Recent Westminster Articles
The current mood is that of sombre reflection, calls to ‘carry on as normal’, anger at the killers themselves and a broad understanding that all Muslims should not be blamed for what happened on Wednesday.
This consensus won’t last long. Within a week, maybe even less than that, it will start to break down.
1) ‘Carry on as normal’
The likelihood of this happening is perhaps at zero. There have already been calls by John Reid (and encouraged by Jack Straw yesterday) to revive the Snooper’s Charter. Of course, Reid is the security industry salesman in the House of Lords so his calls is predictable, but what of the Parliamentary Labour Party? This is the time Ed Miliband should flash his pro-civil-liberties credentials, but I suspect he will be thwarted once again by Yvette Cooper’s department.
The Lib Dems may hold their nerve but it’s very likely Theresa May will revive the Snooper’s Charter and claim events like Woolwich justify it.
2) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’
By the weekend and almost certainly by next week, we’ll see a revival of editorials (led by Melanie Phillips) asking a variation of Why Do British Muslims Hate Us? We might even go back to 2005 territory when these sorts of editorials were at their peak. The English Defence League and their demonstrations this weekend will certainly keep the topic in the public eye.
There is a lot of money to be made by sensationalising and blaming all Muslims – and a lot of press commentators will certainly try. Some politicians too will be unable to resist this temptation. It won’t start immediately but will last the longest.
3) ‘Carry on as normal’ – Part 2
It’s been constantly repeated in the press today that the authorities knew of the Woolwich Butcher before Wednesday. Why should this come as a surprise?
I would hope they are tracking ALL the men when attend Anjem Choudhary’s rallies. The question is whether these men should be arrested before they commit a crime, and the answer is clearly no.
I’ve warned before that Al-Muhajiroun were a dangerous group and supported proscribing them, but I don’t believe the authorities should arrest people who haven’t committed any crimes. Neverthless, I expect the government and the press to push for a crackdown on protests anyway.
4) ‘All Muslims are not to blame’ – Part 2
The political implications are harder to ascertain. The English Defence League will gain popularity and will no doubt use this to ramp up their demonstrations.
As UKIP have recently moved away from focusing on Islamist extremism to the EU and immigration, they won’t immediately benefit from any backlash to Muslims. But I suspect UKIP are having discussions now on what outrageous things they could say to take the limelight and start a bandwagon. It’s in their nature. The question then is whether the Conservatives will follow or condemn them for being outrageous.
Obviously I don’t approve of any of this. But I can see it happening in the coming weeks. This is merely the calm before the coming storm.
Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.
As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:
The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.
So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.
So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.
However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.
In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.
Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.
You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.
Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.
The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.
It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.
If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.
A longer version of this post is here.
It’s fair to say George Osborne has never been the Financial Transaction Tax’s biggest fan. As 11 European countries agreed a 0.01%-0.1% tax on shares, bonds and derivatives that will raise an estimated £30bn each year, he made clear that Britain was folding its arms, stamping its foot and refusing to join in.
It’s one thing to dismiss billions in additional revenue, side with your friends in the City and plump instead for the harshest programme of austerity since WWII.
But, clearly feeling his priorities were still not perverse enough, the Chancellor then launched a legal challenge against the European’s proposal, arguing it would be bad for his friends in the City.
George Osborne protested that European’s choosing to tax their financial institutions and their financial products may impact on other countries. Except that is precisely how our own stamp duty on shares works. Of the £3bn this FTT raises the UK Exchequer each year, around 40% of revenue comes from overseas.
In the face of such hypocrisy the Robin Hood Tax campaign launched a petition calling on Osborne to drop the legal challenge.
Over 15,000 people emailed the Treasury, who blocked the emails. We’ll be taking the petition by hand to the Treasury to ensure they get the message.
There have been almost daily attacks against the Financial Transaction Tax in the right of centre press as well, backed up by a slew of ‘reports’ commissioned by the financial sector. We’re taking this as a good sign.
One of the only concrete proposals to emerge post-crisis to ensure ordinary people do not pay for the economic mess is on the verge of becoming reality.
