Friday, October 17, 2003

IDS has a way to fall yet.

Iain Duncan Smith can take heart. There are nine circles of Hell for Tory politicians too and he is nowhere near the lowest circle.

The first circle is Indifference. Most politicians are to be found here, resolutely ignored by the populace. Here stand Archie Norman, Micheal Ancram, Francis Maude and Theresa May. These wretched souls are to spend each day until judgement day giving interviews to their local weekly paper.

The next level of Political Hell is unpopularity. These are politicians who the public dislike intensely. These politicians may have a still have a following or be forgiven if they reform.

Circle two is unpopularity due to ridiculousness. Edwina Currie resides here alongside. So does David Mellor. They are condemed to hosting late night radio shows.

Circle three is unpopularity because of apparent extremism. Michael Howard and Norman Tebbit are here Ann Widdecombe was to be found here too. These politicians are to be flagelated by Polly Toynbee for all time.

Circle four is unpopularity due to error. Here we find Norman Lamont, who will be forced to spend all etenity as a mortgage payer during an ERM crisis.

The next set of circles is for the revolting. These are politicians who the public cannot stomach. They wish they would simply dissappear

Circle five is for those who are revolting because of arrogance. Portillo resides here. The punishment here is to spend all eternity repenting your sins, visiting single mums and taking a succession of menial jobs for a week.

Circle Six is for those who are revolting because of Sexual Hypocrisy. John Major is to be found here with Cecil Parkinson These are forced to have every aspect of their lives raked over by a tabloid journalist, while their families listen in.

Circle Seven is for the revolting because of cowardice. Here we find a multitude of gay Tory MP's who have voted against legalising their own desires for fear of compromising their careers.

As with Dante, Circle eight is for politicians who are revolting because they are corrupt or perjurers. Jeffrey Archer, Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken are found here. Their punishment is to be poor and ignored.

And then there is the lowest circle of Hell. The Political equivilent of being encased in ice for all eternity. I can think of only one group of people who deserve such opprobium. Those who reached the apex, the summit and failed dismally, on whom the verdict of the people is they should never have been allowed to lead. Eden and Chamberlain reside there, punished by having their every good deed overlooked by their one great failing.

The only question is, where does IDS fit?

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Stephen Pollard clarifies

Sorry to bore everyone with this £9.6billion claim, but it's really irritated me.

Stephen Pollard has admitted that "No, it's not £9.6 billion solely on obesity. It includes all the various inter-departmental programmes, some of which are meant to tackle more than just obesity. But it is the figure which the government itself uses. "

Stephen got the claim from 3 health correspondants, who were all given the same story.

So when Stephen wrote an article in the Times saying "Take a guess at how much of our money this Labour Government has spent on attempting to make us thinner: 100 million or so? £500 million? £750 million? £1 billion? Don’t be so stupid. It’s not possible. Yes it is. The Department of Health claims that £9.6 billion has been spent on projects that reduce obesity across all government departments. You read that right. Nine point six billion pounds."

What he meant to say was "Over the last six years the government has spent £9.6billion pounds on all sorts of things that help reduce obesity, like school and grassroots sport, free fruit for young children, cookery lessons and swimming pools, as well as on things like Hospital operations. What a disgrace."

As long as that's clear.

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Thursday, October 16, 2003

Read this article

Jackie Ashley was the best thing about the ever more feeble New Statesman when she wrote for it.* Now Mrs Marr, as she is never known, has written a typically perceptive article on what the Tory travails mean for those of us who find it hard to stop laughing.

It is an excellent counterweight to my own hubris-filled triumphalism. I'm not entirely convinced by the moving British politics to the right thesis. Before Conference, we were debating whether Labour would be taking a sharp left turn- and if not how would it deal with the restive unions and lefties. Those presures haven't gone away just because they're not written about. That said, read learn and inwardly digest.

*She may still write for it, but She's no longer the political editor.

As an aside I think the Staggers should hire one of the very fine left wing bloggers to write for them, a la Matthew Yglesias's gig at Prospect. Harry, Paul, Nick and Lance would all add a lot to the New Statesman, both in quality and subject matter, while the philosophers over at Crooked Timber would add lustre to the back half too.

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I stand up to be counted.

I may be merely one, but together we will be legion.

Save Iain Duncan Smith. You know it makes sense.

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So why isn't Scottish Politics more exciting?

Coke traces allegedly found in Scottish Parliament. I've occassionally watched Holyrood on BBC Parliament (I lead such an exciting life) and if there were any excitable MSPs talking intensely and ten to the dozen, getting really excited about the debates and enthusing about what they're going to do next, I must have missed them.

Oh OK. This is clearly a very bad thing. Bad MSP's. Bad!

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Best Blog. Oh Yes.

I can't enter the Best British Blog awards, since they ask for things like Name and contact details.

This is a shame, since I was a shoo-in to win the best specialist award, No, not because of my writing, but because of some more traditional methods at my disposal. I mean the presence of a certain Mr T Watson MP on the judging panel.

