Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A little bit of politics

Yes, I know it's a diversion from my normal output, but variety is the spice of life and all that.

Back in 2001, Jo Moore - special adviser and press officer to Stephen Byers in the Department for Transport, Local Government and The Regions - found herself in hot water for suggesting that 11 September was a "good day to bury bad news". Earlier in that day the attacks on the World Trade Center and The Pentagon had ensured that any domestic news was going to be well down the media's list of priorities.

When her e-mail was leaked, Moore found herself in an untenable position and was eventually shown the door. She won't have been the first special adviser to make such a suggestion, nor will she have been the last. Just the one who unfortunately got caught out taking advantage of a tragic situation.

Events of the last couple of months have created a news climate that any budding Jo Moores in Conservative Central Office must have seen as manna from heaven.

On 1 October, five year old April Jones went missing from her mid Wales home. The following day, Ed Milliband stood up and gave a well structured, inspirational speech at the Labour Party Conference. Guess which was the lead item on most news outlets? Rightly so, a missing child takes priority every time, but the Conservatives couldn't have scripted it better if they had tried.

The same week, ITV screened its documentary allegations that Sir Jimmy Saville had been a prolific paedophile and abuser of children during his years working for the BBC. In the three weeks since, the BBC has attempted to devour itself from the inside with the rest of media circled around egging it on.

In the meantime, all sorts of muddled thinking has been emerging from the government and sliding into mainstream media obscurity.
  • Energy Minister Ed Davey has contradicted the Prime Minister on energy tariffs.
  • Developers have been given the green light to renege on deals for affordable homes
  • The "shares for employment rights" announcement, enabling firms to offer potentially worthless shares in themselves in exchange for protection against employment law
  • At best misleading, at worst downright false statements about the availability of clinical trial data for drugs the NHS is spending millions of pounds on
  • Plans to put core elements of the Probation Service out to private tender
It has been left to the bloggersphere and social media to pick up and run with these stories, while the mainstream media contents itself with lascivious muck-raking and speculation on who might have known what about whom thirty plus years ago.

Just an additional thought on the last one of those bullet points. One of those considered most likely to tender for Probation Service work is G4S. You remember them, right? They used to be called Group 4 Security, before their name became synonymous with losing prisoners in transport or at court.

In recent months they have managed to muck up recruiting for security personnel at the Olympics to the extent the armed forces had to bail them out. They sent a private security contractor to a war zone, who subsequently shot and killed two colleagues despite warnings about his mental state and past behaviour. Their staff physically tipped a heavily pregnant woman out of a wheelchair in an immigration centre, putting her and her unborn child at serious risk of injury according to an independent report.

I wouldn't trust them to look after my pets while I am on holiday, yet they could very soon be responsible for ensuring that re-offending rates in your neighbourhood come down. Hands up everyone who has confidence in their ability to deliver?

Still, who cares about efficiency and delivery in public services when can dissect them and flog their vital organs to your private sector donors and partners eh?

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