The shame is that Osborne’s opposition means the UK public will miss out on the benefits. Wild-eyed proclamations of the financial sector aside, this proposal is moderate. FTTs already exist not only in the UK, but around the world. Collectively they raise around £25bn a year. They have been implemented by governments of all political hues and in key financial centres such as Hong Kong, South Africa and Brazil.
As the government goes into overdrive to weaken the proposal, so it’s now more than ever they need reminding – the interests of the financial sector do not equate to the interests of society as a whole.
Simon works for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign
You would normally expect an MP who has only just had their party whip reinstated after a six month suspension to lie low for a while but not Nadine Dorries. She wants an alliance with UKIP.
But thy is Dorries even talking about the possibility of running on a joint Tory/UKIP ticket?
Well, the answer almost certainly lies in this recent YouGov poll:
New YouGov research conducted just before her party membership was reinstated reveals that 43% of Tories would have supported the party’s decision to reinstate her, while 45% think she should not be allowed to rejoin the party.
That’s right, more Tory voters would rather have seen Dorries left out in the cold than were happy to see her readmitted to the party and the figures amongst UKIP voters are not that much better:
The poll also suggests many UKIP voters may be relieved the Conservative Party took Dorries back. 35% of UKIP supporters think their party would be less credible if Nadine Dorries were to join it, compared to only 7% who think it would be more credible.
Even allowing for UKIP recent performance in the local elections and expectations that it will perform extremely well in next year’s European elections, one would not normally expect to see a self-styled Eurosceptic MP in a historically very safe Tory seat sweating over the possibility of UKIP running a candidate against them at the next general election.
If nothing else, the majority of incumbent Tory Eurosceptics have a personal vote and a track record to call upon that means that’s unlikely that they local electorate will seek to punish them for what they perceive to be Cameron’s follies but Dorries is not in anything like that position thanks to her own past conduct – and I’m not just talking here about her skipping out her constituents for more than three weeks to appear on “I’m a Celebrity…”.
There’s also the little matter of her using her personal ‘blog’ to mislead her own constituents as to the actual location of her main home, while claiming for her constituency home on expenses, her habitual use of her own parliamentary office as a job creation scheme for her own daughter and, of course, the ongoing investigation by IPSA into expenses claimed since the last general election for the rental of flat in Pimlico that, as I revealed last week, she used overnight for a total of just 25 nights in the whole of 2012 while, at the same time, claiming just over £4,000 to cover the costs of make a daily commute to Westminster from her constituency home, and back, eighty-six times.
The full figures are, I think, well worth repeating:
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out, based on YouGov’s polling and her own track record, why Dorries is talking up the idea of trying run on an joint Tory/UKIP ticket.
It’s not that she fears that a UKIP candidate in her constituency will be able to exploit Tory divisions over Europe but rather that by running on anti-politics ticket, UKIP may very well be in a position to exploit her own personal unpopularity amongst her Tory voters and her dubious track record on expenses to, at the very least, take a sizeable chunk out of her majority, if not pose a serious threat of unseating her.
This is not about confusion amongst members of her own constituency association, it’s purely about trying to keep UKIP out of her constituency in the interests of self-preservation and not losing her main taxpayer-funded meal ticket.
She is, as Margaret Thatcher might have put it, ‘Frit’.
The past two weeks have provided some good and some bad news on the UK economy. On the one hand GDP data for Q1 2013 was better than expected.
Whilst on the other GDP per capita figures suggested that the hole we are currently in is much bigger than previously thought.
GDP per capita measures economic output per person. In many ways this is the most sensible way to measure growth over the medium term and the best way to compare growth across nations.
As the IMF mission arrives in the UK to assess our economic performance, the TUC have used IMF data to look at GDP per capita over the advanced economies.
As can be seen in the table below the UK’s performance is abysmal.
Over the decade 2008 to 2017 the UK will experience, according to the most recent IMF forecasts, GDP per capita growth of 0.0%.
In real terms GDP per capita was £23,777.32p in 2008; by 2017 it will have reached just £23,768.25p. In terms of growth per head the UK is set to have its own ‘lost decade’.
The data really tells us three things.
First that the UK experienced an especially severe recession in 2008/09, second that the recovery has been historically weak and drawn out and thirdly that in terms of the ‘global race’ that the government is so keen to talk about, we are doing especially badly. Amongst the G7 only Italy is expected to underperform the UK.
