Thursday, 11 July 2013

Ed's Clause Four Alarm?

As my euphoria at the spectacular sporting summer was finally dampened yesterday by an abject batting
display from England, I noticed so wrapt have I been this past month with the Lions, Wimbledon et al, that I have been rather remiss with my blogging. There are a few worthy candidates for centrepiece of July's first rant...

It will have come as a massive shock to everyone I am sure to find out the jobs-for-your-leftie-mates wonderful public service (which a recent survey shows is less well-regarded than a decade ago) that is the Beeb has been throwing your tax pounds around like a drunken student on loan day. Or like the public sector in general, really. Overly generous compensation packages for those leaving the BBC have been hitting the headlines of late, and no wonder. It appears the fat cats at the Beeb, who they insist have to be paid so generously to lure them away from the private sector (well, thank God we are paying them so well - they've been so good recently; think Saville, Hall, McAlpine scandals to name a few), have been stuffing the pockets of their chums with wads of cash as they leave.

Presumably this is so it becomes generally accepted practice so when they next make an enormous balls up themsleves, nobody bats an eyelid when they walk away with a cool half million of so including pay in lieu of work they were actually paid for in the first place. It would almost be funny if it were a private company that would obviously only be hurting itself by depleting its cash reserves rewarding failure (or the quite magnificent compensation given to Caroline Thomson to make up for her not being considered good enough for the top job - what's the point of getting promoted when you can fail to get promoted and still get the higher salary to make up for your hurt feelings?). But it's not funny because we are forced to pay for them, whether we like them, watch them or not. Rather like having to donate to the Labour party regardless of your political persuasion... more on that in a bit.

There has been some totally expected politically correct quota-based nonsense over company recruiting. It is unsurprising in today's climate in which where you come from isn't your fault, unless of course you come from some degree of deemed 'privilege'. Yes, we are back beatng the class envy drum again and making sure we socially engineer our workforce. A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters shows one in six leading companies are vetting the socio-economic status of their applicants, and predict it will soon be a quarter. Why? So they can make sure they have the 'right' mix of poor kids, rich kids, kids from state school, kids from private school, kids with university-educated parents, kids with barely-educated parents (vast tracts of the last two of which will in years to come merge together the way we are going). Apparently we have a 'need to diversify our workforce'. Yup, it is not just our universities that shouldn't any more have anything to do with meritocracy, but companies too. The best companies aren't run by the 'best' people, they're run by the politically correct 'right' people. Everyone knows that.

Under what banner is this positive discrimination taking place - "social responsibility is becoming higher on the HR agenda, so professionals are pushing this forward more". I know we've been here many times before, but imagine for a moment a world where this exact thing were happening but instead of saying we didn't want well-educated rich kids of well-educated parents, we had companies actively discriminating against better candidates on the basis that their parents didn't go to university, they don't earn much money and they sent their children to a state school. There'd be riots. But of course, as ever, class discrimination is ok as long as it harms the supposed higher echelons. Two wrongs apparently make a right. Absolutely barking.

The human rights fiasco barely needs touching on because it has all been said before. The laws are written in far too loose a way which thereby fail to recognise that firstly there will obviously be cases where different articles are competing on opposite sides of an argument (e.g. freedom of speech vs. right to respect for family and private life), and secondly it fails to fully elaborate on the caveats which allow for the limiting of human rights (e.g. fair imprisonment and the knock on effects). Clearly the most recent judicial horror show where the European Court of Human Rights have somehow sunk lower in eveyone's estimation is their ruling that whole life tariffs breach the human rights of the convicted multiple murderers and rapists in question. Utter horse shit. Illogical judges trying to be controversial to gain a name for themselves twisting the wording and interpretation of the poorly scripted laws to justify an obviously incorrect decision. Nothing more. What should we do?The same as we should do with the rulings over prisoners voting, or conjugal visits so prisoners might be allowed to father children. Ignore it, tell Europe to go hang and if they kick up a fuss, take our ball and leave. Same thing the French do with every ruling they don't like. We just need to stop being so British - stop being the only ones who queue at the great European ski lift.

But the winner is Red Ed and his 'Clause IV moment'...

The Tories have had a lot of fun this last week of so with the embarassment that is the Union stranglehold on the Labour party. Everyone knew it, as everyone knows the only reason brother Dave's taking his banana and heading off to America is that the Unions also choose the Labour party leader, and they wanted push over lefty Ed. Milliwho is doing his best shot at righteous indignation over the underhand tactics he has undoubtedly known about forever. The Falkirk scandal has brought the dead hand of the unions to the fore and with it their funding of the Labour party.

