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Awlaki death: US media reaction

Host | 19:02 UK time, Friday, 30 September 2011

US media have said American-born militant Anwar al-Awlaki's death is a boost for President Obama and a blow to al-Qaeda, but not every commentator is so sanguine.

The CNN Security Clearance blog, in a posting titled Rock Star No More, says Awlaki's death "deprives al Qaeda of a leading propagandist and an inspirational figure to jihadists the world over":

"I move freely in Yemen," he said in March 2010. "There is a support among my tribesmen... Even though they know they are in danger, they welcome me and greet me because they are righteous people."

No longer. We may never know whether one of these "righteous people" betrayed him or whether other intelligence finally led to his death, but al Qaeda has lost one of its principal flag-bearers.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, in a posting titled The Terrorist Notches on Obama's Belt, says the US president has been under-estimated:

The list of senior terrorists killed during the Obama presidency is fairly extensive. Remember when Rudy Giuliani warned that electing Barack Obama would mean that the US played defense, not offense, against the terrorists? If this is defense, what does offense look like?

John Solomon at the Daily Beast agrees, saying Awlaki's death is an important successfor the White House:

Coupled with Bin Laden's killing in May and the capture and killing of several al Qaeda operational leaders in Pakistan in recent months, Awlaki's death is a validation of the Obama administration's strategy of targeting high-priority terrorism leaders through drone strikes and special forces military operations with allies.

Writing for Fox News in an article titled Terrorists May Run But They Cannot Hide, KT McFarland says the US has al-Qaeda on the run:

Remember the final scene of Godfather III? when Michael Corleone takes out all his enemies all around the world, in one fell swoop, from the steps of the Sicilian opera house to a New York barbershop? Okay, maybe that's taking it too far, but we are taking out Al Qaeda senior leaders, one after another. First it was Bin Laden, now it's Al Awlaki, and countless Al Qaeda middle level managers in between... a terrorist network in disarray is a terrorist network that is vulnerable - these guys will scatter like cockroaches.

But former CIA and FBI operative Phillip Mudd, writing for the Washington Post, is more cautious, warning that al-Qaeda is not dead:

We may be right in looking at reports of the deaths of jihadist leaders overseas as representing a death knell for some of the most significant groups that have threatened America. We would be wrong, however, in confusing the demise of a few leaders or their formal groups with the death of the ideology they sought to spread or the revolution they still intend to inspire. Witness the arrests in this country and the arrests in Europe. Al-Qaedism isn't close to dead yet.

Daily View: Are Labour a viable opposition?

Clare Spencer | 09:16 UK time, Friday, 30 September 2011

Ed Miliband in the shadows in front of a Labour sign

After the Labour party conference drew to a close commentators are making their conclusions on the opposition.

Philip Collins suggests in the Times that Labour are being unrealistically idealistic, or, as he put it, dreaming of a "world run by the good fairies and angels":

"This was a magical mystery tour through a nation that has been run by people with the wrong values for decades. The fault lies not with the people of Britain, who have the right values, British values, or with the previous Labour Government, of which Mr Miliband, who has the right values, is proud. A mysterious closed circle of bad people with the wrong values (MPs, asset strippers, phone hackers and predators) have turned the country to moral ruin by erecting a system to reward their wrong values rather than the right values of the people and Mr Miliband."

While Collins thinks Miliband has made himself irrelevant, in the Telegraph Peter Oborne is much more complimentary. He says Ed Miliband has redefined the future of politics:

"The obsessive concentration on matters of overwhelming triviality has obscured the central point: that Miliband made an intellectually ambitious and admirable contribution to public debate. He sought to reshape the terms of political argument and so redefine the territory on which the general election will ultimately be fought. He has even made a tentative step towards tearing up the rules that have defined British economics for the past generation with his cautious critique of capitalism as it has been carried on here for the past 30 years. This was long overdue."

The Guardian's Martin Kettle agrees with Peter Oborne that Ed Miliband has offered an alternative, reintroducing social democracy to British politics. But he is less sure if anyone will vote for it:

"Labour's move to the left can be, and has already been, exaggerated - by friend and foe alike.
"Yet it has been a significant declaration by the party nonetheless. The coalition parties will undoubtedly respond, and not merely with abuse and caricature. Expect surprise moves that try to undermine Labour claims to ethical uniqueness.
"Electorally, the danger for Labour is that the party will have convinced itself that it has rediscovered its own sense of ethical virtue without persuading sceptical voters that it can run the economy."

The New Statesman's Medhi Hasan says now Mr Miliband has got his ideology sorted, now he needs to get the message out:

"Miliband has to improve his image - and fast. People need to see him up close and personal; he needs to get out of the conference centre and into the town hall. And he needs a new, more supportive shadow cabinet. For much of the past year, the Labour leader has been his own outrider, making a lonely case for change. He now needs his colleagues to start amplifying the arguments he made."

But Labour supporter Henry Mason isn't convinced in Political Betting. He says he could write 10,000 words on what went wrong at the Labour conference which only leaves him with one question:

"The key question is who is likely to replace him? What's clear to me after this conference is that it certainly won't be David Miliband. The only possible candidate who could unify MPs, party members and trade union members and take the fight to the Government is Yvette Cooper. The fixed term legislation buys the Labour Party time to sort this mess out. And what a mess it is."

Daily View: Why the German vote on a Greek rescue package matters

Clare Spencer | 09:36 UK time, Thursday, 29 September 2011

Euro sign


As the world waits to see if German MPs vote for a German contribution to a Greek rescue package commentators look at its significance.

The Independent's editorial is disparaging about the German public's resistance to the rescue package:

"Today's vote - on changes under which Germany's contribution to the EFSF [European Financial Stability Facility] rises from €123bn to €211bn - takes place with as many as 75 per cent of voters against it. Despite the dire predictions, it is unlikely that the German Chancellor will lose the vote altogether. What is in question is whether it will pass without relying on opposition support, an outcome that would not necessarily trigger an election but would leave Angela Merkel dangerously exposed. "Among all the inadequate responses to the crisis, perhaps the most egregious is Ms Merkel's failure to explain to her electorate that the cost of not bailing out Greece far outweighs the cost of saving it."

The Guardian's editorial says that even if German MPs do vote through the rescue package, events have moved on:

"The most frightening thing, as Mrs Merkel now concedes, is that the cash in the kitty is no longer enough. If there were an easy way to let Greece leave or Germany quit, then this would have to be considered. The reality, brought home by UBS research, is that there is not. With no legal exit route, the validity of EU treaties would suddenly be in question - and amid a deepening slump which would inflame mercantilism and so preclude renegotiation. The crisis could thus turn existential, for the European project as a whole. All sorts of wheezes are being dreamed up to delay the reckoning, such as "leveraging" support-fund monies so they can buy more bonds, a trick with unfortunate echoes of the bubble before the bust."

Similarly, Jeremy Warner says in the Telegraph that, while he supports the rescue package, it will only lead to another crisis shortly:

"Even without Germany's objections, securing agreement across the eurozone in the six weeks that international policy-makers have demanded is almost impossible.
"All the same, there's something here - something that's just about big enough to resolve the immediate crisis, and just about small enough to be politically acceptable... Europe's leaders should therefore use any breathing space that a rescue plan provides to reconstitute the euro in a more sustainable fashion - say along the lines of a north/south split. For it is plain to everyone, other than its leaders, that it cannot survive as it is."

In the Financial Times former European commissioner Mario Monti urges Germany to "do your duty and save the euro" because, he argues, changes Greece has made prove it is worth it:

"What Greece has decided and has implemented is the best signal to date that the euro as a means of structural transformation is working. To anyone with a sense of history and an appreciation of the complexity of politics it is astonishing how quickly Greek politicians and society, with its record of corruption, tax evasion, nepotism and clientelism, and its rejection of merit and competition as guiding principles, have engaged in changes that would normally have required a generation to effect.
"Germany has to reflect, ahead of today's vote, on the fundamental question at stake. While maintaining appropriate pressure on Greece, surely it is worthwhile to explain to public opinion that the euro is proving it can gradually transform economies in a way which corresponds to German inspirations and shared European values."

Finally, in the International Herald Tribune Christine Ockrent frames the eurozone crisis as a Greek tragedy, with Angela Markel at the centre:

"So let us hope for a heroine. That would be Angela Merkel. The vote in the Bundestag on Thursday will be her moment of truth. Her coalition is crumbling, her party is divided, she keeps losing local ballots, tabloids spread Europhobia and Germany's federal system encourages her propensity to endlessly test the political waters.
"Can she now ride the storm like a Valkyrie determined to save Europe? That is exactly what is expected of her."

Daily View: Verdicts on Ed Miliband's party conference speech

Clare Spencer | 08:44 UK time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011

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Political bloggers give their verdicts on Labour leader Ed Miliband's speech to the party conference.

