Tag Archives: prime minister

Andy Coulson quits – at last…

Coulson always had to go. You can’t run communications for the Prime Minister when most of the papers are interested in what you did in your former job. Coulson should have left long ago – for months *he* has been the story.

The News of the World phone-tapping scandal just gets bigger and bigger and now with News Editors being confirmed as aware of the hacking of celebrity voicemails, it’s unthinkable that Coulson did not know what was going on.

And if he was really unaware of what his team was doing to get stories then what kind of editor was he anyway?
Election reaction

How much is too much?

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, earns £142,500 a year. He actually took a 5% pay cut when he took up the position, a political move to show sympathy with those struggling along in tough post-recession times.

Now a new survey has revealed that 9,000 public sector workers earn more than the Prime Minister. But why should anyone be shocked?

The Prime Minister’s salary is artificially low and kept that way for political reasons, because the public don’t like to see elected officials earning too much cash. There is a strong argument for paying them more, because by paying them the market rate for an official with a large responsibility, you remove the potential for fraud. The 2009 expenses scandal shows that expenses were ‘topping up’ MP salaries and countries like Singapore insist on paying their elected officials a high basic rate, with very few additional perks to avoid these kind of issues.

Compare this to the private sector – Chief Executives of major British companies can now expect salaries of above £1m. About a quarter of the FTSE 100 chiefs earn in excess of £5m a year.

Compare these wages to the Prime Minister and it looks more like he is running the country as a hobby, just banking the experience for a future of earning money on the lecture circuit.

So why shouldn’t there be senior public sector officials earning more than the Prime Minister? They are not elected into a position that needs them to constantly pander to voters. They are appointed and given a budget and targets – if they do a good job at managing a huge budget and team of thousands, then why can’t they earn a similar rate to the private sector?

Or should we expect everyone to work in the public sector for peanuts – as a gift to the nation?
Westminster Station

The Pope in Britain

I’m a Catholic because I’m half-Irish-half-English and, as my dad isn’t much of a believer, I ended up getting baptised – not that I actually go to church. My attendance record is pretty much based on weddings and funerals.

But, when I was asked if I would be interested in working with the government Cabinet Office to follow Pope Benedict around the UK during his visit, providing live commentary via Twitter and blogs, I jumped at the chance. Though I’m not a follower, the teachings of his church have permeated their way into my consciousness just because I was always surrounded by Catholics when I was growing up – and who wouldn’t want to be embedded with a head of state providing a live Twitter feed of what really happens ‘backstage’?

But it was the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who invited the Pope to the UK. And Brown is no longer in office. And the current Prime Minister is either less interested in the Pope visiting, or more attuned to the scandal that will be caused by his visit. Most probably the latter as the child sex scandal furore only seems to be getting worse and the present Pope was previously in charge of handling complaints against the Vatican, and should therefore be acutely aware of the issues – and be handling them rather better.

So the regular media will continue to cover the visit, but all additional nice-to-have coverage (like a live blogger backstage) were all canned.

It’s a shame as I was looking forward to trying to offer some insights. The views of the church often rub directly against my own liberal opinions – I was working in Malta last week and I was surprised to hear that divorce is illegal there because the church won’t allow it. The Catholic church has some way to go to reach the standards considered acceptable in a modern-day society where free expression and respect for Human Rights are considered essential.

But the church has an immense history and tradition and is followed by hundreds of millions of people. I was looking forward to exploring these questions of how faith collides with modernity, but now I won’t get the chance anyway. Another thing I can blame on David Cameron.

What a shame.
Art installation, Central St Martin's

What is Clegg doing? The answer is Mandelson!

This is the Mick Jagger election. None of the parties are getting any satisfaction.

Yet, even though he failed to win as many seats as expected, Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems are now the kingmakers.

He promised to talk first to whoever had the most seats – the Tories – but why would he really take that idea seriously now? The Tory MPs will not want to work closely with the Lib Dems and the Lib Dems I have been reading online are all horrified that there may now be a partnership with Cameron.

It’s a recipe for disaster and Clegg must surely realise this.

Perhaps it is why he is now playing hardball with his demands. As he entered talks with party officials today, Nick Clegg made a statement saying he has four big priorities: 1. Fair tax reform 2. Education 3. Approach to the economy 4. Political reform to the electoral system

I think he might be able to reach agreement with the Tories on points 1 and 2 as their manifesto pledges are not miles apart there, but Clegg has very open views on how to run the economy and it is through transparency and devolving power from the treasury. Plus he wants a root and branch reform of the electoral system, to introduce a system of proportional representation – consigning the first-past-the-post system to history.

