Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I couldn’t help but think that the Coalition Government is somewhat nervous of the new shadow chancellor appointment. Ed Balls is a brilliant economist but it didn’t stop Nick Clegg on the Andrew Marr show this morning raising some very odd questions about Ball’s experience. “I think we are entitled to ask questions about Ed Balls’ record.

Ed Balls the new Shadow Chancellor

“If you ask yourself ‘Who was in charge of the City when they were gorging themselves on bonuses and lending irresponsibly, who allowed the housing market to let rip, to become a casino and put thousands of families into debt?’

“Who was whispering in Gordon Brown’s ear budget after budget creating a huge fiscal deficit? The answer to all those questions is Ed Balls.” Asked Clegg. This kind of rhetorical questioning would suggest a party (coalition) whose leaders and senior figures are clearly nervous of how well Osborne can perform against the experienced and capable Balls.

Harriet Harman spoke very well, I thought, this morning on Dermot Murnaghan programme about Balls’ appointment (you can see her interview here).

She insisted that it is right to reduce the deficit over a period of four years. There is no split over the party’s economic policy she said.

Also this week education secretary Michael Gove said we had to go ‘back to basics’ with regard to History and Geography lessons. He believes we need to teach more facts and figures to our school children.

But what will we achieve exactly by going back to a 1950s style of education where you learn on rote and without question?

Another review of the curriculum will not solve the issue of children not learning enough key fats. Instead it is likely to create an extra burden for teachers who are already stretched to breaking point.

Another review will further knock their confidence. You can read more on the story here.

I will be speaking about this in my very first vlog which I shall post here on my website early next week.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

I can’t, in all honesty, say  that I was shocked to read the revelation in Saturday’s Guardian that the Lib Dems had drawn up plans to drop their flagship student pledge before the general election.

The revelation came in a new book about the coalition negotiations by the former Tory whip, Rob Wilson.

The secret document written by Danny Alexander revealed they would have to forego their pledge to abolish the fees within six years.

This is what Alexander wrote on 16 March:

‘On tuition fees we should seek agreement on part time students and leave the rest. We will have clear yellow water with the other [parties] on raising the tuition fee cap, so let us not cause ourselves more headaches.

Despite this Nick Clegg recorded a YouTube video for the NUS in which he stuck by his abolition pledge. In the video, on the 13 April, he said: ‘We will resist, vote against, campaign against any lifting of that cap.’

Although circumstances change and economic or social climates can mean that policies have to adapt, but what angers me about this revelation is that the party never intended to follow the policy it was flaunting.

It used this argument to secure the student vote, to entice those who were unsure by convincing them that they would support growing concern over tuition fees. But this article shows how so many voters were mislead by the party they voted for.

You can read the full article here.

In other news I read that designer shoe maker, Tamara Mellon, (among others) was appointed a global trade envoy for Britain, by David Cameron. Mellon and the other ‘ambassadors’ will be expected to promote and represent the country overseas by participating in foreign visits, meet foreign ministers and deliver speeches.

The other ambassadors are: handbag designer Anya Hindmarch and JCB boss Sir Anthony Bamford, a Tory donor who has contributed almost £1m in recent years, reported the Daily Mail.

Although the appointed ambassadors will not be paid for their work, I am still uncomfortable that the Prime Minister is relying on close allies such as Bamford and Hindmarch, the latter of which the Daily Mail claims is a close friend of the Prime Minister’s wife, to work on the international stage and represent Britain and British trade and industry.

Finally I couldn’t do a round up without mentioning the release of Aung San Suu Ki, the Burmease pro democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize winner. Suu Ki is a modern day symbol of peaceful resistance. She is a remarkable woman who has shown dignity and bravery in equal measure.

Despite being under house arrest for much of the last 20 years she refused, when interviewed by the BBC World Affairs editor, John Simpson, to show any bitterness towards the regime which had kept her captive for so long. Instead she simply said that she had been treated well.

 Her resolve, dignity and strength of character struck a chord, as did the reaction of her supporters, who were risking their own lives just by being so vocal in their joy at her release.

It reminded me how lucky we are to have much freedom which we should never take for granted.

You can read a profile of the peaceful protestor in the Telegraph here.

Britain has the most undemocratic Government since the 1950s

Labour Party

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”.

European Voice is wrong about the Con-Dem coalition

Labour Party

“The decision by the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat parties to form a coalition government freed Cameron from his Eurosceptic right-wing and put the UK in step with the norm in Europe.”

You may wonder where to find this completely accurate if rather bald statement.

And it’s probably not where you think.

Every year at about this time the European Union/European Parliament indulges in a prize giving fest – awards for the best MEP on each committee, for films and journalism and several for young people.

