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Leveson drama will run and run, but double dip recession is event of the week

Posted on 27 April 2012 | 9:04am

A Tory strategist (now there’s a rare bird) is quoted in the FT today as saying ‘I don’t think there will be a permanent impact [from recent troubles] if we can show we are a competent government.’

That may be true, though I doubt it; may be wishful thinking, indeed clearly it is; but the IF is a very big one, with a capital I and a capital F and a few nervous scribbles beneath those letters.

Because it is in part the lack of comptence that has driven the government to the bad position it currently occupies. Though the press is fairly negative about them, they cannot blame the media, as for the first two years of their incompetence, they had very benign coverage.

The Budget was the turning point, the moment when the media caught up with where general opinion was heading. Not simply because of their mishandling of granny tax, pasty tax, charity tax and every other tax they cocked up. These were all changes that Treasury officials bounced off Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling at times, but both had the political nous to say No.  But ultimately these handling issues get exaggerated attention because they speak to a bigger and more underlying incompetence – the one that runs through their failing economic strategy, their lack of a plan for jobs and growth, indeed their seeming indifference to the spread of unemployment, particularly among the young.

The Murdochs have provided great soap opera this week, and some of it with serious political consequences, most obviously for Jeremy Hunt, but also for the Murdochs and for David Cameron. But in terms of what the Tory strategist calls ‘lasting impact’, the double dip recession beats the double act of Rupert and Son any day of the week.

That is not to diminish the evidence that has emerged, which writes the latest bad chapter for Mr Cameron in the story of his News International relations. Hiring Andy Coulson. Rebekah’s horse. The seeming use of James Murdoch’s Mactaggart Lecture as the basis for Tory media policy. His whack at Ofcom. His immediate denunciation of Vince Cable when entrapped into saying something unhelpful about Murdoch, compared with his rush to defend what is clearly far worse conduct in the other direction by Jeremy Hunt.

Cameron never wanted the Leveson Inquiry. I thought until this week that was because he didn’t want to put the right wing press offside. But I now see the reasons run far deeper. I have been away most of this week and missed most of the drama, but I saw and heard enough to realise why Mr Cameron stood out so long and hard against this Inquiry. For all the denials by the Murdochs and by ministers, the sense of a deal on political support for commercial support is overwhelming.

As for incompetence, it was a word on many lips last night as I stood in the long snake of people waiting to enter the country at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 after flying in from Frankfurt. At least as a European, I was through in just under an hour. But as I finally got through, I took a look at the queues for the non EU entrants, and a very attractive Japanese woman I had noticed earlier – what else was there to do as the queue shuffled forward? – was about a quarter of the way forward from where I had first seen her. She might well still be there.

Mr Cameron and Mr Hunt have both made statements to the effect that the eyes of the world will be on Britain for the Olympics and we have to show our best face to the world. Judging by the number of tourists and business people taking pictures of the queues, and pinging them back to their own countries, the eyes of the world are on us already. And if the Heathrow queues are not sorted soon, London 2012 will have a PR fiasco that will make the launch of Terminal 5 look like a ride in the back of a Bentley.

So if the Tory strategist is serious about making competence the issue, kindly get an economic strategy that works, get a political strategy robust enough to withstand a tide of events turning against you, and for God’s sake get a grip of border controls.

Meanwhile, stop your Prime Minister from making silly little speeches claiming to lead the greenest government in history when nobody in the room, least of all the person who wrote it for him, believes it.

  • Alunsmith20

    Your article would be stronger if you acknowledged the culpability of both main parties in cosying up to Murdoch, Tony Blair was equally guilty and I speak as a Labour supporter.

  • ambrosian

    You mention incoming tourists and business people taking pictures of Heathrow queues and pinging them back home.
    Last night both BBC and ITV News carried reports on the doubling of people using charitable food banks around the country, many of them not unemployed but in low paid or part-time jobs. I wonder whether foreign TV stations will pick up this story and broadcast it around the world to the great shame of a country that is still the 7th richest in the world.

  • Anonymous

    I was brought up (in Keighley as it happens) to believe that the Tories were wicked but cunning and skilful operators. I began to doubt that belief soon after the 2010 election, and the last two years have confirmed it. They are (probably) not wicked; they might even be trying to do good; but they give every indication of being totally incompetent.

  • Ehtch

    Run and run? It has people as if they are running through the Sahara, desperate for water to recover them. And they know exactly who they are.

    Use lot could have easily played those games in our own lives, but we didn’t, because we have common honesty and dignity to those around us.

    You reap what you sow, and then you fall into your own traps, you silly sodding persons.

