The Mansion House speech was ‘fantastical’-despite a more conciliatory approach

Labour Party

Theresa May’s road to Brexit speech last week at Mansion House delivered the inevitable. Instead of inflammatory “red, white and blue” language it was honest, detailed, serious and perhaps the most conciliatory we have seen her to date. It was inevitable that eventually she must deliver a speech which aimed to bring together the warring factions. She has spent the last 20 months alienating those in the Remain camp and internally her party is tearing itself apart, and that’s even before we start on how she has handled relations with the EU.

John Major said that Europe is the beast that gets to all Prime ministers in the end- it did it for him, and we all know what became of David Cameron.

But back to May’s speech; the positives are that she acknowledged things she previously had resolutely refused to, for example she admitted for the first time that Britain will not get the same kind of access to the European markets after Brexit in the we currently do. She was also clear that in order to operate within the EU it will be necessary for the UK to continue to make financial contributions, and she conceded that the European Courts will have some effect over UK legislation. The latter point had previously been a red line, so this was a big shift.

The message was clear: the expectation that the UK would continue to enjoy the same benefits outside the union as inside would has gone-realisation is finally setting in.

However, although a shift in her speech was clear what she articulated continued to be, as Andrew Rawnsley wrote this weekend, “fantastical”.

She told those gathered at Mansion House: “We must bring our country back together, considering the views of everyone who cares about this issue, from both sides of the debate.”

May’s great plan to unite where there is such huge division is an impossible task, one she clearly underestimates. Although May should not be blamed for all that has happened in the last 20 months, after all she did inherit Brexit, she has made life more difficult for her own premiership but more importantly her tone has on many occasions threatened to jeopardise the entire agreement.

Her lack of experience in international negotiations is no secret, she was, in fact, previously Home Secretary. Even this weekend she told Andrew Marr that in many ways Brexit is a very simple thing. What a magnificent underestimation that really is. The complexity and risk are enormous – we need not look any further than the current negotiations over the issue of Northern Ireland to realise the implications of taking such a gamble.

May’s, up until now, hard line approach to Brexit has divided a country where the outcome of Brexit was so narrow. Yet she has continuously alienated the entire Remain camp by using terms like “crushing the opposition”, and its won her no plaudits. Most importantly, and as Andrew Rawnsley observes, by taking such a trajectory with the European Union she has “made the negotiations much thornier.”

The speech wasn’t met with any great shakes on either side, what it will achieve is yet to be decided. What we do know is that by next March we must have a much clearer idea of where the UK is going.

But my own position remains-as I said in my article for Left Foot Forward last week: “It would be an act of unbelievable recklessness to leave without knowing where we’re going at the end of the Brexit process.

Moreover, it would be simply foolish to swap our existing deal for an inferior one.”

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

UKIP’s second by-election win should give us all pause for thought. They have now demonstrated the level of their support and have provided clues about what they would do if they were ever to gain any kind of power. Nigel Farage has, for instance, said he would like an insurance based private health care system.

Unfortunately the media, in particular the BBC, has been full of ‘fun’ footage of Nigel Farage enjoying a friendly pint of ale, seemingly harmless enough-only it isn’t. Perhaps now, as Andrew Rawnsley so brilliantly suggested, there will be fewer images of ‘Nigel down the pub and a lot more questions about what he would do with power.

David Cameron has underestimated the party’s threat. He promised to ‘kick his fat arse’, referring to Mark Reckless, of course, who won last weeks by-election in Rochester and Strood. Reckless is now Ukip’s second MP. Despite promises to ‘throw the kitchen sink’ at the election- which he did by visiting the constituency no less than five times, the Tories still lost.

It is true, as Rawnsley points out, that by-elections are a very unreliable predictor of what will happen at a general election. However, the Labour Party also has to focus its efforts and be very mindful of the threat Ukip poses.

Although the England women’s football team lost to Germany yesterday (3-0, to those of you who are interested), congratulations none-the-less to the women’s team who attracted record numbers of spectators at their first match held at Wembley. They drew huge crowds, 45,619 to be precise- more than for the last men’s game played there. So, now the campaign must begin in earnest to get them the recognition they deserve, as the Telegraphs Wonder Women section writes.

An inspired campaign started by Belinda Parmar, CEO of Little Miss Geek, focuses on changing the perception of children. The playground trading of football cards is big business. Match Attax cards are bought by 1.5 million children each year. Yet none of those cards circulated by millions of kids display women players.

