Archive for the 'Cuts' Category

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How Labour need to stop worrying and learn to love the bomb

Monday, April 9th, 2018

Picture credit: The MOD twitter feed

Despite its relative lack of salience as a motivating issue for voters there is an interesting discussion to be had on how a Corbynite Labour party can use defence policy to attack the Conservatives in an area of perceived strength.

The last few decades of British defence policy have been characterised by constant out-of-area and expeditionary deployments that have been hindered by massive personnel reductions and scandalously poor procurement and program management. At some point the delusion will no longer hold and UK defence policy will have to reflect reality rather than aspiration. Which of the two major parties will be able to supply sufficient vision to implement the necessary changes?

DISHONEST OR STUPID: THE CHOICE IS YOURS

An examination of the defence policies manifestos that the two major parties prepared for the 2017 General Election reveals two similarly brief offerings. One is deceptive to the point of dishonesty and the other is merely lackwittedly ignorant.

The Conservative offering is platform focused, a vulnerability to which we’ll return, as it is largely a list of hardware that the government has bought, is buying and will continue to buy with taxpayers’ money. It also displays a certain amount of creative ambiguity when it comes to future intentions. For example, the Astute submarine program will be ‘completed’ but there is no commitment to the full seven boats so completion can be artfully redefined as six boats should necessity dictate. This type of misleading language reveals less about the actuality of Conservative defence policy than it does about their cynical assessment of the average voter’s analytical capacity.

Now picture the scene inside Labour party HQ in April 2017. May has just called the Election That Never Wasn’t and a policy platform must be hastily assembled. Some junior wonk with Ronnie Corbett glasses and a W.G. Grace beard has been charged with writing the defence policy. He is still shaking from last night’s cocktails and he thinks he might have tweeted something about Jews while he was drunk. He has fifteen minutes to draft a defence policy or Seumas will know why. The result is a puerile blend of platitudes about the UN and peacekeeping combined with some hastily assembled facts from Wikipedia with which to bludgeon the Conservatives.

Despite the utter and manifold failures of Conservative defence policy from 2010 onwards the Labour manifesto chooses to highlight the withdrawal from service of the Harrier and Ark Royal. These decisions were taken seven years ago in the 2010 SDSR and there is no examination of why these decisions were poor or any offer of a competing vision. Like the Conservatives the statement is platform focused as if that were the most important consideration of defence policy.

CONSTRAINED BY THE CORE

The Conservatives have a defence policy problem. Their core vote expects to have their dessicated pleasure centres of nationalism and martial reverence stimulated by the long pale finger of Williamson. This means areas of defence that actually have a negative effect on the nation’s military capabilities, Red Arrows – I am looking at you, are untouchable lest the bowls clubs, WIs and golf courses of Middle England combust with Daily Mail directed incendiary rage.

Since the end of World War 2 every Conservative government, with the notable exception of Sir Edward Richard George Heath KG, MBE, has left office with lower defence spending as a proportion of GDP than it inherited. So while the Conservatives have a marvellous track record of slashing defence spending they are politically, culturally and organisationally incapable of making the types of radical and imaginative changes the country needs.

THE STRATAGEM OF THE CENTRAL POSITION

The contemporary Labour party periodically moves between three positions on defence policy. These are: disinterest, embarrassment and internecine conflict over nuclear weapons. Despite the longstanding ambivalence of the Absolute Boy toward the Absolute Bomb I believe that Labour will enter the next General Election campaign with a policy of replacing Trident. There a few good reasons for this but principal among these is pragmatism; the program will simply be too far advanced to cancel by 2022.

In the past week alone the government issued a $126m contract for long lead items relating to the Dreadnought boat missile compartment to General Dynamics in Rhode Island. By the time of the next election a great deal more money will have been irrevocably spent eliminating cancellation as a realistic option.

Labour could seize the initiative on defence policy by pivoting away from the usual technocratic arguments about hardware and, instead, adopt a strategy that focuses on the armed forces’ most precious and most mismanaged asset: the people.

For decades defence procurement policy has been subordinated to a strategy of centrally managed industrial welfare. My expectation that Labour would be able to break this cycle of dependency on work creation schemes is nugatory. However, a Labour defence policy that put people at the centre could be relevant and compelling.