If there is a global race, then we are certainly losing.
The Resolution Foundation has calculated that median real wages are set to be well below 2008 levels in 2017. In fact real median wages are set to be below 1999 levels as late as 2017.
We face a lost decade of growth and two lost decades of living standards, we are losing the global race, deficit reduction is widely off track and yet the Chancellor still refuses to change course.
A longer version is at Touchstone blog
The Alan Turing Statutory Pardon Bill has been published on the Houses of Parliament website.
Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of “Gross indecency between men” in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42.
This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero.
Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little.
The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works.
What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same illiberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?
by Jason Kitcat
My colleagues and I on Brighton and Hove Council have led this country’s first Green local authority since May 2011, although as a minority administration we can (and do) get over-ruled by Labour and the Tories when they choose to work together.
There’s much we’ve done over the last two years which has been widely welcomed including introducing the Living Wage, building more affordable homes, protecting third sector funding, becoming the world’s first One Planet City and progressing a City Deal, but it’s fair to say that staff pay has been the most controversial issue we have had to deal with.
We inherited a deeply flawed and muddled pay and allowances structure from previous administrations, and indeed from predecessor defunct local authorities.
The lowest paid were not getting a living wage and the work on resolving single status for employee take-home pay (regardless of gender) was incomplete.
The Tory-Lib Dem cuts to local government have also hit us hard: in fact, they are the second steepest faced by any council of our type. Furthermore, we cannot raise Council Tax beyond a level Labour or the Tories would support. Although senior management pay is down to its lowest level for over ten years, the budget is exceptionally tight.
So we’re consulting on a proposal that will bring in fair pay and allowances for all who work for the council.
Building on the Living Wage we’ve already introduced for the lowest paid, we now are seeking to complete the final step of ensuring single status for all council employees.
It is very clear that this is not about budget savings and not about ‘austerity’. In fact, based on the offer under consultation, the pay bill is likely to go up slightly. Which other Council in the country can claim that?
What is the offer then? The offer includes three key aspects:
1) A new fair and simple set of allowances which is easy to understand and helps the council meet the needs of our citizens.With these new allowances 90% of staff will see very little or no change at all in their take home pay. Of those that do, the majority will actually see an increase and a minority will see some detriment. Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week. I recognise even that is a lot to some people, but not the headline figures being used by some individuals.
2) Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump sump payment. For example someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.
3) We are keen to provide new opportunities for staff. We hope that, if agreed at a future committee, changes like Bank Holiday working can increase opportunities for waste and recycling staff whilst improving services to the city by eliminating changing collection days every time there is a Bank Holiday.
Some staff will regrettably see allowances reduced, but we can see no legal and affordable way merely to increase everyone’s pay up to those levels – and we therefore propose a lump sum to compensate those staff, worth very roughly about three years’ worth of any reduction.
We have to resolve these allowances now. To do so without any detriment to any member of staff would sadly be totally unaffordable, even with Council Tax rises that would certainly not be supported by Labour and Conservative councillors.
I know this process has been controversial and could have been communicated better. Some colleagues locally have concerns about it, to say the least.
I would therefore welcome suggestions from them, as well as from staff and the unions, on how to improve these proposals in any way which is legal, fair and can be afforded within the tight budget limits effectively set by the government as well as our Labour and Tory opposition.
For more on the proposals, see Jason’s blog here.
Jason Kitcat is a Green City Councillor. He is writing in his capacity as Convenor of the Green Group of councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.
Almost six months on from her all-too-public appearance on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, Nadine Dorries still hasn’t registered her income from appearing on the show with the House of Commons authorities.
In fact, according to the most recent edition of the House of Commons Register of Members’ Interests she hasn’t declared any outside interests or earnings since June 2012, although she did register a gift in kind from Conservative Home in October 2012, which consisted of a Conference Pass, accommodation and travel for last year’s Conservative Party Conference, valued at £700.
That’s a little odd isn’t?
