Tories hit families with welfare cuts

Labour Party

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Tories planned £12 billion worth of welfare cuts will have the greatest impact on families. Tax credits and other working age benefits are expected to be slashed and now the right leaning think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), has branded it ‘extremely unfair’.

Despite Cameron Making a speech on the issue of welfare yesterday, his ministers still refuse to give specific details on how the government plans to save £12bn. One possibility is to cut child tax credits back to 2003 levels for those in work as well as housing benefit. It is also thought that some disability benefits could also be affected.

Labour warned during the election campaign that tax credits would be vigorously cut if Cameron returned to power. And Ed Miliband took to Twitter yesterday criticising his speech and suggested that Cameron disguised his own effort to cut tax credits as a way to help working people: “The PM’s one-nation speech feels like a weak attempt to explain why it is OK to cut tax credits and say you stand for working people.”

Although cuts are inevitable, Labour always said it would be done more sensitively, and not aggressively, hurting the most vulnerable in society the hardest. Indeed, Andrew Harrop general secretary of the Fabian Society said of Cameron’s proposed welfare cuts: “This isn’t ‘one nation’; it is nasty politics and terrible policy. The prime minister … hopes to improve life chances for all, but singles out children as the main targets for cuts, once again.”

During his speech Cameron attacked the tax credit system which helps lower paid workers to stay in work. Instead he favours encouraging employers to pay higher wages, based on a living wage.

But he is unlikely to force employers to pay a living wage which would replace the lost tax credits, therefore failing to address the problem of helping working families on low incomes, or to protect the most vulnerable within those families, namely, children.

Cameron fails women

Labour Party

It was not a good day for women in David Cameron’s party yesterday. He illustrated that he is in no way committed to any form of gender parity after the number of women in his cabinet rose by just two.

This is a particularly poor showing for Cameron as he has simply restored the number of women in his cabinet to the level it was three years ago at the end of 2011 when he had just five women on board.

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. So five years on has he kept to his pledge? The short answer is no. There are now 23 Tory female ministers – before today there were 20 – that represents just short of 24 per cent of Tory ministers in total.

Even if you add in those women who have the right to attend cabinet, that has only increased by three, from five to eight.

It’s pretty clear that this is all a rather woeful attempt to prepare for next year’s election to show the electorate he is serious about women. However, it’s such a marginal improvement that one could be forgiven for thinking it’s just window dressing; it’s not really a serious attempt to address gender disparity within government at all.

Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

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.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

Last week the wash-up of the local elections continued as the nation prepared for the Queens speech in which the coalition government would reveal what it had in store for us in the second half of its term.

Martin Kettle’s analysis of the speech summed it up well, when he suggested that Cameron’s struggling to send a clear message to the nation about the coalition is for.

It’s true, his narrative is unclear and to an extent it is imbued with his Lib Dem partners, a stage he would rather not share.

Kettle’s analysis, which you can read here, suggested that the coalition is now at loggerheads. He wrote: ‘As a consequence the larger liberal conservative project that arguably framed the first year of the coalition is far harder to discern now. Indeed it would be difficult to say that the coalition now has any distinct project beyond economic stability and the government’s survival. Not that these are unimportant. But all the coalition’s eggs are suddenly in this one frayed basket – a far cry from the earlier strong sense that it had a vision of the kind of Britain it sought to build.’

Last week Cameron and Clegg hot footed it to Basildon to tell us what they had planned for us going forward. It was designed to reassure a nation which, as the election results the previous week indicated is resolutely unsure of this coalition.

But their meeting in a factory seemed strained and tired. There was no banter and the bonhomie had disappeared.

Body language expert, Peter Collett wrote a brilliant piece pointing out the body language between the two men. Cameron using strong hand gestures to signal to the nation he is in control.

Clegg also revealed more than he realised. Collett writes: ‘While he gave Cameron lots of attention and nodded in all the right places, a look at his feet showed his weight was often on the foot furthest from the PM. Consciously, he was being supportive, but his body was secretly trying to distance him from Cameron.’

As politicians this is something we must be constantly aware of, our every move is scrutinised; one wrong move can have significant consequences. And make no mistake- it will always be noted. Read Collett’s article in full here.

Yesterday Toby Helm wrote in the Observer that ‘Ed Miliband is in a strong position to secure an outright majority at the next election, according to a new opinion poll that analyses the views and voting intentions of recent converts to Labour.’

Helm wrote: ‘The YouGov survey for the Fabian Society shows that “Ed’s converts” – people who didn’t vote Labour in 2010 but currently back the party – are made up mostly of disgruntled left-wing Liberal Democrats, many so disillusioned that they are very unlikely to vote for Nick Clegg‘s party again.

‘About 75% of the converts – who have helped Miliband and Labour open an eight-point lead over the Tories in the poll – are former Lib Dems, 18% are ex-Tory supporters, and 7% are former supporters of other parties or people who did not vote in 2010.’

As always Miliband, rightly, remains cautious but optimistic. He believes we must build, among other things, a deep allegiance and he is right, and as he says there’s still lots of work to be done.

Is Cameron Now Trying to Bring the UK Film Council Back from the Ashes?

Labour Party

Earlier this week I found myself more than a little surprised to hear that David Cameron had said that the UK must help “producers to make commercially successful pictures that rival the quality and impact of the best international productions”.

Over a year and a half ago I blogged about my shock that the UK Film Council was one of the many victims of the claimed bonfire of the Quangos the Tories lit in 2010. You can read what I said here.

