Johnson and Coulson

Two big resignations this week – Alan Johnson and Andy Coulson. What will be the impact? The immediate one will be virtually nil. People watching the Westminister bubble tend to consistently over-estimate the impact of comparatively minor gaffes and scandals, the public’s awareness of the stories or even the existance of the people involved. The important impacts are the long term ones.

Taking Coulson first, it is unlikely to change people’s perception of the government, Cameron or the coalition. It fact, it really won’t have an impact on public opinion at all – most people making a fuss will be those with a negative opinion to start with. However, it does rob David Cameron of a close and valued advisor (and indeed, the figure in his inner circle with the least privileged, most “normal” background) – if there is an long term impact from Coulson’s resignation, this will be it.

Secondly there is Alan Johnson – here there are more obvious impacts on public opinion. The circumstances around Johnson’s resignation itself are not – it seems Johnson himself is blameless, and even if he weren’t, it would again be tomorrow’s chip paper with four years to go. Rather the question is what Labour have lost in the departure of Alan Johnson, and what the prospects are for Ed Balls.

Johnson had made some gaffes in recent days but these wouldn’t necessarily have been noticed by ordinary people. Johnson was seen comparatively positively by the public – in December 34% saw him as an asset for the Labour party and only 20% a liability, giving him a better rating than any other senior Labour figure. Despite being seen by political commentators as perhaps not up to the role, the public didn’t have him far behind George Osborne as best Chancellor (25% Osborne, 21% Johnson) – though that may be just as much about poor perceptions of Osborne. In short, Alan Johnson is a loss for Labour.

That brings us to Ed Balls. Here things are more balanced. The positives are quite clear – Ed Balls is a combatitive and capable politician with a solid economic background, who will no doubt do a very good job in attacking George Osborne and the government’s economic policy. The downsides are trickier – polls suggest Balls is not seen very positively. 28% of people see him as an asset for Labour, but 32% see him as a liability, significantly more than the man he replaces (though not the man he is going to shadow, who the same figures suggest is seen by the public as a comparatively weak link on the Tory front bench)

More significantly though will be the impact upon how Labour are seen and upon their future strategy. Balls is seen as extremely close to Gordon Brown, and as being opposed to the need for cuts (or at least, this is how the media currently see him and how the Conservatives will attempt to paint him)

On New Year’s Eve I wrote a round up piece on the challenges facing Labour – essentially looking at the underlying weaknesses that Miliband needed to take the opportunity of a poll lead to address. I won’t repeat too much of it here, but will just pick out a couple of poll findings I cited back then, taken from a poll in September 2010, which reflect the sort of image problems facing Labour. Back then 69% agreed that “Labour need to make major changes to their policies and beliefs to be fit for government again”, 60% agreed “Labour still haven’t faced up to the damage they did to the British economy”, 47% thought that “If Labour returned to government they would put the country into even more debt”.

We asked it again earlier this month to see if Ed Miliband had made any difference to negative perceptions of the Labour party yet. The answer is not much – 65% still think Labour need to make major changes to their policies (including 45% of Labour voters!), 58% still think Labour haven’t faced up to the damage they did to the economy, 47% still think they would put the country back into debt were they to return to government.

Labour have a good lead in the polls and my expectation is that it will get bigger in the coming months, Ed Miliband has the strategic choice of whether to gamble on the coalition remaining unpopular and just hammering away at the cuts and reaping the rewards of opposing them, or using the luxury of a poll lead to reposition Labour to a more opportune position should the economy improve and the cuts not be a disaster. Conservatives pleased with the appointment of Balls seem to be working on the assumption that the appointment of Ed Balls signifies Miliband is going down the first route, though we shall see.


184 Responses to “Johnson and Coulson”

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  1. Neil A

    Perhaps my views are too influenced by the tight network of politics/business/police/crime in the West of Scotland (and my Glasgow police inspector father-in-law would be equally guilty of that).

    You are no doubt right, and “not asking questions” is restricted to this part of the world. Mind you, that seems inherently unlikely!

  2. I don’t think Cameron will ever be accused of knowing about the phone tapping. But the Murdoch share buying and the squeeze on the BBC start to look like something else, and the cozy drinks with Rebekah Brookes too.