George Eaton says in the New Statesman that Mr Miliband pinpointed Britain's woes with laser accuracy but struggled to identify solutions:

"This was a remarkably policy-light speech, with the most memorable policy - a £6,000 cap on tuition fees - one that even he accepts is imperfect. He insisted that 'it wouldn't be responsible to make promises I can't keep.' But his critics will contend that Miliband still hasn't explained what the point of Labour is when there's no money to spend."

But former Labour director of communications, Alastair Campbell, says in his blog Mr Miliband didn't need to go into detail:

"What his speech does is put out the framework of an argument that his opponents can attack and on which he can elaborate as the detailed policy positions for the next election are developed. I heard one commentator saying that he had not set out a prospectus for government. Nor did he need to. What he did was set out an argument with which he feels totally comfortable, and which he believes many people will support as it is played out across a Parliament."

Similarly Caroline Crampton suggests in Total Politics that the speech wasn't meant to make an impression:

"Heavy on personal attacks (on Fred Goodwin, on Nick Clegg, on Rupert Murdoch), the speech contained a few cleverly-crafted lines, such as the idea of standing up for 'producers not predators' on the economy and the exultant question 'how dare they say we're all in it together?' But overall, this wasn't a speech we're supposed to remember. This is a party and a leader dug in for the rest of the Parliament, determined not to blow any political capital they might have too early so that they can be in with a chance in 2015."

Despite the critics claiming the speech was policy-lite, there were some policies outlined. One was to reward good companies. In the Financial Times' Westminster blog Jim Pickard wonders how you would define what a good company is:

"Miliband and his team know what a bad company looks like. It resembles Southern Cross, or Enron, apparently. This is obvious. And they know what a good company is: it manufactures things and invests for the long term.
"But what about the majority of companies - which are in a grey area of neither 'good' nor 'bad'; or a mix of both."

Labour supporter Owen Jones says in Labour List that he was disappointed cuts won't be disputed:

"He promised a future Labour Government wouldn't spend beyond its means, hinting the myth that the deficit was caused by spending too much, rather than a collapse of tax revenues and increased welfare spending because unemployment went up. He made it clear many of the cuts won't be reversed: a challenge to the labour movement to make a future Labour Government do just that. Those looking to a coherent alternative to the age of austerity - like myself - will be disappointed."

Back on to personality politics, in the Spectator's Coffee House blog Fraser Nelson disputes the picture Mr Miliband is painting of himself:

"He wanted to bill himself as an outsider, breaking open the closed elites of Britain. I thought this was really beyond the pale. Ed has been an insider since he was in nappies, born into Labour Party aristocracy. He is the very opposite of an outsider; he's marinated in establishment politics - a textbook case of what Peter Oborne has called the 'political class'. This doesn't make him a bad person, but it disqualifies him from playing the plucky maverick. David Davis was brought up in a council house and thought his way into the Conservative Party."

Daily View: Verdicts on Ed Balls' plan for the economy

Clare Spencer | 09:37 UK time, Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Ed Balls


Political bloggers assess shadow chancellor Ed Balls' speech to the Labour party conference.

In the Spectator George Eaton gives Ed Balls' speech a thumbs up, saying "Labour's Keynesian rottweiler" gave a confident performance:

"Balls had the energy and spirit of a man who knows that he is winning the argument. With even the IMF now warning that Osborne may have to slow the pace of the cuts if growth continues to disappoint, the consensus is slowly turning against austerity. As the economic data continues to worsen, Balls will win further converts to his approach."

Another supporter is Cormac Hollingsworth who says in Left Foot Forward that Mr Balls managed to reassure the country that "while this coalition lasts things will be bad, there is a credible alternative":

"Balls telescoped through the pain of the next 4 years to the election in 2015. By then the cuts in spending will have happened and he knows that the cuts will have gone to the bone. But with no growth the deficit will still be stubbornly high, the economy will be stagnant and people will be looking for an alternative.
"By the time Labour gets back in, confidence in the economy will be so low after four years stagnation that we will need much smarter ways of lifting confidence. He answered this challenge in his commitment on spending."

However, Dave Osler argues in the blog Liberal Conspiracy that measures such as a VAT cut don't go far enough to avert the danger of a full-blown slump:

"The timidity of the left's intellectual response is shocking. The terms of debate are more or less limited to the desirability of slightly tighter financial regulation and the ringfencing of investment banking activity. There is no recognition that cyclicality is built into the system itself."

In the Spectator's Coffee House blog Jonathan Jones says Mr Balls' attacks on cuts are unfounded:

"The problem is, it's hard to claim that government cuts are hurting the economy when central government is spending more this year than last. The cuts haven't begun to have an effect yet, which means they can't be responsible for our weak growth and Ed Balls is a long way from being able to say 'I told you so' when it comes to the UK economy."

Hopi Sen complains in the Labour List blog that Ed Balls' policies are irrelevant to Labour:

"We're not in government and won't be for three or four years. When we are in government the fiscal situation will be very different, for better, or worse.
"The only thing that's certain is that we won't face the crisis we have now, but a different crisis altogether. (Even if it's a Japan style lost decade, the very fact we'll have been in it for half a decade would constrain any future Labour government). The great certainty of Ed Ball's five point plan is that it will only come to fruition in an alternate universe."

Liberal Democrat blogger Mark Pack is curious about the policies Labour has chosen to abandon:

"The two policies we've had dropped in the last couple of days aren't simply policies from the 2010 general election manifesto but rather policies Labour has been pushing since May 2010. Remember the talk about mutualising the nationalised banks? All gone, with Ed Balls's promise to sell the nationalised banks and use the money to pay off the national debt. Remember too Ed Miliband's attack on the government's tuition fee plans, saying that only an increase of a few hundred pounds was needed? All gone too, with the new policy of backing a doubling of fees."


Green Room

Mark Kinver | 15:23 UK time, Monday, 26 September 2011

This edition of Green Room looks at a number of environmental anniversaries that are being celebrated this year. It also take a peek at next year's Rio +20 summit, which aims to re-energise the global green agenda.

This year seems to a vintage year for landmark anniversaries within environmental circles.

Black-footed ferret (Image: M.Lockhart/USFWS)

For black-footed ferrets, 1981 was a very good year

Dartmoor, the UK's most south-westerly national park, is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. Since 1951, the 368 square miles of moorland, granite tors and the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the UK have been designated a National Park.

As well as valuable geological pedigree, the moors have one of the world's best examples of an ancient high-level oak woodland and internationally important blanket bogs.

As well as the hills often being shrouded in mist, the landscape is also shrouded in mystery and strange going-ons, with tales of hairy hands, headless hounds and haunted houses. The bleak landscape also inspired Arthur Conan Doyle's to write one of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, the Hound of the Baskervilles.

A number of well-known environmental campaign groups are also marking notable milestones in 2011. WWF, the conservation group, is celebrating 50 years since its formation. Half a century on from a group of scientists, business leaders and politicians setting up a group to help protect threatened species, WWF now operates in more than 100 countries and has an estimate five million members.

Greenpeace is a little younger. The NGO is 40 years old this year. It began when a group of campaigners set out from Vancouver, Canada, in September 1971 with the goal of disrupting US military nuclear tests on the Aleutian Islands, in the North Pacific. They did not complete their voyage, yet it still signalled the formation of one of the world's best known campagin groups.

Looking to a future anniversary, 2012 will see Brazil host the UN's Rio+20 summit. Twenty years on from the original Earth Summit, which many people view as the moment the world finally took environmental issues seriously, it is hoped the gathering of world leaders will offer a much-needed shot in the arm for global green policies. The summit will be focus around two main themes: green economics, and sustainable development.

Finally, three decades ago marked an important historical event - if you happen to be a black-footed ferret. For it was in 1981 that the fiesty fellows, the only native species of ferret in North America, were rediscovered. To celebrate the anniversary, the ferrets have their own website, a web cam, and you are even invited to become their facebook friend.

Daily View: What now for the Labour party?

Clare Spencer | 09:27 UK time, Monday, 26 September 2011

Political bloggers pick out the most interesting bits of the Labour party conference so far and make their predictions.

One of the first policies to come out of the conference is a call to reduce the top level of student fees to £6,000 a year. Willian Cullerne Bown says in the blog Liberal Conspiracy this is "political genius":

"By keeping the debate over tuition fees in the forefront of the political debate, he will be reminding everyone of the £9,000 figure that potential students don't like. This in turn is likely to depress applications.
"For universities, Miliband's move in the short term adds to the risk that applications and hence income may decline. It also undermines those who have been saying that universities now have a secure and stable future (John Browne, where are you?). In fact, their financing seems now to be highly vulnerable to the tossing of political storms."

