stay away from the job market. Mr Duncan Smith believes it is his life’s work to end this monumental tragedy, and to provide the best environment for the unemployed to find work and obtain the human dignity that a job brings with it.”

That is not what we see. What we see is a monster, cruelly throwing sick and disabled people off of the benefits they so clearly and desperately need, to face a short life of destitution followed by death caused by a worsening of their condition, or suicide because they cannot see a way out.

His policies for the unemployed involve coercing them into carrying out work-related exercises that are little other than an excuse to give money to the private firms providing the so-called service, and forcing them onto Workfare programmes that keep unemployment artificially high by ensuring that the firms taking part never have to actually give any of the participants a job.

All of this has been supported by a flimsy justification narrative that says he is encouraging these people out of a disgraceful cycle of benefit dependency and back into the job market; in fact he is doing nothing of the sort. But I have already made my opinions of Smith’s policies perfectly clear in the past. Just Google ‘Vox Political Iain Duncan Smith’ and you should get the gist.

Oborne himself appears to be utterly deluded. “There are, at the heart of this Government, only three majestic ideas,” he burbles. “The first is the restoration of the public finances, a task to which the Chancellor, strikingly, does not devote his full-time attention. The second is the grand programme of educational reform, masterminded with such admirable courage and verve by Michael Gove. The third is welfare reform.”

I would suggest those are the three policies that this government has got the most badly wrong.

Some readers might take joy from the thought that two Tory heavyweights (by the standards of the times) may be slugging it out, but I can’t. Firstly, we don’t know that it is true. The Telegraph seems to have a vendetta against Osborne at the moment; I won’t be convinced by its story – well-constructed as it seems to be – until I see substantive proof. Where’s the proof about Osborne’s expenses claim paying for a paddock and why has it not been submitted to the police and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards?

Secondly, even if the story is true, it doesn’t matter who wins. The people of the UK will continue to lose.