Monday, March 27, 2006

Club Class Coalition - Sir Menzies Campbell and Gordon Brown are already talking about life after Blair


With one year to go to the Scottish elections, the talk at the LibDem gathering in Aviemore was all about the seven year old Liberal-Labour coalition breaking up. Labour MSPs re talking openly about the merits of going it alone, while Nicol Stephen, the Scottish LibDem leader is making nuclear power and council tax potential coalition breakers.

However, it would be a supreme irony if the Scottish Lib-Lab coalition were to break up just as coalition talk is beginning in Westminster. For I can report that, according to very senior Liberal Democrat sources, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown and the new Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, have been holding informal discussions about how to ensure that “progressive forces in British politics” can work together in future. I’m told that the Chancellor has also approached senior Liberal Democrats like Vince Cable and David Laws with the same issue in mind.

Now, in a sense we should hardly be surprised at this. The Chancellor told the Today programme last week that he believes Britain needs radical constitutional reform. However, neither side is in any doubt about what they are really talking about, which is the resumption of the dialogue between Labour and the Liberal Democrats which took place before and after the 1997 general election.

Then, the late Robin Cook and the Liberal Democrat peer, Robert MacLennon, nearly reached agreement on a coalition deal between Tony Blair and the then Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown. Indeed, one Menzies Campbell sat on the very cabinet sub-committee which explored the mechanics of coalition.

Of course, nothing happened. Tony Blair decided he could carry on quite happily on his own and unceremoniously dumped the Liberal Democrats. When Charles Kennedy came along, he insisted on equidistance between Labour and the Tories. So, surely the Liberal Democrats wouldn’t want to get burned again, would they?

Of course they would. A share in the UK government? Sir Menzies Campbell as Deputy Prime Minister to Gordon Brown? TwoJags? You can bet your ballots that the new Liberal Democrat leader would jump at the chance of entering government, provided that it was on the right terms, and that his party would willingly follow him.

The lesson of the Scottish Lib-Lab coalition is that the smaller party can wield a huge influence, and can boost its electoral support. In Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats have won a raft of measures, from free personal care to the borders rail link, and have consistently increased their share of the vote at elections. So, the model is there.

But after the disaster for Labour in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, the Chancellor’s home constituency, surely Gordon Brown would want nothing to do with the Liberal Democrats and their opportunistic ways? Well, he might very well have no choice.

Labour is in a really serious predicatment right now. The loans for peerages row will not go away; the Iraq war piles disaster upon disaster; millionaires are demanding their money back. Gordon Brown’s first general election could be a very difficult one, with a bankrupt and divided party, and a Labour membership which has dwindled to less than 200,000 members. In these circumstances, anything could happen.

Labour only needs to lose 33 seats at the next election - an outcome which Professor John Curtice of Strathclude University has said is likely - and Gordon Brown becomes just another minority leader. If he has to do a deal, he isn’t going to turn to the Tories or the SNP. Brown’s only option, if he wants a workable administration, is to deal with the Liberal Democrats, who should return with around 70 seats.

Menzies Campbell and Brown go back a long way, back to the campaigns for Scottish devolutoin in the 1980s and beyond. They sit in neighbouring Fife constituencies. They meet regularly on the shuttle flights to and from Edinburgh. There is a lot of trust built up, and Sir Menzies has a good grasp of international affairs and excellent contacts. There’s no doubt that Brown would find Campbell a more congenial deputy than John Prescott, who will anyway bow out after the next election. Campbell isn’t a brilliant Commons performer, but he is very good on television, where no one does gravitas better.

But would this club class coalition really fly? Isn’t it too early to talk about general elections when the last one was less than a year ago? Not so. Brown’s game plan is believed to be an early election. Once he takes over from Blair, Brown will likely launch a 100 day blitz, outlining his vision for Britain, and then to go for a snap election to lock out David Cameron. In other words, the next general election could be two years away, or less if Blair is forced out over the loans scandal.

But what would be the terms? Well, there would be many of course, including a reformed house of Lords. But in reality only one issue would matter: electoral reform. The Liberal Democrats would demand proportional representation for the House of Commons, arguing that Scotland has shown that fair voting can work in the British electoral system.

Now, Gordon Brown is on record as opposing PR on the grounds that it leads to weak government. However, he might just be persuaded. The threat of losing office concentrates the mind. Anyway, he admits himself that Britain has had an overdose of strong government. "There is a long-term issue about the decline in trust in politics", said Brown last week, "over many decades and I believe at the heart of this is the relationship between the executive and both the public and the legislative in the House of Commons”. Roughly translated, this means that Tony Blair is too big for his boots, there is an elective dictatorship in British politics that has turned the voters off, and that the powers of Number Ten need to be curbed by restoring parliamentary accountablility.

It was only Tony Blair’s inflated and unrepresentative majority in the Commons which made the Iraq war possible. The PM saw off two of the biggest backbench revolts in a hundred years, purely because of Labour’s 160 seat majority, and was able to take Britain into an illegal war on the basis of faulty intelligence and without a second UN resolution. Had Westminster been elected on the same basis as Holyrood, Iraq would never have happened.

The loans for peerages scam also shows the disadvantages of handing absolute power to the PM. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Tony Blair was able to set up almost a party within a party, with its own millionaire funding, independently of party, cabinet or parliament. If Brown is serious about his plans for constitutional reform he must take PR seriously. Seats in parliamnet must better reflect the way the country votes. When he becomes Prime Minister, Brown will need to demonstrate to the country that Labour has changed, and that Blairism could never happen again. PR is the only way to doing that.

Of course, the Liberal Democrats might decide to try their luck with the Tories for a better deal. After all, David Cameron has said that his new improved Tories are a home from home for Liberals. But I can’t see Sir Menzies being particularly keen on dealing with the Conservatives - the chemistry is wrong. And then ther is the Scottish dimension.

The Tories already have a majority of votes in England. After the next general election, they are likely to have a majority of seats too. The clamour on the Tory benches will be for an end to Scottish meddling in English affairs, so they are unlikely to want a Scottish MP dictating the terms of a coaliton. The Conservatives will demand that Scottish MPs do not vote on bills which only affect England.

The Liberal Democrats support federalism, but not by this particular route. So, it looks like the “two old men of Fife” as David Cameron once sytled them, could be deciding the fate of the country in the departure lounge. The Turnhouse talks have already begin.