But in Labour List Hopi Sen wonders if a tax on bankers would be wasted on tuition fees:

"What's much more interesting is how we're going to pay for it [reduced student fees]. We're going to take on the banks by taxing them more than the Tories would. I suspect this will be rather popular.
"However, with the economy on the edge of recession, a desperate hunger for jobs, and demand as visible as a democratically elected member of the SWP, I did wonder what made us decide that the top priority for that rare and beautiful thing - a popular tax increase - was the repayment terms for graduate loans in a decade's time? We've caught a Unicorn in a net, and we're using it to somewhat modify student debt levels in the medium term."

As part of marking the opening of the Labour conference, Ed Miliband appeared on the Andrew Marr show. In the Spectator's Coffee House blog Fraser Nelson analyses the interview and concludes that the most striking thing is, separating himself from the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, he doesn't complain about cuts:

"You don't hear him talk about Ed Balls' 'too hard, too fast' cuts, just a reference to 'the government's strategy'. Balls tells porkies, of course, and I think Miliband is a bit more honest. So he can't quite bring himself to blame cuts, given that state spending in the first year of the coalition was the highest in British history."

On the blog Conservative Home Viereck argues that Ed Miliband has two options for the Labour party:

"When a party is down there are two paths to recovery. One is to admit the truth about your own past failings and to speak the truth about the country's problems. The Labour Party have obviously decided not to go for that option; so that leaves the second path - plan B, if you like - which is to whip up a tidal wave of hype and ride it all the way. Its advantage over the first path is that intellectual honesty is not required, the disadvantage is that a charismatic leader - such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair or Barack Obama - most certainly is."

Finally, in Labour Uncut Labour MP John Woodcock imagines a Labour conference with policies out of the US drama the West Wing:

"Labour's new generation would not weaken the nation's prosperity by setting itself against the idea of markets. Instead, we will be prepared to take whatever difficult action is necessary to create genuinely free and fair markets that work for all. Labour will be a party that believes in government acting forcefully where necessary, compared to a Tory-led administration that is leaving people to fend for themselves. But we will ultimately be committed to increasing social justice by giving away power to the powerless rather than hoarding the levers of state action in Whitehall.
The problem with the Bartlet [West Wing character] 'stand up for big government, win big' campaign strategy, is that it is a fiction. A beautiful fiction, but a fiction nevertheless."

Republican TV debate: Not Rick Perry's night

Host | 14:48 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

Most media commentators agree Thursday night's TV debate was one to forget for Rick Perry, while Mitt Romney was widely judged to have found his groove:

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post says only Mr Romney looked remotely presidential:

Mitt Romney is easily the best in the field at doing this; he's really the only one up there who seems even remotely well-cast as a presidential candidate. Of the rest, I suppose Rick Santorum shows pretty good statewide-debate-level chops, and Ron Paul certainly has his Ron Paul thing down cold. The other six are just awful at it.

Fox News' Rich Lowry also scored Mr Romney the winner on points:

It's become clear that Romney has an advantage over Perry in these forums simply because he's more articulate, detailed and authoritative-sounding in his answers; he's like a boxer with a reach advantage.

Of course Romney has vulnerabilities - his aforementioned flip-flops, his Massachusetts health care program - but no one has been able to fully exploit them and Romney has some kind of ready answer for every challenge.

David Leonhardt, writing for the New York Times' Caucus blog, sees a problem for Mr Perry over Texas' in-state tuition for illegal immigrants' children, which provoked boos from the debate audience when he defended the policy:

The more that his rivals attach Mr Perry to an Obama-like policy, the harder it will be for him to convince conservative, Tea Party voters that they should not hold it against him. Can he figure a way out of the immigration box?

Matthew Dowd of ABC News has some advice for Mr Perry on where he's going wrong:

Rick Perry needs to begin to step up his game and improve as he goes along. He came on the scene strong, but his support has stagnated a bit. While he still leads the polls, he isn't moving anymore. He should stay away from going back and forth every time he gets attacked.

The Daily Beast's Michael Medved goes so far as to ask whether this could be the beginning of the end for Mr Perry:

If two hours of questions and answers produced no decisive winner, they did indicate a clear loser. In his third debate appearance Rick Perry looked and sounded ill-prepared, uncertain, dull, vacuous and embarrassingly out of his depth. Even the Texan's top admirers (and I like him personally and greatly respect his achievements as governor) must cringe at the chilling prospect of a Perry-Obama debate.

Daily View: What are the biggest dangers for the economy?

Clare Spencer | 09:38 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

After sharp falls in stock markets around the world, commentators suggest what the biggest dangers for the global economy are.

David Prosser says in the Independent
that unlike three years ago, the biggest problem right now is that policy makers continue to disagree:

"So, for example, the Fed was split on whether to take action on Wednesday, just as Congress was split before it on the debt ceiling (with much more disastrous consequences, namely the US debt downgrade). In the UK, the Bank of England's MPC remains split over quantitative easing (and there are signs now too of fissures in the Coalition over the Chancellor's rigidity on Plan A). Internationally, the eurozone can't agree on how to respond to its sovereign debt woes.
"People always disagree, of course, but that the splits show no sign of closing suggests consensus is some way off. The result is the sort of half-measures we continue to see presented as solutions to financial instability and economic despondency."

In the Times Sam Fleming says the international disagreement runs even deeper:

"The G20 still does not even appear to know how to diagnose the disease, let alone unite around a treatment. The harm done by strife between countries and continents, and within parliaments, is being played out in the gyrations on financial markets, which abhor political uncertainty."

However, Larry Elliot's gloomy assessment in the Guardian suggests it is too late for policy makers to make a difference:

"It is probably too late to avoid a double-dip recession even if policymakers were to agree this weekend to shore up European banks, to take the steps needed to prevent the euro imploding and, by some miracle, conjure up a credible plan for jobs and growth. The real concern is that three years after Lehmans the global economy's problems have proved so intractable. It is not just the tough winter ahead that politicians need to worry about. It is the risk of a lost decade as the whole world goes Japanese."

Concentrating on the splits in UK, Peter Oborne says in the Telegraph that it is becoming clear that projections Chancellor George Osborne have been working to are too optimistic about tax revenues and welfare costs, giving him a dilemma:

"If he presses ahead with spending cuts he will create the first major fracture in the Coalition. Vince Cable - viewed within No 10 as a renegade loudmouth - is already mutinous, discontented and privately agitating for an alternative economic strategy. At some point, probably not far off, he will resign as Business Secretary, perhaps returning quietly to the Lib Dem backbenches, more likely forming a tacit alliance with Ed Miliband and Labour.
"But if Osborne doesn't press on, the dangers are greater. So far, Osborne has been a strong Chancellor who carries genuine credibility in the City of London. That credibility is of fundamental importance because it means that, unlike Italy or Spain, we can finance our national debt at cut-price rates in international markets - the essential point which the expansionary shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, fails to understand. If Osborne loses that credibility, it is not just the Coalition that is sunk - Britain is too."

Different to the rest of the assessments is the Daily Mail's Dominic Sandbrook who suggests the current crisis, like many in the past, has something to do with the time of year:

"During the summer, when many bankers and speculators are on holiday and their grip on the movements of economic forces are loosened, downward pressures on the markets can develop.
"Slowly but surely, confidence seeps away. And then, within days of the financial classes arriving back at work, quite suddenly, but utterly devastatingly, the house of cards comes crashing down."

Daily View: Verdicts on Nick Clegg's conference speech

Clare Spencer | 08:44 UK time, Thursday, 22 September 2011

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Commentators give their verdict on the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's speech to the Liberal Democrat conference.

Andrew Pierce doesn't hold back in the Daily Mail, saying Nick Clegg's speech was one of the dullest he's attended in more than 20 years, full of cliches and lacking in policy:

"When Lib Dem MPs were wheeled out afterwards they all parroted from the same hymn sheet that it was a serious speech for serious times. What they really meant was they could hardly stay awake it was so boring."

John McTernan is even more scathing in the Telegraph, calling the speech "vain, self satisfied and downright dishonest":

"You wouldn't have thought that you could be hailed as a hero for destroying your party's brand for a generation, reducing your vote by nearly two-thirds and selling most of your seats to the Tories. Yet that happened to Clegg this afternoon. Of course, it was all just pantomime. Boos and hisses for the ogre (Gordon Brown) and the ugly sisters (the two Eds) and cheers for Buttons. In the end it was actually Peter Pan. All that applause was to keep Tinkerbell alive, and while that works on wee kids it doesn't work for adults. All voters know the truth about Clegg - and after such knowledge, what forgiveness?"