The UK Film Council was an excellent mechanism in helping to develop the UK film industry. From its launch in 2000, the Film Council helped to fund a long list of fantastic films. This year The King’s Speech, one of the final UKFC funded films, won 4 Oscars and much international critical acclaim.

The Iron Lady film currently garnering much comment is another UK Film Council assisted production.

I am slightly confused then why, if Cameron wants a commercially viable British film industry, he got rid of the Film Council in the first place. With its list of hits including The Last King of Scotland and Bend It Like Beckham the UKFC seemed to be doing the trick.

To me his actions just reconfirm yet again what I said back in 2010 the “Cuts are made rapidly for ideological reasons not with consideration for what is best for the British economy and best for British society”.

The Coalition has been very quiet about the bonfire of the Quangos. In the case of the film industry at least it seems that Mr Cameron didn’t really have a problem with the Quango itself, he just wanted one with his own name on it.

The closure of NOTW should be the beginning of a media overhaul, not the end.

Labour Party

The shock and horror of the British public over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the    World is palpable. The British public may have had little sympathy with media-courting celebrities who has the boundaries of their privacy broken – but news that murder victims phones were hacked has justly provoked outrage and disgust against the tabloid.

I am not going to delve too deep into condemning the actions of News International, that pool is already murky enough and our Labour Leader is doing a fine job of fronting proper criticism and putting pressure on Mr Cameron to get his act together in dealing with this issue.

I would, however, like to talk about what this indicates of some very worrying trends in the global media market. The Murdoch empire has once again shown that it is fundamentally just too powerful. In controlling so many media outlets Murdoch was able to dictate the outcome of elections, deluge the public consciousness with his opinions and, it is now clear, force all politicians to be beholden to him to the extent where they were afraid even to try to uncover illegal activities within his company.

This situation is not unique to the UK.  Consider for example Italy where Berlusconi not only runs the country but also maintains a national media monopoly. Unsurprisingly, media coverage in Italy is overwhelmingly more Berlusconi-friendly than in the rest of the world. Italian politics now takes place within Berlusconi’s fishbowl, the walls of which distort and dim even the most lurid of the Prime Minister’s activities and those of his associates.

There are a multiplicity of problems incurred by such media monopolies. It means that the public is not afforded the option of a variety of opinions and viewpoints. Public opinion is as much informed by the media as the media is guided by it; restricting the diversity of media opinions leads to a warping of public debate. In the case of news outlets such as Fox this can stray into the territory of the deliberately misleading and the propagation of actual untruths.

The News of the World has closed but this should not be the end of the story. At any rate the closure of the NOTW was as much a market-based decision as a political appeaser: Its mass desertion by advertisers rendered the tabloid unsustainable.  Instead this should initiate a rethink of how the media should be run within the UK and elsewhere. Allowing certain companies to achieve monopolies within the media not only leads to corruption, it is harmful to democracy. A healthy media requires a plurality of voices and opinions, free to report and express but that can also be regulated in order to prevent slander and malpractice. If the News of the World crisis teaches us anything it is that the British media has become divorced from its purpose. We must find a way to get it back on track.

Reform of the House of Lords?

Labour Party

Following yesterday’s  pomp and circumstance, what could be more apt than considering the promised reform of that most august institution, host to the state opening of parliament, the House of Lords itself? (By the way, did you know peers have to pay £125 a go to hire their ridiculous robes?)

The Queen’ Speech was sadly light on Lords reform; all we got was reform of the House of Lords may be included in a separate draft bill later in the year.  Not exactly promising, and I believe changes to the House of Lords/upper house will  be, and may already have been, the scene of coalition tension, a sticking point with tons of glue, difficult, if not impossible, to resolve.

We all know that reform of the House of Lords is a Lib-Dem rather than a Tory demand.  Indeed, the Conservatives have in the past voted to keep an all appointed upper chamber.  The Coalition at present has a notional majority of 50 in the House of Lords, assuming all Tory and Lib-Dems Lords vote with the government, very big ask indeed, especially for the Tories.

However, it’s the plans to create another 100 peers which set alarm bells ringing.  The Con-Dems are justifying it on the grounds that the House of Lords should reflect the voting intention at the general election.  This has never been the case, and is, in any event not sustainable over the long term in a chamber where members are appointed for life.  The idea of reflecting general election intentions also flounders on the issue of where do the bishops and cross benchers fit into the equation.

So, what is the real motive behind the Coalition’s desire to create of 100 new peers?  It seems to me it could go either way, for or against the promised reform to make the House of Lords either wholly or largely elected.  And therein lies the rub.  The new peers could either do what the Lib-Dems want and support radical change or they could do what very many Conservative want and keep things as they are.       

As yet we don’t know whether the new peers will be ennobled as Cameron/Clegg’s Lloyd George moment when the very threat in 1909 of creating enough peers to get the People’s Budget through the upper house was enough to bring their noble lords to heel, or used to throw out reform all together.

Clegg  obviously sees see this wheeze as following in the footsteps of the man who knew our fathers, who, in my view, was one of the most radical prime ministers this country has ever seen.  Cameron, I suspect, views creating 100 new peers, the majority of whom will, of course be Conservative, as a way of keeping his foot soldiers happy.  These new peers could destroy any attempt to reform the House of Lords.  What better way of stifling change than by restoring the House of Lords to its former Conservative glory before the hereditary peers went, and thereby ensuring the Tory majority votes down all plans to make the House of Lords wholly, or even largely, elected.