The Prime Minister is extremely weak right now. Clegg could do a deal with Labour that gives him control over all four issues and become a reform parliament. Labour and the Liberal Democrats could join together to lead as a minority government, or they could bring the nationalists into the fold – who would almost certainly join a coalition if money was thrown to their regions.

If Clegg could boot out Brown and announce a reform government with an interim Prime Minister (Mandelson or Johnson?) and Vince Cable running the economy then I think a lot of Labour and Lib Dems would be happier than getting into bed with the Tories. And if the focus is on electoral and economic reform then they could pledge to call a new general election as soon as the electoral system is ready for change – let’s say after one year.

One year down the line, with a PR voting system, the Liberal Democrats would stand a very high chance of getting real power – with a lot more seats.

Clegg could get a lot more of his own MPs into parliament, totally reform the electoral system, get his man running the economy, and keep British politics generally focused on liberal values by kicking the Conservatives out for a generation.

So why is he still talking to Cameron?

Down at Downing St

I went to number ten Downing St on Wednesday to attend a meeting with the No 10 communications team. It was my first time visiting Number 10, so I had to get the obligatory photo of me at the door…
Mark at Number 10

One of the things I noticed as I walked up the staircase to the meeting room was that there were pictures on the wall outlining the alphabet. A is for Apple. B is for Brown… etc… and V was for Villain. I wonder if anyone thought about the appropriateness of that for the Prime Minister’s home?

Budget 2010

Social media has been around for a few years now. Not all that long, but a few years. I’ve been uploading a lot of content to places like Flickr and Youtube since 2006, but what’s changed in the past year is the switch between social media as something related to the ‘Web 2.0’ concept of users uploading their own content and the interactive web, as typified by Twitter.

So, even though we have had social tools for the past few years, the budget this year felt different. It was the first time I could see every single major broadcaster assembling experts to analyse the budget online as it was happening. I was following Sky, the BBC, BBC radio, and Computer Weekly online all at the same time while the budget was taking place. There was a phenomenal amount of debate taking place online while the Chancellor was making his speech – proving that this general election is going to be the most interactive and democratic we have ever experienced.

I personally was surprised to hear that there was a difference between something I heard the Prime Minister say on Monday and what I heard the Chancellor say today. I was there in person on Monday and I was listening live on radio today so I know I’m right, but has anyone else noticed the way the Digital Britain broadband penetration targets have changed?

It was a great experience though and I’m looking forward to spending the whole night on May 6 drinking Red Bull and coffee whilst tweeting from central London…

Heading down South

I’m back on the train network again today, this time heading south from London to Southampton, on the Hampshire coast. I’m blogging again for the Department for Children, Schools, and Families – on their FutureStory project.

If you haven’t read any of my earlier blog posts about FutureStory, it’s a programme that aims to help young people understand globalisation. What it really means to them and their future. What it means for their home and community. And what it means for companies that are located near to where they live.

This time is particularly interesting for me because I grew up in Hampshire. Though I was actually born in Frimley, Surrey, I lived in Hampshire (just over the border from Frimley) until I bought my first home in London when I was 22.

FutureStory is delivered by the Talent and Enterprise Taskforce, in collaboration with the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, who selected the cities. The delivery partner, Centre for Cities, is an independent think-tank focused on economic trends in cities/city-regions around the UK. The Talent and Enterprise Taskforce is a cross-government Taskforce chaired by the Prime Minister. It was established in 2007 to engage with influential networks and organisations to raise the profile of talent and skills as a key source of competitiveness in the global age.

Lucy Parker chairs the Talent and Enterprise Taskforce and she will be speaking about FutureStory during the event today in Southampton. I’m hoping to capture her on video giving a summary of why it’s important, and who she is hoping to influence.

The short story is that FutureStory aims to promote a wider understanding of how globalisation is changing everyday lives and jobs for the future in an increasingly competitive global economy.

It aims to provide a narrative to help frame and stimulate a broader, more positive and forward looking debate about the strategic direction and success of the UK’s cities and regions when facing the realities of the global economy.

And more particularly:

  • To create a national framework for discussions around globalisation in the wider context of the Government’s narrative of growth, optimism and the economy.
  • To engage local planners, policy makers and stakeholders in creating development strategies for their towns and cities which take them beyond planning and regeneration, and towards thriving in the global economy.
  • To create a narrative for globalisation that makes it meaningful to people by telling the story through tangible examples close-to-home.