DO LESS WITH MORE

Here are some worthy ideas worthy of consideration in the Corbyn government’s first defence white paper.

The most important and central plank of the new policy should be to face reality and reverse the now decades old doctrine of doing more with less. The focus of the UK forces should be overwhelmingly on the North Atlantic, the GIUK gap and the British Isles. Call it the East of Skegness Policy. British forces have been in more or less constant combat in the Middle East for 26 years. It is now safe to conclude that whatever it is that we are doing there isn’t improving the situation and that we should stop. This strategic pivot would end long out of area deployments and thus greatly improve morale and retention.

The armed forces are a large and complex organisation that increasingly requires many technical specialists. They are constrained into to recruiting into exactly two positions: apprentices and management trainees. Every other vacancy must be filled by internal recruitment. Recruitment and retention should be aided by improving pay, housing and other similar issues. The retention problem is particularly grave once officers hit the OF-3 or OF-4 level in their late 30s or early 40s. The forces lose a lot of potential senior talent at this level so consideration should be giving to allowing people to move in and out of reserve status with relative ease to get some of them back.

All three services should be much better integrated with the creation of ‘purple’ uniform posts such as medics or other specialists who can move between combat arms during the course of their career. A United Kingdom Defence Force with a single administrative spine should be the ultimate goal.

The final strand of the defence policy should be the treatment of veterans. This doesn’t mean poppies or charities or similar facile nostrums. It should consist of a thorough and structured program to prepare, emotionally and professionally, every servicewoman and man for life after the forces.

As the young people who end up killed, maimed or mentally damaged are overwhelming working class from the more deprived areas of the United Kingdom this is the sort of class issue that Corbyn could sell with energy and authenticity.

Dura Ace

Dura Ace is a PB regular and served as a Fleet Air Arm officer for 20 years



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Why Labour has its concerns about the Tory turmoil

Monday, March 21st, 2016

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Donald Brind says a big REMAIN victory remains the objective

They do things different in Battersea. The local Labour party invited along the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn for a fundraising fish and chip supper to launch the formal start of the London election campaign. Then they promptly turned the lights out.

The environmentally savvy Battersea Labourites were taking part in Earth Hour a an international initiative that encourages “individuals, communities households and businesses to turn off their non-essential lights for one hour as a symbol for their commitment to the planet”. The hour fell right in the middle of the fundraiser

Benn happily performed and received what he said was his first ever candlelit standing ovation.

Benn is spearheading the Labour Remain campaign along with Alan Johnson and he provided an eloquent statement of the case for membership for EU membership. As well as talking about jobs and living standards he recalled visits to the war graves in northern France. He made passing reference to Iain Duncan Smith, toasting the former Work and Pensions Secretary’s friendly fire on Tory economic policies, which will provide material for thousands of Labour leaflets and press releases.

The following day Benn’s colleague, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell on Radio Five and Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham on Sky sought to switch the focus to the Chancellor George Osborne. McDonnell called for him to “scrap the budget and start again” and Burnham said “It is the Chancellor who should be considering his position today” – code for resignation.

    Labour expected the referendum to cause trouble for the Tories but they can hardly believe their luck at how much damage has been done so quickly – even if there is caution over the first poll lead since Jeremy Corbyn became leader.

At first glance it might be expected that Labour would want the Tory turmoil to continue as long as possible – up to and beyond the referendum date. That might mean the perfect result for Labour would be a narrow victory for Remain, guaranteeing months, if not years, of Tory strife.

Hilary Benn’s Battersea speech dispelled such calculations. It was clear that he believes the largest possible margin for Remain is profoundly in the national interest.

Most Labour MPs won’t share platforms with the Tory Remain campaigners – to do so would be counterproductive in winning over Labour supporters and getting them to turn out and vote. But they are on the same side of the argument as Cameron and his Cabinet allies. There is dismay at the impact of the Budget fiasco on credibility of the Tory Remain campaign.

Osborne is damaged goods. There may have been an element of ritual about the call for his resignation. But that will become a more urgent demand if he continues to be a liability to the campaign for continued EU membership.

