JG's blog

The end

Having seen ex-Prime Minister, Tony Blair's final PMQs and the rest of the day’s events unfold, you can only conclude this has been the strangest of power handovers.  Not many PMs could claim to go out on a standing ovation from Parliament (not sure even Churchill got that treatment).  It also emphasises how this moment has been in the making since the last Labour conference (if not much longer).  A strange sense of the inevitable mixed with the unknown.  Tony Blair has this incredible ability to leave you with nothing but admiration for him when he delivers one his speeches, even if yo

Will we talk of Blairism in twenty years time?

Blair bye

Goodbye Mr Blair. 10 years that started off with such promise and hope have ended with Britain and the world far less optimistic and settled. What could have really been the greatest premiership of post war Britain has ended in anticlimax. I take the view that it takes a few years before legacies are shaped and fully known and understood. When Thatcher left No.10 in 1990 it seemed her legacy would always be that of a cruel, almost megalomaniac type women. These views have mellowed, particularly in past couple of years and whilst she will never be forgiven by some, compared to the sly spin fuelled government of today, at least she was hard talking and straight forward. President Reagan was always seen as a buffoon type character but is looked back on far more fondly these days in America with George W Bush making him look like an economic genius. But what of Blair?

Whilst it can not be denied he has made many changes to Britain, it is hard to look past Iraq as being his lasting legacy. But domestically, I think Blair will always be synonymous with spin. He has used the media like no other PM before - with brilliant effect. But the longer term damage this has done to politics will only really be seen in the coming years. PR is now more important than substance and that can not be good for anyone. David Cameron is already mimicking this strategy and the days of straight talking politicians could well be over.

Another legacy could also be the end of ideological politics. The centre ground is where we are all told politics is fought today – an imaginary area I think of as nothingness. It is legislating for legislation's sake with no real direction. Pleasing the masses without inspiring them. Back in 1997 we all thought Blair was on a mission, it turns out it was a mission to apathy. The electorate are so uninspired and bored with the spin they seem to have rolled over and just let the parties get on with it. The feeling that voting makes no difference has never been stronger. The irony being, back in 1997 it was the power to make a difference that got Blair his landslide. Brown will continue with the New Labour project, whatever that means now, and he will no doubt have a few surprises up his sleeve in the next 100 days. But what is the alternative? The Tories offer nothing radical enough to offer change other than a Cameron grin (and if Brown's dour grimace puts us off, it maybe enough to win the next election – hardly inspiring though!). The Lib Dems are even less inspiring than they were 5 years ago. Blair was a brilliant politician but as the decade of his premiership went on, the realisation that his vision wasn't what we thought it was became more and more apparent.

We still talk of Thaterism today - as Andrew Marr said, like it or not we are all Thatcher's children. I do not know if the term Blairism will be used in twenty years time or not, but if it is it will probably be used in the context of disappointment and unfulfilled potential with a whole lot of spin thrown in.

Justifying the nanny state by Caroline Flint

There is an extraordinary article in today's Times about the Public Health Minister Caroline Flint, aka Supernanny. It seems to be justifying some of the more draconian and nannying legislation that this government has put upon us. Those not familiar with Flint will be with her proposals. She is responsible for patronising campaigns such as the labelling of wine bottles and specifically telling middle-class wine drinkers that they should moderate their drinking.

The Tory party has been replaced by a PR agenda

It is no secret that I rate the Tories chances of winning the next election, on current form, at next to zero.  It seems Quentin Davies MP for Grantham feels the same.  He has defected from the Conservatives to Labour via an open letter to David Cameron.  Ironic, maybe, that Grantham was the birthplace of Baroness Thatcher.  In his letter he stated that the Conservative party "appears to me to have ceased collectively to believe in anything, or to stand for anything". 

The great speed ticketing sham

If you want to drive fast, stay out of Wales and London and head to Surrey. The Department for Transport has released figures on the amount of money it has raised from speeding tickets over the last year. Surprisingly, there were fewer tickets issued last year than on the previous year. Good news I hear you say. You would have thought - but good news for you is not good news for the chancellor's coffers. Less speeding tickets issued means less fines means less money to plough back in to society (ahem!). Wrong.

Public sector buyers still getting ripped off

Government procurement is controlled and restricted by bureaucratic and lengthy procedures that have been passed down from the EU to ensure a level playing field across Europe when competing for business and also to ensure corruption is stamped out.  Unfortunately, these procedures are so lengthy and arduous; they just end up adding costs to the contract rather than saving money.  The Commons public accounts committee believes that the public sector wasted £400m on unnecessary procurement costs last year - though I suspect this is a very conservative estimate. 

