Lessons learned, lessons forgotten…

The higher staffs had had no practice in command, and although they had been well trained in the theory of the writing and issue of orders, they failed in the practice…Added to this we all suffered from the fault common to all Englishmen, a fault we did not know we suffered from till war revealed it, a total lack of imagination.’
This is a quote from Dan Snow’s great grandfather Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow after the battle of Le Cateau in 1914.
There’s an uncanny similarity to the ‘higher staffs’ of our great coalition, is there not? And they have yet to discover that they too suffer from a total lack of imagination. Something that is likely to do more long-term harm to this country than any of their ‘cuts’ or ill-judged reforms.
‘Confusion of Command’. Memoirs of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas D’Oyly Snow by Dan Snow and Mark Pottle

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Dave gets real about intervention

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“Take me to your leader…oh, you don’t have one, I see”

One of the sad realities of politics, and British politics in particular, is that our so-called leaders have virtually no leadership experience whatsoever. Despite that, we expect them to lead us through thick and thin, take the right decisions, have sound judgement, to know when to step in when things are going pear-shaped and sort things out. So when things do go wrong we shouldn’t be surprised when they mess up. If we put chumps in charge we must expect a chump’s response. That’s exactly what we got over the Libyan evacuation. A Lance Corporal in The Rifles would have reacted in a more decisive and prompt manner than our Foreign Secretary – and our Prime Minister, who should have intervened and sorted the matter out, but didn’t.

Clearly David Cameron is having to learn leadership on the hoof. There’s not much any of us can do about that, but what is alarming is that he appears either to have nobody close to him who is experienced enough to give him the right advice or he has, but is too pig-headed to take their advice.

Cameron’s decision to employ Andy Coulson was a bad call. The fact that he didn’t sack him as soon as it became clear that Coulson’s involvement in the phone hacking scandal might not be quite as he had admitted, was a serious error of judgement. To take an arms manufacturers on his Middle East tour in the current circumstances was not only insensitive, but crass stupidity – and again an error of judgement. The farce over the Libyan evacuation I think demonstrates that we have a Prime Minister who is floundering. He either can’t make decisions or doesn’t know what decisions to take.

In the light of Mr Cameron’s performance, I think we have good reason to be concerned. If he can’t crack the easy things, what hope has he got of getting the big decisions right? Today he said that there were lessons that had to be learnt. I hope he has the humility to understand that he is the one who has most to learn. There is one leadership maxim he would do well to remember – ‘you are only as good as those that support you’. A good leader surrounds himself with the best, an inspired leader surrounds himself with those that are better than himself. Egocentric politicians may find this difficult to accept, Mr Cameron needs to prove that he is the exception.

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Baldwin on the ridiculous

The email from Tom Baldwin, Ed’s director of strategy read:

“Tom Baldwin has requested that any front bench spokesperson use the following line when questioned on phone hacking.

BSkyB and phone tapping

These issues should not be linked. One is a competition issue, the other an allegation of criminal activity.”

Oh come on Tom! What complete and utter tosh, how can they possibly not be linked? Why would you make such a ridiculous assertion? Wait a minute, you used to work for Rupert Murdoch didn’t you? Did he put you up to this? Oh, I see you’re hedging your bets. Doing what Rupie asks, smoothing his path just in case Ed makes a bog-up of the leadership and you need a job. What a clever, forward thinking chap you are!

You really couldn’t make it up, could you? No sooner has Dave got rid of Coulson, we find that the boy Ed has a Murdoch mole as his director of strategy. Crazy!

The BSkyB bid is a competition issue, but it’s also about the plurality of the British media. If Rupert Murdoch succeeds in obtaining the remaining shares in BSkyB, within 10 years he will control half the British TV and newspaper revenues. Do we really want someone who allows illegal phone hacking by one of his newspapers to be in such a position?  Absolutely not!

Let’s be clear, an employee of the News of the World has already done time for phone hacking. There is nothing alleged about the issue. Murdoch has also already paid off two people to prevent further court action: unfortunately there are nearly 90 other injured parties who are lining up for a bit of compo.

There is a link between the BSkyB bid and phone hacking, no question, but there is a much more serious issue. It is the amount of power Murdoch wields over our politicians. What is important to politicians today is not necessarily what is best for the country, but what is acceptable to Rupert Murdoch. How his hacks will react to their decisions is their first concern. We are very much down the pecking order. We only become important when their jobs are at stake. When we’ve planted our crosses on the ballot paper we become irrelevant.

It is really a very pathetic sight to see David Cameron and Ed Miliband kow-towing to Murdoch. Their behaviour needs to change if our democracy is not to be hijacked by the plutocracy – and plutocrats such as Murdoch in particular.

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Plan, What Plan?

“The commonest big mistake the individual outside politics makes about the people inside is to suppose they have a plan”. This is a quote from former MP Matthew Parris writing in the Times.

Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery warned the most dangerous individual is the industrious fool. I think we may have the worst of all possible worlds, a coalition full of industrious fools with no plan.

Michael Gove clearly has no plan. He has made so many cock-ups it’s embarrassing, but he ploughs on: using his vast inexperience and elitist zeal he appears intent not to reform our education system, but to take it back to the dark ages.