Parmar’s petition hopes to achieve just that – ‘to ensure school children know the names of female footballers as well as they know their male counterparts. This is one step to starting to change the male dominated face of football.’

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

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.


Honeyball’s weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

“Does the Tory Party actually want to win the next election?” asks Andrew Rawnsley in his article for the Observer this week.

There are enduring problems among the Tories, of which we read about often enough this week it will be even more apparent as the Chancellor announces further spending cuts much to the anger of his cabinet colleagues.

All of which is further compounded by  a group of Tory MPs who have written the ‘Alternative Queen’s speech’ in which they call for the August bank holiday to be renamed ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’, the restoration of national service and an exit from the European Union. The manifesto runs into some 42 proposals in total.

The result of this is confusion within the party is that the public remains unclear about whom and what they are voting for. As Rawnsley writes: “That confusion remains to this day. So do the same arguments within his party about the best way to secure power. There are those around him who press for the next election campaign to be tightly focused on traditional Tory issues such as welfare, immigration and Europe with a dash of tax cuts if they are at all affordable.” You can read his full article here.

And, as if dissent from backbenchers wasn’t enough, there is mounting fury from within the cabinet over the Chancellor’s spending review which led to this headline in the Sunday Mirror over the weekend: “Spending review row: Tory ministers fighting ‘like ferrets in a sack’ over savage cuts”.

The acrimonious battle between the chancellor and several of his cabinet colleagues over the savage cuts has caused an 11th hour battle ahead of the announcement on Wednesday. George Osborne is expecting them to find £11.5billion worth of savings between them.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow chancellor Ed Balls responded by stating “that further cuts were necessary because their deficit reduction plan had failed”. He wrote in the Sunday Mirror that instead of cuts the Government should boost jobs and growth.

Balls wrote: “The hard reality is that if David Cameron and George ­Osborne carry on with the same failing policies, Labour will have to deal with a difficult situation after the next election.”

In his article for the Sunday Mirror Ed Balls wrote of the real impact cuts have had after three years in Government, Balls pointed out that, “for ordinary families life is getting harder. Prices are rising faster than wages. The number of people on the dole for over a year is going up”.

People often ask what Labour would do differently, and the shadow chancellor sets out his plan in the article: “Instead of planning more cuts two years ahead, they should use this week’s spending review to boost growth and living standards this year and next.

“More growth now would bring in more tax revenues and mean our public services would not face such deep cuts in 2015.

“Help working families with a 10p starting rate of tax, not giving millionaires a tax cut.

“And get construction workers back to work repairing Britain’s broken roads and building the affordable homes we need.

This alternative plan would boost growth, create revenue and in turn mean we can save and improve public services which are also at breaking point following deep cuts. This is a plan that is workable, that seeks to help those who need it most, while focussing on longer term measures which will get the economy back on track. You can read Ed Ball’s article in full here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

As we are all aware a shocking murder dominated the news this week. Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was killed in a wicked attack as he went about his daily business. It soon became apparent it was a terror attack.

The Prime Minister condemned the attack and said “we will never give into terrorism in any of its forms”. Parties on all sides offered support following this atrocious attack.

The country is still suffering the shock of of this awful attack and our thoughts are of course with his family, loved ones and colleagues at this time. You can read more on the story of those who went to help in the immediate aftermath showing selflessness and compassion for the young soldier, here.

Meanwhile, politically there is trouble for the Prime Minister, “David Cameron isn’t even among friends in his own cabinet now”, said Andrew Rawnsley in his latest piece for the Observer this weekend. Rawnsley described the Prime Minister as “the tattered chieftain of a fractured tribe.” He suffered two revolts in as many weeks first over Europe and then over the gay marriage vote.

However, it is the spending review for the next financial year, which the Chancellor George Osborne is due to announce on 26 June, that is causing significant problems within the party.

The Treasury had been looking to cut spending by another £10bn but exactly where the next round of Whitehall cuts should come from is being met with significant resistance reveals Rawnsley. Even the ‘bluest’ of Tories are not sure where to go next. And Rawnsley writes: “It is an irony that the ministers who are resisting the chancellor most fiercely are nearly all concentrated on the bluest end of the Conservative party: Theresa May, the home secretary, Eric Pickles at communities and local government; Chris Grayling, the justice secretary; and Philip Hammond, the defence secretary. The most right-wing member of the cabinet – Owen Paterson, the environment secretary – is being the most stubborn of all. While none of his colleagues has agreed everything that the Treasury wants, and most have offered far less, they have come up with some cuts. Mr Paterson is point-blank refusing to surrender anything from his budget.”