    Appearance is important.

    HOWEVER it may well be true to the average punter Murdoch and Sky ain’t “bad guys”. But I think the average punter likes the BBC, just as they like the NHS and Royal Mail. All of which are being chopped back or privatised.

  3. @ Old Nat

    Two things:

    1. “Would that you were right – but Brown was just as much the architect of New Labour as Blair was.”

    I never understood why Brown and Blair were considered from different wings of the party. I always saw them as the same ideologically. They have very different personalities but I thought attributing different wings of the party to them was kinda superficial.

    2. “Unless you knew the burglar had damaging information about you.

    It’s difficult to see why the police on both sides of the border are so earnest in pursuing the interests of the Murdoch press, and so remiss in investigating possible offences by them.”

    You don’t suppose that Andy Coulson is some distant relative of Chuck Colson? I know they spell their names differently but maybe Andy’s family just spells it in the proper British way.

  4. Neil A

    I’m not normally a conspiracy theorist myself, but remember that most of the classic conspiracies have developed from cover-ups of the more usual c*ck-ups. In this case we’re seeing the classic slow unravelling of the attempt to pretend that all normal conventions of responsibility somehow get overlooked at News international.

    It’s also true that most conspiracies that operate in the real world are conspiracies of interest. Nobody sits round a conference table in an extinct volcano going “seven of us together control the world in secret”. Instead various groups of people operate together in ways that they feel might technically be illegal, but everyone does it, so it doesn’t really matter, does it? And it’s in no one’s interest to change it.

    I think there has been this sort of conspiracy of interests between the upper reaches of the Press, the Met and to some extent politicians (especially when in government) for a long time. A sort of unwritten agreement not to go to hard on each other. It’s reinforced by a mutual feeling of apartness – the Westminster bubble again – and a belief that it’s such a hard job running the country that everyone else ought to cut them some slack and make doing their job a bit easier.

    You will notice that the self-same, self-regarding attitude infects those in the City. And the better they get rewarded and less control on them there is, the more self-righteous they become and the more convinced of their own virtue.

  5. SoCalLiberal

    “You don’t suppose that Andy Coulson is some distant relative of Chuck Colson?”

    Wicked – and very funny!!!

  6. @Socialliberal – “… in order to gain poilitical advantage from it.”

    I read a comment recently along the lines of: the best sort of advantage is when you can smile, look someone in the eye, and they go away worrying about what it is that you might know about them.

  7. The Independent:

    What this saga reveals is the ominously dominant position of Rupert Murdoch’s News International media empire in our national life. An iron triangle consisting of Downing Street, News International (owner of the News of the World) and the Metropolitan Police attempted to rubbish this investigation and tried to sweep wrongdoing under the carpet. Yesterday’s resignation must be the start of accountability, not the end.

  8. @OldNat, Roger Mexico

    I think (hopefully) that the culture of accountability in the police – sometimes understandably derided as “excessive red tape” – has put an end to some of the systemic problems you describe. I also think they are less knotty in places with a little more political heterogeneity than Western Scotland.

    I don’t doubt that when it comes to the making of policy, the use of rhetoric and the conclusions of reviews etc there is a bit of a cosy circle of interest at the top. But in this case we’d have to be talking about actual covering up of evidence. That is a hard thing to do “top down” in the modern police service. The Met in particular, after dozens of bad experiences, has very detailed and exacting reporting standards that are a little hard to get round.

    Perhaps a corrupt senior officer could short-circuit the system by dealing with everything himself, but real policing is not like Inspector Morse. If the boss started interviewing suspects, interviewing witnesses and searching crime-scenes himself that alone would draw massive suspicion.

    I still think that what has happened is that everyone concerned, whilst willing to talk to the Guardian off-the-record etc, has told the police they knew nothing about it. Goodman and Mulcaire have probably decided to keep shtum about what they know. None of the documents found have provided evidence of Coulson’s involvement (which you wouldn’t expect them to, frankly, guilty or innocent – only the Nazis kept pristine records of their dodgy dealings). There may be a general assumption that Coulson would have known, just like there is a general assumption that rock stars take drugs and sleep with underage groupies, but no actual factual basis to pin it on.