Faint praise comes from Simon Carr in the Independent. He says Nick Clegg is a "nice chap" but "you can't agree with anything he says":

"With all the immense strength, character, determination, optimism, and real leadership that Nick Clegg talked about so loudly - he turned himself up to 11 - you'd think the country would take better note. But they reached for the earplugs instead."

More upbeat is Liberal Democrat blogger Mark Pack who says in the New Statesman that the main message is promising and just needs to be spread around more:

"The anti-establishment lines got the heaviest applause. But the themes of Clegg's speech were not ones consistently portrayed throughout the rest of party conference. Indeed, the conference slogan itself ('In government, on your side') was far more notable by its absence from most of the other conference key note speeches and in itself is not really an anti-establishment.
"So if the 'in power but anti-establishment' message is to get over to the wider public, who pay only passing attention to political news most weeks, a lot more work remains to be done. "

Another fan is the Guardian's Julian Glover who says it was an "elegant, comforting, almost endearing essay". He says Mr Clegg managed to teach the party that they have changed:

"By entering power, he said, 'we all walked through a kind of door together'. Clegg knows there is no going back to the easy centre-left oppositionalism that many at this conference still want to see. Content to be in power and therefore compliant this week, Liberal Democrats have not yet realised what has changed for them. They can't be what they once were: the party of protest. At a future conference - 2013 perhaps - there will be serious trouble for the leadership when the party confronts this difficult fact."

Daily View: Predictions for Nick Clegg's party conference speech

Clare Spencer | 09:06 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Nick Clegg


Ahead of Nick Clegg's speech at the Liberal Democrat party conference, commentators look at what he and his party bring to British politics.

Daniel Finkelstein says in the Times that before his speech Nick Clegg has to think about how the Liberal Democrats have changed. He gives some suggestions:

"Consider the main claims that Liberal Democrats have been in the habit of making. Essential to their appeal has been the idea that they are above politics, a breath of fresh air, somehow cleaner and more trustworthy than the others. Their broken promise on tuition fees, and to a much lesser extent various personal scandals, mean they can no longer rely upon people accepting this."

Simon Jenkins predicts in the Guardian that before the next election the Liberal Democrats will have to manufacture a split with the Tories. Which is why he is baffled by Nick Clegg's "timidity" so far:

"After four years in government the strains within the coalition are likely to be intense. A divorce would seem kind, and in the best interests of both parties in the runup to an election. Clegg must somehow engineer a disagreement of principle on which to stage a pre-election separation.
"This makes the intellectual timidity of the Lib Dems in government all the more curious. Why have they been so silent on Cameron's wars? Where are they on the planning reforms, which have left even many Tories mystified and angry? Why are they so lukewarm on localism and hostile to drug law reform? The party accepted the odium of higher "tuition fees", yet failed to take any credit for turning the fees into what they are, a graduate tax."

However, the Independent's Andy McSmith disagrees. He points out the Liberal Democrats have made an impact and looks at what the Conservatives would have done with the coalition:

"The one outright certainty is that a Conservative government would never have called a referendum on the Alternative Vote, and thus, ironically, would not have killed off electoral reform as a political issue so effectively.
"A Tory government might have been quicker to abolish the 50p tax rate for high earners. There would have been tougher talk on law and order - because David Cameron's original intention was to put Ken Clarke in the office that Vince Cable now occupies - and softer talk on bringing the banks to heel or curbing boardroom pay."

The Daily Mail editorial appears to prefer the Liberal Democrats to have as little influence as possible as it argues Nick Clegg is deluded in his stance towards the euro:

"Only now, with the Eurozone on its knees, does Mr Clegg grudgingly concede 'with the benefit of hindsight' that if we'd joined the single currency, as he urged, it would have been a 'huge, huge error'.
"Yet still he persists in his fantasy that Britain's future lies in the euro - while ludicrously speculating that if we'd joined earlier, we might have forced our partners to observe stricter rules."

In the Telegraph Benedict Brogan anticipates that the key aspect of Nick Clegg's conference speech will be the attitude he adopts towards the current global economic downturn:

"The anxiety around both Coalition leaders is palpable, and if Vince Cable's lugubrious assessment of the country's position on Monday startled some Lib Dems, it at least served to make public the grim mood inside Government.
"The Business Secretary could detect no sunlit uplands to point to. It's economic war, he told us, but he could not muster a crumb of Churchillian comfort that we have at least reached the end of the beginning. Nick Clegg, who speaks on Wednesday, and more particularly George Osborne and David Cameron the week after next, must consider whether to match Mr Cable's tone, or whether they can dare inject some optimism into their message."

Daily View: Verdicts on Vince Cable's speech

Clare Spencer | 09:43 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

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Commentators give their verdicts of business secretary Vince Cable's speech at the Liberal Democrat conference.

Concentrating on the mood on the speech, the Times' sketch writer Ann Treneman jokes that Vince Cable's austerity programme bans smiles and optimism:

"Vince Cable, grey-sky thinker. No cloud has a silver lining because silver is just grey with sparkles in it. And sparkles are another victim of his austerity drive."

Similarly, the Daily Mail's sketch writer Quentin Letts also called Mr Cable's attitude glum, saying it was a "marvel of melancholy". But he also disputes some of the content of the speech as well:

"Mr Cable was not entirely innocent of grandstanding. He had a cheap line about how anyone who wanted to reduce maternity welfare handouts was as wicked as a Victorian boss sending children up chimneys. Oh, come off it. If such cuts helped restore the economy, is it not the duty of a grown-up minister to contemplate them?"

Saving money, as Quentin Letts suggests, is not on the mind of the Guardian's Polly Toynbee. In her scathing review of the speech, she combs through the contents to highlight what she says is balderdash:

"Start with the crunch issue, the lack of recovery. As he reminded us, 'Keynes talked about a 'paradox of thrift': everyone and every country being individually wise but collectively foolish - leading to a downward spiral.' That's precisely what is happening now, Britain the worst offender with toughest austerity resulting in lowest growth anywhere but Japan. Yet he went on to pretend a paltry array of stimuli will fix the problem: he cannot possibly believe that loose change from the petty cash will arrest the plunge in employment and growth. The Green Investment Bank? Only £1bn, with no borrowing capacity. Regional growth fund? Nothing to replicate the abolished regional development agencies. 'Step up investment in our clapped out infrastructure,' he said - but that's a mere half billion raided from reserves to buy a few jobs."

The Telegraph's editorial also attacks what it sees as questionable methods of bringing about economic recovery:

"Not for the first time, Mr Cable was more interested in political posturing than in setting out a strategy for business competitiveness. Is he really saying that the key issues facing the economy are boardroom salaries and bash-the-rich taxes? Mr Cable would be taken more seriously by the business community whose interests he is supposed to champion if he had concentrated on growth and told us how his department intends to foster it."

Another focus of the speech was on curbing excessive pay of top executives. One supporter is the policy officer at the campaign group FairPensions Christine Berry. She says in that his focus on limiting extreme pay packets will be good for people with pensions:

"Currently, shareholders have an advisory vote on remuneration packages. Today's consultation suggests making this vote binding - something FairPensions has long argued for. This would be a significant step forward in enabling shareholders to stand up for savers' interests and curb excessive pay. But it would also be a challenge to the investment industry itself."

However, in the Independent Dominic Lawson says there is no muscle behind the proposals:

"What the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has actually done is to publish, in the words of his department, 'A discussion paper [which] looks at the issues surrounding executive compensation. It puts forward wide-ranging proposals on how to link executive payment more closely to company performance and invites feedback and further evidence that will help build a stronger understanding of the issues.' Hold the back page!
"This document makes absolutely no definitive policy suggestions. It discusses such remedies as giving shareholders a veto on executive remuneration packages, or appointing a member of the workforce to boards' remuneration committees - but is studiously non-committal, offering arguments both for and against such proposals."

Daily View: What next for the Liberal Democrats?

Clare Spencer | 09:59 UK time, Monday, 19 September 2011

Liberal Democrat rosettes


During the Liberal Democrat party conference, political commentators take stock of the party's situation.

The Daily Mail's Melanie Phillips worries that party conferences display naval gazing at a time of "escalating cataclysms":

"The EU is about to implode, the UK economy is going under, urban youth in British cities have just burned down their neighbourhoods and the Arab world is in ferment.
"And so what are the big talking points of the day in Britain? Gay marriage, bashing the rich and (a few days ago) cutting the length of the school holidays."

Concentrating on how the coalition is working out for Lib Dem party members, Nik Darlington suggests in the Spectator that they prefer to be in opposition:

"There is a still a strong feeling that going into coalition was the right thing to do for party and country. Lib-Dems who think otherwise, I'm told, 'should seriously question [their] logic 'because there was no alternative. However much that is true, Lib-Dems still miss opposition. One source says, 'opposition is lovely' and the conference hall erupted into chest-beating rapture for the party's president, Tim Farron, who declared that Clegg was 'leading the opposition' as well as being David Cameron's deputy."