Brown's Tenth Budget


"An analogue Chancellor for a digital age". It was an elegant put-down from David Cameron in last week’s Budget response. Gordon Brown has bored for Britain on information technology in many Budgets past, and this was a web-wise way of suggesting that the Chancellor is yesterday's man.

Gordon Brown knows just how effective those asides can be. He used to get comedy scriptwriters to craft them for him back in the days when he used to savage the Tory Chancellors Ken Clarke and Norman Lamont. Now he’s on the receiving end.

Cameron, in his first big Dispatch Box outing against Brown also called him a “fossil fuel Chancellor”, which wasn’t quite so good. Gordon Brown is no dinosaur. He has evolved, learned to adapt to the Dave age, looks less Neanderthal. It was a much more user-friendly Brown who delivered this year’s Budget . Baby blue tie, measured delivery, self-deprecating jokes about what happens to Chancellors who stay too long. He was enjoying himself which is half the battle.

Brown's annual Budget interview on the Today programme was an easier on the ear too. The Chancellor has learned to slow down, modulate his voice, sound as if he is actually listening to the questions. He used to drone on in a relentless, exasperating monotone. Either Brown has been having voice coaching, or his wife Sarah, a public relations professional, has finally taken him in hand. Possibly both.

The Budget speech itself was inconsequential from an economic point of view, but it was fascinating in what it told us about the next general election, which will be an extended version of Wednesday’s Budget confrontation. With few real issues dividing the parties, the election will more than ever be a clash of personalities - between the old moderniser, Brown, and the new moderniser, Cameron.

Here was Brown exploiting his adversary’s class background but in a subtle, post-modern manner. He didn’t rant at Cameron for going to Eton; instead he proposed that the government should spend as much on every state school pupil as is spent on every private pupil. Clever. Underscores the privileged background of the leader of the opposition, while daring Cameron to disown the idea. Or do the Tories prefer that educational inequality should endure?

And do they want to remain the party of the gas guzzler? Of smoke stack industries unregulated by the climate change levy? A Tory party that lets young lives be ruined by spending cuts?

Brown shamelessly stole Cameron’s clothes on volunteering, competitive sport and support for family life, while promising to privatise anything left in the public sector that can be flogged off. Really, it is amazing that this increasingly neo-conservative Chancellor is still regarded as a figure of the Left.

So, Brown can raise his game too. On this showing, these men are not only evenly matched, they bring out the best in each other. The Gordon and David show will run and run - if it's allowed to run. For the problem for both men is that they are in a state of suspended animation until the Prime Minister creates a vacancy at Number Ten.

Tony Blair had a dreadful press last week. Columnists and cartoonists portrayed him as a has-been, overstaying his welcome, a figure from the past, a ruin. The loans scandal has been of epic proportions - and it is all the Prime Minister’s fault. For once, the buck really does stop somewhere.

The Tories have backed off because they are even more dependent than New Labour on loans from anonymous and probably foreign donors, but that doesn’t mean the loans for peerages affair is unimportant. This has been a defining moment for the PM. Tony Blair will forever be regarded as the ultimate political hypocrite, who promised to be whiter than white and ended prostituting the House of Lords.

Doesn’t matter that it can’t be proven that peerages have been for sale - everyone thinks they have been. One of the millionaire donors, Rod Aldrige of Capita has done the decent thing and resigned, but the author of the loans scandal remains doggedly in office. It doesn’t get much worse.

But while the nation regards Tony Blair as bang to rights, the Prime Minister isn't going quietly, in fact he isn't showing any obvious signs of going at all. Blair’s resilience is legendary; he seems to be able to absorb any amount of punishment, and still bounce back.

Which leaves the three most powerful figures in British politics facing each other in an edgy stand-off. It’s the climax to “A Fistful of Dollars” when the man with no name faces the bounty hunter and the thief in the graveyard. No one knows who is going to shoot first and you can see the frantic calculation in their eyes, as they realise that two of them are going to end in holes in the ground.

The received wisdom is that Tony Blair will blink first, but there is no guarantee of that. No one knows what really goes on behind the Prime Minister’s fixed smile - probably not even Tony Blair. What’s he in it for? What’s his game?

Well, possibly revenge. In the PM’s eyes, everything was going fine until a jumped up trades unionist, Jack Dromey, the party treasurer, fingered him as a crook. The NEC has now seized responsibility for party funding; Labour MPs are calling openly for him to resign. Well, if that’s their attitude, Tony Blair may think, then how can they expect me to do them any favours? I’ll do what’s right for me.

Forget the polls - as of this week the next general election is on a knife edge. If Labour plunges into internecine war, if Tony Blair refuses to budge, if the war continues to go wrong, then Gordon Brown could face defeat at the polls. He faces a far tougher challenger than any Tory leader Tony Blair ever faced. And what's worst of all is that the party he leads is effectively bankrupt and he won't be able to rely on millionaire donors to finance his first general election campaign as leader of the Labour Party

Honest Mistake


An honest mistake, that's how the First Minister, Jack McConnell, described the failings in the Scottish fingerprint service which led to the wrongful prosecution of detective Shirley McKie for leaving her fingerprint at the scene of a murder.

Well, we all make them, don't we. Accidents will happen.

I mean, any day of the week you could easily find yourself falsifying fingerprint evidence in a criminal trial. No one's infallible - well except the Crown Office.

So, a mistake in the Scottish Criminal Records Office sent a man to jail for three years for a murder he didn't commit, led to the false prosecution of a detective constable and cost the Scottish taxpayer something like two million in compensation and costs. But nobody's perfect are they? The law is no place for the blame culture.

Really, it's time that Shirley McKie and her posse of compensation con men packed up and moved on. Ian Mckie may be a former police superintendant, but that doesn't give him the right to go around, willy nilly, demanding justice for his daughter. There are much more important matters at stake here, like the infallibility of the Crown Office.

