Tag Archives: David Cameron

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

David Cameron re shuffled his cabinet this week and in doing so increased the number of women in it from three to… five. In 2011 the number of women in his cabinet was five so there is no improvement in real terms. And even if you include those who can attend cabinet that figure has only increased from five to eight. We are just a few months away from a general election so Cameron placed a couple of women in some prominent positions to appease those who would criticise the lack of women in his cabinet in previous years.

As I said in a post from my blog earlier in the week, “it was not a good day for women…He [David Cameron] illustrated that he is in no way committed to any form of gender parity…”

Andrew Rawnsley wrote a powerful article in this weekend’s Observer in which he said that you can tell a lot from the appointments Prime Ministers make when they form a cabinet.

So what does Cameron’s decision tell us about him? He doesn’t have a particularly high regard for women if the choice words Downing Street used to describe the new women ministers are true. Rawnsley explains: “Getting the promoted women to parade up the Downing Street ‘catwalk’, as Number 10 spin had incited the hacks to call it, diminished both them and the claim that the prime minister is an equal opportunities employer. It strongly suggests that for all his rhetoric about valuing women for their abilities, he really believes, in Melissa Kite’s acute phrase, that “a woman’s place is in the PR strategy.”

I also reminded people in my blog that “what is particularly disappointing (but not very surprising) is that back in 2009 before Cameron was in power he had promised to ensure a third of his cabinet would be women by the end of his first parliament.”

Meanwhile the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has urged the UK to stay in the European Union, hours after UKIP’S Nigel Farage promised the UK was “close to exiting.”

Renzi was addressing the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, as Italy started its six month presidency of the European Union, when he said: “Europe without the UK would not only be less rich, but less Europe and less itself.”

Meanwhile, what Farage meant by “Britain is close to exiting” is anybody’s guess, since that’s so obviously not the case.

And last but by no means least, congratulations to Emily Benn on being selected to contest Croydon South for Labour. If elected Emily will be the fifth generation of her family to sit in the Commons; Stephen and Nita must be very proud. On a more mundane note, I was pleased to chat to her uncle Hilary at the National Policy Forum on Saturday.

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My BBC interview on Juncker and Cameron’s Re-shuffle

Earlier this week I was invited to go on the BBC Daily Politics Show to discuss Jean Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission. As you may know the EPLP did not support Juncker’s nomination and we voted against him when the European Parliament voted on the issue in Strasbourg on Tuesday.

You can watch the interview here:

 

Also this week I spoke on Radio5 Live about David Cameron’s cabinet re-shuffle in which the number of women increased from three to five. He had, in fact, had five women in 2011 so he hasn’t shown himself to be in any way progressive.

You can listen to my debate here:

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

David Cameron has had over four years to ensure he has placed leading female Tory MPs in senior positions within his cabinet but has left it until now to actually do anything about it.

So it was absolutely right when Labour’s shadow homes secretary, Yevette Cooper, said that it was just a ‘last minute worry’ for David Cameron, and that he had shown to have a real blind spot over women and that he was doing too little too late. He has, of course, just three women in a cabinet of 27 people. This is woeful and frankly not good enough.

It is quite clear that Cameron is, with less than a year to go, quite worried about how the lack of women in his cabinet will look to the electorate. As Cooper said, if he was in anyway serious about having women in his cabinet he would have invited them four years ago.

Meanwhile, The Tories also showed their lack of regard for women when senior figures within the party dismissed plans by Nicky Morgan, the party’s spokesperson on women that it would look at and consider its position on all women shortlists following the next election.

Senior sources were revealed to have downplayed her plans and said: “It was categorically not going happen”. It’s disappointing when any political party shows it has a lack of interest in encouraging women to participate in the political process, but it’s especially disappointing when the party is also supposed to be running the country. Just 16% of Conservative MPs are women, this is compared to 33%for Labour. And still just 22% of people in the House of Commons are women.

At the same time as we discuss the issue of female representation domestically, Jean-Claude Juncker has been criticised for failing to encourage women to commissioner posts. He said last week he would do all he can to encourage more women to the positions. It’s quite easy to say these things, but (as I asked last week) what actually is he doing to make this happen?

Juncker will announce his full line up of commissioners next month but he will surely be concerned if only a handful of these are women.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Cameron’s defeat following the election of Jean- Claude Juncker was an embarrassing disaster that may have been avoided had he negotiated better. His main failure was that he failed to recognise the power of negotiation and instead thought he could throw his weight about and in doing so adopted a ‘bull in the china shop’ style which failed. Dismally.

I wrote this piece for Labour List outlining my thoughts.

Andrew Rawnsley, writing for the Observer, offered similar thoughts on why Cameron’s defeat was so ‘dire’. ‘The genesis of his mistake can be traced back to 2005’, wrote Rawnsley. During Cameron’s leadership campaign he appealed to the right of his party and said he would take the Conservatives out of the European Peoples Party (EPP).