Andrew Lansley has an idea for the NHS, but it’s on the back of a fag packet. He is determined to force his ‘idea’ on the NHS with very little considered thought. Yet again the NHS is being subjected to more political meddling. The NHS may be in need of change, but the change he is proposing is so radical that there is a every chance it will sink the whole operation.

There is no question that the welfare system needs fundamental reform, but Iain Duncan Smith’s ideas are being implemented with very little consideration. The consequences of what he is proposing are far reaching and utterly devastating to hundreds of thousands of people. Welfare reform has to be accompanied by a plan to improve the position of the beneficiaries, not to punish them. No such plan exists.

George Osborne believes the deficit has to be reduced, nobody would argue with that, but the way he is approaching the problem will condemn Britain – unnecessarily – to years of austerity and misery. He appears to have a ‘cut at any cost’ approach and to take pride in delivering pain on others. Worse still he has no plan to create growth and jobs. He is trusting that the private sector will, as if by magic, conjure up jobs for the millions of public sector workers who are just about to join the ranks of the unemployed. It won’t.

Both Cameron and Osborne have no ‘big ideas’, no plan. For example, they have no plans to make labour less expensive by reducing income tax so that Britain can attract more inward investment. No plans to mitigate the effect of the cuts. Instead the ‘dynamic duo’ continue to tax people into poverty and increase the burden on an already overstretched and costly welfare system.

As for Cameron, he is turning out not to be a leader, but an ‘events’ politician. In other words he reacts to events rather than making things happen. With no big ideas and no plans he’s destined just to preside over events. The best we can hope for is piecemeal policies, muddle and confusion.

Vince Cable is right when he says that much of what the coalition is doing is Maoist: Maoist in that the Conservative element is doggedly pursuing its own political doctrine, but they’re not really Maoist. Why? Because Mao had a plan!

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Monday Memo to Dave

As you know, Osborne and Cable are meeting heads of the banks this afternoon to discuss, amongst other things, bank bonuses. Vince has promised a ‘robust’ response by the coalition. I sincerely hope that it is and that he has your support.

The size of bank bonuses has amplified the size of the gap between rich and poor. You have argued that you want to see a fairer Britain. Today you have the opportunity to prove that you mean what you say.

To indulge these disproportionate rewards would be to sign up to a degenerate culture. You have to demonstrate your intention not to be a signatory.

I hope that you may also have realised that the bank bonus issue is about more than paying people ludicrous amounts of money. It’s about proportionate rewards and discriminating between the efforts of those who create real wealth through entrepreneurship, invention and innovation and those who capture the wealth of others and redistribute it amongst themselves.

We have to change our attitude to ensure that we reward those whose efforts produce real value and those who do not. You have an opportunity to start that process today.

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FIFA, Dave and Rupie…a Connection?

“The grovelling of the prime minister and the second in line to the throne before Fifa’s Zurich racket has been a national humiliation. Had they no intelligence of what was going on? Had this exposure to ridicule not been risk-assessed? Even a cursory glance at the allegations from the Sunday Times and BBC’s Panorama would have warned Downing Street and the Palace that these were not fit people for Britain’s leaders to be seen glad-handing.”

This is Simon Jenkins in this morning’s Guardian. He’s right. It was a total nonsense. Putin didn’t turn up before the announcement because he knew he had it the bag. The money had already changed hands. Our naivety was monumental. Our lack of intelligence – in both senses of the word – was mind boggling. But I think there could be more to this story.

What if the Wizard of Oz’s had access to intelligence about FIFA’s Russian ‘dealings’ a long time ago? He knew England were out of the running. He also had evidence on two corrupt FIFA delegates. Wouldn’t the mind of a media mogul think of a way of making this information work for him?

So, let’s see how this might work. While Ofcom deliberate whether on not to refer his bid to purchase the remaining shares in BskyB to the Competition Commission, News International titles have been giving the coalition a very smooth ride, but opposition to his plan has been growing. He’s probably starting to wonder if Dave is going to deliver. Time to turn the screw? Time to show him who’s master? Time to demonstrate how easily he could make life very uncomfortable for our Dave?

With Dave and the gang committed to supporting England’s bid for the World Cup, what better opportunity to show him who’s boss? Take the brakes off the corruption story when it’s too late for anybody to back out and sit back and revel in Dave’s humiliation – guaranteed to get his attention.

This might be a conspiracy theory too far, but maybe not. If RM had the information that Russia was going to get the World Cup, which there is every likelihood that the did, he could happily release the corruption story a couple of weeks before Zurich knowing that it wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. Dave would only find out the real truth after the event. Rupie will have made his point and Dave will have understood – only too well.

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Where’s The Big Idea?

David Cameron has just promised that he will pursue a ‘forensic and relentless’ approach for future growth…that over the course of this Parliament – and the next – he believes he can transform our fortunes. That’s absolutely great Dave, but what about now? Have we got to get into the hole before we can get out of it?