    It is quite fun watching them though, in our settees, isn’t it? Push the boundaries, ey? Push the boundaries beyond human decency more like. pricks, let us see you squirm.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Osborne´s economic mess.
    UK has now slid into a double-dip recession for the first time since 1975.
    GDP shrank by 0.2% in Q1 (0.3% in Q4/11).
    Technically Britain is in depression as output is still 4.3% below the pre-crisis peak in 2008.
    Robert Skidelsky, David Blanchflower, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Martin Wolf, Ed Balls (and I) warned about this.
    Since Q2/2010 growth has been 0.4% instead of promised 4.3%.
    During the period the Tory-led government has been in full control of the economy it has contracted by 0.2%!
    Is the eurozone to blame? NO!
    British exports have been doing well. In February exports increased by £300m.
    The reason for Q1 is construction (-3%) – a wholly domestic issue.
    This happened because PUBLIC SECTOR INVESTMENT is down 25%.
    George Osborne has not been able to cut current spending.
    Low interest rates caused by £325bn quantitative easing (money printing) by the Bank of England (BoE) have not restored business confidence.
    David Cameron stated that the solution to debt crisis cannot be more debt.
    Why is the government then increasing public spending this year by 0.5% in real terms?
    Why is it borrowing £500bn more during this parliament? Borrowing will be up 40% between now and 2015-16.
    Mr Osborne is borrowing at least £158bn more than the forecast because of lack of growth caused by plan A.
    According to Jeff Randall debt interest payment will reach £70bn a year – a totally unsustainable level.
    Debt will be £1397bn in 2014-15, £1470bn in 15-16 and £1515bn in 16-17.
    Debt as proportion of GDP should peak at 76.3% in 2014-15, although IMF says at 88.6%.
    Deep cuts will be needed even after 2015!
    Government borrowing in March was £2bn over the forecast.
    Unemployment will reach 3m in 2013.
    Inflation is above target at 3.5%.
    There has been NO serious attempt to fix UK banking system. Banks are not lending.
    Economic crisis caused by banks has meant that £200bn has been lost in output.
    George Osborne has failed to rebalance the economy. UK recovery has been weakest in 100 years.
    The fate of the Tory-led government depends on economic growth.
    Attempt to balance budget in downturn only prolongs the downturn since it lowers AGGREGATE DEMAND.
    Keynes has been proved right – Osborne wrong!

    Ps. The US, which has used stimulus, has grown 2.8%. Eurozone has grown faster than Britain since 2010! The UK economy is now more imbalanced. Plan A (expansionary fiscal contraction) is not working. We need a change of course. Bond markets never asked for austerity of £150bn. The purpose of plan A is a small state – not to restore growth. Q2/2012 will be flat. Low interest rates are surest signal of long-term decline. Osborne can now abandon cuts and go for growth. Or ease austerity. Or use balanced-budget stimulus. Or leave plan unchanged. Or cut faster. 

  • Ehtch

    Totally off topic, on death, Ken and Boris at the moment going at it ‘ammer and tongs, posted this, I quote meself,

    “I’m with you Alf, I’m with you.
    But no excuse for your daughter marrying that scarse git though, ey Alf? at least he could have at least been a toffee, an Everton supporter, but no, he was a pope left footer. Shankley, Shankley, don’t make me laugh, bluddy scarse pope botherers.”

    Alf, tell them,

  • Ehtch

    you can only paint the walls in the house you move into, Alun.

  • Chris lancashire

    Good to see Rupert laying into every recent British Prime Minister …. except Mr Blair who he counts as a personal friend.

  • reaguns

    As I keep saying, Alastair and everyone is talking about how the government now seems incompetent and is being attacked in the press, whereas before the press all loved them. Except that they didn’t, to the left wing press Cameron has always been “as right wing as thatcher” and to the tory press he is “as left wing as ken clarke”.

    This shows that when AC and the press were attacking the govt 2 years ago they secretly were worried that they were doing, or appeared to be doing, a good job. So I find it difficult to believe that they now believe they are doing a bad job as nothing much has changed.

    Unless anyone was silly enough to believe that they would have us in economic recovery now. I certainly wasn’t that silly, and indeed they will never deliver such, nor do I think that labour (who want more spending) or tory press (who want more capitalism) can believe that they are any worse now than they already were.

  • reaguns

    “and a very attractive Japanese woman I had noticed earlier – what else was there to do as the queue shuffled forward? – was about a quarter of the way forward from where I had first seen her. She might well still be there”

    Heh heh, but Alastair aren’t you (a) famous and (b) important. Couldn’t you have got yourself and her through the queue a bit quicker? And then get her number? Not saying you should cheat on missus, but just to stay matchfit with the patter.