Liberal Democrat party member Richard Morris explains in the New Statesman that the party members are miserable because they feel left out of decision making:

"We're the political party where the membership really does set the agenda. Where the same people who trudge up and down wet streets on grey Sunday mornings stuffing leaflets through letterboxes are the ones who get to tell the front bench what the party policy actually will be ( as opposed to should be). And where political expediency has been anathema to the good folk who pay their subs every year in exchange for the right to say 'this is where I stand'.
"And we now find ourselves pursuing an agenda set in four hectic days of negotiation last May by eight men in a Whitehall conference room, half of whom were the enemy."

Some commentators concentrate on where the Liberal Democrats will position themselves for voters. Mary Ann Sieghart says in the Independent that the Lib Dems will be able to regain the centre ground of politics, eventually following the success of Tony Blair as a centrist:

"Miliband has also made space for the Lib Dems on public-service reform. Labour's opposition to free schools and its ambivalence about academies (introduced by Blair) mark a big step back from the centre ground. The Lib Dems aren't in hock to the public-sector unions or any other vested interests and Clegg's instinct is to shake up public services when they're not delivering...
"Cameron too has bolstered the Lib Dems' claim to the middle ground. He has allowed them to take credit for almost every civilising amendment to Tory policy, whether it is watering down the badly-conceived NHS reforms, introducing the pupil premium or raising the income tax threshold."

But the Guardian's Jackie Ashley thinks that the strain of economic problems will lead to "angry polarising" of politics:

"There is only one, faint sign that Lib Dems realise the danger of being crushed between two sharper ideological reactions to bad times - and that's their insistence on defending the totemic 50p income tax rate or replacing it with something equally tough on the rich. The 50p tax may not raise much extra money, but it's of huge political importance as a signal that the coalition does not intend to reward the rich and make the majority take the strain.
"But totems won't be enough. Lib Dems complain people aren't paying enough attention to those taken out of tax at the bottom, or giving them enough credit for 'fairness'. That's because the really big decisions, on the deficit and letting unemployment rise, simply swamp the smaller ones."

Daily View: Why did Sarkozy and Cameron visit Libya?

Clare Spencer | 09:20 UK time, Friday, 16 September 2011

Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron


Commentators ask why David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy visited Libya yesterday.

Con Coughlin says in the Telegraph that David Cameron is "sorely mistaken" if he is visiting Libya to mark the end of conflict:

"For a start, he seems to have overlooked the fact that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the primary target of the military campaign, is still at large and continues to broadcast disobliging messages to the effect that his supporters will continue the fight against the newly-installed government of the National Transitional Council. With Nato still continuing combat missions against pro-Gaddafi forces, the military campaign still has some way to go before Mr Cameron can declare 'mission accomplished'."

In the Daily Mail Andrew Pierce echoes the view that the visit was premature triumphalism and he suggests a motive:

"Be under no illusion. This was not about the Libyan succession. The visit, masterminded by spin doctors, was about burnishing Mr Cameron's credentials as an international statesman.
"His advisers hope it will transform him into a warrior king who, like Margaret Thatcher in her day, defied the Americans to oust a despotic dictator. But Libya is not the Falklands."

However, in the Spectator Daniel Korski disputes the effect on voters:

"It is conventional wisdom that David Cameron won't get much of an electoral bounce from the Libya intervention, despite emerging as a bold and competent interventionist. People, the argument goes, are tired of warfare. A senior figure in Tony Blair's No 10 told me yesterday that he did not think the PM would earn a lot of kudos, because with all the problems at home there is less tolerance for overseas adventurism."

The Guardian's Simon Tisdall is, on the most part, less cynical about the reasons for the French and British leaders' visit:

"Symbolism aside, Cameron and Sarkozy's visit served several useful purposes. One was to give a practical boost to the still shaky National Transitional Council (NTC), the unelected and not universally popular would-be successor to Muammar Gaddafi. This is vital as long as Gaddafi and his sons and clansmen are on the loose, regime loyalists in key cities maintain their defiance, and doubts persist about whether the cobbled-together NTC alliance of armed factions and regional tribal groups will hold up."

But he ends with "though they don't say so, they still have those lovely oil contracts to look forward to".

Finally, the Times editorial comes out in support of the trip:

"Stressing that the hardest part of political transformation was yet to come, they betrayed no hint of triumphalism. This was a prudent message. It contrasted, surely deliberately, with the hubristic 'Mission Accomplished' rhetoric of President Bush after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But a provisional judgment ought to be made on the choice to intervene."

Daily View: What now for the eurozone?

Clare Spencer | 09:54 UK time, Thursday, 15 September 2011

Euro sign


Commentators react after German and French leaders confirmed their commitment to the Greek bailout.


Jeffrey Sachs argues in the Financial Times that Greece needs Germany's support, because negative German public opinion could destroy the euro:

"German and European leaders have responded to this downward spiral only with demands for fresh austerity. Greece obliged once again last weekend, with more tightening. But we must now understand Greece is at the precipice of social instability. Further cuts will push it over the edge - ending the adjustment programme, and intensifying the financial squeeze and the drumbeat of those trying to push Greece out of the eurozone. It is utterly naive to believe that the downward spiral would stop there. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and even France could quite possibly be next, with the risk of bank runs pulling the entire edifice of monetary co-operation into rubble."

David Blackburn says in the Spectator that the conference call between Greece, France and Germany which preceded this confirmation of German and French support didn't solve anything in the long term:

"Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy announced no new measures to alleviate the sovereign debt crisis; rather, they merely declared "solidarity" with Greece and assured the markets that Greece would not be forced from the single currency.
"Their words seem to have assuaged the markets for the moment, but only the most brazen optimist would bet on the rally being long lived. Tests of confidence will come later today when troubled Spain holds a debt auction and the EU's interim economic forecasts are expected to be downgraded."

But Andreas Whittam Smith says in the Independent it is inevitable Greece will default on its debts, much to the irritation of the "eurozone paymaster" Germany:

"The original understanding, reached at the beginning of the debt crisis, that Germany, along with its partner countries, would help Greece re-structure its economy so that it could grow again and repay its debts and thus preserve the eurozone, has frayed to breaking point. Greece cannot recover and Germany's patience is running out. The impossibility of avoiding a Greek default must be acknowledged shortly."

Jason Manolopoulos says in the Times extra Greek austerity measures will only make matters worse, with the Greek exit from the eurozone more likely. The only question is who will push them:

"The trigger could be political; governments in northern Europe face electoral defeat if they support further bailouts. Many ruling German politicians are firmly against paying for rescue packages and a shared approach to sovereign debt. Philipp Rösler, the German Economics Minister, raised the possibility this week of an "orderly default" for Greece. But the pressure is not just coming from Germany: Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch Finance Minister, referred last week to the 'ultimate sanction' of expelling Greece from the eurozone."

Finally, Jeremy Warner suggests in the Telegraph that Germany, not Greece, should leave the eurozone:

"Disorderly break-up involving the forced exit of weaker members, though perhaps now inevitable, certainly offers no economic panacea. So what would work? If Germany has become more the problem than the solution, then perhaps the departure of Germany itself is the least disruptive answer.
"Last week's resignation of Jurgen Stark, holder of the Bundesbank flame on the European Central Bank board, in protest at ECB support for the European periphery, demonstrates that Germany is at the end of its patience. The euro hasn't worked, and until a United States of Europe is formed, is most unlikely to. Time to face up to the truth."

Daily View: Fears over proposed planning overhaul

Clare Spencer | 10:02 UK time, Wednesday, 14 September 2011

House being built


Commentators continue to weigh in on the debate around proposed planning reforms.

The environment editor of the Irish Times Frank McDonald tells a cautionary tale in the Telegraph of Dublin's rural sprawl and unfinished "ghost" estates:

"Ireland offers a sad and salutary lesson in what not to do; its liberal planning legislation has led to a despoiling of the countryside with consequences that will take years to unravel... The knock-on effects of liberal planning policies over several decades, codified by the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines (2005), have been ruinous not just for the countryside, but also for towns and villages; as residential development spreads outwards, many are losing population rather than being reinforced. The British Coalition's 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' could be similarly devastating."

William Cash points out in the New Statesman that the combined membership of the Campaign to Protest Rural England and the National Trust dwarfs any political party membership. This, he thinks could be cataclysmic for the Tories:

"The key to understanding this anger is that, although Greg Clark likes to rhapsodise about localism and putting an end to 'top-down' centralism in planning, the fine print of the 52-page NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework] draft and the 446-page Localism Bill tells a different story. Both are thinly disguised charters for planning centralism and, in practice, have little to do with the sort of local democracy and community self-empowerment that Clark and Cameron have promised as part of the 'big society'.
"What is needed is not the obfuscation of the draft planning laws and the Localism Bill, but clarity - particularly over what will be protected as a 'heritage asset'."

