Category Archives: Big society

Met Failure: No Whistles


The Met  has pointed out that it had too few policemen to keep order on Saturday in London. Of course, we know there has been forced reductions in police numbers so we can be sympathetic. After the main demonstration ended there were only 4,500 policeman to deal with 500 violent demonstrators, a ratio of nine policemen to 500 thugs and hooligans; far too few to deal with them properly.

Was this a failure of the Big Society? In an earlier blog I pointed out that as the Big Society was to take over policing, so to speak a call should be made for volunteers. This call was handicapped, so to speak, by a national shortage shortage of police whistles. I was not heeded for there are still too few. The main demostration was self-policed by volunteers. All was quiet and peaceful. Did anyone think well there is an opportunity for us? Let us recruit them on our side. Where was the organiser of the Big Society? Nowhere to be seen. Where was the pre-thought? Did his staff set out to recruit enpough volunteers to help the police? I have pointed out in a blog that you cannot expect volunteers to confront thugs. However,  a moments thought would establish how useful they could have been. The anarchists and thugs were well organised and effective. Their tactics were to make quick raids on the target shops, banks and offices before the police could get there. Their  sphere of operation was narrow and confined to the heart of London. Supposing in each of these streets which were attacked volunteers had been placed with whistles and mobile phones. As these thugs approached, and before the thugs could do anything, they would blow their whistles in the good old way of yesteryear. The police would head for the affected streets with great speed on their bicycles and the thugs could be arrested before they could inflict any damage.

So what do we have here. It is a Big Society failure. No one in the office, no recruitment of volunteers, no Met. Plan to instruct volunteers on their duties, and above all – no whistles. I pointed out earlier that  orders should be placed with British manufacturers for suitable supplies of police whistles. I suggested that they would be needed. They were needed on Saturday. Someone should take the rap for this. I know export orders for several dodgy states in the Middle East are remunerative for whistle manufacturers (and God only knows they are needed there) but they were needed in London on Saturday and so far as I can ascertain not a single whistle had been issued and noe were blown.

It is painful to witness mindless destruction. I am vehemently opposed to it. It is said by the Met that we should not be too critical. Criminal charges would be brought against these criminals and  CTV cameras would be scoured for the identification of culprits. What a sham. Do they not know that the Coalition has forced local authorities to remove these cameras. An invasion of our liberties, they said. They will have to do better. Do they not know that for the lack of a whistle the battle could be lost lost, for the loss of the battle the Big Society lost, for the loss of the Big Society the  governance of London would be decimated. Hold on was our Dave really working for the overthrow of Boris Johnson? Now it begins to make sense.

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Filed under Anarchists, Assembly Elections, BBC, Big society, Boris Johnson, Cameron, Civil liberties, Coalition Government, Economics, Ed Milliband, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dems, London, Metropolital Police, Nick Clegg, Politics, Town centres

Cameron: Angel of Hope


David Cameron is in Cairo to instruct the Egyptians in democracy. As an impulsive gesture, his visit  comes as a surprise. There was hardly time to brief him. William Hague was in Europe carefully coordinating policy with our European allies; President Obama was keeping his head down#; but our Dave was winging his way into the maelstrom. It reminds me of Rudolf Hess, Deputy to Adolf Hitler, who confronted with the German invasion of the Soviet Union flew to Scotland to negotiate peace with Britain. He was promptly put in prison. I have often wondered what Hitler said about it when he first knew.

I have news for the readers of this post. He was briefed before leaving. In the true meaning of the word it did not take long to read the notes. Hague wrote: ‘Don’t do it.’  The Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office expressed himself as forceably. ‘Remember, he said, the long and troubled colonial background to our relationship with Egypt and our traditional support of Egyptian dictators. Don’t go on about teaching them democracy, they won’t appreciate it. In particular don’t mention the Suez Canal and the unreliability of army generals. George Osborne, as befits a friend in the modern era,  tweeted him. ‘Dave, please, please don’t go on about the need for austerity, wage restraint and the imperative need to cut the deficit. Wrong time, wrong place’ . Several Cabinet members, in hope of promotion, urged him to introduce the idea of the Big Society to the Army Council and the attractions of small government. With patience and skill, he would be able to show them that it was a time to look away from the benificence of the state and the advantages of encouraging voluntary action. After all that is what these common Egyptian Jonnies  have been practicing in the streets.