    I was getting a train the other day and conducter / platform staff were making quite a lot of fuss about a “VIP” being on the train. Surely Alastair is as much a VIP as anyone that would be getting such a train (ie it wasn’t David Cameron or Madonna) and they were getting special treatment, why doesn’t Alastair.

  • Michele

     I don’t hiold it against Labour at all that they used whatever conduits they could to reach diehard Tories mid 90s onwards.  There are some rags that never published a positive word about Labour and their readers had to be reached.
    They were. 
    Not many people are (or want to be) in the position of never even brushing past those they consider of different mindsets.  How would anyone ever broaden their outlook if they only sat with those they deem their own ‘class’?

    We still have a really awful distorting gossipy spiteful media.  We heard the phrase ‘slumber party’ yet again today, being used about a group of competent capable prominent working women who dined together one weekend (at the personal expense of their hostess) then slept over.  Do we really deserve such silly talking down to by snoopy people-watchers?

  • Nick

    The cosying up to Murdoch by Blair has been acknowledged by all in Labour ad beyond.What cannot be shown though is that the Blair Government helped Murdoch gain any business favours in return.That is the main difference with what is happening now

  • Gilliebc

    You wonder ambrosian if foreign TV stations will pick up this story of charity food banks being set up in this country and the doubling of people using them.  I feel sure they will. 

    Whilst I’m glad that people who don’t have enough money to eat properly are being helped, it is a shameful situation and makes us appear like an impoverished third world country.

  • Anonymous

    Actually in respect of matters like Europe in particular Tony Blair was highly resistant to Rupert Murdoch’s blandishments, so while he got Murdoch’s backing I’m not sure Rupe had much to show for it. That’s what called clever politics – and clearly cleverer than Cameron/Hunt/Cable (‘s) 

    By the way I don’t remember too many howls of anguish from the left wingers in my local Labour Party when the”Sun” decided to back Labour in 1997 – maybe they just howled a bit too quietly for me to hear them.

  • Robbiesarge

    You were in the queue for 30 minutes. I know because I was four people behind you. Don’t get me wrong, 30 minutes is bad enough, but don’t make it out to be worse than it was.

    And it would have been longer for you if you had not queue jumped and dipped under the barrier – I saw you do it at the very start of the queue as it entered the passport control hall. Despicable – i didn’t see anyone else do it. Maybe if we all took a leaf out of your book, true chaos would follow.

  • Anonymous

    AC’s diaries are liberally sprinkled with his sightings of attractive women.  And remarks about Labour women he didn’t much care for (though he seemed to think Margaret Beckett was all right).  

    I was struck that during a press conference yesterday about his film festival, Robert Redford (now there’s an attractive redhead) commented on Cameron’s downward trajectory.  When someone who might not be much interested in the UK’s domestic woes feels free to make an observation like that, you know Cameron’s image really has taken a hit.  

    After all these strategic blunders, the only thing keeping the Tories’ pants up is Nick Clegg and his UKIP-trailing party.  So how can we fix that?

    Question for Alastair which he might like to answer in a later posting – what are the odds on Hunt going before 3 May?

  • Mickeymouse

    I’m not sure you are right about this… Don’t we need more evidence?

  • Dave Simons

    Perhaps they should have howled more loudly. When ‘The Sun’ backed Labour it was a sign that something was drastically wrong with Labour’s direction. Nevertheless it was good to keep the other lot out for thirteen years and I’m not going to howl too loudly about that.

  • Dave Simons

     I don’t believe they’re wicked – just self-interested. They’ve made a lot of money by fair and foul, mostly foul or just plain lucky, and they want to at least hold on to it and preferably make it notch up dividends. Either they are cunning and skilful operators or they can afford to pay people who are. They are indeed trying to do good for themselves, and I wouldn’t overemphasise their incompetence. I think the UK shows itself to be incompetent every time it falls for this bunch of con-artists.

  • ZintinW4

    I never thought Cameron was competent but nor do I think he is benign. Just because he’s great at presentation doesn’t mean he’s not also great at clobbering the weakest in society whilst rewarding the richest.

    Compare the treatment of people on housing benefits with the treatment of those paying 50p tax. HB claimants are being demonised whilst the richest are being rewarded. Rewarding the poor apparently makes them lazy, rewarding the rich makes them ‘more likely to create jobs’. Seriously?! No wonder people are feeling cynical.