I mean, the people I feel sorry for are the law officers. What about a bit of sympathy for the Lord Advocate and his fine men who've had to suffer years of real hurt? Can the hyenas of the gutter press not see that the entire edifice of Scottish justice would collapse if it were shown that they had made a mistake? We should really start being a bit more mature and responsible. You can't have the competence of the law officers questioned just because they have been shown to be wrong

Ok - a report by the assistant chief constable of .......... McKay said that there had been criminal behaviour in the Scottish Crimial Records Office. That errors by the fingerprint analysts which led to the wrongful prosecution of Shirley McKie had been criminally covered up. But that's only one man's view after all. We can't just go around holding public inquiries just because fingerprint experts at home and abroad say that Shirley McKie's dabs were doctored.

Last week's Frontline Scotland programme, may have presented compelling prima facia evidence of criminal collusion between the police and the SCRO to fit up an innocent man and traduce a police woman. But so what? It's an old story. We've heard this all before from the nationalists who run BBC Scotland.

The bottom line is that the Scottish Executive paid a lot of money to stop this old, old story becoming new again, and really- as taxpayers - we should insist on getting value for our money. That's what the first Minister Jack McConnell was trying to say last week - explaining why he had thrown three quarters of a million at Shirley McKie to stop her going to court. We paid her to keep quiet and we should be holding her to that.The Scottish Executive would be perfectly justified in demanding that it get £750k back from Shirley McKie. What's the point of hush money if there's no hush.

So, it's in our interest as taxpayers that we don't hear the truth. Which is also why the Executive is slapping a public interest immunity certificate on the McKie affair, so that we can be properly protected from knowing any more about the criminality in the SCRO.

But I go back to the central issue here: the peace of mind of the Lord Advocate is surely of much greater importance than any so called truth. Criminal law isn't an exact science after all, any more than fingerprint evidence, as the former Justice Minister Jim Wallace once wisely put it. Questions of guilt and innocence are all really matters of opinion, and it is the opinion of the First Minister, Jack McConnel,l is that it's time to move on, draw a line, start afresh, make amends. Jack McConnell's opinion is as valid as anyone else's isn't it?

It's time that we in the press started to act maturely and stop reporting the Shirley McKie story. It's old news, people. As the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (retired) Alastair Campbell, always said: scandals only last three weeks before people get bored of them. That if government ministers ar up creek without a paddle, they should just keep stumm for 21 days and all the nasties would go away? Well, according to my watch we've had more than our three weeks. We've had nine years in fact.

So, it's time we in the press stopped boring our readers and giving the oxygen of publicity to people who have had their lives ruined by criminal behaviour by the forces of law and order. Shirley McKie has had her moment of fame and its time for the papers to report the First Minister's latest initiative on seizing the children of recovering drug addicts. That's the kind of story we should be running. And the kind of issue that columnists like me shoudl eb covering. Not the latest campaign launch by Ian McKie and Jim Swire of the Lockerbie victims.

That was surely the most egregious exercise in nationalist propaganda in this whole sorry affair. Suggesting hat there was in some way a link between the bombing of Pan am Flight 103 and the Shirley Mckie case. What utter balderdash and nonsense. When the FBI told the police and the Crown Office that there had to be no embarrassing questions about the standards of evidence in Scottish criminal courts until the Lockerbie show trials had eeben completed, they were only doing what any responsible security service would do. It would have been highly embarrassing if it had been suggested that, in Scotland, an innocent man could be found guilty on the basis of doctored or botched evidence. The Crown Office would have been a laughing stock. And we couldn't have that could we.

Of course, the moaning minnies say that only a proper public inquiry into what went wrong in the Scottish Criminal Records Office, can remove the taint from the Scottish justice system. That until this matter is all out in the open fingerprint evidence in Scottish court cases will be suspect and that many criminals may go free as a result. But what is the release of a few murderers and burglars when set against the independence and integrity of the Lord Advocate. Shit happens. Let's not dump any more of it on the innocent men and women of the Crown Office who have just been doing their job. .

Decline and Fall of Tony Blair


In Westminster they used to say that while Tory scandals are invariably about sex, Labour scandals are always about money and it still holds true today. What did for John Major in the 1990s was the Tory leader's 'back to basics' policy initiative, which famously became “back to my place”, as ministers resigned successively after revealing illicit affairs. Now Blair’s illicit financial affairs are doing for him. We are witnessing the decline and fall of the Tony empire.

There was financial sleaze too, of course, under the Tories - cash for questions - but then you kind of expected it from them. What you didn’t expect was that New Labour would try to outdo the Conservatives in the sleaze stakes. I mean, fourteen million pound in secret loans. This from the party that created the Electoral Commission and introduced the legislation for compulsory registration of loans over #5,000. Labour has been conspiring to evade its own rules on party funding.

This political split personality is very much a New Labour phenomenon. Part of the party wants Labour to be the property of the people; the other part seems determined to sell it off to the highest bidder. The astonishing revelations last week about the cash sloshing around Downing Street - while the treasurer of the party, Jack Dromey, John Prescott and Gordon Brown were kept in the dark - are but the ignominious destination of a journey New Labour embarked upon even before Tony Blair entered Number Ten.

When he became leader in 1994, Blair saw it as imperative that Labour cease to be in financial hock to the trades unions, which had been paying eighty percent of the party revenue in the 80's. . He wanted to move towards a more American form of “high value” fund-raising by seeking donations from philanthropic businessmen - though some of them turned out to be not entirely philanthropic.

Pretty soon, Labour was playing the old Tory game of handing out knighthoods and peerages to anyone able to cough up a couple of hundred grand ‘for the cause’. Tony Blair denies that honours were for sale - that would anyway be a criminal offence - but the correlation between top donors and Labour peerages is too close to be mere coincidence.

Earlier this year The Sunday Times revealed that Dan Smith of the Specialist Schools Trust was telling businessmen that they would get honours “for certain” if they funded a city academy. At the centre of this financial network was Tony’s tennis partner, Lord Levy, the self-made businessman who brought you the pop groups “Dollar” and “Bad Manners”. His nickname, “Mr Cashpoint”,tells you all you need to know.

No laws were broken, but that isn’t the point. Sleaze is about probity, about avoiding the appearance impropriety in public appointments. It is about not looking as if money talks in government. Yet, New Labour “modernisers” started talking cash almost as soon as Labour came to office. Recall the lobbyist Derek Draper, ex-aide to Peter Mandelson, boasting in 1998 of “trousering #250 an hour” for introducing wealthy people into the corridors of power. The “cash-for-access” scandal revealed that a whole raft of Labour figures had been selling their New Labour contacts.

