Archive for January, 2012

Stephen Hester’s Bonus

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

This has been a complete and utter disaster for the Government and shows, once again, questions about Cameron’s judgement, especially in the area of what is acceptable and what is not. It has been good for Ed Milliband who has scored points off Cameron by accusing him of a lack of leadership.

The issue is stark and simple. Senior employees of banks are thought by almost everybody except themselves to be supremely overpaid, not least because they almost single handed blew up the western economy and because barely a bank in Europe is capable of standing solvent on its feet without help, direct or indirect, from taxpayers.

This is the most toxic component of executive pay generally, which is now wildly out of line with what is right, reasonable and economically sustainable. The government, at the beginning of the week, announced the need for shareholders to act to curb excessive pay and bonuses. At the end of the week the Government as a shareholder, not as the government, but as an 80% plus shareholder, was faced with the challenge to show example. It simply walked away. Boris Johnson, who is probably the greatest potential threat to Cameron, described the drivel  put out by the Treasury to excuse the fiasco of the Hester bonus as unacceptable and bewildering.

It is indeed that and more. It flies in the face of the government’s own policy newly announced days earlier. The excuse offered is that if it had not rolled over and let the bonus through, the whole board would have resigned. If this is true it is preposterous because ministers caved in and  also because it amounts to blackmail. The proper response to such a threat if issued, would be to nationalise the whole of RBS by Order in Council. This would wipe out the remaining non government shareholders and set them upon the directors with a legal vengeance which would have been fun to watch.

This is a very sorry tale indeed. The Government’s performance borders on the imbecile. It  kills stone dead any pretence that it understands the pain of the ordinary people. Moreover it undermines its authority at a time when Unions and other campaigners are on the warpath. What a mess.

Michael Gove Passes The Test

Friday, January 13th, 2012

This blog was very critical of Michael Gove at the outset of his appointment as Education Secretary. My experience of educating an extended family over a span of forty odd years and two terms as a secondary school governor, convinced me that the current problems lay with an unsuitable curriculum, a squeamish approach to discipline, slavish adherence to policy and practice regardless of outcome and, above all, too many instances of poor quality teachers.

This latter point was critical. Not only were there bad teachers, but too many were fundamentally uneducated with poor degrees. They were easy to identify, but near impossible to get rid of. Moreover the process required so much delay that even if at last the failure left, a whole cohort of students had been let down.

On the other hand an allegation, however wild, of sexual harassment, meant the immediate suspension of a teacher pending an investigation. Yet an allegation of poor teaching, backed by complaints from parents, evident contempt of students and anxiety of leadership, allowed the suspect teacher to remain in post throughout the period of enquiry, which could last a year. It is important to consider that while sexual abuse of children is repugnant, imposing upon them an inept teacher is a life inhibiting abuse of those students’ trust in their school’s ability to provide them with the education they need, the effects of which will be not only negative but also lifelong.

Initially Michael Gove appeared driven by ideology about the style of a school rather than what it did. His overhauls of the exam system, the previously timid approach to discipline and the poor curriculum built confidence.  Now the ability to rid schools of duff teachers in a term is a real boost. In combination this all reverses our earlier negative view of his efforts.

There is a huge task ahead of him. Some of our students are so ill equipped on leaving school, that in a competitive market they are unemployable. Others are less well qualified than their peers in other countries which are our competitors. Some of the university degrees on offer are futile as a qualification. Unless all this is put right, decline of our living standards is certain. To arrest this trend is indeed a challenge. Mr. Gove deserves warm praise.

Scottish Independence

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

This proposition has moved from the fringe of British politics to centre stage. That is good. Scotland is now and always has been, a separate country. Its tribal origin is different to England. It was never conquered by the Romans, nor the Normans. It has its own legal and educational systems. It issues its own banknotes. All of this was the case before devolution.

It is therefore reasonable that its people should be given the opportunity of the return of their independence as a sovereign country. A referendum is the right course. The date is a detail. There must be a clear outcome to a straight question. The vote must settle the matter. At present it looks, from opinion polls, as if the Scots will vote to stay in the United Kingdom. What if they don’t?

Fractious though some of the talks may be, negotiations can organise a clean separation in areas where presently we share. What is more to the point is the strategic outcome and here we need to look at the Eurosceptics. An independent Scotland would join the EU. If the euro is still functional and out of crisis, it will join that too. If England whipped itself up to leave the EU, as most Eurosceptics want and most of them are in the Tory party, the economic position of Scotland would be hugely strengthened and that of England much weakened.

No wonder Cameron wants to keep the United Kingdom intact. As for Ed, he knows that without his party’s Scottish seats and with its Welsh seats severely reduced by boundary changes to create larger constituencies, the chances of a Labour government without a coalition partner, become a much less likely prospect. It could mean that even a handful of surviving Lib Dem MPs would find they were still close to the levers of power after all.

Food for thought, Nick.

Ed Milliband

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

This blog tries to remain impartial in its criticism or praise of party leaders, but it also has a record of giving comfort to those in trouble. We have been recently dismissive of Ed. The time has come to think a little deeper.

There is no doubt that Ed’s performance as a barnstorming leader, harrying the government at every twist and turn, leader of a party bursting with new ideas and an obvious prime minister in waiting, is disappointing. If one stands back to consider carefully, it is perhaps the expectation which is flawed, rather than the performance itself.

It is important to remember that labour suffered a severe electoral defeat. Nevertheless it remains marginally ahead in most of the polls and level pegging in the others. Projections on an immediate general election (which is not going to happen) based on the averages of recent polls give Labour a majority of twenty. Sometimes this slips to leave Labour the largest party. No polling average offers the prospect of the Tories being even the largest party. Labour have done well in by-elections and won a lot of seats in the local elections of 2011, just a year after their electoral disaster. Its membership, alone among the main parties, is on a rising curve. This is not a bad report.

What is much more important is that intellectually Ed realises that Labour’s election defeat in 2010 was merely the symptom of a much bigger crisis. He knows that the entire philosophy of New Labour was too shallow and too opportunist to endure and, worse, that its naive and simplistic economics were the root of an unsustainable boom fuelled by borrowed money, which has led to the biggest bust in modern times. Its employment policy was to create non-jobs out of taxpayers’ money or state borrowing and its addiction to regulations and regulators rather than outcomes contributed to a level of bloated inefficiency and underachievement worse than any previous record.

Before Ed can shine as the barnstorming leader craved by commentators, he first has to re-unite Labour with its roots on the left. Then and only then, will he be able to come forward with a modern interpretation of social capitalism, which will offer both social justice and entrepreneurial opportunity. His latest speeches show that these ideas are formulating in his mind. This is good. Now he needs to be bolder in putting musings to real political music. His first task is to find himself a credible Shadow Chancellor. There can be no real progress until he does that.