Saturday, 12 February 2011


What a week just past, and a week to come for the UK government.

David Cameron is going to re-launch his Big ‘Moral’ Society (the moral bit is new, but the rest is the same), and explain that there is a morality which runs through the policies of all the coalition government. (Did he not hear about Labour’s embarrassing interlude when they announced a moral (ethical) foreign policy but within a week were found to be exporting weapons to some autocracy, after which we heard no more about morality?)

Cameron’s actually pinning his Savile Row shirt to this one, because he is saying that he is 100% behind the policy, which so far has been somewhere between a damp squib and a bit of an embarrassment with some saying that they don’t know what it’s about but most suspecting that it’s about government attempting to get people to do voluntarily what used to be done by the government.

Additionally there have been the embarrassments of one of his flagship Big Society councils withdrawing from the project because of government’s cuts eating into the money for funding it, and his Big Society Tsar having to reduce the amount of voluntary time he can give to the project because of the need to earn a living. (Not to mention that someone pointed out that the initials BS are used by those in polite society to refer to bullshit.)

Many on the right wing of his party (who clearly haven’t grasped the fact that if they can get people to volunteer to work for nothing they can close more public services and release more money for tax cuts) have been giving him a rough time over the vagueness of the scheme.

An aide has said that he needs to stress that the Big Society is about personal morals in terms of charities and volunteering and that it is a concept that right-wingers should applaud.

But the coalition is also running into trouble with its AV referendum legislation, as the government will hope to overturn the Lords’ amendments, whereupon it will be returned to the Upper House in its original state. If their lordy ones decide to be awkward they can refuse to accept the Commons’ changes. This will risk the legislation missing its deadline and will render it unusable for date of our General Election and the council elections in England. It is difficult to know if this particular piece of legislation would really count as being in a party manifesto, and whether thus, the Commons can demand supremacy. (Although the Liberals’ manifesto included a referendum on proportional representation, it most certainly didn’t refer to a referendum on AV, which in any case is not proportional, and the Liberals described as “nasty”.) Actually, don't you think it's rather strange to give this unelected lot a vote on elections at all?

We may yet have no referendum, at which point how much longer can the coalition hold on to their Liberal left wingers and the Tory right wingers.

There has also been a reversal of the cutting of funding to help poor people in debt. Ministers though, have said that the cut £25million being replaced with £25million from another source after redundancy notices had been issued, was not a U-turn. Of course it wasn’t. And Michael Gove has been told that his changes to Labour’s school refurbishments scheme were illegal. (He insisted on bringing it out about a week after his appointment, without proper scrutiny by either the staff [it was all wrong] or the lawyers.)

It does seem to me that this government is “coming apart at the shewing” (as my gran would say). I wonder what the bets are now on it lasting till this time next year.


Pics: The truth is that most people, who have time and inclination to do voluntary work, do it anyway. Cameron banging on about it won’t encourage many more, and may put as many people off. A specimen AV voting card, blamed in Scotland for so many spoilt papers. It’s an amazing feat that there are actually seats that haven’t changed hands since the days of Vicky. Elections are fought and won on a small number of marginals. For the rest (of whatever party) it’s a career for life.


  1. Nil and I bet your cheque with all its noughts included. We are ruled by rich spoiled children who enjoy the publicity and have no real friends and think they are still in the playground and life is a simple game of hopscotch.

  2. cynical said..

    " We are ruled by rich spoiled children "

    You're right there.
    Our 'High Representative Baroness Ashton of Never done a days work or been elected in her feckin life' earns £320K a year plus expenses.
    Eat them apples.

  3. There's two linked points which come out of Cameron's British, "Big Society".

    It's actually an English only scheme which on the face of it won't apply to Scotland. However, if it results in cuts to public services or it is used as a justification to cut public services then Scots are going to have to deal with the same cuts in their budget.

    It doesn't matter who Scotland elects as their Government, SNP, Labour, Green, Conservative, Labour/Lib-Dem, Labour/Green, SNP/Green or any combination thereof if Scotland stays in the Union then we will suffer the same cuts as England run by the Conservatives who are instinctively against paying for public services.

    Scotland can elect a Labour MSP for every constituency and regional list member and Scotland will still have to deal with the cuts that come out of policies designed and implemented by the Conservatives in England. That's the part of voting Labour I can't understand in Scotland. A vote for Labour is a vote to keep David Cameron as PM of Scotland. Either Iain Gray and his team are too stupid to understand this or they really do think that Scotland being Conservative run under Conservative cuts is much better than independence.

    As far as Scotland goes the only projections of AV I've seen is that the SNP get one less seat and Labour keep all of theirs. It's even less proportional than FPTP in Scotland.

  4. CH: There's definitely a naivety about the current London government. They seem to have wobbled from one botched job to another. Gove’s faux pas is a good illustration of what you say. He rushed out his proposals for the schools refurbishment scheme in a hurry, after the election and before the summer recess. It must have been hell for the civil servants to try to pull something together in time, and predictably it was all wrong. Instead of taking that like a man, he blamed him team (brilliant way to establish a relationship within weeks of starting the job), and rushed out some more details, which, needless to say, were also wrong. Now it turns out that he was also breaking the law.