Then we had Bernie Ecclestone, Powderjet, Lasksmi Mittal, the Hindujas. Draper’s boss, Peter Mandelson, had to resign over a loan of #375,000 from the millionaire minister, Geoffrey Robinson. Another leading Blairite, Tessa Jowell's mortgage was paid by a curious cash injection from Tony's friend, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Bungs from Berlusconi, cash-for-peerages and now loans-for-honours. Tony Blair insisted at the height of the “lobbygate” scandal that he was “a pretty straight kind of a guy” and we all pretty much believed him. If said that today, he would be laughed off the TV screens.

If secret loans had been used to fund a Labour constituency association, or a local council, those responsible would probably find themselves in jail. I’m not suggesting that the Labour whistle-blower Jack Dromey is lying about having been kept in the dark about the latest loans. But you have to wonder how the party treasurer could not have been aware that the party had for years been dependent on massive loans to maintain its overdraft with the banks. I mean, does he never read the annual accounts?

Dromey clearly saw that he was likely to become a fall guy as the cash for honours scandal proliferated. So he decided to turn super-grass. He made a round of devastating tv and radio interviews which effectively branded his own party leader as a crook. This is more like the Mafia than politics. You almost expect him to be found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.

What an end for the 'peoples’ party', a government which Tony Blair promised would be “purer than pure, whiter than white”. The truth is New Labour has always had an exaggerated respect for wealthy people, almost an infatuation. Modernisation made wealth respectable in Labour circles after 1994. Having abandoned socialism, it was suddenly cool to praise plutocracy, or as Peter Mandelson famously proclaimed in 1998:” Labour is intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

Mandelson, Levy, along with pollster Philip Gould and other new Labour super-fixers seems to have been the core of an extraordinary inner party network, based in Number Ten, which became organisationally and financially separate from the Labour Party. They even had an name for it: “the Project” - an ironic reference to the US Neo-conservatives’ “Project for a New American Century”. Harold Wilson might have called them “a tightly-knit group of politically motivated men”.

Some have compared the Project to the “entryist” Militant Tendency, which was expelled in the 1980s for creating a “party within a party”. Exept that this was more a party without a party. Sickened by the leadership, Labour party activists have left in hundreds of thousands, leaving Labour without the foot-soldiers, door-knockers, envelope lickers that used to win elections. That’s why the Blairites needed the #14million in loans - to buy a media election campaign based on advertising and sophisticated polling.

New Labour naiveté about the rich was coupled with greed. A Prime Minister on a mere #180 thousand can’t help but feel inferior when the average salary - yes, the average - of a British chief executive officer is #550,000. The Blair’s didn’t even have a proper house, poor souls, just a couple of grace and favour mansions like Chequers and Number Ten. Cherie Blair seems to have been obsessed by this, which is why they took on four million pounds worth of mortgages for those flats in Bristol and a trophy house in London’s Connaught square.

I still don’t believe Tony Blair, or Cherie is corrupt. It’s worse than that: the totally lost their moral balance and sense of propriety. They think everyone is rich; that everyone has a two million pound house and a cottage in the country; that everyone sends their children to private schools.

I suspect this was the a large part of Tony Blair’s obsession with his education reforms. Tony Blair wanted to compete with fee-paying schools by creating ‘sort-of’ private state schools, which would - by occult selection - become good enough to be considered acceptable to rich parents. It is hard to think of any other reason why the Prime Minister should have courted disaster on this incoherent and unnecessary legislation.

In the long term the education bill could be far more damaging than the loans scandal. The Prime Minister has, in a very real sense, “crossed the floor” - he has allowed another party, the Conservatives, to play a key legislative role in his government. The bill would have never reached the statute book had it been left to the Labour Party alone. Labour MPs are forever being lectured on the need to be loyal to their party right or wrong, yet here is their leader forming a defacto alliance with David Cameron.

At least Ramsay MacDonald had the decency to resign in 1931 when he couldn’t get his party to accept his policies. Labour’s first Prime Minister formed a coalition with the Tories and the Liberals which - and Labour historians tend to forget - led to him winning the largest Commons majority every won by any British Prime Minister - 498 seats - in the 1931 general election. But the Tory leader Stanley Baldwin took MacDonald by the hand only to take him later by the throat, forcing him out of power. MacDonald died soon after, a pathetic figure, ridiculed by Conservatives and loathed by Labour.

David Cameron may be planning a similar fate for Blair. By adopting him as their own, the Tories are playing a very subtle game, severing the bonds of sentiment between Blair and Labour, bonds which were never all that firm in the first place. Having been so set in the ways of party discipline under Blair, most Labour MPs have been suffering in silence.

But they are eventually going to have to act to bring this terrible saga to a conclusion. Tony Blair is hugely damaged now - unable to get his legislation, lost in financial scandal, irremediably tainted by Iraq. He could have stood down after the general election ,on a high, and entered history as the first Labour Prime Minister ever to win three general elections in a row. But he chose to remain, demanding that his party endorse an illegal war, and his agenda for privatising public services.

Tony Blair has forced through some of the most regressive legislation on civil liberties that parliament has ever seen - on detention without trial, ID cards, ‘glorification’ of terrorism, religious hatred. Many Labour MPs believe, as the respected backbencher Michael Connarty has put it, that New Labour has violated all that Labour stands for and that this is "the end for Blairism"..It could also be the end for Labour fore there is now a very real possibility that they could lose the next general election.

British voters do not like divided parties, and Labour is now as divided as John Major’s government was in 1996. Britain does not like sleaze either, and now Tony Blair has landed the government with the mother of all sleaze scandals. People are fed up with the Iraq war and appalled by the casualties. Moreover, Britain is a country which invented many of the freedoms, like habeas corpus, which the Prime Minister is trying to take away.

David Cameron is well placed to exploit all these issues. And there isn’t much time left. The party can’t wait until the next general election, more than three years away. By then Labour could be history. If they want to win next time they have to seize the time - show that the Prime Minister has lost their confidence and that they are not prepared to see their party sold to the Conservatives.