Now I for one think it's absolutely fine for the unions to try to influence policy - surely much of their raison d'être. As I have written before, I don't want politicians to exist in a bubble. They are meant to be being lobbied - which means trying to influence (the key word is 'trying'). We are then meant to pick the ones who we think respond in the best and most upright manner to said lobbying and produce votes, decisions and policies designed to help the country. People campaign for more attention (and normally more money) to be directed towards things they hold dear to themselves; it is human nature. People with relations with rare diseases form charities and pressure groups and lobby Government to get more funding for research. Communities lobby Government to say they don't want a massive power station built in their green fields. Business lobbies Governments to make business easier ahnd cheaper to do. Workers unions lobby Government (supposedly) on behalf of their workers to get things their workers would like. This also extends to funding political parties who they think will in general promote policies their interest group will like. It is barmy to have an issue with this.

What Miliband is trying to do though is make it seem he is breaking from the Unions and cleaning up political party funding. He is not. All he is proposing, at some unidentified future date, is that he will stop mandating anybody whjo joins a worker's union (which offer various benefits and are generally not a bad idea whatever your political leaning) paying money direct to the Labour party. It's one hell of an assumption to make and it is good that it will stop. What won't stop is the unions donating vast sums "on behalf" of their members (who don't vote on this - it's down to their self-important Gernerally-Thick-Secretaries). So union influence won't stop, nor will the money. However, because Ed has apparently cleaned up his side of the house he can now apparently assume the moral high ground and demand that political party donations from individuals be limited to £5,000.

Ridiculous. As everyone knows, the vast majority of donations Labour gets it gets from the unions who will still not qualify as 'single donations' despite it being a donation from a single entity generally run by a single person. The Tories differ in their funding, with far more coming from large individual donations. So Ed thinks he can somehow trade removing a disgraceful forced stealth donation for slashing the funding of the Tories. Not a chance. Anyone is free to give as much money as they want to poitical parties. All you need to do is have a system which mandates you to declare it all properly so the electorate can make a decision whether the party in question is being overly influenced by said donors against the best interests of the country. It is the same check against a millionaire oil tycoon donating millions to the Tories and naturally wanting less tax on oil as it is against the enormous workers union donating millions to Labour and naturally wanting more pay for its workers.

The other bizarre mandate from Ed, all pumped up from his showdown with Big Len is his stance on second jobs for MPs. Apparently not having checked that it might affect some of his senior MPs too, Ed has declared no Labour MP can have a directorship or consultancy by 2015, nor earn more than 15% of their Parliamentary salary elsewhere. Another barb aimed at the Conservatives who have many more MPs who have outside interests of note, it is a pathetic attempt to ride the swell of public opinion against MPs. It is the same swell that sees those in handsomely paid ministerial roles denouncing Ipsa's proposed basic salary increase. Easy for Cameron, Miliband and Clegg  (paid around £400,00 between them and each worth millions) to say that backbenchers on £66,000 shouldn't get another £6,000 or so; it's peanuts to them.

You can't have your cake and eat it boys - you wanted an independent body to set pay; you've got one. Yes, it is poorly timed but the grown up response from all of them should have been that the correct level of pay should be some degree higher. In comparison to similar public sector roles, their pay really is rather low - think about the Beeb, think about NHS managers, think about civil servants, hundreds of whom get more than the PM let alone a lowly backbench MP. They should acknowledge what everyone knows - that there have been years of refusing to increase headline pay because it is bad press but stealthily increasing benefits in lieu. It was what in part caused the expenses scandal. I'm not advocating a "pay them more so they don't have to steal" concept but you have to see on a basic level their salary is relatively low. It is better to have ourselves rid of the obfuscation of the expenses system and just pay them an appropriate upfront salary.

Ed is as plain wrong on this second job ban as he is on individual donations. MPs should be encouraged to be actively involved in the country they run. We don't want canned professional politicians, believe me - there are enough already. I want doctors, soldiers, teachers, lawyers, businessmen. MPs whose sole life experience is of politics is a recipe for disaster - political spin, survival over achievement, zero subject matter expert knowledge in policy making or on committees. I could go on. Earn what you want, declare it all and let the public decide. If they think an MP spends too much time in their private hospital surgery and not enough in their constituency surgery, boot them out. If they think an MP spends too long writing articles for papaers and magazines and not long enough writing replies to their constituents' letters, boot them out. If they think an MP is making decisions on his defence sub-committee based on the whims of his masters at a defence firm, boot him out. The answer is not banning influence, it is not banning our MPs from the right to earn more than their parliamentary salary, and it is certainly not banning them from having any interaction with the society they are meant to represent.

Milliwho's announcements this week have sought to impress some kind of leadership upon the unions who elected him and tried to turn the tables of debate onto donations to the Tories and their outside interests. It is not as Blair and some commentators suggest, a defining moment of leadership, though it might be a defining moment in his leadership. Ed has highlighted the overbearing influence the unions have on his party and picked a fight with McClusky he cannot afford to lose. With the IMF upgrading the economic outlook, the Labour lead slimmed to mid-single digits and still no coherent policy other than 'we'll copy the Tories plans but be really miffed about the unfairness of it all' there are better odds on Len still leading Unite after the election than of Ed leading the Labour party. This looks less like a Clause Four moment and more like a c(l)ause fo(u)r alarm (sorry, best I could do)...

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