    OK, we all want to be successful as quickly as possible in a new job, and to make a mark, but only an over enthusiastic teenager with no idea of the consequences, would put out plans which affect people’s lives, without first making sure that it wasn’t a pile of rubbish.

    I’m first to get my exam paper in, never minding that there isn’t one right answer.

    That the house elf is still in his post is a mystery to me.

  5. Kips: You're right there. What a useless waste of space that is.

  6. Doug: I agree with everything you say there. It is a mainly English thing, but every halfpenny saved in England has to be reflected in our budget.

    So if they talk people into running libraries at night after they have done a day’s work and fed the kids and got them off to bed, in England, whether we like it or not, we will have a budget cut in proportion to their savings, and to hell with our libraries.

    This is why the West Lothian question is less simple to fix than some think. To simply stop Scots MPs voting on matters relating to English education or transport or health or law and order, would mean that we had handed all responsibility for our budget for these things to the English. Of course with only 59 MPs out of 650, Scotland doesn’t have much of a voice in UK affairs never mind English ones.

    As Kipper would say, we might as well give the responsibility to the Armenians!

    The whole stupid devolution settlement was designed to fail. Blair is rumoured to have admitted that he wanted the devolved parliament and assemblies to be like parish councils, which is apparently the lowest form of government in England. Clearly he didn’t want to give away any kind of power at all. The of course he ran himself ragged trying to make sure he got the people he wanted into each of them, so that he could pull the strings.

    He was/is a revolting old man. One of these days he’s going to spin so fast that he’ll turn himself into a smoothie.

    Interesting that the proportional representation can produce a Scottish government with one more seat than Labour, but AV leaves us with only 5 seats in Westminster to Labour’s 45. How does the Liberal party do out of it. Or has Clegg sold out for 5 minutes of fame?

  7. The only post I saw on how AV would affect Scotland was on Jeff's old SNP Tactical Voting Blog. It was called Scotland would be less proportionally representative under AV

    He took his data from a post on the Guardian about AV predictions.

    He's actually made a mistake on his post. If you look at the numbers in his comparison list he's given the Conservatives no seats under AV but the Guardian data gives them one seat. I noticed that because the total for his AV results doesn't add up to 59 on his post.

    Under the AV predictions the only change to FPTP in Scotland is that the Lib-Dems gain a seat from the SNP.

  8. I bought the Observer today, which I was shocked to find now costs £2..a piece of nonsense considering I end up filling the bin up with all the stupid junk bits I don’t want, leaving you just the four pages of news..possibly an opening for a Sunday paper minus all the junk for 50p!!

    Anyway old “call me” is bumping his gums about the “Big Society” in there and much as it pains me and I will do something more erudite when I have read it!

  9. Thanks for that info Doug.

    So all of this cost to the country of a referendum overshadowing our elections (which of course mean diddly squat to the Westminster government because they are the third and forth party in parliament in Scotland) and all for one seat for the Liberal Democrats.

    Bravo lads. Money well spent at this time in the economic cycle, don't you think?

    You couldn't make this whole thing up.

  10. Well would you believe it £2 to read on paper the inane burblings of that half-wit and it seems that despite all the hype the Observer have managed to leave the item out of the paper edition altogether. It says turn to page 39 but on page 39 we have something about marriage by Catherine Bennett and something on Kilimanjaro by Kevin McKenna nothing by the half-wit in Chief at all. I get the bitter feeling I’ve been swindled.....but then David Cameron does that to a lot of people!

  11. Doug

    I think that you have highlighted an opportunity that the SNP have not grasped yet.

    Every vote last May for a unionist party was a vote for Westminster rule. Everyone who I know who votes unionist and still moans about tory cuts, I just say stop moaning you voted for Westminster, have you just worked out that 59 Scottish votes will never beat 600 plus English votes.

    The SNP need to highlight the Westminster cuts, never mind the party, they were coming to Scotland anyway.

    The Westminster cuts will force sick people into unsuitable work, and cut services to the most needy. Scotland is better than this, and deserves a Scottish government that will rule for all the people of Scotland.

    P.S. Good to see Brian Souter donating again to the SNP, up to half a million pounds, that will help against all the English money that Labour will use in May. How much did Sainsbury donate to Labour again?

  12. Well I’ve had to read it online after all and it sounds to me in every way like a £100 million knee-jerk reaction to a bad week for the “Big Society”!

    Fist Lord Wei the BS Tsar announces that he can’t “volunteer” as much time as he had thought to encouraging other people to “volunteer” because he has to err work! Oops!

    Second Liverpool pulls out of being the flagship inner city area giving a great deal of credence to claims that the “Big Society” is only for the shires. Ooops!

    Thirdly Dame Elisabeth Hoodless Executive Director of Community Service Volunteers, possibly the most senior voluntary person in the UK (not just England) trashes the whole idea and thinks that the cuts will cause less volunteering and not more. Oops!