    @SoCalLiberal,

    The police in the UK generally avoid the word “suspect”, instead calling people “Persons of Interest”. But in this case we have a yardstick to judge it by. When the police interviewed Coulson they specifically did so “as a witness” and “not under caution”. We have a law called the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that states that if a police officer “has grounds to suspect someone of an offence” and wishes to question them about that offence then they must be “cautioned” (I believe you call it “Mirandised” or something). It can therefore be deduced that whoever made the policy decision to have him interviewed (and trust me, that decision will be copiously recorded and justified in Policy Books and other documents) felt that there were no grounds for suspecting him of committing an offence. That’s all I base my observation on. If there were indeed such grounds to suspect him and the officer concerned chose to pretend that there weren’t then clearly that is wrong. But it should be fairly easy to establish that from the material held by the police, so the truth will out eventually. And the officer concerned would be well aware of that.

  9. NickP

    While the Independent commentary resonates, the sad thing about the UK is that it would be equally true whether either of the main UK parties was in power (clones actually do share characteristics!)

  10. Neil A

    “I still think that what has happened is that everyone concerned, whilst willing to talk to the Guardian off-the-record etc, has told the police they knew nothing about it.”

    Isn’t it good that when you are investigating criminals they tell the police everything they know? That must save you so much work, knowing that criminals are honest. Wouldn’t it be a good thing if the police probed a little bit deeper when journalists/politicians tell them something – or do the police (uniquely) think that journalists/politicians are as honest as criminals?

  11. Neil A

    I take your point about the paper trail that should be created in even the mostly rudimentary actions. No doubt this is the police ‘red tape’ that politicians always seem so keen to get rid of. I think that in this case the argument isn’t that the paper trail didn’t exist or was destroyed. it’s that the evidence was buried in the vaults in the Met and ignored. That’s why the CPS has been asking to look at it. Similarly when requests to reopen aspects of the case occurred, witnesses who should have been interviewed or re-interviewed were not contacted.

    What strikes me about the whole affair is the financial aspect. News International relied on paying off those who threatened to sue them, so the information did not come out in Court. Because those payments were generous (didn’t Max Clifford get £1 million?) and it now appears the victims were in the thousands, we’re suddenly talking a lot of money, never mind all the other implications.

    [I wrote this before I read your reply at 12:36, but I might as well put it up anyway]

  12. A Gallup poll has found that Gasoline is the third biggest drain on his poll ratings…

    SoCalLib, Is this true do you think?

  13. *SCL

    (Obama of course)

  14. @ Billy Bob

    “I read a comment recently along the lines of: the best sort of advantage is when you can smile, look someone in the eye, and they go away worrying about what it is that you might know about them.”

    Perhaps. But sometimes people aren’t aware of what you know or don’t know and thus spying on people isn’t effective as a political advantage.

    @ Old Nat

    “Wicked – and very funny!!!”

    Thanks, I try. :)

  15. Blair “regrets loss of life”.

    So was he stupid or ignorant when pushing for war?

    You would have to be a really blind partisan party supporter (or a neo-con) to swallow that concept of regret.

  16. @ The Green Benches

    “A Gallup poll has found that Gasoline is the third biggest drain on his poll ratings…

    SoCalLib, Is this true do you think?”

    It would not surprise me. I think it is true. Americans often base their approval of the president based upon how they personally feel they are doing economically. Obviously, that’s not everyone. And obviously there are exceptions to this rule. But high gas prices reduce the amount of spending cash one has and most people are car dependent for transporation and so high gas prices are definitely a drag on Obama’s approval rating.

  17. SCL,

    Ta :)

  18. @ Old Nat

    “Perhaps my views are too influenced by the tight network of politics/business/police/crime in the West of Scotland (and my Glasgow police inspector father-in-law would be equally guilty of that).”

    Our own personal experiences will always impact us. My dad was a cop and so I’ve always tended to look more favorably towards police officers (though I’m not blind to patterns of racism and brutality….well not anymore).

  19. OldN

    Aint they both the same thing?

  20. @Socaliberal – There could be some political advantage, if dozens or hundreds of people in public life and politics have had their privacy compromised.

