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At what point can Labour realistically urge people to forget about its own failings in the past when it goes on the attack against the current administration?

Clearly, Labour already believes that point in time has been and gone - for a good while now, it's been happy to attack the government while neglecting to remember their own actions when in office. The economy is a particular own goal for Labour in this respect, especially with Ed Balls as shadow chancellor. While he was never chancellor, there's no doubt he helped pull Labour's economic strings.

The Tories, on the other hand, will happily bounce any criticism from Labour straight back at them for as long as possible. Immigration, NHS spending and the perennial favourite 'tough on crime' are all good examples here.


Of the many, many interviews done by those on both sides of the pension strikes dispute, the comments made by Michael Gove, the education secretary, on Five Live's Drive show stood out for me. He urged listeners - and union members - to question the motives of union leaders for pushing for strikes so very quickly. He singled out Len McCluskey, the top dog at Unite and the main agitator behind the British Airways cabin crew strike last year, Mark Serwotka of the PCS union and Dave Prentis, boss of Unison and arguably the wettest, dullest, most unconvincing, non-rabble rousing union leader ever to exist. Gove's basic argument was that the motives behind the strike for the likes of those listed above was more political than it was for the best interests of members. Union leaders will be quick to point that this could be construed as a classic divide-and-conquer tactic on the part of Gove. United we stand, divided we fall and all that. And yet, and yet - Does he have a point? In fact, he may even have hit upon two points - whether unions are doing their members a dis-service by going one in, all in, and also whether ideological differences between the unions and the government are clouding the unions' collective judgement.
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Deputy Pr...

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It's fascinating watching the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham. After taking a kicking in the polls in May, you'd think the party faithful would be calling for some sort of action.

The strategy of the leadership is to clearly big up their role in the coalition, in which Nick Clegg says the Lib Dems are punching above their weight. That's not good for democracy, and there's no proof it's actually good for the Lib Dems either.

Sometimes the attempts to appear more influential than they really are has been farcical. Take, for example, the row over the 50p top rate of tax. Nick Clegg says it is unacceptable to see it removed when most people are struggling to make ends meet. The image he paints is of the Lib Dems fighting against the worst excesses of the Tories trying to look after their mates.

However, it's a non-fight. Much the Tories may wish to knock the 50p tax rate on the head, and much as there may be lobbying from the rich for that to happen, the Tories aren't daft. They know how it will look, and how it would play politically. So it's not going to happen. For now. It's not a victory for the Lib Dems, it's the Tories being pragmatic.

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A PCSO on duty with two police constables. Not...

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In politics, so I've been told, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors. They're clearly aware of that at the think tank Policy Exchange, where their way of getting more out of the police would be inspired, if it wasn't so utterly stupid.

In a nutshell: the Policy Exchange believe police officers should wear their uniforms on the way to work. Somehow, they work out that this would equate to an extra 1,200 police officers on the streets of London. Their working out, I guess, involved multiplying the average journey time to work by a policeman multiplied by the number of days in a week they work multiplied by the number of officers in London, divided by the number of contracted hours a police officer works each year.

Simples. But wrong.

Asking police officers to wear their uniform on the way to work doesn't create an extra 1,200 police officers. At best, for the bean counters, it potentially gives a couple of free hours of work on top of the normal shift.

But does a policeman, travelling to work on the bus, do if he or she spots a crime being committed? It's fair to assume that they won't have their radio with them, or their CS spray, or, if they have one, their taser gun. What we effectively have is a police officer being asked to do their job without the tools to do their job. That's not safe, or effective.


DAVID CAMERON is in Tuscany. George Osborne is in California. Only a bitter and twisted political rival would say they don't deserve a holiday. But what about when a crisis hits?

Admittedly, financial problems don't come much bigger than severe wobbles inside the Eurozone and within America - at the same time.

The fact Cameron and Osborne are both on holiday, as is Nick Clegg, the deputy leader, makes a soft target for those wishing to portray the trio as being out of control and out of touch.

There was one moment during the Culture, Media and Sport select committee 'grilling' of Rupert and James Murdoch which offered a moment of blinding clarity.

Tom Watson, arguably the only MP on the committee to actually ask any probing questions, asked Murdoch junior if he was aware that the committee had previously found News International 'guilty of corporate amnesia' over phone hacking.

Watson was referring to a conclusion drawn in the committee's previous report on allegations of phone hacking, back in the days when it was believed only celebrities and royals were the target.