Chairman of the National Trust and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins goes even further, saying the planning reforms are a "recipe for civil war". He says George Osborne and Eric Pickles' thesis is that land-use planning strangles the economy and stops house-building, which he disputes:

"There is simply no evidence, beyond the howls of lobbyists, that land-use planning impedes growth. Most planning applications are handled within the three-month target, and fewer than 1% take more than a year; 80% of applications are approved, and 90% of big commercial ones: evidence is the vast distribution sheds that now coat the East Midlands countryside and the hypermarkets that encircle almost every English city and town, 'doughnutting' their centres with blight."

But the chief executive of UK Regeneration Jackie Sadek argues in the Times that, in opposing changes, the National Trust has got its priorities wrong:

"The UK badly needs a strong, simple, accessible, transparent, equitable planning system. That we do not have one at present is self-evident: the thousands of pages of British planning policy and guidance would make anyone with any common sense shudder. It is manifestly dysfunctional.
"Worse still, those of us in the know are perfectly well aware that it is developers who 'work the system' who have the most desire to over-densify development and build out over green fields. What we have now simply does not do the job that the National Trust lobby so desperately wants it to do. It is making a category mistake by supporting the status quo."

While the National Trust's objections have been widely publicised, Natural England hasn't spoken up. In the Independent Peter Marren thinks he knows why the effect on wildlife hasn't been heard in the debate about planning reform:

"The body that is supposed to stick up for English wildlife is the aptly named Natural England (NE). Unfortunately this Government has ruled that NE is no longer allowed to hold independent views or policies. Besides, its budget has been cut to the bone. So Natural England is most unlikely to say anything that might annoy its paymasters. With next to no public debate, our wildlife watchdog has morphed into a pathetic delivery boy, charged with attending to 'customer focus'. This leaves England without a wildlife watchdog worthy of the name for the first time since 1949."

Daily View: What now for Britain's relationship with Russia?

Clare Spencer | 09:20 UK time, Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Commentators reflect on the first British prime ministerial visit to Russia for six years.

Before the meeting, Britain's former ambassador to Russia Tony Brento said in the Telegraph that Russia has strong reasons to co-operate with the West:

"If she is to diversify her economy away from oil and gas, she will need Western capital and technology. In the oil and gas sector, it is Western (and notably British) companies, not Russian ones, that have the technology necessary to get to Russia's increasingly remote reserves. And key Russians know that, if Russia is really to prosper, she needs to create a much cleaner and more transparent business and legal environment.
"I am constantly struck by the number of businessmen I meet who cheerfully take on the challenges offered by India or China but who blench when I suggest they might do business in Russia. Russia knows she needs to draw on Western experience to overcome such attitudes."

The Economist's Bagehot diary suggests the desirability of British visas gives the UK some bargaining power:

"A big part of the explanation for this stress on changing Russian behaviour lies in the fact that Britain does not have much ground to give on some of the dossiers that most exercise Moscow, starting with Litvinenko-related sanctions that make it really quite hard for Russian officials to obtain British visas. The Russians hate the visa sanctions, and more generally complain that compared to continental European visas, British business visas are slower and harder to obtain.
"Mr Cameron offered to start discussions on fast-track business visas for applicants willing to pay a higher fee: the oligarch express, as it may come to be known. But when it comes to the official visa sanctions, the British side feels unable to move."

However, in the Guardian Luke Harding predicts the UK-Russian relations will not warm unless the UK co-operates on the case on the death of Alexander Litvinenko:

"But it is the Litvinenko case that is the insuperable obstacle. At his press conference with Medvedev Cameron tried to avoid getting bogged down in the scandal. But he made clear that Britain is unwilling to resume co-operation with the FSB, the successor agency of the KGB - of which Putin once was the boss. British officials remain convinced Litvinenko's killing had an FSB dimension...
"Until Britain caves into the FSB's cooperation demand, relations between London and Moscow will remain strained. And time is on Russia's side. Most observers expect Putin to return to the presidency during elections in 2012, elbowing Medvedev aside. It is entirely possible he will still be in power in 2020, long after Cameron and his coalition have faded into history."

Simon Tisdall says in the Guardian that co-operating with Russia for £215m in trade deals hardly seems worth it:

"For the Litvinenko affair is but the tip of a rather large Arctic iceberg whose full, submerged extent is not widely appreciated in Britain or in other EU states, notably Germany, blinded by energy dependency and other unlovely manifestations of 'realpolitik'...
"Nor is it that long since Britain was complaining about what officials called a "huge Russian intelligence operation in the UK" and the two countries were expelling each other's diplomats. Is Cameron suggesting that this espionage problem, like the Putin regime's human rights record, can now be safely ignored? Are Putin's policies in the Muslim Caucasus, where his mishandling of Chechen separatism has kindled something akin to a region-wide conflict, now a matter for British silence or, worse, indifference? And what of Russia's continuing obstructionism on Syria and its ongoing nuclear collaboration with Iran? It's a lot to swallow for a handful of dodgy contracts."

In the Times Ben Macintyre is convinced Russia wants to repeat its past espionage successes:

"Moscow is itself fighting old intelligence battles, albeit with new weapons and new targets, and a new determination. The ideological impetus may have changed, but Russia is currently engaged in a serious intelligence assault on the West. The murder of Litvinenko, and Moscow's refusal to extradite the man suspected of killing him, is only one aspect of a new round of muscle-flexing by an emboldened Russian intelligence service."

Daily View: Verdicts on Obama's jobs speech

Clare Spencer | 09:49 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

President Obama


Commentators react to US President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress urging lawmakers to back his proposals to create more jobs and cut taxes.

Dan Balz says in the Washington Post that the president walked a fine line:

"His strong rhetoric and explicit challenge to Republicans, as well as the size and specifics of the package, were designed to appeal to his restive base. His call for the two parties to set aside politics long enough to enact some job-creating measures was aimed at swing voters disgusted by the debt-ceiling spectacle and the sense that Washington is badly broken."

In the National Review Douglas Holtz-Eakin concludes the speech was "fundamentally mediocre" because there were not many surprises:

"In short, we knew in advance that the president wanted to spend nearly another half a trillion dollars and not move the dial on unemployment. We didn't know that it would be spend and promise to tax, but the shock value is small."

Chris Good jokes in the Atlantic that the president practically got down on one knee at his speech:

"The striking thing about President Obama's speech to Congress on Thursday night wasn't that he called for a jobs plan that included measures he'd pushed before, or that he sucked the attention away from a valuable pregame programming slot in the hour before the first game of the NFL season, a vehicle for working-class Americans to forget the very troubles he wants to alleviate.
"It was that Obama practically begged Congress to pass his plan, which includes, among other things, a payroll tax cut, extended unemployment insurance, construction spending, education funds, and trade deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea that were initiated by president George W Bush."

The problem, according to The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, is that the public have tuned out of Obama's oratory:

"Thursday's address may not have much impact, and not just because it began at 4pm on the West Coast since Obama was maneuvered into starting early before the NFL season kickoff. Many people are tired of this president's speechifying, and with zero job growth last month, they want action, not words.
"But the speech did what Obama has so often failed to do: lay down a marker against the opposition."

Although largely supportive, the New York Times editorial is critical about the savings Mr Obama suggested:

"Though the plan would be paid for by more deficit reduction, he left those vital details until later. It was gratifying to hear him call for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but his warning of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid - lifelines to the most vulnerable - raised concerns about trading one important program for another.
"We hope Mr Obama keeps his promise to take his proposals all over the country. The need to act is urgent."

Republican debate: A two-man race?

Host | 13:01 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

The US media believes that Wednesday night's Republican debate left two contenders, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, as the clear frontrunners in the race, with a number of commentators believing the former came off best.

Dan Balz in the Washington Post reckons the encounter showed that "for now, the Perry vs. Romney dynamic is the dominant theme of the Republican nomination contest":

Texas Gov Rick Perry has a reputation for running aggressive campaigns designed to keep the focus on his opponents rather than himself. In his opening debate as a presidential candidate, he followed that script from start to finish.

For the other candidates, Wednesday was a long night. Bachmann performed well in her first debates and won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa last month. But she has seen her campaign plummet rather than soar, and though she tried to reestablish herself, she was generally overshadowed in this forum.

Michael D Shear writes in the New York Times' Caucus blog that the debate kicked off a "full-throated political rivalry" between Mr Romney and Mr Perry:

Mr. Perry, the governor of Texas, made clear in his first national appearance that he will campaign as an unabashed Southern conservative who is unafraid to speak bluntly, will double-down on controversial statements and plans to shrug off the concerns of the Republican establishment.