It has been rumoured, although I doubt the veracity of the reports, that a Labour Party faction in touch with Egyptian trade unions has urged them to practice a citizens arrest. They might consider that Dave would be a lasting asset to them. Someone with his historical knowledge and awareness of the difficulties of the man in the street would be invaluable on a lasting basis. Of course it would be a loss to British public life to lose our Dave for a prolonged period of time; but we are all social democrats now and we could make do without him.

What we don’t want is national embarassment. Perhaps when he gets there no one will want to meet him. After all not many Egyptian soldiers know anything about the Big Society. Come to think of it not many Britons know much either. If these Generals know anything about Coalition cuts to our armed forces they might exercise caution. Of course there is no harm in a furtive photograph or two. Back in Britain there would be national support for a Unison strike at our airports to keep out Dave. Not for ever of course but for a month or two. I’m sure a whip round to cover lost wages would attract widespread support.

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Lenin, Elephants and the Big Society


Goodness. have you noticed, we have an elephant in our front room. Don’t panic. The important thing now is not to get excited. If you agitate the elephant it can do real damage. Let us think before we act. To hell with that ring 999 and get the emergency services. Hold on, that’s just what he wants. Elephants are attention seekers. If we know how he got in we can work out how to get rid of him. Agreed? Good. We didn’t put him there,  did we ? Of course, we must have been careless it must have taken quite an effort to put him there and a good deal of noise – and we didn’t notice. Be a little careless and you wake up one morning to find him there. Agreed? Fine. Let’s look at the ideology of this. Who would think it a good idea to give us an elephant?  I don’t know. Well I looked it up on Google. Did you know that there is a Society for the Domestication of Elephants? It is based in East Grinstead and a Mrs Fortescue Smythe is the Secretary. Quite voluntary of course, but you can make a contribution. But to counter this sort of propoganda you must take account of the ideology of it. I detect the hands of Veblen and Lenin. Yes, don’t laugh. Veblen wrote a book called The Theory of the Leisure Class. His point was once a society had met all the primary needs of its citizens what was left was a great deal of time on your hands. In East Grinstead you retire at 50 with a fat pension, daddy leaves you a lot of money, and you have a great deal of time on your hands. At first you go on holiday (not much chance of a trip down the Nile and a visit to the pyramids these days, joke joke!) How many weeks to tidy up the loft and clear out the garage, Six weeks at tops?. What do you do then? You volunteer, of course and do good deeds. Now doing good to others is not easy. You find that people with professional qualifications are ahead of you and local government thinks you unsuitable. Damn cheek. Now along comes David Cameron and he agrees with you. You don’t need to know anything at all really. Start  a voluntary organisation of your own and get going. And how does Lenin get into the act. Easy peasy. He read Veblen and it seemed to him that what would happen in a society  when basic human needs were met is that people had time on their hands. So he organised them to do voluntary work. After a while people got bored. There were better things to do than to sweep up, metaphorically speaking , for nothing. No one paid you and physical labour was not everyone’s cup of tea. Arthritus, overweight, you know the kind of thing. The coaches taking people to the fields and to council estates were not alway filled. People took long lunch times and drank too much. There were problems of arthritus and fat bellies In the end they had to be forced to do these things. Not many people liked this. And the rest as they say is history. Hence the elephants. What local authorities are involved in the domestication of elephants/ None. No competition there. Still not every household is taken on the idea of keeping an elephant.. They have to be encouraged. Hence our elephant. Our society is a Big Society. You don’t get much bigger than a white elephant. What  shall we do then. Well if the Libyans can get rid of Ghadaffi can’t we get rid of our Dave and his white elephants?