    Now “call me” writes an item for the Observer saying there will be £100 million transition fund, a sort of Big Society university to train 5,000 BS facilitators and give them a qualification (Dip Big Soc??) and a BS bank that will lend (at commercial rates {so just another bank then}) to charities wanting to get involved in BS schemes. And they will be able to bid for Government contracts as well. I assume that latter will be in competition with private companies from all over the EU in order to meet EU competition rules.

    Well you can’t really get much more of a knee-jerk reaction than that now can you!

    It’s quite incredible that they are having to re-launch their legacy so early on in the Government’s life. I would have thought the second half of your term was the time to fret about your legacy not within the first 12 months, that way you get a bit of time to think something decent up and not be saddled with the first bit of half-baked, cack-handed codswallop that you blurt out. And if you have to re-launch it then it was clearly a dead duck in the first place.

  13. Now that Cameron has nailed his colours to the mast and made a huge thing about the “Big Society” and how its going to change everything and be his legacy and his place in history. It will be made to work no matter what. If that means pouring money into it, then so be it. That of course means it will be seen to work at least in the short term, but it will all be a sham for when the money dries up as it necessarily will, it will all go down the toilet.

    Remember the New Deal? That was Gordon and Tony’s big idea that was going to change society and be a new deal for the unemployed. They threw money at it and it was great for a few years but then the money was needed elsewhere and the choice of things you could do was reduced and so on and so on, until where is it now? It didn’t end up being a new deal at all in fact it ended up looking pretty much like the old deal. The “Big Society” will be exactly the same the big society will end up looking pretty much a carbon copy of the old society just minus the £100 million plus wasted on it.

    Unlike New Deal, however, the “Big Society” is quite transparently a load of crap to start with. Everyone it seems can see that but “call me” and the Tories. But according to Dave they are all cynical naysayers who don’t want to give his brilliant scheme a chance.

  14. Tris:
    AV can best be described as a way of modifying FPTP to elect the least disliked candidate for every constituency. It cannot be described as proportional, ever, which is why the Conservatives are happy to go along with it. It's a huge media event which changes nothing in Scotland.

    Your right, it's something the SNP should be hammering the Labour party with. A vote for Labour is a vote for David Cameron.

    The Conservatives' Big Society appears to be an amazingly ill-thought out dream of some Conservative policy wonk. The way to get people to take control of their own lives is to give power back to them via local government. Not the current local government but giving districts, towns, villages and even neighbourhoods real power to collect taxes and to control local services.

    What the Conservatives appear to envisage is no return of control back down to a local level but that in some imagined John Major country of long shadows on county cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers, and old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist everyone has the time and effort not only to run local services on an unpaid volunteer basis but to fight their way through council and central government bureaucracy to do it.

    It's a car crash between ideology and reality.

  15. Munguin: Good posts. Will a B.Sc in future stand for Big Society crap?

  16. Och Doug, what a lovely picture you paint of Hampshire. I can just imagine chaps in their flannels and ladies in sensible shoes and tweed skirts strolling round the village green... and yes, there was the thwack of cork on willow....bliss

    Sings: How many kinds of sweet flowers grow in an English Country Garden.... tra la la la....

  17. Tris: I forgot about Labour’s ethical foreign policy, my how we laughed at that one! And I bet FO civil service mandarins had monocles falling into pink gins all over the place at the mere thought of it! Ethics in opposition and then selling cluster bombs to Saddam Hussein the first week in office!

    There is no AV in Scotland at the moment. Scottish Parliament elections are first past the post for the constituency vote and an additional member system through the regional lists. In 2007 we used STV for local elections for the first time on the same day as the two elections above. This led to confusion and 500,000 spoiled papers. There was, and hopefully never will be, any element of AV.

    Doug I think I am trying to say much the same as you but of course in a much longer winded and not nearly so eloquently way.

  18. You have to read some of the comments on this....

  19. You draw a link between Big Society and it being a secret cover for cutting back the state ideologically. I want to just say this is total cynicism, rubbish.

    Big Society, read localism and civic society - I personally think these things DO need more explicit support, even if you lot just want to play politics with this very important concept.

  20. Oh, and good to seee the true colours of many here sneaking through into public light - class warfare at its finest when you call these guys "spoilt rich kids" just because of their brackground, reverse snobbery; pathetic.

  21. Dean, whichever way you look at it, the main idea is for people to do more volunteering, so that the state no longer has to provide services. Now that's not all it's about, and at base it is a good thing for folk to volunteer.

    The trouble is that in the good old days when people did do so many things for themselves and the state didn't interfere, there were a lot of people (mainly women) who didn't work, and who had time to look after the WRVS or whatever charity.

    Now these people all have to work to keep the mortgage payments going.

    When they get home they have kids to look after, dishes to wash, gardens to dig and housework to do.

    They don't have the time, and whatever Cameron says, he's cutting funding for volunteers

  22. It's not class warfare Dean.

    They are rich, they are not particularly classy, but they are all rich.

    Whatever you say (and it's not their fault) they don't know what it's like to be poor. I bet Bick and Dave don't have to wash up when they get home. Or get the vaccuum out or wash the windows or trail round Sainsbury with screaming kids and a loaded trolly wondering if their credit level will let them pay for it all...

    Of course not. And they probably never have. They have people to do that for them. And no problems about paying for it either.