Sage voices cautioned at the time that leaving the main centre-right group in the European Parliament would cause problems down the line but nevertheless he stubbornly stuck to his word and left the EPP. This not only excluded him from the groups decision making but it cut him off from the informal alliances which are made and often where deals can be struck, Rawnsley argues. “It set a pattern that has since been repeated of Mr Cameron throwing chunks of meat off the back of his sledge to try to sate the pursuing pack of Europhobic Tory beasts”, writes Rawnsley.

He also points out that: “Had the Conservatives been in the EPP, it is quite likely they could have stopped the Juncker juggernaut before its engine was even running.”

Cameron’s other problem, which Rawnsley rightfully observes, is that far from executing excellent negotiating skills, he has been ‘hopelessly crude’.
A critique of his negotiating skills was offered by the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski. In a leaked conversation Sikorski suggested Cameron had messed up…although he used slightly more colourful language.

And during an interview for the Andrew Marr Show the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, described Cameron’s handling of the situation as ‘cack handed.’

In addition, business groups have voiced their concern over Britain’s position in Europe following Cameron’s debacle. John Cridland, leader of the CBI- Britain’s largest business group, said in an interview with the Observer, that the country’s economic success depends on it remaining a full member of the EU.

Cridland told the Observer that full membership of the EU boosted British jobs, growth and investment. “The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future,” he said. “Our membership supports jobs, drives growth and boosts our international competitiveness.”

He dismissed some form of associate membership status, which some Conservatives favour. He said “Alternatives to full membership of the EU simply wouldn’t work, leaving us beholden to its rules without being able to influence them. We will continue to press the case for the UK remaining in a reformed European.”

Meanwhile, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, warned that ‘The NHS, police, education system and social care are at risk of an “existential crisis” within the next five years if the Conservatives win the next election.’
During a speech organised by the Fabian Society Cooper said that public services are about ‘empowerment and opportunities and should not just provide a safety net as the Tories believe.’

Setting out potential policy ideas ahead of the 2015 election, Cooper announced, among other things, that Labour would hold a review to understand better the reasons for failed rape convictions and seek answers as to why the number of prosecutions is falling.

 

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Weekly Round-up

The Labour Party issued a statement last week clarifying its position on the ex-Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker’s, bid for President of the European Commission.

The party said, in a statement: “The nominee for European Commission President is ultimately a decision for the European Council, including David Cameron.

“Labour will not support Jean-Claude Juncker as a candidate for President of the European Commission. Should Mr Juncker be put before the European Parliament, Labour MEPs would vote against him.

“The message from the European elections was clear – that we need reform in Europe. We need reform so we can promote jobs and growth.

“Mr Juncker’s record shows he would make these reforms more difficult.”

It was also reported that German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, initially favoured Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetry Fund (IMF) for the Comission President position. It is understood she broached the subject in a private conversation with French President, Francois Hollande. However, it is unlikely Lagarde will receive the support from her own country, and therefore be in the running, as Hollande is reluctant for France to lose its top post at the IMF. So Merkel has given her support to Juncker as I wrote on my blog last week.

Meanwhile, as the European Parliament re-assembles following the European elections, Cameron faces fresh tensions with Angela Merkel after news surfaced that his group, the ECR, which he formed in 2009, narrowly voted to accept Germany’s anti-euro AfD party, the fuer Deutschland into its bloc.

Reuters revealed: “The tally of the secret ballot was not released but members said it was 29 votes for, 26 against. Two members of Cameron’s Conservatives defied his call to vote against AFD, sources said. Had they obeyed, the German party would have been rejected.”

The Tories were forced to seek support and invite interest from extreme right parties because, as I revealed on my own blog last week, they had been struggling to get support from centre right parties who joined the Tories main rival the EPP.

However, despite now being a relatively large group within the European Parliament, Cameron is now in an embarrassing position as Merkal’s CDU party is a key player in the rival EPP bloc.

Cameron needs Merkel as an ally in order to secure an acceptable candidate as president of the European Commission.

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David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

A paper by Labour in London this week drew attention to the capital’s childcare crisis. The document revealed that there were 35,000 fewer nursery places since the Conservatives took office, and that childcare costs have increased by 30%. Labour have announced they will increase childcare for 3-4 year-olds from 15 to 25 hours per week, and will increase funding through a levy on banks. This would create an extra 72,000 places in London alone, where the struggle to keep up with costs is beginning to spiral out of control for many parents.

