Tag Archives: Jeremy Hunt

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

The Conservatives were accused of putting corporate interests ahead of public health last week following a decision by the government to postpone its plans on cigarette packaging.

The Tories decision followed a vote in the European Parliament last week at which Labour MEPs today voted for 75% of packaging on cigarette products to be covered in graphic warnings, and a ban on menthol and other flavourings, as well as slims and ‘lipstick packs’, which target young people.

The statistics are clear and make a convincing argument, almost 50% of smokers will die from a smoking related disease and tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable premature deaths across Europe. More than 700,000 people a year die in the European Union as a result of smoking and 70% of those started smoking before the age of 18.

It costs the NHS millions every year and is therefore a significant public health issue, though evidently not to the Tories. We should seek ways to make smoking less attractive to young people, with a variety of flavours available, and ‘elegant’ slim packaging.

The human cost and misery which causes terrible illnesses must not be underestimated.

However, health minister Jeremy Hunt is awaiting the results of an experiment in Australia where, even despite colleagues saying they had been personally persuaded of the effectiveness of such a move.

Awaiting research is an odd decision since The Department of Health’s own research shows that plain packaging is less attractive, especially to young people, and improves the effectiveness of health warnings. Yet last week George Osborne said: “[We need to] take our time to get the right decision.” But who must the decision be right for?

The Observer dedicated its editorial to the plans, or rather postponed plans, which you can read here.

You couldn’t fail to be moved by the presence of 16-year-old Shot Pakistan schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai. She addressed the UN and said she was there to “speak up for the right of education of every child”.

Malala told the UN during her speech that books and pens scare extremists, as she urged education for all. She made other powerful statements and said “efforts to silence her had failed.” Following her attack by the Taliban, and to a standing ovation she said their actions had only made her more resolute.

You can see her speech and read more here.

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When it comes to abortion ministers should deal in facts

The studies on survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks, published in the British Medical Journal, shed a welcome light onto the debate about the current 24-week limit.  In October the Minister for Women, Maria Miller, said the limit should be lowered because babies are surviving at ever younger gestational stages, while the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, called for the limit to be halved to 12 weeks.

 The finding from the two studies conducted 11 years apart is that there has been no significant improvement in the survival of extremely premature babies born before 24 weeks.  This contradicts Cabinet ministers’ claims that the abortion limit should be lowered because, to quote Maria Miller, “the science has moved on”.

 As the Independent puts it in their leader, “by pouring cold water on Ms Miller’s claims, the figures also amply illustrate the danger of politicians’ co-opting half-baked science to bolster personal prejudices, however sincerely held. Those with the power to govern have a duty to establish the facts. Abortion is a tricky enough issue already without ministers adding to the confusion”.

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There is no need to reduce the time limit for abortion

Recently appointed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s startling statement that the abortion time limit should be reduced to a mere 12 weeks should give us all pause for thought.

Hunt is the person at the very top, the man who will be charged, if the time ever comes, with any legislation on abortion.

I need hardly point out that halving the current time limit of 24 weeks to a mere 12 will virtually outlaw legal termination all together. We will return to the era of Mike Leigh’s acclaimed film Vera Drake when back street abortions were the only answer and women suffered and sometimes died.

I, and I believe most reasonable, compassionate people do not wish to return to the situation before the 1967 Abortion Act.

Abortion is of course undesirable. It is always difficult for those involved. Rarely do women choose to have a termination. When a woman decides to have an abortion she generally does so because the health of the unborn child or her own safety is at risk, she has been raped or her circumstances are so impossible that a child would be unlikely to thrive. We should, in addition, not forget that a termination has to be agreed by two doctors.

The NHS’s own website states that the majority of abortions (98%) are carried out before 20 weeks, 90% of which are performed before 13 weeks.  Information from the Office for National Statistics states: “For women in their twenties and early thirties the percentage of abortions has remained relatively stable and is now in decline.”

Despite many medical advances over the past thirty years, the evidence simply does not stack up that foetal viability has improved past 24 weeks.  Only a tiny number of abortions take place at this point in the gestation cycle, and it is nothing short of scandalous that a Secretary of State can demonstrate such disregard for facts, while also doing nothing to support women who undergo this procedure.