My pitch was going to go something like this.

Mr Watson. Hand over the £500 or I start a series on Young Labour in the mid nineties, with a particular emphasis on the Hull clique. It promises to be a searing expose and I'm sure you'd prefer to avoid any unpleasantness.


Sadly, my dreams of greatness are turned to dust and Tom's reputation is safe.

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Uniting or Dying? He asked. You decide.

Time to take a trip back in time.. It's autumn last year. IDS* is in deep political trouble. He calls a press conference. He lays it on the line. He says:

""We have to pull together, or we will hang apart.

"If we are to be taken seriously as an Opposition, as an alternative government for this country, we have to work together"

"My message is simple and stark, unite or die."

It is a year later. I think this is enough time to reach a conclusion. So dear readers, which path do you think the Tory party is taking? Unity or Death?

You might find this Spectator article**, (summarised here by the BBC) here authored by a man claiming to be the "leader" of the Conservative Party helpful in your deliberations.

*I still have an issue with the man using his middle name as a surname, especially as he appears to have given his wife not only a surname, but a middle name too, which is going a bit far. However, the three letter acronym has a long and honourable tradition in politics and seems a reasonable compromise.

**will go online tomorrow

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The 9.6billion pound lie returns.

A lie can get half way round the world befire the truth gets it's boots on.

I like Stephen Pollard. I occassionally disagree with him, but I think he's a great thing for blogging and for the net.

So it's with great regret that I read his piece today, repeating the claim that the GOvernment spends £9.6billion on anti-obesity programmes.

I thought I'd already debunked this claim yesterday. But I when Stephen said today that
"The Department of Health claims that £9.6 billion has been spent on projects that reduce obesity across all government departments. You read that right. Nine point six billion pounds."

I thought I better check. So I called the DoH press office. They weren;t able to give me an exact figure, but they were very definite that there was no way it could be anything close to £9.6billion. The only explanation that was offered for the report was that perhaps the claim included the costs for treating obesity related illnesses or covered the spending on all public health issues for the last six years. This would mean that the government was wasting money on things like treating heart attacks and trying to stop people being drug addicts.

So where did Stephen get his evidence from? He surely didn't just repeat such an obviously dodgy claim without attempting to gain evidence in support of it? Who in the DoH made this claim?

Harry Hatchet suggests some other explanations. Come on. Does anyone seriously believe this 9.6billion figure. If they do, can they please justify it, not just repeat it without substantiation?

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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Fight the flab- in the papers

The lithe and lissom Stephen Pollard joins in the railing about the £9.6billion allegedly spent on comatting obesity.

"You'd scarcely think it possible, would you?" Quoth he. Quite right. Give it a moment's thought and you don't believe it at all. I think the Telegraph report the outrage has been based on is a load of crap.

Let's assume that as David Carr's porcine civil servants earn £40k a year. That would be enough of a budget to employ 240,000 of them. Even if we assume that we're talking about a six year aggregated expenditure (I hate people who quote a number but no source, time scale or evidence to support it, but never mind) that would mean 40,000 people. Right.

Or lets look at the Telegraph's own information. THe HDA, from whom they source this information, has a total budget of.... £112 million for ALL health development work. Not all of this is spent on obesity. Indeed the Telegraph even links to a story by the Telegraph journalist sarah Womack that says:

"Britain spends around £195 million treating obesity-related diseases, according to Mark Greener, a former pharmacologist. Only 15 per cent of this goes on tackling obesity itself."

Now call me a details maniac, but there is a big difference between under £15million and £9.6 billion. Or take this National Audit Office report, which says that the cost of treating obesity in the NHS is around £9.4million a year in 1998 (p59) Now I know Labour has increased spending, but by a mulitple of 1000? . Meanwhile the cost of treating diseases caused by obesity was estimated at £470million a year. This is the cost of treating heart attacks and the like.

So far then, lets say that Labour immediately doubled spending on the prevention of obesity in the NHS. That makes £20million a year. Times 6 is 120million. We're still 9.48 billion short.

For perspective $9.48 billion would take up the entire spending last year of the Departments of Rural affairs, Culture, Media and Sport and the entire public health budget. Oh and still have some left over to cover all the Foreign office and all of Northern Ireland's spending, and still have half a billion left.

9.6 billion? Don't make me laugh.

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They shoot Tories, don’t they?

Watching Iain Duncan Smith at the moment is a little like watching the famous 1908 marathon. IDS is staggering about, occasionally collapsing, going the wrong way and being helped through by officials whose “help” will later have him disqualified.

It’s almost too painful to watch.

Except it isn’t. It’s wonderful. It’s throw back your head and laugh, laugh, laugh wonderful.

You know, I rarely indulge in partisan viciousness, but I want to just say this to the many fine and upstanding Tories who visit this site. You deserve this. It is justice.

Turmoil, backbiting, internal dissent, collapse, mutual hatred. Couldn’t happen to a nicer party.

It’s put me in such a good mood I might even go off and sing tramp the dirt down.