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The Universal Benefits Sham


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today in such vast numbers. This is a big stadium but not big enough to accommodate the numbers clambering to come in. I want everyone to come in, to join in a scheme to get people into the world of work. To get you into work, no less. Some will say slaving away in a soul-destroying  job for a miserable wage is no way to live a life. I profoundly disagree. I am not the first person to say this: but never mind the slavery of it,  work will save you and advance the best and true interests of you and your family.

Some will say, ‘I should talk. Born with a silver spoon and a comfortable home life.’ I have to tell you that my life has not been a bowl of cherries. Far from it. My parents insisted I do my homework every night before the computer games. There was voluntary work in the Army Cadet Force and the Boy Scouts and an anxious period of seven days before uncle Jack gave me my first job.

Here I am going to say something difficult for you all. There is not enough money to go round. People like me are tired of having to support you all through the payment of high  taxes, You must do more to help yourselves. The way to do this is to get a job. Vast numbers of you have given up on work. Pull yourself together. There are jobs out there  waiting for you. You may not wish to do them BUT you must. There is no more money to keep you in fags and beer.

Now I am here to help. Before I came into this stadium I persuaded some corporate friends of mine to create some jobs. There are 167 of these jobs. As you came into the stadium you received a numbered ticket. These tickets are to be chosen at random and 167 of you will be offered a job. I cannot say where or what these jobs are. You may have to move home, retrain, go back to school to take advantage of them BUT they are jobs. No don’t thank me. It’s the least I can do.

I know some of you, despite government payouts, are hungry. Don’t despair. There are 21 exits to this stadium. At each of these will be an official with a basket containing loaves, fish and chocolate, They will give you something as you go out. It may seem to you that this is not much given your circumstances. But is not a portion of bread, a small fish and a tomato better than nothing at all? I believe in miracles. I think you will find that the food is enough for you all. And good luck with the job lottery. You deserve a little luck. Go quietly now and in an orderly manner. Britain is not North Africa and will never be so while  I am at the helm of the ship of state. (Cheers and some boos. It starts to rain.) Well that turned out well.

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Big Society: Slash, Burn and Replace


I am rather excited. I have gained an exclusive interview (imagined) with our Dave and he has kindly offered to answer  my questions, no matter how critical, about the Big Society. There speaks the bravery of  a man with the courage of his own (almost exclusively his own) opinions.

 Prime Minister, can I call you Dave, good. Would it be true that the present economic circumstamces when public expenditure cuts are limiting the size of the public sector, is a prime opportunity for you. If I understand it you wish to replace the provision of public services with the unpaid efforts of voluntary organisations and their members and supporters. Is this true? Charlie, there is a need in Britain to fix the broken society. There are unsolved social problems that are best met by the private sector, by individuals who really care. But Dave that isn’t true. Over the past fifteen years there has been a vast expansion of charitable and voluntary services. The activities of government in meeting social needs has created new opportunities for voluntary services to fill in the gaps and to supplement the efforts of government. And it follows that to cut one is to cut the other.

Well Charlie,  there is something in what you say, but all this activity has not solved the problems of a broken society. There, Dave, your analysis is sadly lacking. If you are talking about crime, and despite all your efforts to inflate the figures, there is universal acceptance that crime has fallen some 40 percent over the last ten years. And by any reasonable set of criteria there is more caring and volunteering in our society than at any time in our history.