  21. @ The Green Benches

    I think gas prices have been a drag on most U.S. presidents. High gas prices helped bring down Carter. Of course, it’s kinda silly since presidents rarely can control the price of gas. And Americans pay far less than Europeans do for gas.

    Richard Nixon, as evil and nasty as he was, maintained very high approval ratings throughout his term as president until the Watergate scandal broke. That was because the economy was doing generally well and despite Nixon’s personal behavior and the Vietnam War, people cared about their pocketbooks far more. Only once Nixon’s criminality was exposed did his approval ratings plummet.

  22. @ Old Nat

    “So was he stupid or ignorant when pushing for war?

    You would have to be a really blind partisan party supporter (or a neo-con) to swallow that concept of regret.”

    I don’t know what Tony Blair was thinking when he decided to push for the Iraq War. It’s still disappointing to think about.

    @ Billy Bob

    “There could be some political advantage, if dozens or hundreds of people in public life and politics have had their privacy compromised.”

    Yeah, you’re probably right. Beyond all the criminal violations, it’s beyond slimy for news media officials to engage in that sort of behavior.

  23. @ Old Nat

    “Blair “regrets loss of life”.

    So was he stupid or ignorant when pushing for war?

    You would have to be a really blind partisan party supporter (or a neo-con) to swallow that concept of regret.”

    It’s basically a way of saying “I was right” without saying so outright.

    The thing about neo-cons is that they generally tend to be ignorant of history, politics, or even common sense. Yet if you talk to one of them or deal with one of them, they know far more than you do, are far smarter than you are, and accuse you of being naive to the realities of the world.

    I honestly don’t get Blair. In so many areas of his politics, I really like, respect, and admire the guy. But with Iraq, I’m at a total loss. Like, what on earth was he thinking?

  24. @ Neil A

    “The police in the UK generally avoid the word “suspect”, instead calling people “Persons of Interest”. But in this case we have a yardstick to judge it by. When the police interviewed Coulson they specifically did so “as a witness” and “not under caution”. We have a law called the Police and Criminal Evidence Act that states that if a police officer “has grounds to suspect someone of an offence” and wishes to question them about that offence then they must be “cautioned” (I believe you call it “Mirandised” or something). It can therefore be deduced that whoever made the policy decision to have him interviewed (and trust me, that decision will be copiously recorded and justified in Policy Books and other documents) felt that there were no grounds for suspecting him of committing an offence. That’s all I base my observation on. If there were indeed such grounds to suspect him and the officer concerned chose to pretend that there weren’t then clearly that is wrong. But it should be fairly easy to establish that from the material held by the police, so the truth will out eventually. And the officer concerned would be well aware of that.”

    Thank you for clarifying. In the U.S., a term “person of interest” denotes someone who is not neccessarily a suspect. I like the law you guys have, it actually makes more sense than ours. Yes, the term we use is to “Mirandize.” Police don’t have to Mirandize someone just because they suspect the person of the crime they’re interviewing. Instead, someone only has to be Mirandized if they’re actually in custody or its functional equivalent (and, of course, are being interrogated about the crime by police officers). There is no inquiry into officer intent. So if police question someone, the inquiry as to whether the person interviewed should be Mirandized is whether the person being questioned by the police would reasonably believe themselves not free to leave.

  25. @SoCalLiberal,

    It sounds like our laws are a little more overarching. Technically we have discretion over whether we arrest someone, and should “interview under caution” (ie voluntarily) if arrest isn’t strictly necessary. In practice the culture is to arrest in almost all circumstances, however.

    The wording of the power of arrest is slightly different from the requirement to caution.

    If you have Grounds to Suspect then you have to caution someone. So if you’ve just had a traffic accident for example, the police officer might caution you before asking you for your explanation of what happened (if from the layout of the scene, skidmarks etc he suspects that you may have committed a driving offence).

    But you can only arrest if you have Reasonable Grounds to Suspect.

    Therefore there are circumstances where the police might have one and not the other, and interview someone under caution where an arrest isn’t justified. However in over 20 years in the job I have never once heard a meaningful explanation of what “Grounds to Suspect”, “Reasonable Grounds to Suspect” and the difference between the two actually amounts to.