Murdoch Jnr replied that, no, he hadn't been aware of that conclusion.

That short, relatively sharp exchange, told us everything we need to know about the sideshow existence of select committees. They have no teeth, can force no change and certainly can't find people guilty of anything.

DAVID CAMERON, perhaps unwisely, pushed on yesterday with a speech on how he planned to reform the public sector.

He wants to do away with the 'here's what you're getting' mentality and replace it with some sense of empowerment to get the public services we want.

In theory, sounds great. We tell the councils, the schools, the NHS, the police the services we want and, presumably if enough of us say the same, we get it.

Only there is a catch. We're expected to help deliver those services too. That might be via a company, or a not-for-profit group. Doesn't sound so appealing now, does it?

I've no doubt the coalition government will, over the coming years, be able to demonstrate examples of community groups taking over libraries, or private companies coming and running services more effectively for councils.

But the problem will be in the areas which aren't appealing to private companies. Running meals on wheels might be quite attractive in a leafy part of Berkshire, but maybe not so in socially-deprived areas where visiting people in their homes could involve a likelihood of vehicle being vandalised, staff being abused and so on.

What Cameron has announced isn't really new. The private sector has been a part of the public sector for a long time. Care homes are a classic example. Whereas once, councils ran OAP care homes, now they pay the private sector to do so.

And that brings me to Southern Cross. Closing down after failing to make a living off looking after old people - partly because councils insist on below-cost deals for the OAPs they pay for - thousands of pensioners face an uncertain future.

Labour MP John Mann has been one of the few MPs to switch his attention from phone hacking to the Southern Cross crisis. He says it is a bigger crisis for the government than News International is. Should we suddenly see pensioners being transferred from Southern Cross homes or left homeless, then he may be right.

Longer term, if Cameron pushes ahead with the plan to allow the private sector and voluntary groups to cherry pick parts of the public sector they can profit from/have an enthusiasm for, it almost certainly will be a bigger crisis for Cameron.

Mann wants to see councils running the Southern Cross care homes. That's a very Labour response - bring in the state. But the problem for Cameron will be that if lots more of the public sector is run by organisations who can just opt out when the going gets tough - as National Express with the East Coast Mainline franchise - then there won't necessarily be the public sector infrastructure left to pick up the pieces.

Then, as Mann says, there will be a crisis which threatens to have people out on the streets. Much as Cameron claims to understand how much people care about the NHS, he's wrong to think that regularly complaining about council services is a sign people like the idea of others being put in charge.

For Big Society, read Southern Cross. And worry.

I got a bit of stick on Twitter today for suggesting that a claim by the ATL teaching union that they wouldn't be on strike if there was an alternative wasn't entirely truthful.

The North West office the TUC suggested that I 'have no idea.' If that's the standard of debate within the TUC these days, then it's no wonder the negotitiatons with the government over pensions aren't going that well.

Someone else asked me to 'cough up my alternative then.' So here it is.

I'm not against teachers or members of the public sector going on strike. I'm not saying I agree with the government plans on pension reforms. What I do think, however, is that the unions who went on strike today have increased the chances that they'll be defeated.

Strikes should be the last resort for one simple reason: They need public support to work.

The more I see Ed Miliband during Prime Ministers Questions, the more I begin to see parallels with William Hague when he was Tory leader as the Conservatives struggled to cope with life on the opposition benches.

Hague was, and still is, brilliant in the House of Commons. He could run rings around Tony Blair. But his impact outside of Parliament was minimal. He just didn't connect with the public.

While it can't yet be said that Miliband is brilliant - or anything close - during PMQs, he has found a way of irritating prime minister David Cameron. He's spotted a Cameron weakness and exploited it. Rather than going for a scatter gun approach with his questions, he drills into one issue and tries to find that nugget of information Cameron isn't sure of, and then tries to exploit it.

An economic balls up?

By David Higgerson on Jun 7, 11 04:30 PM

ED BALLS returned the political spotlight this weekend after an unusually long period in the shadows following his move to become shadow chancellor.

Labour has sorely missed his vocal presence in the last few months. Prior to taking over as shadow chancellor, Balls had been one of the few effective opponents to coalition policy.

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David Higgerson

David Higgerson - David Higgerson has covered local and national politics for much of his career as a journalist. This blog aims to look at Westminister from the outside in, at a time when it appears very few are looking out from the inside.

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