Well don’t you think Charlie that encouraging citizens to voluntarily provide their services is a good thing in itself. No Dave, I don’t. It may be  and on the other hand it may not. A great deal depends on the professionalism of those individuals volunteering to replace professional trained staff. What ordinary citizens should do is to get on with their lives, look after their families and pay their taxes. Caring and participating should, in the main,  be the task of paid professionals who know what they are doing, not volunteers with more enthusiasm than skill. This is not how I was brought up Charlie. We were taught to care for our fellow citizens, to contribute to charitable endeavours, to join the scouts and the women’s institutes. And a jolly good thing it was too. More of that and the world would be a good and better place. For you Dave, it has always been a good place. Other people, other lives, other needs. Grow up Dave, you’re a big boy now.

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A Very English Revolution


In England we do not do Revolutions. They are for foreign countries denied freedom of expression and parliamentary government. Is that right? It seems so but the belief in social cohesion and solidarity of purpose is about to be tested. Our beliefs may turn out to be illusory. In 2011/2 real incomes are likely to fall at a faster pace than at any time since the 1920’s a decade followed by slow growth and high unemployment. At that time we took it all very meekly. Then, as now, some thirty percent of the population was doing very nicely. They were in employment and enjoying steady increases in real wages. Unemployment and poverty was concentrated in foreign places: Scotland, Wales and the frozen North. Of course, the unemployed protested, but in a orderly fashion: hunger marches, dole queues and long lines of working people not at all like us. Men, and families, to be pitied, consciences to be stirred,  but largely to be forgotten on golf courses and at bridge parties.

Over the last two years citizens, you know the ordinary folk who pay the wages of the political elites, have wondered whether ‘that lot’ at Westminster are really representing us at all. While hardly anyone wishes to resurrect class war, many people must wonder whether these Old Etonians with their posh accents and monied interests really ‘get us’ the people. Do we wish to pass back to a Victorian condition of poor public sevices and a Samuel Smiles concept of self help and charity to all (sorry some, the deserving poor). 

Well, what can we do about it? Those who object We could start by admitting to ourselves that we are responsible. We allowed this lot to gang up against us, cobble together an agreement that no one voted for, and are busy changing the rules so that it is extremely difficult to get rid of a government in the short term.

I can hear some of my readers objections at this point. Come on now, they say, this is a parody of the truth. Every citizen knows that the huge public deficit must be reduced and the sooner the better. Personally I agree: drastic problems require drastic remedies. But just suppose that the economic strategy being imposed upon us is wrong. It doesn’t work. What if we are destroying a valued social structure and welfare state for nothing? What then? Why, you say, in all reasonableness . if we are proceeding for the rocks we can change course Can we? Boy George and our Dave say. ‘Not on your Nellie’, or words to that effect, Like the Blessed Margaret before them these Old Etonians warming themselves in the last rays of an   August sunset across their playing fields are not for turning.

Well Boys, then we must get rid of you by the means at our disposal. They know it, you can see it in their faces. and the panic measures they advance. Can we the people do it? Can we the people save ourselves? I don’t know. But I do pose the question

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Steady As She Sinks


Imagine the scene. Captain Osborn stands on the bridge of the Titanic as it hits the iceberg and shudders to a halt. ‘Panic, ye not’ , he cries, ‘this ship is unsinkable’. Stay right where you are. It is no use running to the lifeboats for there is not room for you all. It is a feature of the design. There are only two pathways: forward or down. For the moment we cannot go forward but who in their right mind wishes to go down. Have faith. We shall overcome.

Of course, it may not be an iceberg and, if it turns out to be one, perhaps only  small. This is a test of leadership. And communication – don’t forget that. Where is that chap Coulson? He is so good in a crisis.  But what if it is a large one? What if the ship is sinking and nothing can be done? Of course, we don’t know yet. One quarter’s provisional slump in GDP is not not the albatross we all might  fear. Wait a while. Courage mon brave. But it must be admitted that the economic prospects look bad.