We all want to see the number of abortions in Britain falling. The reality is, however, that abortion will always need to be an option for some women. If safe, legal and clean abortions are made harder to obtain, the numbers of women seeking illegal terminations will certainly rise; thus greatly endangering their lives and long term health.

Given that the majority of abortions are carried out before 20 weeks, Prime Minister David Cameron’s view that the limit should be reduced to 20 weeks, also expressed by Home Secretary Theresa May and Minister for Women Maria Miller, does nothing to move the practical argument forward. Instead, what we see are the Tories attacking hard fought access to abortion which could ultimately harm the health of our nation.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Chaotic economic policies have caused a split among the coalition, Sunday Mirror’s Vincent Moss revealed yesterday. The revelations followed news from earlier in the week when it was announced Britain is now in a double dip recession.

A source revealed to the Sunday Mirror that ‘Mr Osborne was becoming ­increasingly isolated as he faced a torrent of criticism from both Tory ministers and senior Lib Dems.’

The source added: ‘Things are so bad right now; George could even get the blame for the rain.’ You can read the article in full here.

It was a bad week for the coalition in other areas too. The Leveson Inquiry dominated many of the headlines mid week when Rupert Murdoch gave his evidence to the inquiry and during this time questions arose over whether the  culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, may have broken the ministerial code in his handling of the News Corp bid for BSkyB.

If the story alone isn’t embarrassing enough for David Cameron then added to that embarrassment was the refusal by Lord Justice Leveson who made it clear to the government that the purpose of his inquiry was not to rule if the culture secretary had indeed breached his ministerial code.

 

This came after Cameron had suggested on Wednesday last week that the Leveson inquiry was the best forum in which to determine whether Hunt had handled the bid in a partisan manner.

There were also denials that the deputy prime minister had meddled in the inquiry and that he had asked the inquiry to bring forward the date of Hunts appearance so his case could be ‘fast tracked’. Leveson’s spokesman said that Hunt’s request to bring his evidence session forward had been turned down “in the interests of fairness to all”. You can read the full story here.

Marina Hyde offered insight into the historic week in which Rupert Murdoch spent a day and a half giving evidence to the inquiry. She suggested that Murdoch’s contempt for politicians was borne of the embarrassing ease with which he is able to persuade them to fawn over him. She recalls that he said: ‘”I wish they’d leave me alone,” he lamented of a succession of prime ministers during last year’s select committee testimony.’

Perhaps senior politicians have been guilty of this. But as we are now finding everyone gets held to account. Eventually.

 

 

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A Loss for Media Freedom at Home plus a Victory in the European Parliament

As Rupert Murdoch seems almost certain to gain control of the 61 percent of BSkyB he doesn’t already own, the vitally important though very thorny issue of media control and media plurality is very much on the UK agenda.

To the shame of the Tory-led government’s Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the detriment of the British people, Mr Hunt intends to permit this £8 billion deal impeded only by a 10 year agreement to hive off the loss making Sky News.

However, we are not the only EU member state to feel the cold winds of such control and repression of freedom.  I have in the past blogged about Hungary where the right-wing parliament is seeking more powers over the media.  The European Commission has attempted to rectify the situation, but with little success.

Accordingly the European Parliament passed a resolution today asking the Hungarian authorities to suspend the implementation of the new media laws and for the European Commission to set a deadline for this.

The text of the main points of the resolution is set our below.

This is a major step forward and demonstrates that MEPs will not sit idly by while media freedom is compromised.