And Gordon Brown? Well, at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, the day of the fateful vote, Gordon Brown and John Prescott, flanking Blair, both wore bright red ties. It was surely a subliminal message to Labour supporters that Tony Blair isn’t one of them any more. If they'd held a red flag aloft, they couldn’t have been more explicit. Teh question now is: will Labour MPs get it?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Trident Replacement - Why Tony Blair Should Just Say No

What is it that robs politicians of their sense of irony as soon as they reach high office? You would think the Prime Minister would see that right now, when we are lecturing Iran about breaking the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty might not be the best time to start talking about breaking it ourselves. But that’s precisely what Tony Blair intends to do.
Indeed, we are breaking it already. As The Sunday Times confirmed at the weekend, the nuclear weapons research centre in Aldermaston is already developing a replacement warhead for our ageing submarine-based Trident missile system. And yes, replacing nuclear weapons with new and better ones is a breach of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, which commits nations “not to modernise or increase the size of nuclear arsenals”. Just ask Cherie Blair’s legal team at Matrix Chambers who are experts on the NPT.
Indeed, item 4 (c) of the 1970 Treaty commits governments, not just to preventing proliferation but to “active nuclear disarmament” - ie getting rid of the damn things. But, then, disarmament is for towel heads. Real countries like Britain and America need what are called “Reliable Replacement Warheads”, which means spending billions on developing more efficient means of wiping out entire continents.
For, of course, Trident is a weapon system rooted in the Cold War, and designed to obliterate the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist any more, and you might have thought that the government could find better ways to spend twenty billion than on replacing a weapons system which can never be used. But we still need a reliable replacement, just in case.
America has another wheeze for getting round the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. The Pentagon has spent $23 million on what is called a "robust nuclear earth penetrator", or bunker-busting bomb. Donald Rumsfeld, a leading advocate of the system, insists it is a purely defensive weapon, and therefore not a case of nuclear proliferation.
This is a bit like saying: this gun I am holding is purely defensive and designed to penetrate your brain in order to stop you killing me. But no, you can’t have one too because you can’t be trusted with it. In diplomatic circles this kind of thinking is called “American exceptionalism” ie - what America does is by definition right. Others call it plain hypocrisy.
Alarmed by the implications, the US Congress tried to cut the funding of the “robust penetrator” last year, but the defence analysts Jane’s Information Group believes it lives on under another name. Incredibly, America has actually doubled its spending on nuclear weapons development since the end of he Cold War, and is now spending 6.5 billion dollars a year. So, now you know where the peace dividend went.
But the world political balance has altered since the end of the Cold War. The logic of deterrence no longer applies - or rather it does but in dramatically different forms. For example, if Donald Rumsfeld were privately advising the Iranian government right now, he would probably be arguing that, to retain the balance in the Middle East, it is imperative that Iran gets the bomb. It is surrounded by nuclear states: Israel, Pakistan, India. The old logic of Mutual and Assured Destruction, on which American defence policy was based for decades, regards this is an inherently unstable situation..
I hasten to add that I do not subscribe to MAD myself, and the thought of Iranian Ayatollahs spreading the Prophet’s word by nuclear fission is a terrifying one. However, President Ahmedinejad isn’t a fool, just because he doesn’t wear a tie. He realises that nuclear brinksmanship plays well in the Muslim world precisely because it exposes Western double standards.
Islamic countries don’t have nuclear weapons (apart from Pakistan, which doesn’t count) so non-proliferation can be presented by radical Muslims as essentially non-proliferation-to-Islam.
After all, Britain and America gave Israel the bomb. Doesn’t this show there is a Judaeo-Christian nuclear crusade against Islam? No it doesn’t - but try telling that to the Tehran street.
Which brings us back to the renewal of the British bomb, currently under investigation by Defence Select Committee. It won’t need to investigate long - just read the Prime Minister’s TV promise during the general election campaign, to “retain Britain’s nuclear deterrent”. Tells you all you need to know. Retaining means renewing, means improving, means two fingers to the NPT. It will signal the start of another cycle of nuclear proliferation.
There must be a better way. There is, and the former foreign secretary Robin Cook, argued it before he died. Britain could use her ageing Trident fleet far more effectively by allowing it to rust in peace. Tony Blair could assume a role of real leadership of the world by announcing that Britain was not going to replace Trident, a ludicrous and wasteful system, but was going to use the resourses instead to promote real disarmament.
A leading nuclear nation like Britain could exert great moral influence if it chose so to do. We could act as global nuclear brokers in territorial disputes which threaten to turn nuclear, such as Kashmir, which nearly led to atomic war between Pakistan and India. Or North Korea, which has signalled a willingness to relinquish the bomb.
With our nuclear expertise Britain could help countries disarm, and advise on using nuclear technology for civil purposes. We could even offer to reprocess Iran’s uranium in exchange for weapons inspectors to monitor their nuclear facilities. Better us than the Russians. There is a real opportunity here.
It might even win votes. This may seem a small point in the great debate, but a majority of people in Scotland want rid of Trident also. As we approach T-day, the Scottish Parliament should be taking the initiative and expressing its own moral position, just as it has on matters like asylum seekers and immigration. There is nothing that says the Scottish Executive has to be party to a breach of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty on Scottish soil.
Unilateralism works. If Mikhail Gorbachev hadn’t agreed unilaterally to start dismantling the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the Cold War wouldn’t have ended when it did. South Africa gave up her nuclear weapons, and so did the Ukraine - all they needed were incentives. As for Britain’s influence in the Security Council of the UN, which is reserved for nuclear nations, well, we’d still have the damn things for thirty years. Anyway, Britain’s deterrent was never truly independent, and could only be used on the orders of the White House.
So come on Tony. Here is a chance for a real legacy, a place in history. When it comes to Trident renewal: Just say no.

Francis Fukuyama Got it Wrong


You might not have thought of George W. Bush as a Marxist revolutionary, but the one of the leading thinkers of the American new Right, Francis Fukuyama, in his new book compares the President to V. I. Lenin. Like the Russian Bolshevik leader, Dubya has been trying to impose radical political change by force of arms in the Middle East - only with rather less success.

“Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version and it has turned into farce when practised by the United States”, says Fukuyama, paraphrasing Karl Marx. Perhaps. But Iraq is still a tragedy, as Fukuyama himself admits. More than fifteen thousand Americans killed or injured, many seriously; tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead; two trillion dollars lost. And all because, as Fukuyama puts it, American needed to “make a statement” after 9/11.

