Here’s another instance of the Tories attempting to silence Left-wing bloggers and online critics. Today’s I newspaper for the 18th December 2014 has a story on page 4 about Grant Shapps being accused of trying to shut down The Political Scrapbook. Shapps used his lawyers to try to bully the blog, sending it three letters threatening to sue because of two stories it published about the Tory chairman. The same firm of lawyers acting for Shapps also sent a letter threatening legal action on behalf of another, unnamed Tory MP, who was also the subject of a blog post. Despite the threats, neither Shapps nor his unnamed colleague have followed up with legal action.
This isn’t the first or only time politicians, of both the Left, Right and Centre, have tried to close down their critics through threats of legal action. There have been any number of cases of…
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The Conservatives have said they will target working class Northern voters even as austerity measures continue.
Tory party chairman Grant Shapps hit back at claims the party had “given up on the North” and insisted tomorrow’s Budget will be good news for the region.
With a strong UKIP vote predicted in the upcoming European elections, the party is still way behind any signs of a revived North East presence.
Mr Shapps said he was confident the party could fight back in the region.
He said: “I recognise that we have a long way to go, we took over a recession from the last Government, there was no double dip recession.
“Now there are in the North East 17,000 more people in a job than there were.
> 15,000 of them are self-employed leaflet distributors….
There is just the start of the recovery. I know the North East had some big issues to deal with, the reliance on the public sector, but it is showing good signs.”
He admitted though that there was little hope in sight of an end to Government spending cuts.
“What we need to do now is not create more Government jobs but help create more private sector jobs,” he said.
“There is no short cut. If you believe you can somehow just raise taxes and spend money on jobs we know from years of experience that it just does not work.
“We have come this far, it has been difficult and painful, I totally get that. But what we do not want to do is hand the car keys back to the people who crashed this economy in the first place.”
> No chance of that, they never gave up possession of the car keys in the first place… just got someone else to take the points on their licence (something certain Lib Dems, for example, know all about).
Mr Shapps faces a difficult task turning that economic message into votes in the North East, with a 10% unemployment rate standing as the UK’s highest.
Asked if he feared losing out to UKIP in the region despite the Budget message, Mr Shapps said: “If voters want a referendum the last thing they should do is vote UKIP, because that will just hand power to Labour, and then you will never get what you want.”
Over the weekend Labour had attacked the Tories record in the North, saying it had abandoned the region.
Asked if he thought this was true, Mr Shapps said: “Absolutely not, the North has been the engine of the economy and I think we will see that again in the North, and Conservatives are going to be a part of that.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 18 March 2014
This article was written by Patrick Butler, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th March 2014
MPs have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for a series of rule breaches in which official statistics were used inaccurately, inappropriately, or to “spin” stories about benefit claimants.
The Commons work and pensions committee also criticised the DWP for shortcomings in the management of claims for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), a disability benefit that replaces the Disability Living Allowance, saying it was unacceptable claimants were having to wait six months or more to find out if they were eligible.
A report by the MPs warned the DWP to exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits”.
> exercise care in the language used in its press releases and ministerial comments to ensure they do not feed into “negative preconceptions and prejudices about people on benefits – as if they strayed into negative preconceptions by accident ! Its what they were designed to do. Where have these MPs been for the past few years ?
It cites examples in the past few months where the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) criticised the use of DWP statistics, including by the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, and Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps.
Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee chair, said: “Statistics should be used to shed light on policy implementation, not to prop up established views or feed preconceptions.
“Government efforts to promote a positive image of disabled people will be undermined if the language used by DWP when communicating benefit statistics to the media feeds into negative perceptions and prejudices about benefit recipients, including disabled people.”
The committee said it had warned the government as early as 2011 to take more care over the way it presented information on benefits statistics to the media. Ministers had replied then by saying they had a “robust” system in place to ensure no abuses took place.
However, the committee notes in a report into DWP performance, published on Tuesday , that problems still remained and that the UKSA had reprimanded the department a number of times in 2013 for the way it handled welfare statistics.
In one case, the Conservative party had put out a press release which quoted party chair Grant Shapps citing DWP figures that purported to show nearly a million people had dropped their incapacity benefit claim rather than face a work capability test. The UKSA found that two sets of figures had been erroneously and misleadingly conflated.
Duncan Smith said he and his officials had not prepared one criticised Conservative party release, and he had had “conversations” with Shapps to ensure in future he checked with the department if he was going to say something about DWP statistics.
In a separate case, Duncan Smith was officially reprimanded for claiming that the threat of the benefit cap had directly persuaded 8,000 of claimants to get a job. This clearly demonstrated that the cap was working, he said. But the UKSA ruled that there was no statistical evidence to support this.
The DWP director of communications John Shield told MPs that Duncan Smith had the right to make clear his “opinion” on “what he thinks the data are saying”. But he admitted that on this occasion the DWP press office had been involved in the preparation of the secretary of state’s claims.
The committee report says government statistics should be presented fairly, accurately and unspun, “and this is especially the case when they are being used to justify a particular policy or a particular allocation of resources.”
Regarding delays in PIP, the report urges ministers to involve financial penalty clauses to force private contractors Atos and Capita to speed up the claims process.