You can read Andrew Rawnsley’s full article here.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph reported that the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, believes more should be spent on defence and policing and has offered to lop another £3 billion off his department’s annual budget to help in this.

He is understood to have suggested restricting housing benefit for the under-25s, and to limit benefit payments to families with more than two children. So there is set to be more trouble ahead for the Coalition Government, as the Lib Dems have said they will block any further cuts to working age benefits. You can read more on this here.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

The week saw several high profile meetings between heads of state, starting with François Hollande’s first encounter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then building up to the G8, held at Camp David.

In the Observer Andrew Rawnsley asked us to stop “being beastly to Germans”, as Noel Coward put it.  I can’t say I have much sympathy for Merkel, despite having to watch David Cameron celebrate as Chelsea beat her team Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on Saturday.  It is true though that, with Hollande as France’s new president, Merkel is looking very low on allies among her fellow heads of state.

As Rawnsley says in his article; ‘The American Democrat, British Conservative and French Socialist may not agree on much else, but on this, at least, they are together. It is one second to midnight in the eurozone because a recalcitrant and miserly Germany has refused to step up to its historic responsibility to do what is necessary to save the single currency. If the eurozone implodes, and carries away the global economy with it, the buck will stop in Berlin.’

I think it’s fair to say that that Germany does deserve a big helping of blame for the current state of the eurozone.  Germanyhas repeatedly failed to offer leadership that rises to the scale of the present crisis. When Germanyhas led, it has not always been in a well-judged direction. The austerity programme imposed on the Greeks as the price for continued membership of the euro was too draconian to be implemented in a democracy. The have duly revolted.

So now Obama, Hollande and Cameron get to lay the blame for the current situation at Merkel’s feet.  I can see their point but the idea that Cameron gets to lecture another European leader about a growth agenda is very galling.  Merkel has overseen a German economy that had remained very healthy through out the crisis, whilst Cameron’s government has led us in to further recession.

With all this going on, apart from the Champions League Final, you can’t imagine that Cameron did much relaxing at Camp David, though he has been accused of “chillaxing” too much of weekend, and playing games on his iPad.  He has reacted by saying that he is driven, like Lady Thatcher, to achieve “massive radical and structural reforms”.  I think I prefer the idea of Cameron “chillaxing” than bringing about reforms similar to Tatcher.  I hear that a new version of Angry Birds has just come out, can someone please buy it for him?

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

Andrew Rawnsley discussed what he called the ‘omnishambles’ that is the government in his column for the Observer this week.

As he said, ‘it’s a great word which encapsulates the government’s serial misjudgements and misadventures, from granny taxes and petrol panics to the boomeranging budget and Theresa May’s lost day.’

Miliband managed to make use of the word during last week’s Question Time, and as Rawnsley pointed out it was a public space in which to get the word out there in the hope that it enters the British lexicon.

Rawnsley questions whether this current situation is a blip or something more significant for the coalition government, after all the Budget was over a month ago and that kicked off this period of omnishambolism which has yet to show signs of improvement.

Rawnsley suggests we are seeing something more significant than a blip. You can read his full article here.

Something of a shocking statistic was revealed over the weekend in the Sunday Times which suggested that some 100,000 women in Britain have undergone female genital mutilations (FGM) with medics in the UK offering to carry out the illegal procedure on girls as young as 10, the paper reported.

Investigators from the Sunday Times said they had secretly filmed a doctor, dentist and alternative medicine practitioner who were allegedly willing to perform FGM or arrange for the operation to be carried out. The doctor and dentist deny any wrongdoing.

The practice of, or arranging for, FGM to be carried out is illegal and can carry a sentence of up to 14 years.

That anyone would face this kind of barbaric treatment is incredible, that it is happening on our doorstep is shocking and indicates just how little we know about this terrible crime.

You can read more here.

The first round of the French Presidential elections is complete and François Hollande has moved a step closer to becoming the new President, the first socialist in a generation.

For President Sarkozy it is particularly humiliating because this is the first time an outgoing President has failed to win a first-round vote in the past 50 years. You can read more on the first round of the election here.

Honeyball’s weekly round-up

Labour Party

Business Secretary, Vince Cable used the T word again today he was referring to a tax on bankers bonuses today when he was interviewed on Andrew Marr. The Coalition Government had promised it would be tough on banker’s bonuses, yet it looks as though this year we are going to see another round of very very hefty bonuses awarded to bankers. No doubt an icy chill will have fallen across the city, after the Business Secretary called for bankers to cool down the bonuses or else.