It’s strange how many of the American Right use Marxist imagery in their writing. Or perhaps it isn’t because neo-conservatives mostly came from the Left - “liberals mugged by reality”, as William Kristol once put it. Certainly, the idea of revolution world revolution lives on in their politics. Neocons talk in apocalyptic terms, about changing history, about fulfilling America’s destiny by using force to spread free market liberalism across the globe. The ends justified the means.

Iraq was the bastard offspring of the infamous Project for a New American Century - an agenda for world mastery penned in 1998 by Republican academics, politicians and journalists, includling the Vice President Dick Cheney, and his former aide, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol and, er, Francis Fukuyama. Intoxicated by the collapse of Communism, the PNAC called for America to use its military power to promote its moral objectives, which were assumed to be identical to the world’s.
Fukuyma was perhaps the most intoxicated of all. He had recently published an intellectual best seller, “The End of History and the Last Man”, which argued that, since American liberal democracy had triumphed, nothing really significant is every likely to happen in human history ever again. Making George W. Bush the Last Man, presumably - a sobering thought that.

And indeed, Fukuyama and co are now suffering the devil of a millennial hangover. Dubya has gone from man of destiny to object of ridicule, and the PNAC dream has been shattered. “One of the consequences of the perceived failure in Iraq”, writes Fukuyama, “will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda”. Well, it’s an ill wind.

History, it seems, has started up again. Unfortunately, Fukuyama finds himself on the wrong side of it. For while he rightly denounces the war as misconceived, incompetent and self-defeating, he was himself an advocate of the Iraq invasion. As recently as September 20th 2001, Fukuyama signed a PNAC letter to Bush calling for Saddam’s removal “even if the evidence does not link Iraq directly with the attack (on 9/11)”. Well, everyone makes mistakes.

Let us at least be thankful that the fathers of the Bush revolution are now thoroughly ashamed of themselves, or some of them. The twin doctrines of “American exceptionalism”, which assumed that the US had a moral right to act independently of the rest of the world, and “pre-emptive” or “preventive” war, which gave America the right to invade sovereign nations purely because of a theoretical risk, have been exposed as neo-imperialism. And to give Fukuyama his due, he demolishes them very comprehensively in this book. America has no monopoly on moral rectitude - especially after Iraq - and you pre-emption requires certainty about the future which no intelligence service can provide. Certainly not one which imagined WMD in Iraq.

“Benevolent hegemony”, is all very well, says Fukuyama. “But the hegemony has to be not only benevolent, but smart and prudent”. Iraq he concedes was anything but. It was a stupid war, fought on dodgy intelligence, with no planning for the future, and with stunning naiveté about the readiness of Iraqi for western liberal democracy. The result has been an unmitigated disaster which has weakened America morally and militarily. It has left America in no position to deal with real problems, such as Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear infrastructure.

Worst of all, Iraq created precisely the terrorist threat it was intended to destroy. “By invading Iraq, the Bush administration created a self-fulfilling prophecy: Iraq has now replaced Afghanistan as a magnet, training ground and operational base for jihadist terrorists, with plenty of American targets to shoot at”.

The real tragedy of all this is that America did, briefly, enjoy moral leadership of the world. After the peaceful ending of the Cold War in the 1990’s, when President Bill Clinton was trying to make make America address problems like debt and failing states in Africa, the Balkans, Northern Ireland. Everyone at least respected America .

The lesson of the Cold War, as Fukuyama points out, is that “soft power” can be more powerful than military force. Fukuyama actually quotes the Clinton adviser Joseph Nye, who defined soft power as: “the ability to get what you want, not through military and economic coercion, but rather through the positive attraction of you values and society”. A neoconservative quoting a Clinton aide - now there's something you don’t see every day.

Clearly, humble pie is on the menu. Fukuyama calls for a return to what he calls “realistic Wilsoniainism” - for America to re-engage with the world community, and even cites the European Union as one of the better examples of international institution building.

However, it isn’t clear that the Republicans are ready to listen to the “cheese eating surrender monkeys” quite yet. Neo cons in America have turned on Fukuyama as a muddle headed wimp who can’t see that omelettes involve breaking eggs. A little perhaps as the Bolsheviks turned on Leon Trotsky when he warned them against revolution in one country. Mr Fukuyama should steer well clear of ice picks.

