John Street’s Diary November 11

Written By: John Street
Published: November 11, 2011 Last modified: November 10, 2011

As eurozone finance ministers and the European Central Bank dither over the full extent of the debt crisis, a somewhat smug China has taken to lecturing old Europe about its supposed culture of entitlement. Holding out the prospect of a “Great Leap Backward” if Europe is to get any of China’s own undervalued currency or even its vast US dollar reserves the man responsible for managing the country’s wealth hit out at the welfare state. Jin Liqun, chairman of China’s sovereign wealth fund, says the social and employment protections that exist must be rolled back. “If you look at the troubles which happened in European countries, this is purely because of the accumulated troubles of the worn out welfare society. I think the labour laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence, rather than hardworking. The incentive system, is totally out of whack,” he told al Jazeera. “Why should, for instance, within the eurozone, some members’ people have to work to 65, even longer, whereas in  some other countries they are happily retiring at 55, languishing on the beach? This is unfair. The welfare system is good for any society to reduce the gap, to help those who happen to have disadvantages, to enjoy a good life, but a welfare society should not induce people not to work hard”, he said. Proof, as if it were really needed any more, that China’s conversion from communism to authoritarian Confucianism is surely complete.

The father of New Labour’s fixation with focus groups – criticised by some and hailed by others as the man who made the party electable – Lord Philip Gould, passed away this week, aged 61, after a very dignified struggle with cancer that also saw him rally others to defend the National Health Service. He is survived by his widow, publisher Gail Rebuck, and daughters Georgia and Grace, who were at his side when he died. Among the tributes, and kind reminiscences, which poured in from across the Labour Party and further afield was a testimonial from former Prime Minister Tony Blair who said the pioneering pollster – who entered the House of Lords in 2004 – was instrumental to the party’s three general election victories. Some decried the culture of focus groups which he helped foster in the Labour Party but no one who knew or worked with him had anything but kind words to say about him. Alastair Campbell said: “His focus groups, far from being an exercise in PR, were a way of making sure that the kind of people he felt Labour forgot in the wilderness years had a direct voice to the top of politics.” Perhaps the most poignant aspect of his battle with cancer, and particularly sad for his family and friends, was his observation in an interview as he cheerfully awaited death that he had been mistaken to heed advice to go to the United States for private treatment and that his treatment on the NHS was immeasurably superior and, in hindsight, he really should have gone to it first. With that in mind, despite his debilitating illness, he continued to campaign in the Lords to save the NHS from the government’s plans for the US style marketisation once favoured by the more ardent followers of the New Labour Project.