Over the last few months, I have argued that the outcome of a crisis is usually somewhere between peoples hopes and fears, that we will not get a double dip recession but rather a long grind forward at the expense of much that we hold dear about the British way of life and a great deal of suffering by millions of people. To remain sane in an insane world requires us to think like this. You avoid the worst by confidently believing in something better. No one can say that David Cameron lacks optimism or courage. But far worse than abundance of self-confidence, perhaps they are plain wrong about the Coalition’s programme of deficit cutting, small government and a Victorian strategy of self help and charity.

I confess to an ideological bias of my own. I believe in an enabling society, universal social benefits and rights and a fair degree of central direction and management of the economy. Looking back over the last two hundred years I believe that social democratic ideals work out best. Of course this leads to some people obtaining benefits to which they are not entitled, to benefit cheats and loafing about. It is a price worth paying. That is just my opinion, of course. I would not have set sail in the Titanic or aquiesced in a design with too few life boats or believe in the invincibility of the Captain. Let us all admit it is too late to avoid the voyage we were jockeyed into last May. Each man to his own is the cry as the lemmings force their way to the upper deck and the life boats. Hold on, where’s Nick, Dave and George? Surely they will think it morally right to go down with the ship. Have they somehow slipped a way to fight another battle on another day.? Yet another iceberg, more confident assertions? After all, surely there is no alternative? Steady does it while we sink.

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The Politics of Uncertainty


Economic forecasting is an art and all who practice it are merely players. That having been said there is little doubt that the latest OBR economic forecast gives the Coalition more to crow about than the Labour Opposition. The odds of the Coalition’s deficit reduction strategy, or in fancy language the Consolidation,  working out is now over 50 percent, employment will remain high, the economy will start to re-balance, in the jargon, and all should be well and improving when the next General Election is upon us. After all, as we all know economic growth is cyclical, recessions are followed by recoveries, one is taking place, and all is well with the world.

It takes some believing. Exports bounce ahead with an annual growth rate of 6 percent and investment is sharply upwards despite the fragility of currencies and uncertainties in world trade. It might be right though and as my mother used to say, there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden. Why don’t I see them then, if that’s the case. You don’t see them because they only come put to play in the night, when you are asleep. And no, no camping out in the garden

Might all this happen? Yes it might but then on the other hand it might not. For the moment the Coalition has the better of the argument and yahboo is not an answer. There are many good tactical reasons for vagueness and indecision on the Opposition benches but it disappoints. Were Labour really to believe that growth will grind along in the valley of despair and unemployment and short time working is our fate, what do they propose to save us? If by a freak of fortune Labour became the Government in a few weeks time, what would it do? What for goodness sake is the Labour Party’s platform?

I don’t expect to receive an answer and for this vapidity I blame Ed Milliband. Leaders come in many shapes and sizes but one thing is for certain: they must be Pathfinders. By all means consult, detail is a virtue, listening is good BUT you are the leader and what do you say? Where do you wish to lead the Labour Party? What is your opinion? All these questions can be answered without detailed policies with all the t’s crossed. Tell us where you are and where you are going with this. And for God’s sake do it soon. A few more weeks of empty generalisations and you are lost for ever. Who really, in their mind of minds, wishes to go down in history as the Ian Duncan Smith of the Labour Party. Surely one Ian Duncan Smith is enough. Fail now and you are lost for ever.

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Happiness Pill Revisited


Some weeks ago I advocated the development and use of a happiness pill. Priority was to be given to our children and then progressively to all citizens in constant contact with them: parents,  other relatives and teachers and so on. I do not think David Cameron was among my readers because if he had he would not have committed himself to a happiness index.

Philosphically, an index is a difficult and complex concept  which seeks to codify incompatibles. It advances a simple proposition, first given us by Aristotle, that ‘happiness is the sole aim of life which consumes all others’. Well, yes BUT no. Consider the sadist. His joy and contentment is gained by acts of painful cruelty against others. And  the masochist, who is entirely miserable unless the subject of pain and ignominy. Is public policy to embrace both their needs? The miser wishes to hide and store his valuable resources while  the  adventurous  entreneur is stifled by lack of capital. The bully needs victims, the abuser the vulnerable, and the paedophile hunts the innocent. Are they all to be led onto the purple pathway to joy?