Why More Devolution is Inevitable

My Lords Steel and Vallance make unlikely revolutionaries,but their Commission's report on the future of the Scottish constitution is little short of a declaration of independence. Giving Scotland control of taxation, broadcasting, welfare, immigration, asylum, the civil service, the constitution and many other powers would amount to a lot more than “fiscal federalism”, whatever that means. Under their plan Scotland’s government would even have its own borrowing powers and a national debt. It’s difficult to think of what Westminster would have left to do, apart from start wars.
Now, there has been much scoffing about how passé Lord Steel’s report is; that there’s little demand in Scotland for more constitutional upheavals, especially with the roof falling in in Holyrood. However, it would be unwise to dismiss the Steel Commission Report as the misguided musings of a home rule romantic. Critics said much the same about the last big constitutional report that Lord Steel chaired - that of the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988. It called for a Scottish parliament with full legislative powers to be elected by proportional representation. It’ll never fly,we were told...
These things have a way of creeping up on you. The Scottish people may not be taking to the streets to demand more powers for Holyrood, but nor did they for devolution. In Scotland, constitutional change happens incrementally, through the formation of broad coalitions, almost by stealth. And look around: a majority of the MSPs in the Scottish parliament already support the powers of Holyrood being extended. The political reality is that they almost certainly will be - sooner or later.
Devolution was always a process rather than an event, and we live in rapidly changing times. The new Tory leader, David Cameron, is on record as supporting greater powers for the Scottish parliament and a new constitutional settlement to take account of anomalies like theWest Lothian Question. The Liberal Democrats have a new leader in Menzies Campbell, who served on the original Scottish Constitutional Convention and has a rare intellectual grasp of the issues.
It is quite possible that there could be a coalition in Westminster after the next general election - even Professor John Curtice says so. Labour only need drop thirty three seats and Gordon Brown would find himself a leader bereft of a working majority. Brown is, of course, a long time supporter of devolution and any talks between him and Menzies Campbell about a UK coalition would inevitably involve the proposals in the Steel Commission.
Indeed, one way of looking at this week’s report is that it’s an opening bid in these very negotiations. It is a set of constitutional demands deliberately set high to allow room for movement. I cannot, for example, see any Westminster government handing powers over immigration and asylum to Scotland. Or rather I could, but it would mean setting up border controls at Gretna Green.
Given the government’s sensitivity over immigration, revealed yesterday by Charles Clarke’s new points system for immigrant workers , Westminster will not want to see foreigners entering the country through the Scottish backdoor. However, there could be some further modification of the points system to give it more of a regional bias.
Similarly, Gordon Brown would be reluctant to give full tax raising powers to the Scottish Parliament. But again, there could be scope for bargaining here - perhaps a concession on corporate taxation. Remember that the Scottish parliament already possesses the power to vary income tax by 3 pence in the pound - a power it has never used. It’s not inconceivable that Prime Minister Brown might go along with the idea of the Scottish parliament setting tax rates provided it didn’t involve setting up a rival Inland Revenue. The Barnett Formula, which currently shares revenue on a peer capita basis, has outserved its usefulness and will almost certainly be reformed in the next parliament.
Brown - assuming he is returned as Prime Minister - might anyway have no choice but to accept greater Scottish autonomy. It will loom large in the negotiations for form a new Scottish coalition after the 2007 Holyrood elections. The Steel Report, commissioned by the Liberal Democrats, represents the kinds of terms Nicol Stephen, will be set of Jack McConnell for any future Lib-Lab Partnership Agreement. We thought they had got everything they ever wanted from Labour, but not so.
And, of course, if there is no Lib-Lab coalition, then the Steel Report could form the basis of an alternative SNP/Lib/Green coalition in Holyrood. Labour has no freehold on office, and McConnell only need to lose half a dozen seats for the non Labour parties to be within sight of a non-Labour administration. An alternative coalition must happen eventually. The SNP has been careful not to speak too enthusiastically about Steel’s agenda, but it is right up Alex Salmond’s street. He might even get the SNP to shelve its demand for a referendum on independence - the main obstacle between the SNP and the Libdems - on the grounds that the Steel Report is only a couple of steps away from it.
And the Tories? Well, as their deputy leader, Murdo Fraser, made clear at the weekend, even the Scottish Tories are conquering their fear of nationalism and are willing to contemplate a “business pact” with the SNP. An extraordinary development, which would have been unthinkable ten years ago. The Steel Report would provide much of the intellectual ground work for any such arrangement. We really are in a very difficult political game, north and south of the border.
But merely stating the possible political configurations in Westminster and Holyrood is missing the point. For the main reason that the Steel report should be taken seriously is the force of its argument. It’s all a matter of respect. The Scottish parliament needs to find some way of moving on from the present transitional status of financial dependency, or financial delinquency.
Lord Steel is right to say that “no self respecting Parliament should expect to exist permanently on 100% handouts determined by another Parliament”. Scottish politicians will never be taken seriously, or take themselves seriously, until they are responsible for raising the tax payer’s money they are spending. This is what accountability really means. In curious way, local government is actually more responsible in Scotland than the Scottish Executive - at least councils raise part of their revenue and have to answer for their spending decisions at election time.
And there’s another reason why the Steel Report demands attention. Its call for a written constitution for the UK, to take account of devolution and revive parliamentary democracy, is shared by many people of all parties who believe that the relationship between government and the people is out of kilter. The decline of parliament and the cabinet and the rise in Prime Ministerial power has provoked a crisis of legitimacy, seen most strikingly in the Iraq war. As long cherished freedoms are eroded, day by day, by a PM who rules like an elective monarch, we need a more solid foundation for our liberties.
Even Gordon Brown has accepted that the constitution needs to be looked at to address public cynicism and mistrust. Where better to address these issues than in a new Constitutional Convention for the UK. It could be an idea whose time has come - again.