I’m going to be taking part in a debate about FutureStory today. Perhaps I should have worn a suit(!) Still, I have a couple of copies of ‘Who Moved my Job?’ with me and that book is written on exactly the same themes as this project, which is possibly why I am so interested in helping this to work. More later, once I capture a few videos of the action today.

Brown launches comeback fight

Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed his supporters at the Labour party conference in Brighton today.

Of course, he was preaching to the converted – the audience was almost entirely Labour party members so they would be expected to cheer and hang on his every word, but it was impressive nonetheless. He steered a strong path, positioning the Labour party far to the left of David Cameron’s Conservatives. Clearly, the Labour party has finally woken up – they needed to position themselves as more caring in an environment where people are losing jobs and homes in a recession, and Brown’s speech pushed forward a very distinctive – caring – Labour agenda.

He distanced the government from the financial meltdown, blaming the bankers and associating their free market attitudes with the Conservative opposition who called for a very different ‘hands-off’ approach to the crash in 2007. As Northern Rock collapsed, the Conservatives were still looking to the market for a solution.

He directly commented on his eyes – a subject of much discussion this week – by saying that the NHS is the best insurance policy in the world… his eyesight was saved by the NHS and he dealt with the issue of his health well by taking it head-on.

Fairness, caring, and responsibility echoed throughout this speech, but what he really gave back to the Labour party was hope. Hope that David Cameron may not be the next Prime Minister from 2010. Hope that it’s not all over for a tired Labour party. And hope that despite the setback of the international banking crisis, there has been a very long list of social achievements by this government.

No matter that many people are bored of the Labour government and many people just want a change, the differences between the parties are now growing wider and the Labour party is finally dealing with the assumption that it’s all over for them. They are not dead yet because they are finally staking a claim to the kind of social agenda that people want to see as the country tentatively exits a recession.

Labour is still down, but not yet out.

It’s all over for the PM

It must surely be all over for Gordon Brown. Events over the past few weeks feel like the dying days of the Conservative government in the mid-1990s. Who can forget that era, when every week brought a new tale of scandal and sleaze, always committed by a Conservative minister?

And now the smell of sleaze has returned to haunt the government, though this time it haunts the Labour party. But this time is quite different and more orchestrated.

This system of government expenses has existed in its current form since the 1980s – the expenses system has not been recently introduced – yet it has taken subterfuge and Freedom of Information to finally figure out that many politicians take far more than they need to subsidise a constituency home. It’s unfortunate that some hard-working and honest MPs have been hounded from office when they have not even broken the rules. How can it be that a member who follows the rules to the letter can be so hounded by the press that they indicate they will not stand for office again? In the current environment, several have done so – along with those who clearly made claims that stretched credulity.

I really thought that the government was going to be able to ride out this expenses scandal. The Tories were just as guilty of making dodgy claims, and though the Telegraph initially aimed their ammunition at Labour MPs, they eventually started detailing examples of Tories who were also abusing the system.

Surely, a cross-party committee aimed at a reform of the way MPs work within Westminster could have stopped the daily tirade of abuse from the press? Something radical, something akin to constitutional reform. Something that would have rekindled what the Labour party started back in 1997 when they attempted to reform the bicameral system itself. Why didn’t Gordon Brown start this process and just stamp on the political editors who were undermining his authority weeks ago?

Instead it looks like his premiership is going to limp to a close mired in sleaze.

And the Labour party is now suffering voter apathy. They have had 12 years of power, in which they have genuinely made some great achievements. Surely the private healthcare business in the UK should be scared of people waking up to the fact that the NHS has improved so much?  Crime has reduced. Schools are better. These are real quantifiable achievements that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown brought about, yet the voters are seeking alternatives because everyone gets bored of a single party leading the nation after a decade or so.

But even if they change leader now, within a year of a certain general election, will the public just vote for change anyway?

The new generation Labour party has some great talent; James Purnell, David Miliband, his brother Ed, Ed Balls… the list goes on. But if there is going to be regicide in the party then they need to get the PM to stand aside soon, so they have time to regroup with a new leader, in time to create a credible general election campaign. My money is on Alan Johnson being the kind of person who could pull it off as leader.

If the pressure is on for an immediate election, then I guess we are in for a Tory future. However, it may well be that any new leader of the Labour party would secretly prefer a spell in opposition because who would want to lead the country through this economic mess anyway?