  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to suspend the implementation of the new media laws, as the government’s 2/3 legislative majority does not give it a right to decide alone in matters of media freedom; and instead start the legislation anew in parity-based discussion forums that include opposition and civil society, with a view of improving the laws also on the basis of the remarks and proposals made by the European Parliament, the Commission, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe Commissioner on Human Rights, recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights;
  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to restore independence of media governance, with a parity based political composure and participation of journalists associations, while restricting media governance to the audiovisual field, removing its control over press and the internet; restore constitutional safeguards for media pluralism and true judicial overview by appeals to ordinary courts; limit the state interference with freedom of expression concerning balanced coverage to television only; protect investigative journalism by protection of confidential sources, removing news prescriptions and registration as a pre-requisite for operation; respect the country of origin principle enshrined in the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive;
  • Calls on the Hungarian authorities to involve all stakeholders in relation to the revision of the Constitution, which is the basis of a democratic society based on the rule of law, with appropriate checks and balances to ensure the fundamental rights of the minority against the risk of the tyranny of the majority;
  • Calls on the Commission to set a close deadline for the Hungarian authorities to change the law on the points raised by OSCE, the Council of Europe, the Commission and the European Parliament, and shall the deadline not be met, proceed with infringement proceedings;
  • Requests the Commission to submit a proposal for EU legislation on media freedom, pluralism and independent governance before the end of the year, hereby overcoming the inadequacies of the EU’s legislative framework on media, making use of its competences in the fields of the internal market, audiovisual policy, competition, telecommunications, State subsidies, public service obligation and fundamental rights of everyone on EU territory, in order to define at least the minimum essential standards that all Member states must meet and respect in national legislation to ensure, guarantee and promote freedom of information, an adequate level of media pluralism and independent media governance;
  • Calls on the Commission and the Council to ensure that democratic values including media freedom are respected within the EU and remain central to its foreign policy, while continuing to show support to media freedom campaigners inside and out of the EU;

 

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Britain has the most undemocratic Government since the 1950s

I was very struck by the article We’re Not All in This Together by Mehdi Hassan in the New Statesman.

Hassan informs us that 22 out of 29 cabinet ministers (76 per cent) are millionaires: Philip Hammond’s net worth is £7.5 million, George Osborne £4.6m, Jeremy Hunt £4.5m and Iain Duncan Smith £1 million.

The pattern is replicated throughout the present government. The Topshop boss Philip Green (£4.4bn), whose wife lives in the tax haven of Monaco, has been put in charge of cutting government “waste”. The former BP chief executive Lord Browne (£45m) has been appointed as the lead non-executive on the Cabinet Office board while the banker Stephen Green (pension pot: £19.1m), outgoing chairman of HSBC, is to join the coalition as a trade minister in December.

In fact, Britain has not been governed by politicians representing such a narrow social base since Harold Macmillan’s administration in the late 1950s.

This matters. It matters not because 66 percent of Cabinet ministers were educated at private schools or because over three quarters of the Cabinet are extremely rich per se. It matters because extremely wealthy Conservatives know nothing of life as it is lived by the overwhelming majority of the British people.

With the average wage at just under £25,000 a year and an estimated 288,000 people paid below the minimum wage of £5.93 an hour, most people are a million miles away from the millionaire lifestyle.

Self evidently we are not governed by men (and a few women) who share our worries and concerns and possibly have no idea about what makes us happy and what makes us sad.

And this is even more true for Conservative MPs who are millionaires for the very simple reason that many safe Tory seats are prosperous, reflecting the lifestyle of their MPs. Yes, of course there are pockets of poverty and deprivation in Runnymede (Philip Hammond) and Chingford (Iain Duncan Smith), but such deprivation is limited and unlikely to affect Conservative majorities.

This is very different from Labour MPs seats. Safe Labour constituencies are never well off, constituents face unemployment and welfare benefits are essential for many of those represented by Labour MPs. Moreover Labour MPs see all of this at their surgeries.  This means that even though MPs are in the top 10 percent of national earnings and some Labour MPs had privileged upbringings, those representing the vast majority of safe Labour seats see with their own eyes what life for most people in Britain is really like.

The importance of this first-hand experience should never be underestimated. I first became fully aware of what poverty means when I was Chief Executive of the lone parent charity Gingerbread. Contrary to the pervasive stereotype, the overwhelming majority of single parents are not feckless teenage girls getting pregnant to secure a Council flat, but women in their 20s, 30s and 40s bringing up children on their own as a result of divorce, desertion or death. Most Gingerbread members lived on benefits, many were unable to afford even a telephone and almost all bought their children second hand clothes.

