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It’s the economy stupid!

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Keeping a sense of priority

Now that the general election campaign seems to be underway with Conservative leader David Cameron starting a string of policy announcements and unelected Prime Minister Brown declaring that Labour will fight every inch of the way as underdogs it is good to note that our local candidates are (a) getting into the swing of things, and (b) being frank enough to raise some personal pet policies that they feel will need looking at in the future.

The economy, of course is the priority concern for just about everybody, and will remain so for at least the first two years of the next government, the budget deficit is out of control, government borrowing is so beyond the pail that it threatens Britain’s credit status with international financial institutions, public spending is so high and as a proportion of GDP threatens to choke economic recovery in the private sector, unless we see massive spending cuts soon we will all be landed with huge tax increases further weakening recovery or potentially launching us into a double dip recession.

Putting that not inconsiderate concern aside for a moment I’m particularly glad to learn that the South Shields Conservative candidate Karen Allen shares a healthy disregard for political correctness, the nanny state, and CCTV cameras, (she also appears to be a fan of Conservative MEP Dan Hannan), in her latest blog post she writes:

There are many, many things we need to be talking about – our civil liberties and mindless political correctness manifested in our nanny state – after of course the economic recovery – being pretty high on my list. We don’t need more laws; endless, expensive new installations of CCTV cameras and more red tape – people will take responsibility if we create an environment for them to be able to do so.

Which is more or less the points I have been making for a few years now, and I’m glad to hear a candidate who is not afraid to go slightly off message from time to time.

Meanwhile South Tyneside Conservative councillor Jeff Milburn, the Tory candidate for Jarrow, has been poking his toe into Gordon Brown’s soft underbelly on defence, an area  that also concerns me and one which could become an easy victim for large spending cuts regardless of the party in power. In a press release Jeff says:

Gordon Brown said that the Treasury reserve is covering the cost of the war in Afghanistan. But now we see that the Government is trying to fight a war from the core defence budget. Our defences are being cut, not as a response to a diminished threat – if anything the threat is increasing. This Labour Government has had four defence secretaries in four years, one of them part-time, is now cutting capability as a result of catastrophic economic mismanagement. Our brave Armed Forces are paying for Labour’s incompetence.

The new Chinook helicopters are of course welcome, but this decision would not have been necessary if the Prime Minister had not, against all advice, cut £1.4bn from the helicopter programme in 2004.  But for his failure to understand the Armed Forces, those Chinooks could have been on the front line today, saving the lives of our brave soldiers;  instead, they will not be available until at least 2013 by which time, according to the Prime Minister, we should have substantially transferred security responsibility to Afghan national forces.

There have been too many stories over the past 12-24 months of underfunded and poorly equipped missions in Afghanistan, defence procurement policy is a mess and needs  a drastic overhaul, as does the political direction of the Afghan campaign, we need clear objectives and a clear strategic timetable for withdrawal coupled with a strategic rethink of our total defence needs and capabilities.

Defence experts are now warning that the Royal Navy is facing a battle for survival as the Treasury sharpens it’s knives for deep spending cuts which may leave the new promised carriers dangerously short of escorts, or worse the planned build of ships will not take place at all to the levels previously committed to. At a time when Somalian pirates operate at will in one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes extorting money and seizing civilian crews in a “money for old rope” scam, you have to wonder just how we intend to protect British interests in the area. It also begs the question about whose hands the ransom money ends up in?

So whilst the economy must remain the biggest and most immediate priority it is good to see that Tory candidates have an eye on other areas that provide cause for concern.

David Miliband, the South Shields MP and Foreign Secretary, also appears to have other matters in his thoughts, according to this Telegraph article he has amassed a tidy sum of donations over the past year or so which Jon Swaine and Robert Winnett suggest are to be used to launch a new leadership bid, as speculation continues to rumble over whether or not Gordon Brown will lead the Labour Party into the election or whether his demise as leader will follow after the campaign.

While the other leadership contenders remained almost completely reliant on trade union funds, Mr Miliband received his money from a mixture of unions and private firms – the crucial combination that propelled Tony Blair into Downing Street.

A total of £7,000 of Mr Miliband’s haul came from sponsors of his annual “South Shields lecture”, which was delivered by Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary and a long-standing ally.

The 2008 lecture, which was given by the actor Sir Patrick Stewart, attracted just £2,000 in sponsorship.

Previous lectures given by Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock, Ken Livingstone and the film director David Puttnam appear not to have attracted any money at all.

Mr Miliband also attracted money from A&P Tyne, a shipbuilder based close to his constituency. The company gave the MP £1,500 in March.

Mr Miliband was given £1,500 by Sony, the electronics company, £400 from Asda, the supermarket group, and other funds from property and design companies.

I wonder who the main sponsors of the South Shields Lecture are? At least we get a good idea of the sort of companies who quite prepared to see the back of Gordon Brown, I’d best keep spending my cash at Asda and buying more PS3 and PSP games for “Junior” then, after all I should remember “it’s the economic recovery that matters most!”

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