So Cameron’s role will be more crucial than ever and he will need even greater support for Labour than he envisaged. The is both a challenge and an opportunity for Labour. It is in the party and the country’s interest that Benn et all don’t fluff it.

@BrindDon



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Flooding the Lords with 100s of new peers so several million people can be made poorer doesn’t sound like smart politics

Monday, October 26th, 2015

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The great Lords-Commons standoff

Today, of course, the House of Lords gets to decide whether George Osborne’s controversial tax credits curtailment plan will go forward. Because of the way this is being pursued through Parliament, as a statutory instrument, this is a rare occasion when the Upper House can, if it wants to, block a major part of government policy.

If this had been part of a finance bill then the House of Lords would have had no power to stop it. It is the parliamentary process that George Osborne’s team have used that has created this possible crisis between the two houses.

In the build up over the past few days we have seen quite a number of Conservative voices raised against the policy of their own government. The latest to join is Ruth Davidson the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

If the Lords do block it it will be in the face of threats to create 100+ new CON peers in order to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again. I don’t buy it.

    A problem for ministers is, as the latest YouGov polling finds, that they are not winning the argument on the issue itself. The pollster found 46% said they thought this was unfair with 28% saying it wasn’t. The rest don’t have a view.

My reading of George Osborne is that following his Omnishambles budget of 2012 the last thing he wants to happen is for him to have appeared to have U-turned. His ratings took a lot of damage 3 years ago but he has slowly recovered his position.

One thing’s for certain: When Osborne runs for the leadership of the Conservative Party then what happens over tax credits will be a key part of the campaign.

Mike Smithson





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North American pointers for John McDonnell’s growth strategy

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

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Don Brind on Friday

The biopic of Steve Jobs had its premiere of at the London Film Festival last weekend. Just days before, the company he founded was in the dock in a New York court – and lost.

The jury found that Apple had infringed patents held by the University of Wisconsin by using technology developed by University researchers in their I phones and IPods. The university is claiming $400 million in damages which would be a record patent award to a university.

I was alerted to the case by a tweet from Professor Mariana Mazzucato author of the ground-breaking “The Entrepreneurial State” which shows how the success of Apple and other stars of Silicon Valley was based on innovations developed in the public sector.

I was in the Commons the following day and there in one of the coffee shops was the striking figure of Professor Mazzucato in a huddle with John McDonnell and his shadow Treasury team. She is a member of the economic advisory committee McDonnell announced in his speech at the Labour conference in Brighton and her ideas are likely to form a key part of McDonnell’s strategy for dealing with the deficit through economic growth.

Mazzucato’s argument can be summed up as “Do what the Americans do — not what they say they do.”

The Apple court case was grist to her mill. Her book explores how US federal government cash was used by universities and research institutes to develop technologies which are the foundation for the success of Apple products. She argues that the state can and should be an Entrepreneur developing technologies and shaping markets.

Another of her tweets takes us to the website of the American Energy Innovation Council and a clip of Microsoft’s Bill Gates  calling for basic research – paid for by governments – as the best way of getting a clean energy breakthrough. Mazzucato is out to bust the myth that innovation can be left to the private sector.

It’s part of a broader argument about the role of government in promoting growth. By contrast to Osborne and the Tories the Obama administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which provided a near $800 billion stimulus package – equal to about 4% of America’s GDP. The story of how it was done is recounted in Michael Grunwald’s The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era.

The Obama programme was consciously modeled on the public works projects undertaken by President Franklin D Roosevelt. And a new biography of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump shows that the fortune he inherited from his father came massively from public contracts. Deborah Friedell’s book Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success reviewed in the London Review of Books suggests Trump may not be quite the brilliant business man he presents himself as. His estimated fortune is around $3-4 billion dollars. “The National Journal has worked out that if Trump had just put his father’s money in a mutual fund that tracked the S&P 500 and spent his career finger-painting, he’d have $8 billion.”

On the other side of the 49th parallel Canadians have elected a Prime Minister who argues for the kind of public investment which is at the heart of John McDonnell’s anti austerity drive.

“Every dollar we spend on public infrastructure grows our economy, creates jobs, and strengthens our cities and towns,” said new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

He routed the Tories despite the best efforts of Lynton Crosby which was the subject of my last post. One of my “good guys” won but I was disappointed with the outcome for the NDP.