    What I do know if that Coulson wasn’t arrested or cautioned and therefore technically wasn’t suspected of an offence.

  26. @Valerie – “I imagine editors of the N of W to be guilty of many things. But laxness? Surely he wouldnt have lasted in the job 5 minutes!”

    That is the central point, albeit providing only circumstancial evidence. As editors have to protect their owners from legal action, they must be absolutely certain that their stories hold up to scrutiny.

    @Neil A – you’re focussing on Coulson in your hypothetical examples, but this misses the point. It’s about News International, and a culture of phone hacking throughout the paper that the organisation (and Coulson) has attempted to deny.

    Interestingly the BBC R4 report this morning suggests that the Met might have used a legal nicety to mislead people by saying ‘they had no new evidence’ etc. The evidence wasn’t new – they had it all along but had chosen not to investigate.

    They also report a substantial number of other individuals have instructed a solicitor to begin legal proceedings on phone hacking against other none NI newspapers.

    This probably explains why there are no tabloid front page stories on the phone hacking scandal. Remember this next time a tabloid editor tries to tell us that they serve a key democratic function in exposing deceit and wrongdoing.

  27. I’m not one of those lefties who think the police are routinely dishonest, brutal or any sort of -ist. I know too many personally who are certainly not any of those.

    But I do think they should be held to account.

    If it is true that the officer in charge of investigating this effectively limited the investigation AND THEN went to work for News International, it certainly bears investigation. And if there are clear lines of enquiry (such as named journalists as well as phone tapping targets) at the very least the question why no investigation should be asked.

    But in the larger scheme, will it play much on the Clapham Omnibus? It really depends whether it continues to unfold.

  28. By the way, it could also prove problematic if Coulson goes back into the NI fold.

    Difficult to see how he can go into any comms job currently.

  29. On the BBC they have just been discussing Coulson’s replacement. They say they need somebody with the “common touch” to see things the Bullingdon Boys can’t.

    But the barely hinted at “elephant in the room” is Murdoch. They can’t replace Coulson with another Murdoch man. So…has all this reduced Murdoch’s influence on the Government?

    Or is all that a load of old hogwash and Coulson is his own man?

    I wonder where he’ll appear next?

  30. I don’t know… I go to the US for a couple of days & come back to find I’ve missed all the excitement.

    Regarding Alan Johnson – Ed Miliband never really wanted AJ as (shadow) chancellor, IMO. And about a week ago, I was writing that Ed M would replace him with either Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper as soon as possible. I said this would happen at the 2 year point if not before. Well, Ed M got his opportunity sooner than we expected & got himself the chancellor that many in the Labour Party wanted.

    This change will be good for Labour & good for Ed M.
    Our team may stutter & stammer due to speech impediments but there will be no stuttering in the polls. Labour 5 points ahead & rising.
    8-)

  31. Paul Goodman in the Guardian:

    “But who – talking of balance – will replace him? In particular, who’ll act as the prime minister’s ambassador to Murdoch?”

    Can we really be accepting that our PM needs an ambassador to this Media power-broker?

    Who elected him?

  32. @ NickP

    [Andy Coulson], I wonder where he’ll appear next?
    —————————————
    In court? ;-)

  33. Amber

    Maybe he’ll disappear altogether.

  34. Welcome back Amber.

    You should go away more often ;-)

  35. YouGov poll finds 84% of British public agree that woods and forests should be kept in public ownership for future generations…

  36. The Today programme feature (in its prime 8:10 slot) was very good and it picked up on the most extraordinary aspect of this – the slowness with which it been dragged out.

    I checked back over my comments on UKPR about Coulson and realised I kept on saying the same things every time the topic came up since May. (Think of the time I could have saved cutting and pasting!) It shows not just how foolish and arrogant Coulson’s appointment appeared from the start, it also shows how little the situation changed if I could be so repetitive.

    As they would say in Northern Ireland, even the dogs in the street knew all the facts. Yet it has taken nearly five years and lots of courts cases just to get this far. If it is in the interest of the press, police and politicians to keep things quiet, then it seems they are very effective about it.