Begg said: “Many disabled or sick people face waits of six months or more for a decision on their PIP eligibility. Even those with terminal illnesses are having to wait far longer than was anticipated. This not only leaves people facing financial difficulties whilst they await a decision, but causes severe stress and uncertainty. It is completely unacceptable.”
The committee’s findings echo a recent National Audit Office report, which concluded that the PIP programme suffered from “poor early operational performance” leading to long and uncertain delays for claimants.
A DWP spokesman said: “PIP is a completely new benefit with a new face-to-face assessment and regular reviews. In some cases this end-to-end claims process is taking longer than the old system of Disability Living Allowance, which relied on a self-assessment form.
“We are working with providers to ensure that all the steps in the process are as smooth as they can be and the benefit is backdated so no-one is left out of pocket.
“Claims for terminally ill people are fast-tracked and Macmillan has acknowledged that improvements in the system have already been made. Latest statistics show over 99% of people with terminal illnesses who have applied have been awarded the benefit, which means over 9,500 terminally ill claimants are now receiving PIP.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 18 March 2014
THE region’s Labour MPs have thrown their weight behind Ed Miliband’s plans to shake up trade union influence over the party, ahead of a crunch vote.
The North-East MPs enthusiastically backed the proposals, arguing they would strengthen – rather than weaken – the historic link with rank-and-file union members.
Some also welcomed a greater say for party members, despite the package dramatically diluting the influence of MPs themselves in choosing the party leader.
And others expressed hope that voters would respect Labour for standing up against large donors – at a time when the Conservatives are bankrolled by big companies and the wealthy.
Only Dave Anderson, the Blaydon MP, broke ranks to criticise Mr Miliband for “naval gazing”, instead of focusing on defeating a “lousy” Government.
In contrast, Easington MP Grahame Morris – who had previously criticised the shake-up – said he was prepared to give the Labour leader the benefit of the doubt.
The leftwinger said: “There are dangers involved and I question the whole basis for doing this, but I will support the changes.”
That basis was the damaging row over murky behaviour in Falkirk, where the Unite union was found to have tried to “manipulate” the selection of its candidate.
> Ironic, really, since that’s what the whole electoral system is about – trying to manipulate the selection of one candidate or another.
Now, in the biggest shake-up since Labour was born more than a century ago, Mr Miliband wants to introduce a “one member, one vote” system for electing future party leaders.
The current electoral college – giving the unions, MPs and the party’s 180,000 members equal one-third shares of the vote – will be swept away.
But candidates for the leadership will need to win nominations from about 25 per cent of Labour MPs, double the current 12.5 per cent threshold, to enter the leadership ballot.
In 2010, such a barrier would have allowed only the two Miliband brothers onto the shortlist – excluding Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott, the other candidates.
But the other key reform – to union funding – will now be phased in, over five years, after officials admitted to fears the party would “take a financial hit”.
By 2020, union members who want to contribute to Labour’s funds will have to “opt in”, rather than “opt out”, becoming “associate Labour members” for a reduced fee.
The unions currently provide Labour with £8.5m a year in affiliation fees. If only half of the current 2.7m affiliated union members “opt in”, then Labour could lose £4m annually.
Unison, the key public service union, already has such a system – giving Labour a pool of 400,000 affiliated members from which to recruit immediately.
The package – overwhelmingly approved by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) earlier this month – will be put to a special party conference on March 1.
But Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said: “Ed Miliband promised to loosen the trade union barons’ grip on the Labour Party. But he has been too weak to deliver.”
THE VIEWS OF NORTH-EAST LABOUR MPS:
Dave Anderson (Blaydon): “We face an enormous struggle to get rid of the present lousy administration, so the last thing the Labour movement needs is to spend precious time navel gazing.”
Hugh Bayley (York): “This will show the public that the Labour Party continues to modernise and, unlike other parties, reduce the influence of large donors.”
Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland): “This is a step in the right direction and shows Ed Miliband wants to lead his party and the country.”
Jenny Chapman (Darlington): “I am happy with the reforms. It will introduce more voices and make Labour more representative of working people.”
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North): “It will be positive to have individual – rather than block – votes, but it will still be important for the party to be challenged and positively influenced by the unions.”
Kevan Jones (North Durham): “This is well overdue. It will make the party more transparent and democratic and re-connect us with thousands of trade unionists. Ed has got the balance right.”
Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough): “The trade union movement and the Labour Party are of the same root and future. These reforms will help to enshrine this most important bond.”
Grahame Morris (Easington): “If this leads to more trade unionists becoming involved in the Labour party, that will be a good thing – but that will only happen if we make an attractive offer to working people.”
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield): “I don’t want Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and BNP supporters who happen to be a member of a trade union to have a say in the leadership of my party. Only those committed to Labour should.”
Iain Wright (Hartlepool): “Creating a mass membership party of trade unionists and others will make sure Labour never again loses touch with its roots.”
> No comment from any of the Wearside or Tyneside Labour MPs (Dave Anderson excepted) ? And since when was York in the North East ?
Source – Northern Echo, 20 Feb 2014
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