Not to be outdone, European Voice, Europe’s very own and only newspaper, makes its own contribution to the merry go round with awards for National Politician, European Commissioner, MEP, EU Official and intriguingly Inspiration.

One the five entries put forward for the national politician category this year is David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the UK’s prime minister and deputy prime minister because, yes, you’ve guessed it, they formed a coalition government to put the brakes on the eurosceptics and “put the UK in step with the norm in Europe.”.

I am not at all sure that a supreme act of political expediency, such as forming a coalition to neutralise a strand of opinion is worthy of a what claims to be a serious political award.

I’m also not sure that Cameron and Clegg formed a coalition to bring the UK in step with the norm in Europe.

While the happy outcome, for David Cameron at least, is that being in coalition with the Lib-Dems has made his eurosceptic wing shut up for the time being, I really don’t think it was uppermost in his mind when going into government with them.  The Tories joined up with Clegg’s outfit because they wanted power and hadn’t received enough votes at the general election to form a majority government.

So come off it, European Voice. Please don’t even try to make out the Cameron and Clegg acted out of principle.  It simply won’t wash.

Hague full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Labour Party

Wiliam Hague was most interesting at the Conservative Party Conference.  I have watched the Tories’ movements regarding Europe very closely since they formed the Coalition and as a result found his speech very enlightening.

As we all know, the Conservatives had to drop most of their Eurosceptic election promises so that Nick Clegg, who for all his faults is at least pro-European, would be able to justify forming a government with them.  Since then the coalition government, far from standing up to what some Tories might call the encroaching powers of the EU, has accepted many new laws from Brussels, including one which hands some powers over financial transactions to the European Commission.

It is, however, becoming increasingly evident that there are those in the Tory party who are very unhappy with the way things are going with Europe.  And it was such a promising start for the Europsceptics. David Cameron took the Tories out of the EPP, the centre right political grouping in the European Parliament. (Tory MEPs then  formed an alliance with far right elements whom Nick Clegg described as a “bunch of nutters”). Cameron also promised to repatriate various powers to do with employment law.

In an attempt to assuage the Eurosceptics’ doubts, William Hague made an impassioned speech to the Conservative party conference that outlined plans to introduce a sovereignty clause on to the statute books in the United Kingdom asserting that EU law only has primacy in the UK because the government allows it to be that way.  He also made some forceful comments about governments being able to “undo” the things they have done. 

All well and good for playing to the Eurosceptic core in the Tories you might think, but unfortunately, if we believe what the Daily Mail has reported, many of them aren’t buying this entirely superficial gesture.  The Mail has a quotation from a Tory MP, Douglas Carswell, saying ‘This is politicians using clever words to appear to be preventing further European integration when they are not.’ 

Attention has so far focused on the internal strife within the Lib-Dems as a result of their involvment in the Coalition.  William Hague has now shown that Europe is proving, as predicted, a difficult issue for the Tories.  In the not too distant past, European issues almost undid John Major’s government leaving him significantly weakened.  If David Cameron has any political antennae left, he will be desperate not to have Europe anywhere near any agenda. However, the decision doesn’t seem to be down to him but rather his restless grass roots.

Seemingly, Wiliam Hague’s attempts to placate the Eurosceptic wing of their party aren’t working quite as well as they might have hoped, as they can see it for what it is, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nick Clegg really is a Tory

Labour Party

So it’s absolutely true that Nick Clegg is extremely important on the right in British politics.  The Daily Telegraph puts him at number three in their ranking of influential right wingers.  Only George Osborne and David Cameron are higher.

This just goes to confirm what many of us already knew – that Clegg really is a Tory.

Here is the extract from the Daily Telegraph feature.

Top 100 most influential Right-wingers

Our (Daily Telegraph) list looking at who wields power on the Right of British politics.

Compiled by Iain Dale and Brian Brivati

3. (NEW) NICK CLEGG Deputy Prime Minister

Some may question the inclusion of the leader of the Liberal Democrats in a list of influential people on the right. But Clegg has proved in the last six months that he really does belong on this list. His recognition of the need to cut the deficit and do it quickly is one reason. His clear influence over David Cameron is the other. He is an ‘Orange Book’ liberal who recognises the importance of the free market and the small state. Time will tell if he is able to drag the statist elements of his party with him.

Museums may be forced to shut

Labour Party

Sir Nicholas Serota, head of the Tate, is not a man generally known to be outspoken.  He is, however, rightly very angry at the Coalition Government’s cuts to the funding of the arts, as reported in today’s Evening Standard.