Between August 2011 and May 2012, the Register of Members’ Interests shows that Dorries was paid:
- £1,900 by the Daily Mail for two articles published between August October 2011,
- £5,000 by the Mail on Sunday for articles published between January and May 2012,
- £1,440 by Hat Trick Productions for an appearance on Have I got News For You in May 2012,
- £300 by The Sun for articles published in May 2012,
- £300 by H Bauer Publishing for articles published in Bella Magazine in May 2012, and
- £3,000 by Conservative Home for a writing weekly column between January and May 2012.
However, since that last set of registrations in June 2012, Dorries has registered nothing whatsoever in terms of remunerated outside interest despite appearing on ‘I’m a Celebrity…”, continuing to write a regular weekly column for Conservative Home and signing with a showbiz agent, ASM Damage, where her profile notes an appearance on Channel 5′s ‘The Wright Stuff’ in June 2012 which has also yet to make an appearance on her register entry.
To be clear about the rules, MPs are required to update their register entry with any new registrable interests, such as payments for key work undertaken outside the House, within four weeks.
That being the case, how has Dorries managed to go almost six months without registering her payment for appearing on ‘I’m a Celebrity…’?
Her own private company?
One way in which Dorries could avoid registering payments for media work as paid employment would be to set up a service company to receive the money on her behalf and then pay it on to her as an employee of that company, or via a remunerated directorship or perhaps even in the form of shareholder’s dividend.
She would still have to declare any such payments on the register but this would at least help to avoid disclosing exactly how much she’d been paid for specific gigs and, depending on how these payments are made, she would also be able to pay a bit less tax on her outside income.
And sure enough, about a month before Dorries jetted off to the Australian jungle (3rd October 2012) records at Companies House show that Dorries was appointed as the sole director of a Staffordshire-based company called Averbrook Limited.
Averbrook Limited also has yet to make an appearance on Dorries’ register of interests.
Now this is where it gets interesting because Averbrook Limited is not a new company at all.
It was originally set up in May 1994 by three business consultants but was then taken over in November 1995 by an Andrew James Rayment, a former teacher with a somewhat intriguing commercial history if an article which appeared in TES in June 2011 is anything to go by.
As recently as August 2010, so far as I can confirm, Rayment was also the Chairman of Mid-Bedfordshire Conservative Association. Averbrook’s financials show the company has been dormant since 2006 and that it hasn’t done any significant trading for a fair bit longer than that, with Rayment as its sole shareholder and Company Secretary, with a nominal holding of just £100, and his wife serving as its sole director.
Or at least that was the case right up until end of March 2012 when Rayment’s wife suddenly stepped down as a Director with Rayment seemingly following her out the door, at least on paper, six weeks later, at which point its registered office and the position of Company Secretary were both transferred to an accountancy firm in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
And there it sat, until early October 2012 and Dorries’s appointment as a director, in which she her occupation as “writer/commentator/TV Radio personality” (but not MP), all of which came on the same day that the accountancy firm resigned as Company Secretary.
Why hasn’t Dorries declared it?
MPs are required to register any remunerated directorships, not matter how much remuneration they receive, and any directorships for which they are not individually remunerated but nevertheless receive payments for via another company in the same group.
There also required to register an interest in any company in which they hold at least a 15% shareholding.
So, if Dorries receives any kind of payment from Averbrook for media work that’s been routed through the company, as either an employee or as a director, or if she owns more than 15% of the shares in the company then it has to be registered with the House of Commons, which means either than she’s failed to register an interest in line with the rules or that she hasn’t received any payments from Averbrook and doesn’t own at least 15% of the company’s shares.
Which leads us back to the question of what, exactly, has happened to her appearance fee from ‘I’m a Celebrity…’?
This is all legal and above board, but nevertheless her constituents and even some members of her local association might be inclined to wonder why the MP isn’t showing more transparency.
A longer version of this post is on Unity’s blog.
During the AV referendum campaign a couple of years ago great play was made by the “No” campaign of how a preferential system would “allow BNP voters to dictate the result”.
This was always a highly dubious claim. Indeed the BNP actually opposed AV, presumably because they realised that under a system where a candidate needs to get broad support they would likely get no seats at all. At least under FPTP they can occasionally win, usually where the barrier is often considerably lower than 50%.