What is depressing is that there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near the same effort and focus being put into a plan for growth as there was on last week’s cuts. That can’t be right. If we’re going to have any chance of avoiding a double-dip recession and not making a bad situation worse, we need some big ideas, and in very short order.

Edward Prescott, the economist and Nobel prize winner observed that ‘to spend is to tax, to tax is to depress’. Without a serious plan to boost the economy, George Osborne’s tax increases and spending cuts are going to snuff out any signs of recovery. They’re going to lead to an increase in government debt because tax revenues are going to plummet. Things will get worse, not better. Without a plan to boost growth we are up a creek without a paddle.

What about another dose of quantitative easing? QE is meant to free up more money so that it can be lent to consumers and businesses at favourable rates. All good stuff, but so far banks and institutions have put the money in their pockets and raised two fingers to the rest of us. More QE would probably have the same effect.

So what’s the answer? The answer in the short-term has to be to boost confidence. How? By putting a huge amount of energy into a plan for growth. Much, much more than was put into the plan for cuts. If people can be reassured that there is a strong tonic to overcome the effects of the medicine, then there is every chance that confidence can be kept high and government revenues can be maintained. Then we need some very, very big ideas for future growth. There was no evidence of them today. Rupert Murdoch said last week that we are a nation of small thinkers. Isn’t it time to prove him wrong?

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Murdoch in The First Degree?

At the inaugural Margaret Thatcher lecture last night, guest speaker Rupert Murdoch did his best to come across as a ‘reasonable’ man. By all accounts he succeeded – at least according to the Thatcher tifosi interviewed on the Today programme this morning.

Reasonable…could this really be the man who in a few weeks time – if he gets his way – will have more than half Britain’s newspaper and TV revenues in his grasp? Should we be worried, after all he’s done so much for us -according to the tifosi?

Actually, we do have quite a lot to thank RM for. He was the man who faced down the loony Fleet Street print unions who were stuffing their pockets and stuffing the newspaper industry at the same time. He turfed out the feckless Fleet Street management who had failed to manage and revitalised some of our best love titles.

RM was also responsible for pulling back the curtain on the British Establishment which for years had deftly avoided the glare of the spotlight. He did it to sell newspapers, but he did us a great favour too.

Things have moved on a lot since then. Last night he criticised us Brits for being ‘small thinkers’, presumably to contrast his talent for thinking big. A little unfair perhaps, the world is not big enough for too many RM’s: and as if to make us feel guilty, he accused us of thinking of him as an upstart, which sounded a bit like a familiar Aussie carp. No, we don’t think of you as an upstart at all, we think of you as a bully, a bully who likes to get his way.

Although he is arguably one of the most powerful men in the world, this is not the time to be taken in by the ‘reasonable’ RM or be intimidated by him either. Last night was a carefully choreographed event by those in his pay and under his influence, to help pave the way for his purchase of the remaining BSkyB shares. We should not be fooled. The plurality of the British media is at stake.

Isn’t it time we mounted a counter attack?  Shouldn’t we be demanding a reduction in his current share of the British media? Shouldn’t we insist that there should be a total ban on cross-media ownership?

With a placeman on the staff at Number 10 and a coalition desperate for a good press, he is starting to turn the screw. Let’s hope David Cameron has the balls to face him down and that he doesn’t turn out to be the Murdoch lickspittle many believe him to be.

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David Cameron and News International

Strange how all News International titles from the Sun to The Times gave a unanimous thumbs up to the Tory party conference – and there was scarcely a harsh word to be seen about the child benefit cock-up. Andy ‘not me guv’ Coulson had obviously been doing his stuff – with a little help from the Wizard of Oz.

It will be interesting to see the reaction of the Murdoch mouthpieces when the cuts are announced in a couple of week’s time. Murdoch wants to be allowed to obtain the remaining 60% of the BSkyB shares, so it’s a fair bet that the instruction has gone out to pull the punches on the cuts. All Dave has to do is to clear the way for Murdoch to get his hands on the 60%.

If Rupert Murdoch is allowed to obtain the remaining shares in BSkyB, within less than ten years he will control half Britain’s television revenues and half the newspaper revenues. This will be the largest concentration of media power in any democracy. It couldn’t happen anywhere else. One has to wonder what sweeteners and threats have been used to persuade our politicians to allow this to happen. Is it plain stupidity or corruption? What do you think?

The question is whether our politicians – and particularly David Cameron – are prepared to stand up to Rupert Murdoch? If we are to retrieve the plurality of our media, the Communications Act needs to be amended, and quickly. The number of titles owned by any one person or organisation must be limited to no more than two, and cross media ownership should be forbidden.

So, what’s Cameron likely to do, chop Murdoch off at the knees and amend the Communications Act or condemn us to forever being under the malign influence of News International?

Rupert Murdoch is a smart cookie. Right now he’s like a fox in a hen house. He’s got a naive, wet behind the ears Prime Minister and a placeman in No10. He probably thinks he can’t lose, and he may well be right.

We are about to see what David Cameron is really made of. If he fails to do anything about News International he will have betrayed his country. If he has the courage to kick placeman Coulson through the door, then he might have seen the light. Don’t hold your breath.

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