All those of us interested in the cultural activity of our country, the very thing that adds to our quality of life and provides pleasure and fun, will surely agree with Sir Nicholas’s that “you don’t prune a tree by cutting off its roots”….”The idea that you can cut a £180  billion deficit by slicing money out of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is frankly absurd.” Yet Sir Nicholas is not being unreasonable in that he makes it clear that while 10 to 15 percent reductions over four years are possible, 25 to 30 percent are not.  As he says, such cuts “threaten the whole eco-system.”

I, unfortunately, have come to the view that there is a need to decrease public expenditure in order to reduce the UK’s deficit.  However, there are two things which  must be said about this:  a) the deficit was caused largely by those greedy bankers who brought the world’s financial system to its knees and not the last Labour Government and b) the current Coalition Government is cutting faster and deeper than is either necessary or wise, and they are doing it for purely ideological reasons.

While ending child benefit for higher rate taxpayers is grabbing the headlines today, we should not ignore Sir Nicholas’s dire warning that museums may have to close two days a week if the Coalition goes ahead  with the DCMS cuts.  Not only will children and families have less money, they will also have fewer educational and leisure options.

Welcome to the Cameron/Clegg-Con/Dem cultural desert.

Honeyball’s weekly round up

Jeremy Hunt

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. 

 

David Miliband talks Sense on the Alternative Vote

Labour Party

As you know I am a supporter of changing our outdated first past the post voting system to something more proportional and fairer.  I therefore think it’s a good idea to have a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system.  I am, however, totally opposed to the Coalition’s proposal to reduce the number of House of Commons seats to 600, which I, along with many others,  view as gerrymandering for the benefit of the Tories.  Putting the AV referendum and reducing the number of seats in one bill is quite shocking, a blatant bribe to get Lib-Dem MPs to vote for the reduction in seats.

Steve Richards excellent interview with David Miliband in the Independent newspaper (the whole piece is worth reading) says it all:

“Labour’s possible next leader has a direct message for Nick Clegg on electoral reform: “I am strongly in favour of the Alternative Vote, but if the Liberal Democrats want AV they are going about it very oddly. Let us be clear. They need Labour to be in favour of it, yet they support a package that includes other constitutional changes being rushed through to help the Conservatives. It’s student politics and not clever politics. If Liberal Democrats want electoral reform they should think very carefully about supporting amendments to the legislation that we are putting forward. Remember we want AV to succeed and there are Tories who oppose electoral reform who are rubbing their hands about the way the Liberal Democrats have gone about this … if we want AV, which I do, we have to find a way around this.”

My thoughts exactly and demonstrates why David Miliband is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party.

Coalition Goverment says no to EU Anti-Trafficking Measures

Labour Party

As regular readers of my blog will be aware,  I have written before about the EU’s new human trafficking directive and also ran a campaign against the Metropolitan Police Authorities proposed closure of their specialised unit dealing with this matter.  This issue has never seemed to me to be particularly partisan, it being widely accepted that trafficking causes untold misery and ruins the lives of many, especially women and children.  So I could not believe it when I heard about the coalition government’s plan to ‘opt-out’ of the new directive specifically designed to help combat trafficking.

For me,  and I hope everyone else, the most important aspect of the directive is its focus on protecting the victims of trafficking.  Such protection would mean that people who are trafficked into criminal enterprises in the UK, such as the sex trade or cannabis farming, could not be charged over false immigration papers forced on them by the gang responsible for their move. 

The new directive,  still currently in committee, also looks to create a single EU wide definition of trafficking and allow for the law courts to try people who commit trafficking offences in another EU state.  This is crucial to the combating of trafficking since many of the crimes that help sustain the practice, such as document forgery, kidnapping, intimidation and violence will occur in another country before the victim has reached the UK. 

The directive will allow for trafficking crimes to be prosecuted in UK courts, thereby helping to stop the industry of trafficking as well as bring criminals to justice.  The anti-trafficking measures seem right and proper to me.  However,  a Home Office statement in early August said that there were already ample measures in place to combat trafficking in the UK.  An interesting view since, in June this year, an umbrella group of charities and NGOs released a study saying that the anti-trafficking measures in the UK were woefully inadequate.   

I am not alone in my outrage, with leading charities criticising the decision as well as Denis MacShane writing to Nick Clegg, asking him to persuade the Tories to change their mind. 

It is deeply depressing to think that the Conservatives would make a decision that could have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our police force in combating human trafficking on the basis of the odious and irrational anti-European stance.  David Cameron and William Hague have said that they will not cede powers to the EU without a referendum (though they have already put the lie to that particular promise), so I can’t help but feel that the rejection of a powerful and necessary tool in the fight against such an egregious crime is all part of some pathetic political posturing. The idea we would even have to ask the (supposedly) pro-European Clegg to persuade the Tories to think again on this crucial issue is very, very worrying.