Although I had never lived on benefits I came to realise what poverty is about.  Somehow I doubt whether Messrs Osborne and Hunt have done the same kind of thing.

Millionaires truly lack any idea of life outside the very small circle of the very rich and since 76 percent of the Cabinet are millionaires they are utterly unrepresentative.  This is extremely bad news for a democracy.

I truly believe our Parliament should be made up of a representative sample of the British people, including proportionate numbers of women and ethnic minorities. The Cabinet should also be representative and its members know what life is like for the majority of those they govern.  The Cameron-Clegg (both of whom are also very rich) government self-evidently does not meet the representative test. It is therefore not truly democratic.

I believe the reason why George Osborne has felt free and able to cut back so drastically on welfare and social housing is that his government quite simply does not understand lives other than their own and can therefore make ideological cuts with no constraints of compassion or empathy. Lack of proper representation at the highest level is consigning more and more people to poverty, ghettoised housing with the very real danger of the kind of crime and anti-social behaviour that goes with what used to be called “social ills”.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

 

The big news this week was the analysis of the coalition Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Ploughing through the papers the following day there was so much to take in. But there was one revelation within the annoucement’s which struck me more than anything else, and that was the cut by £50 for new recipients of the winter fuel allowance.

The move came despite a pre-election promise from the Prime Minister to safeguard benefits for the elderly, including winter fuel payments. In addition the Government is making plans to increase the state pension age to 66, it was revealed.

Last winter, any household with someone aged 60 or more received a £250 winter fuel payment. For those over 80, it rose to £400.

Those rates were increased by Gordon Brown in 2008, by £50 and £100 respectively. You can read a full analysis of the winter fuel payment cuts in The Telegraph here.

Also last week, the Government was left embarrassed following a gaffe by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, when he inadvertently revealed that 490,000 public sector jobs would be lost by 2014 as a result of spending cuts.

The revelations were made after Alexander left a briefing note on display which was then photographed and snapped by the crowd of photographers.

And the cuts also hit the BBC which was forced to accept a 16% budget cut, with the licence fee frozen for six years…and the corporation taking on the responsibility for the World Service which had been funded by the Foreign Office previously.

Patrick Wintour wrote in last week’s Guardian that the negotiations left the BBC stunned, with insiders claiming that a license fee settlement that would normally take years to thrash out had been imposed in three days. The extra financial burdens are equivalent to the cost of running the BBC’s five national radio stations. You can read the full story on cuts here in the Guardian.

I was also pleased to read earlier in the week how three feature length films are to be made over the next six months in Bristol.

Bristol is a growing hub for film, with both the makers of Wallace and Gromit and the graffiti artist, Banksy, originating from there.

The films will be made with a mixture of public and private funding. The projects are aimed at inspiring young talent and at stamping Bristol firmly on the map as a center for film making in the UK.

Perhaps the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will follow the success of these films, and consider his decision to axe the popular and much needed UK Film Council, an organisation which works with young and emerging talent in this country to both inspire and  support them in their projects.

Hunt’s short sighted and quick action to abolish it have undoubtedly set back the UK film industry but projects like this will help to keep the UK film industry on the map. Read about the Bristol films in The Guardian here.

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Hynter joins Serota in condemning Arts Cuts while Universities UK say Britain will lose its Place as the World’s Number Two

Savage is not too strong a word to describe the 2010 Conservative Party Conference.  The Tories (along with Nick Clegg, the third most influential right-winger in British politics) have certainly started with a vengeance which is no doubt how they intend to continue.

And it’s not just about child benefit where Cameron’s political antennae seemed to disappear down a very large hole. Cutting child benefit for higher rate taxpayers was always going to create a storm, made much worse in this instance by the insanity of allowing couples where both worked and both earned less than the higher rate tax threshold to both keep their child benefit. This would have meant that a double earner family would receive vastly more child benefit that one where one parent stayed at home to look after the children.

Cameron and Osborne got it so badly wrong that I see that they are now having to make amends.