Poll result

Surprisingly, maybe, over two thirds of you were against the smoking ban on the principle that the government should not be able to intervene on our actions on private property. I suspect the figure would have been even higher if I had not mentioned smoking in the question... I do fear that this is just the start - the trend this government shows is to legislate and legislate and legislate. Until they have stamped out just about everything that can risk the slightest bit of harm to ourselves or others, they will continue to pass laws.

FOI reform - "Unnecessary, unpopular and undesirable"

Will one of Gordon's first acts of his premiership be to put behind him the scandal and sleaze of the Blair years and do a symbolic act and abolish all talk of freedom of information exemptions for MPs?  The Constitutional Affairs Select Committee is certainly for the abandonment of the "unnecessary, unpopular and undesirable" reforms.  Their report even concludes that "There is no objective evidence that any change is necessary.

"Green" taxes are just there to boost the Treasury's coffers

Keen readers of Picking Losers will know that I am not likely to become a fully paid up member of the Green lobby any time soon.  I do believe that we have a duty to look after the environment and that it is a duty we have neglected in the past.  However, much of the nonsense our politicians and members of the green lobby come out with are simply unbalanced opinions portrayed as fact; often with the intention of getting more money out the tax payer or pushing through a potentially unpopular policy packaged as a green measure.  Fuel tax is one of these areas.

Panic on the streets of London, Morris dancing in the corridors of power

"Panic on the streets of London, Panic on the streets of Birmingham, I wonder to myself, Could life ever be sane again?" So the song went. Now I don't think the Smiths had Lord Falconer and the Ministry of Justice in mind when they wrote these lyrics, but there is a certain aptness to them that allows them to be applied perfectly.

Stop this government backed monopoly

Like most men, I do like a good list. I could real off my top 3 greatest footballers, my top 3 meals, my top 3 films, my top 3 just about anything. Alas this is a political blog and not a Nick Hornby novel so I will save you from the controversial news that Teddy Sheringham is the greatest footballer of all time and that Kate Moss narrowly beats Sienna Miller to number one female in the world. My lists are subject to change every now and then, of course, as a comedian starts to sounds dated and a new comedy genius arrives on the block, for example.

Taxes flowing North of the border

I have long been a supporter of self determination. That is to say, if a country wants its independence then it should be granted, or in cases like Gibraltar (for example) if they want to remain part of the UK or return to being part of Spain then it is the citizens there who should decide. No-one else. Ever since 1998 when devolution was granted to Scotland from Westminster, the West Lothian question was a raging debate just waiting to explode.

Time to lay off them now and let common sense prevail

When exactly did smoking become the new paedophilia? They are the pariahs of modern society, and all common sense and decency can go to hell if it means the government and media can whip up a frenzy about these evil doers. There is the tale (it may well be true) about the paediatrician who had a baying mob outside his house calling for his blood and parents refusing to let their children out of the house until this man was removed from society, all because he had a brass plaque outside his home which doubled up as his place of work stating he was paediatrician.

The Liberal Tory Labour Party

The Tories are pledging to create an independent NHS board that will take the day-to-day running of the health service out of the hands of ministers. Brilliant! Who came up with that idea? As regular readers of Picking Losers will know (and just about everyone else who reads a newspaper) it was Gordon Brown. Instead of trying to create new policies and actually offer an alternative, the Tories are once again just pursuing the tactic that Cameron will be more trusted and liked than Gordon Brown so if they have the same policies they will win. It isn't going to work though.

Warning - Do not go to work on an egg

"Go to work on an egg" - a slogan that was run well before my time, yet I am very familiar with it such is its impact on the social conscience. And good advice too, in my book - if I had the patience to boil an egg every morning in between making up for lost time in order to catch the bus, the I too would go to work on an egg. But of course, I'd be stupid to - according to the government at least.

S-t-op int-er-fe-ring

The Department for Education and Skills are interfering again.  This time they are handing out one size fits all advice on how to teach our young children.  They have produced a whopping 208 page document telling professional teachers how to teach.  Unsurprisingly the NUT has described it as insulting and criticised it as another attempt to micro-manage classroom practice.  The report, called the Rose Review (conducted by Sir Jim Rose, a former director of inspection at Ofsted) recommends that reading be taught through the use of synthetic phonics, which involves children learning individua