Sunday 21 June 2009

Sunday papers: Secrecy, cuts and class

Iraq is again on the front-page of The Independent on Sunday. Both the Sindy and The Observer report that Tony Blair pressed Gordon Brown to make the Iraq inquiry private - or, rather, that he signalled that through the Cabinet Secretary. Blair "appears to have taken a deliberate decision not to express his view in person to Brown because he feared it might leak out". Hmm. The Obs also digs away at what might be revealed, and reports a January 2003 memo of a Bush-Blair meeting which confirms some details of planning for the war.

The Observer editorialises that this strengthens the argument for making the Iraq inquiry a test case of the new openness. Phillippe Sands is naturally for transparency too, because the inquiry's "overriding purpose is to restore public confidence in governmental decision-making".

Spending and cuts

As John Rentoul blogs, The Independent on Sunday poll has some very interesting details below the headline party support (C 39%, L 22% LD 18% Oth 21%). Particularly that 67% expect the economy will start showing signs of improvement soon (fully 28 points higher than in March), though this has not lifted Labour in voting intentions.

If elected to form the next government the Conservatives would probably cut public services too much.
Agree 50%
Disagree 37%

Andrew Rawnsley writes that "The shrewder members of the cabinet are trying to persuade the prime minister that he needs to move to a more defensible trench. The better dividing line for the government to draw would be "cruel Tory cuts versus compassionate Labour cuts". There would be something a bit bogus about that too: anyone's cuts are going to be horribly painful. But it is potentially more persuasive for Labour to argue that it will cut in a way that is more careful of the vulnerable than the Tories". The Sunday Times has a fairly sketchy report on the debate within Cabinet, reporting that Yvette Cooper "warned that ministers must beware of making spending pledges they could not deliver".

Matthew d'Ancona addresses spending and cuts dilemmas for the Conservatives: "It is one thing to achieve power by exhibiting greater candour about the choices ahead. It is quite another to make those choices, to pay the political price for spending cuts, and to keep the electorate on your side".

Not walking away

Yesterday's Guardian Weekend interview, signalling something of an rapprochement between Gordon and The Guardian. Brown's aside that he "could walk away" from the trappings of office has led to an entirely speculative piece of Mail on Sunday news report offering a hypothesis that "Brown 'could' resign next year, pre-butted by a GB interview with the News of the World.

The Speaker race and outside jobs

The Sunday Telegraph anatomises the expenses claims of the candidates for Speaker, where the IoS suggests Margaret Beckett is now a short head up on John Bercow as they approach the line. The Mirror has an 'exclusive' that the Tories would back a Labour 'stop Bercow' candidate, while Nadine Dorries makes a rather unparliamentary personal attack on Bercow in the Mail on Sunday.

The Sunday Times reports a rush among Tory frontbenchers to give up their lucrative second jobs, ahead of details being revealed on July 1st.

A Conservative source said: “There is a real fear that this issue could be at least as big as the second home scandal. When we are forced to reveal details like our hourly rates and the amount of time taken by these jobs there is going to be trouble.”

The Independent on Sunday reports the possibility of MPs with other jobs being paid at a lower rate than those who are full-time.

IoS columnist John Rentoul - The Mob Don't Care About the Details - finds a "Lord of the Flies" element to the ongoing fury over MPs' expenses, but is puzzled by inconsistencies in treatment of apparently similar cases.

The higher mystery is this: why have some MPs been destroyed when others have survived, having committed apparently similar offences? ... In the haste shown by both parties to set up procedures to judge the misdemeanours and hold back the tide of mob justice, mistakes have been made. But there seems to be a larger, systemic injustice, which is that those treated harshly tend to be Labour.

Rentoul suggests that David Cameron's projection of the appearance of swift action against those deemed indispensable has enabled him to save George Osborne, while Kitty Ussher and Hazel Blears have fallen on the swords for almost exactly the same offence of avoiding capital gains tax in the designation of their homes. ("There is, of course, one other difference, which is that the sums of money involved on the Tory side are much larger – according to the Daily Mail, Osborne made a £748,000 profit from the sale of his London house three years ago".)

Who do we think we are?

Catherine Bennett returns to the outing of Night Jack, the Orwell prize winning anonymous police blogger - and is with the majority view in being baffled by The Times. (A round-up of blog reaction on Night Jack here).

For the author of NightJack, however, there were excellent reasons for anonymity, against none for exposure, and it seems extraordinary that his persecutors did not respect them, regardless of Eady's legal assessment. They could, instead, have trumpeted their restraint.

The IoS editorialises that "The paradox of openness is that democracy sometimes requires secrecy – but on the part of the ruled, not the rulers.

Perhaps daftest column of the day: Janet Daley: let's use the politics revival to kill class war, suggesting we end ...

the ridiculous obsession with 19th-century class war which poisons public discourse, distorts serious attempts at social reform, and subverts every attempt to talk sense about education, crime and deprivation. It is almost impossible to conduct any rational discussion of political or economic issues without the grotesque ancient hatreds of class enmity making a nonsense of the outcome.

Why can't we all just be taken on merit, she says. That couldn't have anything to do with class disadvantage could it?

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