By contrast, Mr. Romney's performance demonstrated his desire to appeal broadly to the Republican electorate as part of an electability argument that he hopes will convince primary voters that he is best equipped to defeat President Obama.

Howard Kurtz in the Daily Beast scored Mr Perry as the victor:

Perry repeatedly ignored the moderators' questions in favor of canned soundbites. But he delivered the scripted remarks with confidence, and the audience probably didn't care. Romney turned in another steady performance, but that wasn't enough, given his eroding position in the polls. The Perry team should be exchanging high fives.

Michele Bachmann, the best performer in the last two debates, really faded in this one, in part because the moderators gave her less time and in part because she seemed less aggressive than in the earlier encounters.

Maggie Haberman in Politico says Mr Perry is now the clear frontrunner:

The Texas governor got the most questions, but he also absorbed the most punches from his competitors. When all the energy is concentrated in one direction, it underscores who is dominating the field - and last night it was Perry who was at the center of attention.

He didn't handle all of the hits smoothly... But while he didn't handle everything flawlessly, he left with one significant accomplishment: he didn't flop.

Jill Lawrence in the Atlantic also believes the debate showed it's a two-man race, advantage Perry.

Perry is a provocateur, whether the subject is Social Security or Karl Rove. Mitt Romney is the safe option, the solid corporate citizen who wants to save grandma's Social Security and fix the economy 59 ways. You know you should marry him and stop eyeing that other guy, the daredevil on the fast motorcycle.

Michele Bachmann had few moments in the spotlight and did not use them to make news or depart in any way from her "I'm a fighter who hates Obamacare" script.

Daily View: Should highest earners' tax be cut?

Clare Spencer | 10:11 UK time, Thursday, 8 September 2011

tax form


Commentators ask whether a tax cut will stimulate growth after 20 high-profile economists urged the government in the Financial Times to drop the top 50p tax rate for people earning over £150,000 a year.

Janet Daley argues in the Telegraph that tax cuts to lower earners would be more effective:

"If people did not have to begin paying 40% tax until they earned, say, £60,000 per annum, this would ease the burden on the households that are most likely to spend on consumer goods - releasing a considerable amount of disposable income to stimulate the economy."

Tax blogger Richard Murphy takes issue with the claim that the high tax rate deters talented workers from working in the UK:

"To suggest that talent and remuneration is correlated is, shall we say, just a little bit of an error? There are extraordinarily talented people in this country making a lot less than £150,000 a year. Most of those who are making £150,000 are either in finance (making sure that pensions funds have generated no net return for their members over the last decade or more, for example - one of the weirdest definitions of growth I know and and also one of the strangest definitions of talent) or are in senior management of major multinational corporations where there is no proven link between talent and return, but much more evidence of a cosy club designed to increase the wage gap between senior executives and the rest."

Eamonn Butler from the Adam Smith Institute says the think tank predicted some time ago that the 50p tax rate would damage the economy:

"Back in March, in the snappily-titled The Revenue and Growth Effects of Britain's High Personal Taxes, our experts said pretty much the same. Indeed, we calculated that the tax would actually lose the Treasury some £350bn over the next decade, as businesses and high-fliers left the UK for lower-taxed countries. Of which there are many: a KPMG survey of 86 countries last year showed that 82 of them had lower taxes than the UK."

But blogger Kieran Roberts argues on Labour List the tax cut may be hasty as we can't know the impact of the 50% rate for sure until next year:

"Lowering it now would be premature and potentially unfair but it may have to be an option next year. Not because it 'frightens away foreign investment' or 'represses entrepreneurialism' as the right suggest, but because the principle with which the policy was brought in may not become a reality."

Ex Labour treasury minister Kitty Ussher argues in the Wall Street Journal that the message the tax sends out is more important than the revenue it brings in:

"Of course nobody wants Britain to be a place where greed is celebrated, where rich people are deemed superior, where taxation is regressive and stupid financiers are let off the hook. That would be absurd. But neither should it be a place where hard work is psychologically punished, where honest human success is a problem for policy makers, and where aspiration that leads to action and drive among all people is not something to be nurtured, encouraged and valued by society, rather than - as this tax suggests - only being important up to a certain income level."

Stephen Glover says in the Daily Mail that even if the 20 economists were right, it is politically impossible to reduce the tax rate now:

"People forget that it took the Thatcher government nine years to pluck up the courage to lower the rate to 40p. Her fans should be reminded that even the Iron Lady in all her pomp was constrained by the limits of the possible.
"Nor did she have troublesome Lib Dem allies to contend with, her only opposition coming from a Labour Party that was still slowly working its way back to the shores of credibility."

Finally, in the Independent David Prosser looks at how productivity would be affected:

"It is true that lower tax rates may incentivise people to work harder. But they also increase disposable income, which encourages them to play harder too. Many economists believe the gains and losses in productivity may even cancel each other out."

Daily View: Should courts be televised?

Clare Spencer | 10:43 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The supreme court is televised


Commentators dissect proposals to allow television cameras in English and Welsh courts.

Sky News' associate editor Simon Bucks explains in a Sky News blog why he is pressing for cameras in court:

"It was a proposal whose time had come - the controversy over sentencing following last month's riots demonstrated the public's confusion over judicial policy. If judges could be seen and heard as they passed sentences, we argued, people would surely better understand the rationale they had used to decide on a particular penalty."

The Independent's editorial gives the proposal a thumbs up, saying the presence of cameras would go a long way to improving public confidence in the system:

"If the public saw prosecutors making the case and defence lawyers critiquing it, and then heard the judge summing up they would have much greater faith in what goes on in court.
"Televising proceedings would also place a greater obligation on judges to deliver fair and consistent decisions. Disparities in sentencing have been a controversial feature of the aftermath of the riots that flared across England last month, with prison governors, lawyers, community leaders and human rights campaigners all raising questions about the severity and even-handedness of some of the punishments handed out. The presence of cameras in court would surely limit the scope for magistrates to go too far their own way in handing down sentences, whether light or heavy."

The Times editorial argues there are far more useful things the judiciary can do to make court decisions transparent:

"If the judiciary want to achieve a more open and transparent justice system they need to provide much better information to reporters who attend courts where schedules constantly change. And they should press the Government to complete the reforms to open up the family courts, which are in limbo. The case for allowing TV cameras into the courts is not yet convincingly made. If proceedings are to be televised, it must be clear it serves both openness and justice."

Deputy President of the Supreme Court Lord Hope decided to allow filming in Scottish courts. He warns in the Times that when TV cameras were present emotions could become exaggerated:

"There was an obvious attraction in giving prominence to a judge's remarks to deter others. But the occasion when a judge passes sentence is apt to arouse strong emotions on the part of victims and the accused, as well as their friends and families. There was a risk that they would be enhanced by the knowledge that proceedings were being televised, and that the judge's message would be overshadowed by broadcasting how those emotions were expressed. There was a risk, too, that the context of the judge's remarks would not be fully understood by those who had not observed the trial's proceedings."

Media law consultant David Banks worries in the Guardian that cameras in court may lead to a bias view:

"What of the many not guilty verdicts delivered every day by courts up and down the land? If sentences are televised, but not guilty verdicts, directed acquittals, dismissal of charges and discontinued cases are not given similar TV coverage, surely this also produces a skewed view of the judicial process?"

Mike Semple Piggot predicts in his law blog Charon QC that media interest in court dramas will quickly wane:

"This being Britain and the attention span for detail (and *fact*) being limited for most of us in busy 21st century online overload lives, I suspect that it will be a short lived wonder. The TV companies and tabloids will want corrupt MP's, 'paedos' and the flotsam and jetsam of a Hogarthian nightmare on trial."

Daily View: How should Libyan rendition claims be investigated?

Clare Spencer | 10:12 UK time, Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Abdel Hakim Belhaj


Commentators dissect the plans for an inquiry into allegations that MI6 was involved in the rendition of Libyan terror suspects.

Stephen Glover says in the Daily Mail the planned Gibson inquiry will not be enough:

"New allegations of rendition and complicity and torture will be investigated by Sir Peter Gibson's existing inquiry into the treatment of British detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Do we seriously think this inquiry will be able to address the mounting allegations that the last government, and Mr Blair in particular, succoured and promoted one of the nastiest regimes in the world?
"If we can have numerous inquiries into the state of the British Press, we can surely manage a single one that examines Tony Blair's friendly dealings with a man who is now an indicted war criminal, as well investigating torture, rendition, al-Megrahi's release, training of Gaddafi's special forces, links with Libyan intelligence, and sales of weapons intended for repression. If only David Cameron had the guts for it!"