    Sadly, by next Thursday, I think the London result will create the perfect distraction for the media because I doubt that Ken will win. As in Bradford West Labour will loose any forward impetus because the party is selecting the wrong candidates. This means that those who need us most will once again get a kick in the teeth not due to their own lack of belief in the party but as a result of the party failing them.

    It’s time we recognised the longer we are in opposition the longer the onslaught will go on. Until we truly show the want to win we will let the Tories off the hook every time

  • mightymark

    Methinks (on this occasion!) Michelle’s post below is savvier than yours!

  • TC

    You must be finding it difficult to contain yourself Alistair! Austerity+Recession=Plan C, Jeremy Hunt devious shambles, and Teresa apology to Brodie?

  • Anonymous

    Queues at Heathrow = Monopoly power of BAA.

    Monopolies usually resolve themselves, usually monopolies are sustained with government help. That is the case here. Nevertheless, its went too far and its time for a bit of trust-busting. Different companies should run each London airport and let the queue times and such like be publicised so that airports with the best service win the business. Simples.

  • Dave Simons

     I’m sure Michele’s posts are savvier than mine on all occasions! This one seems to have leapt from ‘below’ to ‘above’, a reflection no doubt of its relative merit!

  • Janiete

    I think you make some excellent points about relations with News International but it concerns me that too many want to see Cameron’s behaviour as just more of the same. In an ideal world, political parties would not need to cosy up to media moguls, but alas we don’t live in such enlightened times. After seventeen years of Tory policies, which had starved our public services of funds and wasted the talent of our people through lack of opportunity, I don’t blame Tony Blair for boxing clever and getting Murdoch onside. Without a ‘friendly’ relationship, Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock suffered dreadfully at the hands of the right-wing press and I’m glad Blair wasn’t rejected by the electorate for the same reason. 
    The extent to which Tony Blair courted Murdoch has been wildly exaggerated because it suits both extremes to do so, and similar misrepresentations can be seen in many other areas of policy. What matters ultimately, is not whether Blair was friendly with Murdoch, even if that does make many of us feel uncomfortable, but whether he allowed Murdoch to dictate policy in return for electoral support and as far as I can see there is no evidence he did. I recall an attempt by Murdoch to buy Manchester United very early on in the Blair Government; he didn’t get it.
    Commentators should look carefully at Blair and Brown’s policies in relation to what Murdoch wanted and whether decisions made favoured him, but were to the detriment of the public interest. I think the Labour Government did pass this test but the coalition won’t. Prior to the election in 2010, the Murdoch empire had some clear desires in terms of media policies. They wanted the power of OFCOM to be reduced, to own majority shares in BSkyB, to see BBC funding cut and their influence curtailed and they want to see the removal of broadcasting impartiality rules. Cameron, with support from the feeble LibDems, was about to give in to most if not all of their wishes.
    I think most fair minded people see very clearly what Cameron was up to and are as relieved as I am that the Leveson inquiry arrived when it did.

  • Janiete

    Totally agree. We should look at the facts not listen to rumours.

  • Janiete

    I don’t think the queues have anything to do with ownership of airports. The UK Border Agency is responsible for checking people as they arrive and unions involved suggest the problem is down to inadequate manpower.

    It’s beginning to sound like Brodie Clarke was doing a good job in managing security with poor staffing levels by allowing managers on the ground to use their discretion. To score political points, Theresa May drove him out and insisted that full checks always take place, and now we can see the consequences of her action.

    Rather like the double-dip recession, this is another example of the Government shooting itself in the foot.

  • Anonymous

    Really? So this is about UK Border Agencey staff levels and not BAA staff levels? In which case I stand corrected. Odd that it seems to be only Heathrow that is understaffed though (or is it?)

    I suppose I could argue that the monopoly / lack of competition argument I put against BAA lack of efficiency applies to UK Border Agency too, and it does, but I wouldn’t want competing Border Agencies!

  • Janiete

    Suspect Heathrow hit the headlines because of the amount of international traffic it handles. The same problem is likely to be found elsewhere but maybe on a smaller scale.

    Of course another runway at Heathrow could perhaps spread the load at peak times as long as additional staff were employed. But the coalition, for political reasons, kicked that into touch as well! Another blunder?


  • reaguns

    Yes I am now confused as to who does and who doesn’t want a third runway. I know that Siobhan Benita and Michael Portillo do, because I heard them discuss it on bbc this week. I’d be for it, but on the logic that I’m for more airport capacity, I would be more in favour of the new airport in the Thames Estuary (or wherever) than a new runway at heathrow I think, though the new runway would be better than no new capacity.