- Explosion on maiden voyage of cruise ship Norwegian Escape
- Conservative Cleverly and Labour’s Copley to contest London mayoral election
- Caroline Blakesley acclaimed as Labour Leader and new Prime Minister
- Macmillan tables a vote of no confidence in the Government
Britain's biggest broadsheet which is widely respected and often considered to be the newspaper of record. The Times tends to take centre to centre right viewpoints. Known elsewhere in the world as The Times of London.
2010 General Election Endorsement: Conservative.
2014 General Election Endorsement: Conservative (but anti Macmillan).
Energy companies announce price rises as Winter approaches
Almost all of Britain's main energy suppliers have announced plans to increase energy bills again this winter. British Gas has announced price rises of up to 10.4% on electricity bills, worth about £130 a year on the average dual fuel bill.
The rise is the fourth series of price rises from the "big six" since 2010. The companies have claimed that the price rises are necessary due to a combination of increases in the wholesale cost of electricity, and due to "green levies" that the government forces them to charge in order to subsidise renewable energy generation.
The move is likely to add to the considerable political debate over the price rises, with the Labour Party pledging a 20 month price freeze, and the Prime Minister promising a review of the green levies charged to companies that are included in bills.
The Liberal Democrats called the idea a "panicky U-turn" by Mr Cameron, although Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg later said some of the environmental policies could be delivered in a more cost-effective way.
Endorsements roll in for Suchet and Manning
The two leading contenders for the Labour leadership, Ari Suchet and Juliet Manning, appear neck and neck not only in the polls but also in endorsements from Labour MPs and trade unions.
This week Manning picked up the support of USDAW, which represents mostly retail staff, and a grudging endorsement from the GMB, as well as a handful of smaller unions including Community. However, the two largest unions affiliated to the Labour Party – Unite and Unison – endorsed Suchet, saying that she offered “a genuine alternative to austerity.”
Ultimately it is union members who vote, but most union members voted in line with their union’s endorsement in 2010.
Meanwhile, MP endorsements have been much thinner on the ground, with some privately expressing disappointment at the field and the lack of a middle ground “unity” candidate. Manning has received support from a number of high profile MPs on the “new Labour” wing of the party, including Ed Balls, and from former cabinet ministers including David Blunkett. Suchet meanwhile has the support of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, including former leadership contender Diane Abbot.
Please Conservatives, Step Back From The Brink
The Conservative Party have been the traditional party of government in this country for so long now it seems hard to conceive of anything that could ever alter that. However, this leadership election has been an eye opener. It's not as if infighting is unusual in the Conservatives or indeed any broad political party in any country, but the foul tempered nature of it at some points, exemplified by the spectacle of two Tory MPs arguing as a TV presenter tried to cut away has dented confidence in the party.
Let's be clear, the campaign has been nothing short of a circus, much like the Labour Party's contest has been. But this circus has the potential to be so big that it will take over the country, led by its headline act: Mary Cambel, ably assisted by Barclay Calhoun. No one can, or should, deny that Mr Calhoun gave a spirited and robust representation of his beliefs and we respect that, but he has created the potential for the Conservatives to be held hostage by a cabal of extremists. A cabal that Ms Cambel has neither the ability nor political capital to manage effectively. She has been unseated by a poor showing in an interview on the BBC and severely undermined by a disastrous leak and an ill timed joke by Mr Calhoun regarding job trading allegations. While we strongly condemn the grubby nature of the leak and hope whoever perpetrated it is dealt with swiftly, there's no denying that Ms Cambel is a damaged candidate.
None of this bodes well for her in a coalition government. Whoever the Liberal Democrats select, she is going to have to work with them and questions have emerged over whether the Lib Dems can even tolerate Ms Cambel, never mind work with her in government. As fashionable as it might be to imagine that the current coalition deal can survive two leadership changes, this simply isn't realistic. It's inevitable that some kind of adjustments will come.
That is why when the time comes the Conservatives must step back from the brink of being held hostage by their most extreme elements. If they fail many rightly fear that the party may see itself a sitting duck for the Labour Party (if they collect themselves after their own debacles).
Sir Jonathon and Ms Carpenter, while imperfect are the only candidates who could conceivably maintain the coalition and govern effectively. They have both conducted themselves well and avoided controversy, that is despite Sir Jonathon's own wobbles in an interview and Ms Carpenter's tight embrace of the current coalition deal as a basis to govern. They are both at least realists and crucially can prevent the circus of the Tories extreme flank holding us all as a captive audience.
“Stalin: Stop sending people to kill me! We’ve already captured five of them, one with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send another” - Tito
Keep calm, carry on, and govern
A difficult first week should not distract Britain's new Prime Minister
Mary Cambel's first few days as Prime Minister have not been easy. A disgruntled supporter of one of her opponents openly criticised her and insinuated she was culpable in a major scandal before she'd picked curtains for her Downing Street Study; she mistakenly appointed an anti-gay marriage MP to the position of Equalities Minister, and she faced her first public sector strike.