One of the results from the recent local elections amply demonstrates this point.
Collin Brewer was an independent councillor in Cornwall who before the elections attracted a lot of publicity having made some highly offensive comments about disabled children and how they cost too much money so should be “put down”. He resigned at the time but decided to stand again for the Wadebridge East ward and to the consternation of many was actually re-elected.
There is an online petition at the moment trying to get him to resign again which has gathered hundreds of signatures.
But it is worth bearing in mind how he managed to get re-elected. Here is the breakdown of the 2013 results for Wadebridge East taken from the Democracy Cornwall website:
|Collin William Brewer||Independent||335||25%||Elected|
|Steve Knightley||Liberal Democrat||331||25%||Not elected|
|Roderick Harrison||UK Independence Party||208||16%||Not elected|
|Adrian Darrell Jones||Labour||161||12%||Not elected|
|Brian Aubone Bennetts||Conservative||150||11%||Not elected|
|Sarah Hannah Maguire||Independent||146||11%||Not elected|
As you can see Collin only got 25% of the vote. Now I don’t know how many of those who voted for him were aware of his remarks but even if most of them were, 75% of voters voted for a candidate who does not have those views. And yet because of First Past the Post Collin was allowed to take the seat on only a quarter of the vote.
Far from preventing extreme candidates from being elected, FPTP actually allows it to happen by simply taking the candidate with the plurality of votes and giving them the seat no matter how low the vote share is. Elsewhere in Cornwall another candidate was elected on less than 20% of the vote.
We aren’t going to get AV or any other form of electoral reform any time soon I suspect but we have to accept that keeping FPTP means as a country we reap what we sow.
At a cricket match with some lefties a few years ago, I suggested to some prominent Greens that their party needed to sound more anti-establishment like UKIP.
Obviously I didn’t mean the Greens should adopt UKIP’s half-baked policies, but that the latter were doing a much better job at sounding like they wanted to challenge the Westminster consensus.
I was reminded of that when Chris Dillow said UKIP’s rise is a triumph for the pro-establishment ruling class.
This sounds too much like it was inevitable the likes of UKIP and the ‘ruling class’ would triumph after the financial crash of 2008. I think it actually highlights the failure of the Left to get our shit together.
The rise of various Leftist movements across Europe has shown it’s not always the Right that triumphs from political and economic uncertainty. Of course, there are plenty of anarchist groups and anti-establishment movements in the UK. But they’re too busy infighting or competing with each other to be puritanical. The ‘threat’ they pose to the Westminster elite is, at best, vague. Moreover, I’ve barely seen any introspection or open discussion about why any movements have failed to take off (especially among students).
To my mind there are broadly two ways to broad political power: you either mobilise large numbers of people, or you can get them to vote for you. The British Left is failing on both counts.
This brings me back to the Greens. I was told that they did not want to ape UKIP for two reasons: first, they wanted to sound credible and viable rather than mad; second, their strategy was to slowly build up a base and win seats local rather than jumping for attention in the national media.
It’s a plausible strategy but not one of an insurgency trying to pull the consensus in their direction. The financial crash, ongoing austerity cuts or even the slew of dire warnings about climate change should have injected a sense of urgency into the Greens. Instead, the party is pottering along (they won 5 council seats in the local elections) and upsetting no one.
The rise of UKIP demonstrates two points I think:
1) To pose a threat to the system you don’t need detailed policies or an established base, but to latch on to a few issues and rile up enough people about them to give you a boost. Own those issues completely and find ways to inject urgency into the national discourse.
2) Voters are annoyed enough with the narrow consensus of the three parties that, when they see a viable alternative (Lucas in Brighton, Galloway in Tower Hamlets and Bradford, UKIP in Eastleigh etc), they vote for the alternative.
But the Greens have to sound like they pose a threat to the establishment; they have to radiate danger and insurgency (while not sounding angry), not fluffy middle-class sentiments.
PS: I’m not bidding to join the Greens and remain firmly committed to the Labour party. All I’m saying is that the rise of UKIP, as opposed to a more left-wing movement, wasn’t inevitable.
It reflects a failure on the left to be fail to mobilise large numbers of people or have a political party in Westminster that sounds like an insurgency.
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