I was disappointed too with John McDonnell’s clumsy U-turn over Gimmicky George Osborne’s fiscal charter. I had high hopes for the shadow chancellor based on his assured appearance on BBC Question Time, his conference speech and the quality of his team. As I said in a previous post he is the key figure in the Corbyn team.

The veteran commentator William Keegan took a charitable view (certainly more charitable than some Labour backbenchers)  McDonnell, said Keegan, “fell into Osborne’s trap. But the shadow chancellor is plainly aware of Denis Healey’s dictum: “When you are in a hole, don’t dig deeper.” Keegan’s point being is that it was his original support for the charter that was wrong not the decision to vote against it.
Looking back at the records of Tory Chancellors Anthony Barber, Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson Keegan says the “argument that the Conservatives have always been the party of economic and fiscal responsibility takes some swallowing ….. And now its obsession with balancing the budget – indeed, aiming for a surplus on both current and capital accounts – promises to make the austerity we have experienced so far look like a vicarage tea party. “
“The damage about to be wreaked by the reductions in tax credits may well prove to be Osborne’s poll tax moment. There is much for an opposition that gets its act together to oppose.

“These are early days to be writing off Mr McDonnell,” says Keegan. I agree.

Donald Brind



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Osborne’s tax credits dilemma might be solved by the Lords – peers could kill the move

Monday, October 19th, 2015

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Huffpost’s Paul Waugh has what appears like a scoop with a report that the House of Lords, where the Tories don’t have a majority, could kill the legislative move to change the tax credits system.

This is because the means chosen by Osborne’s team to make this law is via a statutory instrument not new legislation. This has to be approved by both houses of parliament. Waugh writes:

“..A rarely-used ‘fatal motion’ is set to be tabled in the House of Lords this week, followed by a vote next week, with the specific intention of preventing George Osborne from putting his controversial £4bn proposals into law.

A crossbench peer is being lined up to table the motion in a bid to garner as much support as possible and use the in-built anti-Tory majority in the Lords to stop the Chancellor from going ahead..”

There are currently 246 CON peers, 209 LAB ones, and 106 LDs. In addition there are 175 cross-benchers and 25 Bishops.

The convention is that the Lords does not block measures which were in the governing party’s manifesto which the tax credit move was not.

Maybe this was all along part of Osborne’s plan to focus on the role of the upper house where his party does not have the numbers – or is that being too Machiavellian.

If the change had been included in the Finance Bill the House of Lords would have had no power.

Mike Smithson





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The pressure mounts on Osborne’s tax credit plan

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Remember that George has turned before

The headline on Tim Montgomerie’s piece for tomorrow’s Times and his Tweet say it all. The pressure is building for a U-turn.

Let’s recall what happened in the aftermath of Osborne’s 2012 “Omnishambles budget”. A whole series of measure from the so-called granny to the pasty tax all got “refined” in the weeks after the budget. For a while it damaged Osborne but over the past three years he’s staged a remarkable recovery.

I think he’ll change over this one.

Mike Smithson





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Methinks that Osborne might have to U-turn on tax credits

Friday, October 16th, 2015

The exchange from last night’s Question Time

The above clip from last night’s Question Time has been doing the rounds throughout the day and highlights the challenge facing minsters, particularly Osborne, over his budget tax credits move which is due to come into place in the next couple of months.

With Boris and the Sun already pressing hard for change this is an issue that has the potential to hurt the blue team just when everything seemed to be going so well.

I can’t see the government line holding firm.

Mike Smithson





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Labour is paying a price for its elongated leadership contest

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

The welfare vote abstention looks like a mistake

I was recovering from an operation last night and am only now catching up on the big welfare vote in the commons.

Labour’s abstention move does look like a mistake and was the product of the party not having a confident leader in place to steer the party through the mine-field that had been carefully set by Osborne.

As it is the party looks as though it has connived in helping the controversial changes go forward as others, like the much slimmed down LD contingent, are rushing to point out. These things get remembered.

The real problem is the time-scale taken to choose the new leader. This could all have been wrapped up in less than two months. Instead there’s another month and a half to go before one of JC/LK/AB/YC is in place.

Mike Smithson