The legal officer for Liberty Corinna Ferguson points out in the Huffington Post that there is going to be a separate inquiry - the Detainee Inquiry - but is disparaging about both:

"The Evidence Protocol for the inquiry, published in July this year, makes it clear that there will be a presumption that secret documents remain so, and the crucial final word on whether material can be made public rests not with Sir Peter but with the Cabinet Secretary, the Government's chief civil servant. Further, it has been confirmed that the only involvement of the detainees themselves would be in submitting a statement of their allegations. They will not see the majority of the government's evidence and will not be allowed to put questions to those allegedly complicit in their abuse - even by way of their legal representatives. These fundamental flaws have led all non-governmental organisations working on these issues, including Liberty, and the detainees themselves, to boycott the process.
"So, unless there is a wholesale rethink of the Detainee Inquiry, it cannot possibly achieve the original aims of getting to the bottom of what happened and restoring the reputation of our security services. Frankly, it is hard to see the point of wasting precious public money on it."

Conversely the Independent's editorial says the latest allegations about Libyan links can be sufficiently investigated in the Gibson inquiry and gives some further suggestions for what could be considered:

"It is essential, not just for British diplomacy, but for our standing and self-knowledge as a nation, to establish exactly how closely the government - and if not the government, then the agencies of state - collaborated with President Bush's post-9/11 'war on terror', and into what byways of iniquity they might have been led. Was the supposedly ethical foreign policy suborned by methods that were the very opposite?
"These are matters for the Gibson inquiry. That such an inquiry should be necessary at all, however, demonstrates how inadequate existing oversight of the security services is."

Richard Norton-Taylor explains in the Guardian why the key question to answer is whether MI6 collusion with Gaddafi's secret police was sanctioned by a minister:

"Under the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, British spies committing acts abroad, which if committed here would be illegal, must seek authorisation from a senior minister, in effect the foreign secretary.
"Whitehall officials close to the spooks say that foreign secretaries over the past few years have signed off some 500 such acts a year. So the question is, was collusion with Gaddafi's torturers sanctioned by Jack Straw, or David Miliband, or Tony Blair, the prime minister who instigated the bizarre love affair with the dictator in 2003? And even if it was, would this make it all legal?"

In the Telegraph Con Coughlin warns that the inquiry needs to establish whether the documents are genuine:

"While these revelations have made for some sensational headlines this week, with Mr Cameron yesterday calling for them to be examined by an independent inquiry, it is important not to lose sight of one of the first principles of the shadowy world of espionage: things are never as clear-cut as they seem.
"It is, after all, perfectly feasible that these documents were deliberately abandoned by Gaddafi's former henchmen as an act of sabotage to discredit the reputation of the West's leading intelligence agencies, and embroil them in yet another round of costly litigation. Yesterday, Hizb ut-Tahrir, one of Britain's most radical Islamist groups, lost no time in condemning the Government's 'collusion with Gaddafi's torturers'."

Finally, regardless of what is found in the inquiry, Roger Boyes says in the Times that unwanted consequences will still be felt by the British:

"But here's the rub: Abdel Hakim Belhadj, the Libyan dissident sent to Colonel Gaddafi's prisons with British connivance, ended up training the most effective of the rebel fighters. He is widely regarded as the man to watch. And he has no love of the British. Something worth bearing in mind, perhaps, the next time there is a meeting at the Travellers Club."

Daily View: What's ahead for free schools?

Clare Spencer | 10:25 UK time, Friday, 2 September 2011

As the first free schools prepare to open this month, commentators discuss their merits.

The Independent's leading article welcomes the opportunity for religious groups to have more control over their childrens' learning. But it warns against a class divide:

"There is nothing wrong in free schools serving, as Nicola Perry, principal of Aldborough, said yesterday, 'aspirational' parents. But we would encourage them to play their part in improving the life chances of children whose parents are not aspirational, too."

The founder of the local schools network Melissa Benn is far more scathing in the Mirror. She suspects the Conservatives are attempting to kill off comprehensive schools, places she defends for their locally governed nature:

"As a parent, you may never come into contact with a local councillor the entire time your child is at school. But the point is, they are there. To complain to, to offer support. And if you don't think that they, or their party, have helped improve schools, then you can vote them out.
"Whatever it says, this Government prefers Big Brother to the Big Society. Free schools and academies are accountable only to central government, via a funding agreement, which is often secret. But what will happen when things go seriously wrong in a school in Cumbria or Cornwall? Can the head ring up Michael Gove to sort out the effects of a fire or flood?"

One proposed free school in Manchester, the Phoenix School, wants to use soldiers as teachers. Clive Dytor, former Royal Marines officer and current headmaster of The Oratory School says in the Telegraph soldiers would be a welcome addition to the classroom:

"What do pupils need in Broken Britain today? Discipline, commitment, loyalty, the ability to focus on the task in hand. In other words, T-CUP in exams and on the sports field -and around the mean streets of our cities. To the serviceman, all this is second nature because he has had it drilled into him through rigorous training - what modern educationalists would describe as 'spoon fed' or 'not independent learning'."

In the Times Tom Burkard also defends plans for a comprehensive free school in Manchester where all full-time staff will be ex-Service personnel:

"Former soldiers have worked miracles in America's violent inner-city schools, where principals overwhelmingly rate them as more effective than conventionally trained teachers. In Britain, the charity SkillForce trains former Service personnel to work for one day a week with "hard-to-reach" pupils. It has reduced exclusions by more than 80 per cent - and only 3 per cent of its pupils leave school at 16 without a job."

But General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Mary Bousted cautioned on Radio 4's Today programme against the plan to allow soldiers to skip teacher training:

"The idea that you can simply take the skills and abilities you've learnt in war or on the parade ground or through army manoeuvres and those can be translated undigested into teaching without any further training is ridiculous.
"This also makes the bigger point that these free schools aren't free, they are paid for by tax payers' money and there's no guarantee that if you send your child to a free school you'll be taught by a teacher."

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Daily View: Banking reforms

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011


Vince Cable


Commentators weigh in on the debate over banking reforms ahead of the Independent Commission on Banking's final recommendations, due on 12 September.

In the Guardian columnist Will Hutton says despite protests from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the government must stand its ground to avoid a second bailout:

"Sir John Vickers's Independent Commission on Banking is set to propose a two-pronged solution: as far as possible retail and commercial banking is to be ringfenced from investment banking, and all banking should carry a great deal more capital. In a submission I co-wrote to the commission, I argued that such ringfencing make lending to small and medium-sized enterprise relatively more attractive, and noted the mounting evidence that banks could be required to double their core capital to 17-20% without constraining - in normal conditions - their capacity to lend. This would make all western banks safer, lower their profits to more normal levels, and reduce bank bonuses."

Likewise, Conservative MP Jesse Norman berates the CBI in the Times for criticising potential reforms:

"It could be a huge force for good, fighting crony capitalism and promoting real, competitive, risky, entrepreneurial day's-work-for-a-day's-pay capitalism - the sort that will eventually get us out of this mess. Yet at the moment the CBI seems to prefer the interests of a few big companies and banks to those of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary businesses that make up its membership. Time for an overhaul."

But director of the think tank Policy Exchange Neil O'Brien argues in the Telegraph that while the debate between Vince Cable and the CBI have focused on the timing of reforms, the recommendation - to split up the banks' investment and retail sides - may not actually work:

"By separating their activities, both investment banks and retail banks become more risky. If you have both types of activity in one institution they are able to share risks. Put really simply, there will be times when the investment bank bit does well and the retail bank badly, and vice versa. They can lean on each other for support. By splitting them up, they lose the advantages of this natural diversification."

James Forsyth predicts in the Spectator that John Vickers' recommendations will not be welcomed by David Cameron, giving the prime minister a political dilemma:

"The bad news for Cameron and Osborne is that Vickers looks set to come down on the Lib Dem side of the argument. I understand that Numbers 10 and 11 expect him to propose 'draconian rules on ringfencing'. To make matters worse for them, Sir John has told officials that he'll publicly object if he thinks that his proposals are being watered down or kicked into the long grass...
"So, Cameron and Osborne have a decision to make: are they prepared to expend the political capital necessary to beat off Cable and Vickers? Looking like the bankers' friend is hardly an appealing political proposition at the moment. But if Cameron and Osborne let Vickers through, they could end up creating an even bigger economic headache for themselves in the medium term."

Meanwhile Steve Richards suggests in the Independent that bankers are still more unpopular than highly paid footballers, and predicts which politicians the public will side with:

"The final recommendations of the Vickers report next month will define more rigidly what banks can and cannot do. Vince Cable is a keen advocate of sweeping change. George Osborne plays for time. But the fans are already whistling to bring the banking saga to some form of cathartic resolution and are on Cable's side."

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