What Devolution Has Done For England

There was a mixed response in Scotland to the news that there has been a marked increase in the number of English students applying to Scottish universities this year. Some nationalist politicians fear Scottish students are being elbowed out by English “fee refugees”. But at least it's confounded those critics who said that the abolition of university tuition fees in Scotland would lead to a parochial and narrow minded higher education sector.
Thousands of foreign students have also been making their way to Scotland - up 20% in a year - to benefit from the two year extension to their residency visas introduced by the Scottish Executive last year under the “Fresh Talent” initiative. Now English universities are starting to complain of unfair competition, and there is pressure for Scotland’s visa regime to be implemented south of the Border.
These are just two examples of the way in which devolution has introduced a new diversity into public provision in the UK. Scotland always was different, with its own legal and education systems. In 1999. devolution placed the entire range of domestic policy in the hands of the Holyrood parliament, and in the last couple of years the pace of differentiation has been stepped up.
Take home affairs. The Scottish Executive has challenged the UK Home Office over dawn raids on asylum seekers, and has been trying to pursue a more liberal immigration policy. Identity cards - if they ever happen - will not be compulsory for devolved services. The Freedom of Information regime in Scotland is much more open than its English counterpart and has, in its first year, been remarkably successful in altering the climate of official secretiveness. Scotland is becoming a more open society.
The Scottish Executive has resolved to resist any new generation of nuclear power stations in Scotland, unless or until there is a solution to the waste problem. If a new generation of Trident nuclear missiles are scheduled for the Clyde, there could be a furious response. Scotland intends to exploit the fact that it has - potentially - some 25% of Europe's entire wind and wave energy.
Proportional representation, introduced in Scotland in 1999 for the first time in any British mainland parliamentary election, is to be extended to local government next year. This has changed the character of electoral politics in Scotland by forcing parties to work together in coalitions. The council tax is likely to be reformed first in Scotland. Free personal care, as recommended by the Sutherland Report, has been well received in Scotland, despite the expense.
But it is above all in the Scottish Executive’s resistance to New Labour’s market-based public sector reforms, with their focus on competition and choice, that Scotland is embarking on a very different social journey. For Tony Blair, the need for reform is a self-evident truth. But not in Scotland.
At the Scottish Labour Party conference last year, the Prime Minister delivered a calculated snub to the Scottish government, and First Minister Jack McConnell, by loudly proclaiming the success of the English health reforms - like walk-in diagnostic and treatments centres - which have led to big cuts in waiting lists. McConnell took it badly. He isn’t impressed by the PM’s habit of holding Scotland up as a warning of what happens when public services go unreformed. The FM subsequently made it known that communication had largely broken down between the himself and the Prime Minister.
Departing from the PM’s public service message was a bold move. On the face of it, Scotland isn’t a great advert for the old “one size fits all” state, in health at least. Scotland gets around 20% more per head than England, yet life expectancy for a male in Glasgow remains around eleven years less than in the South of England. Waiting lists are finally coming down, but there is no equivalent to the promise in England of an 18 week maximum wait from GP to operating theatre. In the spring of 2005, when the PM delivered his conference speech, the number waiting for day case and inpatient treatment, 113,612, was higher than when Labour came to office.
In education, Scotland does better than England in many of the OECD’s PISA scores. However, there is no shortage of evidence that many Scottish schools are failing. Earlier this month, the Chief Inspector of Schools, Graham Donaldson, warned of the post -code lottery. In too many cases there is an unacceptable variation in the quality of learning and teaching across classes."
All grist to the PM’s mill. But, curiously, this hasn’t translated into political demands for the English reforms to be imported. In the recent Dunfermline by-election, the Chancellor Gordon Brown was given a severe electoral rebuff in his own home constituency. Hospitals were a big issue - specifically the transfer of orthopeadic services out of the local Queen Margaret Hospital. But there were no calls for foundation hospitals or private treatment centres - except from the Tories who came a bad fourth. The Scots remain largely immune to the discourse on choice that has informed Tony Blair’s war on state monopoly. There is no question here of patients being offered a choice of hospitals in which to have their hip operations. You get what you’re given; go where you’re told; doctor knows best.
This resistance to choice has puzzled many people, not least Labour MPs, who find themselves voting in parliament for restoring the internal market into the English NHS, with payment by results for trust hospitals, even though in Scotland old-style predict and provide prevails. Scottish MPs in Westminster have also voted for variable tuition fees in English universities, when tuition fees have actually been abolished in Scotland.
They will shortly be required to vote for another education bill, possibly including selection and self-financing for English schools, when these have been specifically rejected in Scotland. It is a constitutional anomaly which much irks the English Conservatives. But the West Lothian Question doesn’t seem to impinge much on the consciences of Scottish voters.
Scotland remains the last bastion of what the Prime Minister’s former spokesman, Alastair Campbell, dubbed “the bog standard comprehensive”. No beacon schools, foundation schools or city academies here. Selection is outlawed (except for Catholics who have their own schools under the 1918 Education Act). Scots seem content to send their children to the one-size-fits-all schools which Tony Blair insists are failing. Why?
Well, it could be that the canny Scots are just biding their time; waiting to see whether there really is a great leap forward in England following the Prime Minister’s initiatives. They’re sceptical but not stupid, and they do care about education - passionately. Jack McConnell isn’t anti-reform or even ideologically hostile to the market. But the Scottish Executive has been staying its hand aware that there are strong cultural and demographic factors a work.
There is much less less private education in Scotland than in England (nearly twice as many English pupils go to fee-paying schools as Scots) and private medicine is almost unheard of. This is for the rather obvious reason that most Scots can’t afford it - only about sixty thousand Scots earn more than #50,000 a year.
The biggest private hospital in Scotland, HCI Clydebank, had to be bought by the Scottish Executive two years ago because it was going bust. Expansion of private health in Scotland is difficult because there is so little of it.
Another reason is geography. Scotland has a third of the land mass of the British mainland but less than a tenth of the population. The idea of hospitals competing for patients may make sense in densely populated areas like the South East of England, but in Scotland it simply doesn’t work, unless patients are prepared to travel long distances.
The BMA in Scotland has long argued for the “collaborative” approach to health care to be continued in Scotland, whereby GPs establish their own contacts with hospitals and simply allocate patients according to availability. There is surprisingly little demand from the medical profession for market-centred reforms, even though GPs - it’s often forgotten - are small businessmen who are contracted bythe state, rather than employed by it.
In England, the Blairite reforms have been prompted the fear of middle class flight from the state. The increase in the number of people jumping NHS queues to get private operations in the late Nineties forced the waiting list issue to the top of Labour’s agenda. The sub text to the Education White Paper - before it was watered down by Neil Kinnock et al - was to give middle class parents greater scope to select schools, to stop them going private to avoid the local comprehensive. But in Scotland, most of the middle classes are staying put. It’s quite enough buying a house and saving for a holiday, without having to start paying for private schools too.
There is also, perhaps, a lingering equalitarianism and collectivism in Scottish culture. Scots are very jealous of the ‘lad o’ pairts’ tradition of anti-elitism in education, and so of course is the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who has campaigned against “elitism” in Oxbridge entrance procedures.
The Chancellor regards collective provision as a moral virtue; public service is “a calling not a career” as he put it in his own speech to the Scottish Labour Conference last year.
Brown believes there is more to public provision than markets and choice, and this seems to be a pretty accurate reflection of the views of many Scottish voters. How much of this translates into his stewardship of the country when he becomes Prime Minister remains to be seen. But it still goes down well back home.
So, Scotland is pursuing a very different public sector agenda from that in England. And while the present Prime Minister is convinced that there is no choice but to promote choice, in Scotland, people seem to have chosen a different model. And, seen from public sector Scotland, it is not at all certain yet which is going to win out.
Doctors in Scotland remark ruefully on the huge defects being registered by English hospital trust. Many believe that the English reforms are becoming unsustainable, and that the invasion of the private sector is going to fundamentally alter the NHS. The disappearance of NHS dentistry is held as a warning of what can happen when privatisation is given its head.
There has been a degree of Schadenfreude in Scotland at the indifferent performance of some English city academies. The teaching profession in Scotland think that parental choice is largely presentational, and they are confident that the comprehensive principle, even South of the Border, is being rehabilitated now that even the Tory leader, David Cameron, has come out against academic selection at 11.
Of course, seen another way, regional diversity could be regarded as itself an extension of choice. Why not allow Scotland to experiment with a more ‘European social model, while England pursues the ‘Anglo Saxon’ road? If Scotland has the political will and legislative power to create a more Scandinavian-style society, then who is to argue?
The only real question is whether England is prepared to pay for all this through the Barnett Formula, or whether Scotland will have to raise its own taxes revenue to pay for its own mistakes - and successes.