A report last month by the think tank IPPR drew attention to the present childcare crisis. The study showed the inextricable link between maternal employment levels – on which the UK performs worse than many OECD countries – and the poor childcare provisions Britain has to offer. IPPR said childcare of under-fives was essential to bring about better rates of work and pay for women, and that the ideal proportion of a family’s disposable income spent on childcare should be no more than 10%.

With Sure Start nurseries coming under threat from the government during this parliament – not to mention the TUC’s revelation last year that Britain has Europe’s worst maternity provisions – much more needs to be done. The alternative will be another generation of 50-65 year old women stuck in long-term unemployment or forced to deskill to find work.

I’m therefore delighted to see Labour in London spelling out such a clear direction of travel on this issue. The Tories produce a lot of hot air when it comes to getting women in the boardroom or the debating chamber, but to find sustainable solutions to these problems we need to address the systemic factors that drive women out of the workplace during their early thirties.

Also this week, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon made headlines when he referred to some UKIP members as “literally akin to the Nazis”. Halfon, a comparatively moderate Conservative, said Nigel Farage’s party could be split into two tribes: Godfrey Bloom-style buffoons and more “sinister” nationalists in the mould of Gerard Battern. He ironically thanked UKIP for “cleansing” his party of its lunatic fringe.

Halfon’s words draw attention to a sharp conflict within the Conservative Party, between those who want to remain borderline sane, and a larger faction who see the current state of British politics as an opportunity to drag the centre ground ever further to the right. For the latter group the existence of UKIP provides a convenient excuse; a political imperative to propel their party towards bigotry and knee-jerk populism. As I wrote in my round up last week, the end point in this journey is a type of Tea Party fanaticism which blocks all forms of progress.

So far David Cameron has made a host of concessions, essentially allowing the ultras within his party to dictate policy. One can only hope, for the sake both of British national interests and of democracy per se, that senior Conservative figures start to look beyond the ‘path of least resistance’ solutions they currently seem so keen on.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

This week saw Conservative MEPs vote against a Europe-wide initiative to provide aid for those struggling with food poverty. The £3 billion EU fund, known as ‘European aid to the most deprived’, would have sent £3 million in the direction of Britain. The choice to try and block the fund was made on the grounds that “It is not for the EU to dictate…how to help the needy. Individual countries must be allowed to decide for themselves.” It left the Tories among a tiny rump of MEPs voting against, making the Coalition the only European Government to oppose the fund.

With the Tories under pressure to address the explosion in the number of food bank users since they’ve been in office, their approach to Tuesday’s vote baffled many. It comes at a time when pressure is building on the Coalition to address the food poverty crisis, with religious and third sector organisations condemning the effect welfare cuts are having on UK rates of poverty. This week Richard Howitt, my Labour colleague in the European Parliament, called the Tories’ decision to vote against the fund “heartless and callous”.

Blocking European Aid is just the latest in a string of instances which have seen Conservatives adopting indefensible positions in the name of Euroscepticism. Before Christmas they blocked the Estrela report – a strategy to, among other things, end FGM – and they have also obstructed the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, a market-based solution to environmental challenges. They’ve done so on the grounds that endorsing such plans would represent a concession to the EU. This is despite the government’s Balance of Competences review so far finding that the weighting between EU powers and domestic autonomy is roughly right.

David Cameron’s increasingly hostile noises about the EU appear to have been taken by Tory MEPs as a license to indulge their most reactionary instincts. They do this irrespective of morality or the UK’s national interests. As a result we are approaching a state of Tea Party-style fanaticism among some on the British right in Brussels; a new and virulent brand of Euroscepticism. It’s vital that those of us who support the EU do not allow this self-defeating ideology to triumph.

Also this week, UKIP’s Spring Conference was overshadowed by the embarrassing revelation that Nigel Farage’s campaign slogan – “Love Britain: Vote UKIP” – was a rehash of a strapline used by the BNP. Nick Griffin’s far right party campaigned under the same banner in 2010, using the wording “Love Britain: Vote BNP”. The comparisons did not appear to end there, with Farage using his “Love Britain: Vote UKIP”-branded plinth to launch an excoriating attack on immigration, which he claims has made Britain “unrecognisable”. When the BNP link was pointed out Farage argued, bizarrely, that he’d been trying to ‘reclaim’ the slogan.

So far Ukip have resisted calls from the European far right to join ranks. Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have both attempted, unsuccessfully thus far, to reach out to Farage, pointing out the common ground their respective parties share with his. But with UKIP MEP Gerard Batten’s ties with the far right attracting increasing controversy – not to mention Farage’s recent admission that he supported the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of blood’ speech – the overlap between UKIP and the extreme right is becoming hard to disguise.