    This may be what is the interest for the ordinary voter. The evidence in front of them (and more damningly not in front of them) of high-level collusion. The MPs expenses scandal was less about wasting money than about revealing the attitudes that politicians had towards their job. In the same way this may make people even more cynical about the media.

  37. @Greenbeches,
    Re your post on the forests,I posted on this a couple of weeks ago.My husband works in arboriculture and believe
    me people feel very strongly about trees and woodlands.I
    think the goverment will have a huge fight on their hands here.

  38. Given that the further unfolding of the Coulson affair is not now so directly related to party politics and polling issues I intend to generally refrain from posting on the issue on this forum, but I will leave a few predictions for the future fall out from this.

    I suspect we will see very senior NOTW executives lose their jobs, and I think there is a reasonable to good prospect that we will see some of them go to prison in due course. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see James Murdoch stripped of his responsibilities either.

    The scale of damages likely to be paid by NOTW will be staggering and I wouldn’t be surprised if it jeopardises the finances of the business.

    I expect a number of senior Met police officers to be reprimanded and a major shake up of police and press relations to take place.

    Other media organisations are about to start to feel the heat also. The net result of this could extend to major reforms of how the British press operate, but for now it’s the lawyers that will be very happy.

    On a more positive note, I think it’s hats off the the Guardian. Alone amongst the press they have pursued this story with great journalistic integrity and dogged determination. Sometimes I find the Guardian strays into the slightly hysterical doom mongering, but on this story they deserve all the plaudits they get (although I very much doubt that they will get any press awards for this).

    First we had the Telegraph with expenses and now the Guardian on phone hacking. Despite the daily diet of lies and rubbish from parts of the British press, there are still some areas of journalism where we are getting some value.

  39. @SocalLiberal

    “To answer your question, yeah kinda. I think that part of the fun of politics is the spinning, the slogans, the messaging. On the other hand, there is a point when it all goes too far and everyone is looking for some sort of edge they can find out of seemingly nothing at all.”

    I take your point about the inherent fun of party political point scoring, especially if the party I adhere to has scored the point, but it is essentially trivial by nature and, if endlessly repeated, deeply dispiriting and, for the majority of the public who aren’t blindly loyal party tribalists, ultimately alienating.

    The Coulson affair is not unimportant, especially if it is revealed that Cameron knew of his involvement in criminality whilst editor of the NOW, but it’s far more likely that, even if Coulson was culpable of condoning criminal behaviour by his reporters, he probably fooled Cameron into believing that he wasn’t. I suspect Cameron, so enthused by Coulson’s media manipulation skills, opted to believe the best of his man, and put him to work on his party’s behalf. We can now see it was an unwise appointment, but to inflate it into anything much more than that, as and until we know differently, is to take conspiracy theory to absurd proportions. I can see that those who must believe the worst of Cameron and his party, and anybody who reads my posts know I’m no admirer or supporter of either, will want to conflate it all with proof of Cameron’s venality and his party’s corrupt association with NI and Murdoch, but at first sight it all sounds more cock-up than conspiracy to me. If it points to Cameron’s poor judgement and naivete in appointing Coulson in the first place, then these weaknesses will manifest themselves again and ultimately undermine his Premiership. Then, as in all democracies, we’ll get the opportunity to get rid of him and his government as and when the time arises; probably at a time when the memory of the Coulson affair amounts to Andy Who??

    My other concern with the current tenor of the political debate is much closer to my heart and that is the mistake that I think Labour is making as an opposition at the moment. Maybe I’ll be proved hopelessly wrong, but I don’t think the soundbites and mantras emanating from most of the party spokesmen and spokeswomen sounds either convincing or persuasive, To me, it all sounds like something horribly cooked up in a spin doctor’s laboratory; arid, repetitive and uninspring. “Too fast, too deep” and”more broken promises” from people “who can’t be trusted on the NHS” are essentially empty soundbites that might secure 10 second slots on TV news bulletins and headlines in tabloids, but they add nothing to the intellectual case that needs to be prosecuted against this current coalition government.