The Prime Minister must be hoping things are a little bit 1997 and can only get better.
She has reason to be optimistic. The coalition may be entering its final full year soon, but it still have a significant agenda to implement. It should waste no time in looking for ambitious ideas to implement, and should look to be using its ability to set the agenda with legislation in Parliament as soon as possible.
They have a number of worthwhile things they could pick up from the government they succeed including substantial banking reforms to avert another financial crisis; reforms to renewable energy subsidies to encourage more low carbon generation; reform to social care in line with the Dilnot proposals; further devolution to Wales; and reforms to childcare to provide more consistent support to parents. Not to mention big decisions to be made on High Speed 2 and the prospect of a new nuclear plant. And this is before any further innovations this form of the coalition wishes to make.
This is no time to be timid, and both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will need to encourage their ministers to work hard to set a clear liberal conservative agenda that can win both their parties support. Neither of them should get too distracted by the inevitable cut and thrust of modern politics and control what is in their grasp - and instead set an agenda the country can unite behind.
"Macmillan Amendments" to the Recall of MPs Act risk Government rift
Calum Douglas Wilson is responsible for the amendments, widely seen as a rebuke to former Conservative MP Dylan Macmillan
Revenge may be a dish served cold, but this is one dish that no one in the Conservative Party seems willing to cool - the case of suspended MP Dylan Macmillan.
In one of the less subtle attempts to undermine his position, Calum Douglas Wilson, backbench Conservative MP, tabled three amendments to the Recall of MPs Act that could ultimately lead to Mr. Macmillan being forced by law to face a by-election. The most constitutionally problematic of the three amendments that would have forced a by-election for MPs ejected from their party seems unlikely to pass; but two less restrictive ones look like they could after the Conservative Party appeared to decline to whip against them.
These amendments would require MPs to face a by election if they voluntarily change or leave their party; or join another party in the Commons. The changes have faced strong opposition from the Institute for Government, which said that they would "tighten the vice grip of government over the Commons and undermine the Parliamentary element of Britain's Parliamentary democracy."
Whatever happens to the votes; less clear is the impact that this may have on the government and on the coalition. The amendments were rejected by the government but since then Conservative MPs and ministers appear to not have been whipped against voting for them - including the Bill's sponsor himself. That would appear not only to undermine collective cabinet responsibility, but also the specific clauses in the coalition agreement that establish for collective responsibility between the two parties' ministers and for a joint whip on all government business.
Which leaves everyone asking: why? With these amendments in, it is unclear whether the Bill itself could pass and would almost certainly face difficulties in the House of Lords. It's possible that the MPs voting for these changes genuinely believe in effectively removing the possibility for defections in Parliament. It seems more likely that they're simply using the law to settle a party political grudge they would have been better laying to rest.
Rt Hon. Sir Harold Saxon QC MP - An Insight into the ‘Modern’ Conservative Party
By Charles Trenython MP & Bertie Wilson MP
In many ways, the achievements of the Foreign Secretary are quite notable. By all accounts, he was a successful & competent barrister who was appointed to the Queen’s Counsel – a prestigious group of senior lawyers. With competencies in public international law, you’d have thought he would be the perfect fit for the position as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Following the election of Mary Cambel to the post of Prime Minister, he was handed that opportunity, through promise or on merit.
I can imagine some groups within the Conservative Party were pleased following the appointment. On the record as ‘wanting to fundamentally change‘ our relationship with the European Union, he could be branded as a Eurosceptic. For us on the Labour side who hold pro-EU values, this was of course worrying but not as worrying as what was to come.
Since his appointment, he has shown that he is not fit for office through his erratic behaviour, reactive approach and easily provoked. He can be regularly found engaging in rather odd discussions on the social-networking service; Twitter. Particularly when he decides to appeal to journalists, regularly tweeting Nick Robinson of the BBC and Adam Boulton of Sky during the Conservative Leadership Election. It’s mildly amusing that he should do this, when he once called out all the candidates out as ‘cowards’ who ‘seek out personal glory’.
@SaxonMP: Quite frankly this is dirty tricks, the next PM should act like a statesman and not a coward seeking personal glory
This could be considered your typical behaviour for an ambitious politician and indeed he hadn’t been appointed as the nation’s top diplomat at this point, but please bear with us. During a debate surrounding his statement, he cited the wrong city where some unspeakable violence was occurring in Ukraine – Lvov instead of the correct Lviv. Whilst this may have been a slip of the tongue, or he had been briefed incorrectly, it was his response which alarmed us most. He could have simply admitted his mistake and we would have moved on. Instead, he decided to state that the Labour Party does not care about British citizens in the region. This is a trend throughout his public appearances – whenever you challenge him, he comes out with an irrational and erratic response. This behaviour is what concerns us most, and is mirrored throughout the Government.