To avoid a return to the ugly politics and racial tensions of the 1970s Labour must contest UKIP’s narrative every step of the way.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

At the start of this week results came out from Switzerland’s referendum on migration, revealing narrow backing for plans to impose a cap on migrants. The ‘Federal Popular Initiative Against Mass Immigration’, which was passed by 50.3% to 49.7%, represents the effective rejection of freedom of movement pacts negotiated between Switzerland and the EU. The initiative, which was put forward by the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe Swiss People’s Party, was not just opposed by those on the left but by figures across the Swiss the business community. In the aftermath of the vote economists at Credit Suisse wrote that Switzerland would pay “a high price” for its decision, and the Swiss Bankers Association sought to distance itself from the move. One financier told the Financial Times, “The Swiss are delusional to think they can just cherry pick what they want from the EU”.

The wider implications of Switzerland’s decision look to be severe. Despite being a non-EU country Switzerland has historically benefited from many of the trade perks enjoyed by EU member states. Indeed, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories have pointed at Switzerland as a model of the type of country Britain could supposedly become if we left the EU. However, the result of Monday’s plebiscite has led the European Commission to re-examine Switzerland’s access to the European single market, with all treaties now up for negotiation. EC vice-president Viviane Reding pointed out on Monday that free trade and free movement were inextricable: “You take them all or you leave them all.”

Switzerland’s neighbours voiced similar warnings, with Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, calling the move “worrying” for a small country which “lives off the EU.” His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the country had “harmed itself,” and the Luxembourg government were also concerned for Switzerland’s economic prospects, with their foreign minister warning “there will be consequences”.

The response to the Swiss referendum shows the absurdity of the ‘pick ‘n’ choose’ approach to the EU advocated by many on Britain’s political right – especially those, including David Cameron, who plan to limit freedom of movement for migrants. Even Switzerland, a country which has over several hundred years been very successful at negotiating its relationship with the EU, will ultimately struggle to decide things entirely on its own terms.

Being part of Europe is ultimately about maturity. It requires certain sacrifices, but in return we get tremendous rewards. As the Swiss referendum looks set to demonstrate, you cannot shirk your responsibilities without jeopardising your privileges. The present UK government would do well to take note.

On Thursday, meanwhile, it was good to see Labour fend off UKIP at the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election. The run-up to the vote was dominated by headlines about Nigel Farage’s attempts to woo “patriotic, working-class Labour voters”, and Labour frontbenchers including Douglas Alexander – who last week set up Labour’s “anti-Ukip” unit – worked with party members to expose the ‘purple peril’ in the constituency. In the end, despite an aggressive UKIP campaign, Labour extended their share of the vote, and it was the two coalition parties who suffered from UKIP’s poll bounce.

Although the outcome sent a strong signal that Labour can withstand UKIP pressure in Northern communities, the extremely low turnout was a source of concern. It is vital that politicians of all parties reconnect with the electorate, otherwise apathy will translate into votes for UKIP and other parties even further to the right.

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The balance between Westminster and Brussels is broadly correct

Downing Street will, according to the Financial Times, release official reports on Thursday concluding that the balance of powers between Westminster and Brussels in key policy areas is broadly correct.

The assiduously hidden balance of competencies exercise has therefore blown up in David Cameron’s face. Designed to keep the Eurosceptics quiet, the review of the EU’s competences, which the Foreign Secretary launched in July 2012, tells a very different story from what the sceptics and possibly the Prime Minister himself wanted to hear.

An audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK, the review’s official blurb states, “It is important that Britain has a clear sense of how our national interests interact with the EU’s roles, particularly at a time of great change for the EU.” It goes on to say that government departments will consult Parliament and its committees, business, the devolved administrations, and civil society to look in depth at how the EU’s competences (the power to act in particular areas conferred on it by the EU Treaties) work in practice. Moreover, our European partners and the EU institutions will also contribute evidence to the review, and it will examine issues that are of interest across the EU, seeking to improve understanding and engagement.

No-one can say that the review wasn’t thorough. Parliament and its committees, the devolved administrations, business and civil society plus Britain’s European partners add up to a very wide range of opinion. And they conclude that Britain’s relationship with the European Union is just about right. In fact, these studies include a strong endorsement of the commercial advantages of Britain’s EU membership.

Tellingly, Number 10 has ordered low-key release for these reports. There is only one reason for such behaviour, namely that Downing Street fears that the findings of the balance of competencies exercise do not support the case for a radical renegotiation of EU powers. In other words, David Cameron’s gamble that this review would calm the Eurosceptics has utterly failed.

There is something very unseemly about a Prime Minister who will undertake official studies and use taxpayers’ money for Party advantage. It’s not the kind of conduct we expect from our government, and it’s even worse when the instigator wants to conceal the findings of the review he initiated because it came up with the wrong result.

Thankfully for democracy in Great Britain, the Financial Times reported on the studies, allowing people to know what has been going on. Congratulations to that excellent newspaper. What would we do without the FT?

 

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