    You see, my growing despair is this. There is a historic opportunity now emerging, with the centre-left of British politics almost totally vacated by all but Labour. What a chance to make the case for a truly mixed economy, a fairier tax system, a more equal society, a more internationalist foreign policy, a greener economic policy, an education system that enhances the life chances of all not the few, a freer and less monopolised press ownership…the list goes on. This needs inspired and original leadership, the resurrection of what Wilson always said was the essence and purpose of Labour; a crusade for a fairer and more equal Britain. Now, I know that this crusade takes time and thought to develop and articulate, and it’s early days in Miliband’s leadership, but I see no encouraging evidence yet that he isn’t just positioning Labour as a sort of slightly more benign version of Tory managerialism. Maybe, I’m impatient, and it will come with time, but I find it all a bit depressing at the moment.

  40. @Greenbenches and Ann (in Wales)

    I’ve been following this story as well. It’s one of those issues that has very little real impact on the deficit, which is the primary reason for the sell off, but could effectively politicise large numbers of people.

    I can’t see where the logic for the sell off comes from, in that it is difficult to see how private companies can make money from buying state owned woodland unless thay are allowed to either buy cheaply or operate forests on a more commercial basis – meaning less interest in conservation and public access.

    The price of wood fuel is rocketing, which means there is a strong market for standing forest crops, but commercial exploitation (especially of hardwood forests) will be seriously antagonistic to campaigners.

    It fits neatly with reports today that Gus O’Donnell has odered an enquiry into the Localism Bill over fears it will reduce accountability by shifting responsibility from ministers to private and charitable enterprises taking over government functions.

    The information commissioner has also expressed his concern that the big society could mean vast swathes of current government functions (including healthcare) will be outside the Freedom of Information act. Again, it seems clear that little thought has gone into these reforms other than reading a book by Phillip Blonde.

  41. @Crossbat11 – agree with your last post in general, but you might have been interested in Ed M’s speech to the fabians last weekend. It was generally seen as a thoughtful and carefully laid out response to the need for Labour to develop a new consensus and attracted considerable positive comment from left and right commentators alike.

    I was pleased with it, less for the specific content but. like you, I am always looking for a more meaningful political dialogue, and Ed seemed to be moving towards something significantly more intelligent than the standard day to day ya boo stuff.

  42. ‘THEGREENBENCHES
    YouGov poll finds 84% of British public agree that woods and forests should be kept in public ownership for future generations…’

    but how much do they care? Another 10% on tax? Cross the street to save them? Of course they care about trees/ woods and happy for them to stay in the same management (as all British people oppose change on principle). It’s the importance of the depth of the feeling which matters… I just dont see trees as a major issue trees, yes, who owned by, who cares?

  43. Its not just the trees, its the freedom to walk, cycle, ride, picnic, take dogs, watch birds, enjoy the wildflowers and, yes, admire the trees, in generally farmed landscapes where we are otherwise restricted to roads and footpaths. A lot of people care enormously.

  44. The problem with Coulson was that he failed at his job of winning the Tories a majority.
    Saw George Galloway on Question Time on Thursday – whatever you think of his politics he has to be respected as a heavy hitter. Caroline Spelman was on the same program and she got trashed over her ignorance of basic economics. .

  45. YouGov have obviously been cleaning out their polling attic again, because another old poll has appeared, this time from just before Christmas:

    ht tp://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/YG-Archives-Pol-YouGov-AssetLiability-210111.pdf

    It asked if various leading Labour and Tory politicians are assets or liabilities for their own Parties. It’s a reminder of the low priority of politics in most people’s lives that for most of those asked about, the most common response was “don’t know”.

    Nevertheless there is some interesting information on public perception of many of the main players – even though it’s a month old.

    On the Labour side Alan Johnson was the the big favourite with a rating of +14 – even Tory voters give him +4. He was particularly popular with men, Londoners and Midlanders. That said 46% of the population still had no opinion of him. Andy Burnham also had a positive score though he was both less well-known and popular than Johnson. Ironically both these working-class heroes had comparatively worse ratings in the worse-off groups than any other Labour name.