The only thing I can hope for now is the continuing leadership of Smith the quiet.

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Monday, October 13, 2003

It's a scandal

The Libertarians over at Samizdata think that spending money on public health schemes is a scandal. David Carr even manages to get in the oblgatory fascist jackboot of the third reich allusion.

"Studies show that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day could lead to estimated reductions of up to 20 per cent in deaths from heart disease, cancer and stroke. Evidence also suggests that
fruit and vegetable consumption among children has fallen in the last 20 years and that children growing up in disadvantaged families are about 50 per cent less likely to eat fruit and vegetables. These
inequalities are reflected in health differences later in life - those in low income groups are more likely to suffer cancer and heart disease."

So the government is commiting the heinous sin of giving poor kids fruit.

An Outrage, I tell you. An outrage.

Slightly Bizarre footnote: It occurred to me that it would be interesting to see if there were any figures online about the post war health impact of free school milk. You know, as another wasteful example of government expenditure. However, I was prevented by the fact that a google search for "free school milk" led a high level of illegal hardcore porn links, with the exact phrase clearly entered into their tags. Is "free school milk", like "spit-roasting", a euphemism for some perverted act? Is my career now in jeapordy?

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Oh what a week.

Sometimes it’s an embarrassment of riches, being an unpaid political commentator.

Tory infighting. nepotism and Fraud allegation. Polls. Cabinet spats over ID cards.

So naturally I’m going to start by talking about the Lib-Dem reshuffle.

Stop laughing in the corner. The Lib-Dems have taken a turn to the right, and a pretty drastic one at that, at least in terms of domestic policy.

I suspect that Charles Kennedy thinks that his opposition to the war gives him the cover he needs to construct a domestic policy that does not consist of spending more money on everything. He may well be right, but frankly, Party discipline would undermine the support of the Lib-Dems.

It's time for a socratic dialogue. I get to be socrates. An unamed LibDem gets to be my patsy.

Spin: If the Liberals were able to construct a clearly defined political presence, their vote would likely go down, instead of up.

LibDem friend: Huh? You say? How can this be? The Liberal democrats are famed for their resilience during election campaigns. Our vote soars, like a veritable bird of freedom, when the voters get to know us.

Spin: Listen for a minute, you preening cockaninny. The Liberal Democrat core support is lower, as a percentage of their total vote than any other party. Some polls have put it as low as 5% of the electorate. Take a look at these MORI poll during the last election. Almost half the Lib-Dem voters were prepared to change their mind at the start of the campaign.

LD Friend: So? Our support hardened up. People like the Lib-Dems when they get to know us.

Spin: No, people like the Lib-Dems when they hear no negatives about them nationally, and are able to ahhh… adapt, shall we say, locally.

For example. If the Lib-Dems had taken a tough minded direct pro europe. High tax, stance nationally and this had been a major election issue. Well, you can imagine the impact in the South west.

LD friend: You mean the way we lost Taunton because of hunting?

Spin: Exactly, yet more so. Instead, The Lib Dems took a fuzzy, nice stance nationally, talking a lot about honestly, and local candidates ran away from the party line where it didn't suit.

Again, let’s look at a Mori report.

“A fascinating Populus poll in The Times on Monday showed while Labour and LibDem voters on average believe the LibDems to be marginally to the left of Labour, Tories tend to think that the LibDems are well to the right of Labour. If Charles Kennedy can continue to pull off that trick, he may be on to a good thing. But it will become increasingly difficult the more the spotlight is on the Liberal Democrats, as it is after any by-election; and the Populus poll, like ours, was carried out before Brent.”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

LD Friend: No, but get it over with.

Spin: vagueness is your friend, young Jedi. If you stand for anything much, other than local prejudice, you suffer, because you don’t have a core support to drive turnout. You voters are the soft voters who mainly associate with other parties. You need to appeal to the disaffected from both sides. So avoid policy specifics, Abjure strategy. Do not try and construct a programme of government. For if you do, then you expose at least one flank. Tack left and you lose the right. Tack right and you lose left. Try to do both and expose both. In fact there's a double whammy, because in order to gain seats you need to squeeze Tory votes in Labour seats and vice versa, while tacking to the centre to get the disaffected of the leading party.

LD Friend: But what should we do to gain support oh wise one?

Spin: To get support from mutual exclusive groups there is only one strategy that is known to work. Sloth, obfuscation and opportunism. Let these be your watchwords. Combine them with masterly inactivity. Mark my words, you have chosen your leader wisely for this task.

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An off-shoot of the vast right wing conspiracy.

So this is how it works. Mark Steyn writes a smearing piece in the US Spectator (see below), which then gets recycled by former Bush speechwriter David Frum in the National Review, who calls it "the best, clearest, and of course funniest summation I’ve yet read of the Wilson/Plame affair ". This is about a piece that basically accuses the CIA of being the enemy within. I wonder where the "CIA is the enemy" meme will go next?

We're at war with the Terrorists and the US right wing think the CIA is the enemy.

It'd be funny if it wasn't scary.

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