Or else what exactly? The Chancellor, George Osborne, doesn’t appear to have been anywhere near as vociferous in the banker’s bonus debate. If they don’t calm down they will be taxed, we’d rather they accepted that they must calm down their bonuses. The responsibility, he says, lies with the bosses of the banks, the coalition were clear that it would keep its eye on bank bonuses and they must not let this slip. You can watch his interview with Andrew Marr this morning here (approx 38:29 minutes into the programme.)

Cable will be appearing in an altogether scene than today’s when we see him appearing on the Christmas Special of Strictly Come Dancing, an accomplished ballroom dancer, this twinkle toes will undoubtedly impress us, but perhaps in a different way to Ms Widdecombe.

Vince Cable on Christmas Special of Strictly Come Dancing

What do Chairman Mao and David Cameron have in common? Rather a lot according to Andrew Rawnsley in today’s Observer. He says that one minister claims he will ‘unveil a cultural revolution in the public services.’ Rawnsley claims ‘I have actually heard more than one member of the cabinet explicitly refer to the government as ‘Maoist’. Needless to say Rawnsley’s conclusion is that we are governed by Maoists and his argument is set out here.

Women are to blam for the gender pay gap, says today’s Telegraph. A report ot be published by a leading accademic says it’s down to women’s life style choices. Oh and for good measure, and to stick the boot in,  Dr Hakim claims in a 12,000 word report described government policies to promote equality as ‘pointless’ and based on ‘feminist myths’. Dr Hakim the article said was the same person who claimed in a study called Erotic Capital earlier this year that the most successful people in modern society are those who are the most attractive in appearance and manner. It is incredibly disappointing, and that’s putting it mildly, that people still feel this way and that there is an attitude that ‘women want it all but must make sacrifices somewhere.’ 

Earlier in the year Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone, said she would tackle the view that women should appear a certain way, that image is everything and will get you on in life. Women have enough things to contend with – why do we also have to be worried about being the most attractive in appearance and manner? It’s absurd.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

Although the week’s news was dominated by the minute-by- minute updates of alleged  Northumbrian murderer, Raoul Moat, the coalition government haven’t escaped the headlines entirely. Michael Gove remained in the spotlight after he failed to shake off the furore following his decision to cancel school building projects.

His announcement that some 700 school redevelopments would be scrapped in an effort to cut the deficit sparked outrage among members on all sides of the House.

Worse still, an almighty mix up followed with the Department of Education saying that some schools would be saved from the cuts, only to find out later this was a mistake and Gove was forced to apologise, again.

Even Conservative MPs are angered by this. Tory MP Philip Davies tabled a question asking why the projects in his constituency will be cut, and two dozen MPs have signed a motion condemning the ‘cavalier attitude towards pupils, parents and teachers.’

I don’t think I’ll have a chance to watch education questions tomorrow when Gove will be asked to offer a plan B for those schools hit by the controversial cuts, but I certainly hope he’s at home right now planning something to reinstate those education projects so badly needed across the country.

Gove isn’t the only minister currently facing the heat.  Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is also planning a £1bn attack on ‘bureaucracy’. He plans to reduce the number of health quangos There are disturbing rumours that the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which employs 2000 staff, will also be abolished.

It’s become terribly fashionable to bash the quangos, but they do a job and my concern is who will take on their role if they are abolished?

Many of the campaigns these organisations have been involved in have had a huge impact on our lives, in some cases proving to be life saving. Take the FSA campaign to reduce our salt intake or the saturated fat campaign, both of which have had a significant impact on how we as a nation think about food and our own personal health.

Other health quangos in the firing line are the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the NHS Blood and Transplant.  Both these organisations provide an essential service and they must not simply be done away with.

Both Lansley and Gove will face a huge backlash against their proposals. Is this an early warning of the tornados facing the government? Andrew Rawnsley asks just that in today’s Observer, which you can read here.

Meanwhile, on our side, Vincent Moss in today’s Sunday Mirror reveals that Peter Mandelson’s memoirs say Brown never got over losing his battle with Blair to become Labour leader in 1994. I hope there is something more compelling in Mandelson’s books than going over old stories that we have all heard time and time again.  If I decide to read it, I will want to know that there will be something a bit more insightful.  The full Sunday Mirror piece is here.

 Of course we still have Blair’s memoirs ‘The Journey’ to come out – due in September. Watch this space (and many others no doubt)…