    Miliband scored evens, but is more popular among Labour voters than any other politician; as has been noted before it’s the negative rating among die-hard Tories that drags him down. Harman is the most unpopular, but maybe suffers from the wording of the question. Possibly even those who personally like her will think she is a ‘liability’ for the endless attacks she has received in most of the press.

    Balls has a small negative rating, but second highest net approval among Labour voters. Like Miliband a high negative rating from committed Tories makes things look worse than they are. Outside of that there is potential in the large numbers of don’t knows. Cooper’s profile is similar but with an even higher number of those with no opinion.

    For the Tories, Cameron is most popular, helped by near unanimous support from current Tory voters. Hague is almost as popular, though less so with women. Both Osborne and Gove are unpopular (though Gove is much less known) and both have negative ratings from Lib Dems.

    The remaining two, Clarke and May, have intermediate ratings, though Clarke managed to be more popular with Lib Dems that he is with Tories.

  46. Sorry for those who replied to the forestry poll, I will comment on it in a bit. I was very busy.

  47. There have been 7 polls on the Holyrood election since the Westminster General Election. MORI have completed 2 as have YG, whilst TNS-BMRB has completed three. The three companies differ on the gap between Labour and the SNP vote. Let’s take the constituency vote for example. On average the three pollsters have Labour leading the SNP by 10.1%. That is mostly fuelled by TNS who have the gap between Labour and SNP at a whopping 14%. The traditional pollsters MORI and YG have the gap much smaller than that. YG have the gap at just 8%, whilst MORI have the gap at just 6.5%. It is almost impossible to speculate which company may be correct. I like to find agreement in polls where possible, and there is some of it. All three agree that the LDs are sitting at just under 10% in the Constituency vote polls. Unfortunately, there is some disagreement on the blue vote, YG have blues averaging 15%. While TNS have blues averaging 11.3%. Anthony Wells has commented that there is likely to be limited if any weighting applied to the TNS polls. I guess this would make the average psephologist shirk at placing too much value in a TNS vote. My own advice is to treat all of the Scottish polling with caution until it picks up in frequency, and gets closer to the election. The SNP will increase their share of the vote from 2007 and as the incumbent party that will be some achievement. At this stage it appears that reds will drastically increase their share but quite possibly not by enough to gain an outright majority. That leaves SNP with a headache as to whether to try and establish a rainbow coalition with blue & yellow or allow reds to govern in a minority government. The former suggestion might be a bridge too far for the SNP’s grassroots and would cause a stir within their MSPs, so my money at this stage would be on the latter. If this election turns into a personality clash, then Salmond might well win it comfortably. In truth, however, voters are more likely to take the opportunity to send a message to Westminster as to what they think of blue yellow fiscal policy. A word to Labour Party activists campaigning in Scotland might be to keep one eye on MORI polling because if it turns out the be correct, this could well be a very close election.

  48. @ Crossbat

    The debate is being held inside Labour (& I agree with Alec that Ed M’s Fabian speech is a good start).

    The wider public look for competency in government, which inevitably leads to a managerial approach from a savvy opposition. The surest way to shift the incumbents is to convince voters that the government is incompetent.

    And it was widely agreed that the worst thing Labour could do in opposition was embark on a protracted period of intellectual debate regarding Labour’s vision (aka navel gazing while Britain burns).

    This is disappointing for those of us who would have welcomed a public debate about Labour’s ideology & mission but the polls appear to show that Labour are pursuing the correct strategy.
    8-)

  49. Moving Yvette from FO to Home Office/ Equality – a more exact shadowing of Theresa May’s role in government – is another good move by Ed M in his mini-shuffle.

    This should increase Yvette’s visibility & I think this could help Labour win a bigger proportion of the female vote.
    8-)

  50. @Jack – “but how much do they care?”

    A good deal, I would say. Inflation, phone hacking and unemployment (for most people) are relatively abstract constructs. Walking in your local wood is a part of real life that thousands of people care about.

    This is why I think the policy is a risk. It potentially affects millions of people very directly for virtually no financial gain for deficit reduction (c £100m is the figure I have heard – a tiny one off income).

    Quite amusingly, the numbers of people already signing local campaign petitions is startling – it’s the mobilising of the big society and the birth of localism.

    They’ve radicalised students, are they now radicalising Middle England?

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