Sadly and tragically, it’s not just about what went on at the Tories’ annual conference. The BBC website today reports that Universities UK (UUK), with whom I have had quite a bit of contact over the years, warn that cuts proposed for the higher education sector could see the UK lose its position as a world leader in education.  In their submission to the government’s comprehensive spending review (CSR), they also state that “misplaced and “mistimed” cuts would impact on future economic growth and prosperity. 

The Treasury has asked government departments to look at cuts between 25% and 40% by 2015.  The UUK makes it clear that although, “The UK currently has the second strongest university system in the world … as the latest global rankings make clear, this position could be at risk if we do not invest now.”

I think this is more than enough damage and destruction to be getting on with, especially since it impacts so enormously on our future as a country and on our children. But this is obviously not the Tories’ view.

Yesterday, National Theatre head Sir Nicholas Hynter joined his colleague Sir Nicholas Serota, warning in the Evening Standard that cuts to arts funding could destroy our cultural life. Thirty years ago 60 percent of the National Theatre’s funding came from public sources; it’s now only 30 percent. Sir Nicholas also believes that regional and “fringe” institutions will close if there are swingeing cuts.

Culture and the arts are enormously important for their own sake, for the pleasure they bring and the way they enhance the quality of the way we live.  However, there are also strong economic reasons for a vibrant cultural and artistic life. Culture generates money. The cultural industries in London are the second largest employer after financial services. Cameron, Osborne and the Culture Secretary Jeremy Bunt would do well to bear this in mind before they turn this country into a complete cultural desert.

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Honeyball’s weekly round up

Four in ten regret voting Lib Dem. This survey, by pollsters ComRes, exclusively for the Sunday Mirror is without doubt a damming blow for Nick Clegg, as their first party conference kicks off since they formed a coalition government he can expect to face the wrath of many activists unhappy at his new alliance. The Sunday Mirror claims that this latest set of statistics is the worst result of any ComRes poll completed since the election. You can read the full article  here in the Sunday Mirror. 

 

It will be a difficult time for Clegg as he will undoubtedly be faced with questions from disgruntled party faithful who could never have envisaged their party forming such a close alliance with the Tories. He has an enormous task ahead of him, and that is to appeal to his members to support the coalition government which will, he claims be a “great, great, reforming government.”  The Observer’s political editor has a big piece in today’s paper which you can read here. 

President Sarkozy found himself in hot water once again this week following his decision to deport Roma gypsies from France despite the European Parliament demanding an end to the policy. But there were harsh words between The French President who was angry over comments made by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding who appeared to compare France’s actions to persecutions in Nazi-occupied France. 

He said of her words: “The disgusting and shameful words that were used – World War II, the evocation of the Jews – was something that shocked us deeply.” I did a blog on it earlier in the week which you can read here and you can read the BBC report here

I was disappointed to read in today’s paper that Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has given a civil service post to the daughter of a business associate who, the paper claims, is also a Tory party donor. The move has ‘raised eyebrows’ in Whitehall. She was made his parliamentary assistant in his private office two years ago but in May was given a job within the Department for Culture Media and Sport on a fixed term civil service contract. You can read the full article here in today’s Observer. 

 

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Culture Secretary rumoured to cut funding for the Paralympic Games

Are there no depths to which the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will not sink?

Hard on the heels of his decision to abolish the UK Film Council, rumours abound that Jeremy Hunt will cut funding to the Paralympic Games.  Surely this is the cruellest cut of all, and totally unjustified.

The Evening Standard Londoners’ Diary picked up on the story and quoted me: 

Golden girl joins the 2012 cuts debate

Rumours of impending cuts to the Paralympic Games in 2012 have not gone down well with Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington, pictured. “London getting the Olympics and Paralympics is such a huge thing that it’d be a shame if they had to cut back,” she told me at the premiere last night of Salt. Nor is London MEP Mary Honeyball happy. “If these rumours are true, and the Department for Culture Media and Sport have not denied them, I suspect the minister will find it hard to justify this move,” she says. “I’m sure Jeremy Hunt will face a backlash if this is announced. But the Culture Secretary fails to see the benefit [of the Olympic legacy], having himself reportedly said, ‘We’ve always had real concerns about the lack of a legacy for the whole country’.”

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