Consider the Puritan. What is the purpose of life? To do my duty, love God and my neighbour? Well, yes, but does that cover the arduous tasks of caring for those suffering from dementia or mental illness? Can performing the tasks involved for a 7 day, 24 hour, service to the afflicted bring human happiness to you?

My proposal for the national adoption of a happiness pill solves these problems. Everyone who takes a pink tablet will be happy. The sadist will not need his victims; the pressure of homework will be eased by jokes and pleasantries; while the male abuser does not need the alchohol his batteries are fueled on and takes joy in sharing the housework and doing the washing up. It is a universal remedy to a universal problem: unhappiness. No one on a pill a day will ever be unhappy.

Those housewives suffering from memory loss as a result of daily dosages of valium need have no fear. The happiness pill will not be toxic or addictive, and there will be no side effects. There will be many important benefits:  days lost from work caused by  depressive illnesses and boredom will be minimised. Even the most demanding and tedious of work tasks will be performed by happy and grateful workers. Output will rise and taxes fall. We shall have more leisure time and children will skip happily to school with completed homework in their satchells. Are you feeling happier now?

I can sense that our Dave remains hesitant. Dave, isn’t it true that on some days you are not happy at all and on other days you start happy and become miserable. If happiness is so important to you forget the nonsense of the index and take one pink tablet at breakfast with a glass of water every day. We shall be with you, Dave. And as we all know, because you have told us, we are all in this together. Cheers, down the hatch!

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Welfare Compassion


The pathway to universal social benefits for those who need them has never appealed to the Right in politics. Their message has alway been, ‘very nice but the nation cannot afford it’. In their time the country could not afford a state pension, or the NHS, unemployment benefit, a minimum wage, or a guaranteed income for the disabled and the destitute. This conviction runs  in parallel with a value judgement: these benefits should only go to the deserving poor, and to its associate idea, that not many are deserving. It was once the case that poverty was considered not to be a sin but a misfortune. It was  the Victorians who branded it otherwise.

Social democrats have always considered welfare as a safety net through which the unfortunate should not fall. Human nature being infaillable it was accepted that there would always be some who abused the system but that no device of man could prevent some abuse. Taxpayers were the fortunate: after all they had income and their taxes helped the unfortunate.

Is it possible to select the deserving and weed out the spongers? One can try, it is right to attempt it, but the pathway leads to poverty, discrimination and, yes, a lack of compassion. There are a thousand reasons for some not working: mental or physical problems, looking after children or incapacitated adults – and a lack of work. Now all these people and they run to hundreds of thousands are for the high jump. If they try and fail to get a job any payment being made to them and their families will stop.  ‘Work will make you free’. Hold on, are they not the words above the entrance to the Auchwitz concentration camp? Some of these people, staring at the tellie with instant coffee to hand, know at the start they will fail. And what about the children? We shall look after them say the Coalition at the same time denying this family financial help. How will this be done? If they are shunted to a boarding house in Hastings, homeless, penniless, away from school and friends, are they being helped? Surely it is better and more compassionate to help keep this family together in its own home. It is usually better to have a home than not.

Well it is objected, I exagerate. It will not come to that. But it will for some family near to you, perhaps many near to you. What about your neighbour or your neighbour’s friend?  Let us consider the 8,500 London families whose  Housing Benefit is to be cut, some of these will lose their home and fail to find another. Not all of them you mutter, and serve them right, they, this family, should get on their bikes, assuming that they have them, and find something else. Some will, but some cannot. Perhaps no more than half, you retort, will lose out.  Oh that’s good not more than a  half, being 5,000 families in southern coast boarding houses. No problem. One would be too many, ten a mishap, but thousands of avoidable family disasters? Surely,  a shame on us all!

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