I'd say that as the nation’s top diplomat, getting the correct city in a foreign country is a very important part of your duty as the Foreign Secretary. If this is all it takes for him to crack, imagine the Right Honourable Gentleman being in a room, conducting negotiations with other countries on extremely important and sensitive issues such as the Iran Nuclear deal. The attention to detail on these issues is extremely important and if he can’t get it right in a Ministerial Statement, what would happen at the negotiating table? Foreign Ministers might feel they can get the better of him by just challenging him on the smallest of issues - it would mean the interest of our country are not being met in their entirety. This behaviour is what concerns us most, and is mirrored throughout the Government.
In addition to the role of Foreign Secretary, Mr Saxon is in charge of the National Health Service (NHS). Whilst Mr Saxon may continue to debate the biggest crisis’ facing our NHS he doesn’t seem to stick, complete or focus on any given task. Some may recall from when he was backing Ms Cambel during the leadership race that he criticised heavily the other candidates for failing to commit to tackling problems facing the NHS, including a bold commitment to HIV which would be commendable. This would only be honourable if he had continued to show his support for those suffering. Since his appointment the Health Secretary has shown no interest in the afflicted group completely abandoning plans set out in his leader’s campaign.
@SaxonMP: NHS is just one of the key issues being neglected, Ms Cambel has made it clear there’ll be real investment into NHS and efforts to tackle HIV
The Health Secretary has a duty to ensure the services of the NHS are of the best standard. This duty is highly important and must be carried out with a competence that Mr Saxon has been proven to lack. This is no more prevalent than in his remarks regarding waiting times which show him referencing statistics that are a product of NHS statistics regarding the year 2011 where 18,000 people did indeed suffer over one years wait. Whilst his current claim regarding 4,300 (correctly stated would be 4,410 - The small difference may be contested however given the importance of ‘I’ versus ‘O’ in his previous remarks about the City of Lviv) may be correct it was under the previous Labour government that brought the figure down from the hundreds of thousands to the near thousands waiting over one year for an operation.
Mr Saxon may be working hard as Health Secretary but what the NHS has seen since the Coalition Government took power is waiting times, overall, rising. In the first year of the Coalition over 204,000 more patients waited at A&E for more than 4 hours - This figure has not been reversed in the three years since. I would contest that Mr Saxon is not entirely to blame for this failing; the Hansen-Charles-Conservative cuts are precipitating the rise. The Health Secretary would also be advised to stop clinging helplessly onto the two statistics regarding the fall in MRSA infections and the fall in one year waits; Perhaps he ought to focus on areas where the Government’s policy has been failing to improve instead. Rather than floundering on faults, he should focus on failures and act accordingly to rectify the dangerously developed disaster of rising overcrowding, lengthening waiting lists and increasing patient to GP ratios.
I would like make a policy suggestion to the Health Secretary from this page to him. The fastest way, to end the understaffing of hospitals, to solve the growing patient to GP ratios would be to recruit more staff into the NHS; End the 1% pay cap. Recruitment is reliant on many things and the prospect of falling wages shows no mercy to attempts to bolster staffing. I would recommend that he has a serious conversation with the Chancellor regarding ending the 1% pay cap immediately so that some of reconstruction can begin. Stop the rhetoric and start the realism.
Although I am sure he is an honest, decent and, perhaps, slightly enraged man it would be wholly inappropriate for him to suggest, by any means let alone MRSA statistics, that antibiotic resistance is a falling threat. Far better than suggesting it was falling and therefore no bother would be to seriously invest in new research, coordinate with the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to decrease the use of antibiotics and strengthen regulations regarding the use of commercial antibiotics detergents. The Health Secretary needs a friendly reminder his job isn’t to shout statistics but face off the threats of our modern age.
His loyalty to the now Prime Minister might be what got him his job in the first place, but with the errors stacking up and the lack of fundamental temperament on display, will she, or can she stick by him? What will it take to realise the failures of one of her most senior Ministers will start causing harm to the country?
Charles Trenython MP
MP for Nottingham South.
Shadow Secretary for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Anthony B. C. Wilson MP QC
MP for Darlington.
Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Care.
Charles Trenython MP
Shadow Cabinet strained as Labour campaign gets underway
Labour’s billboard campaign launched in earnest yesterday, with the party confirming the use of the long-trailed slogan “working hard for working Britons” as its key message throughout the general election
The Labour Party should, if everything goes according to plan, win this general election easily.
The party has enjoyed a lead in the polls for most of the last four years, and has remained stoically unified in the public arena even as the coalition collapsed and the Tories broke out into civil war.
But sources at Labour’s Victoria headquarters suggest that the cracks in the facade are beginning to show, with two main factions - which emerged in earnest during the leadership campaign last year, but which have so far appeared largely to keep their differences under wraps - apparently clashing over a variety of policy and operational decisions.
The larger of the two groups (in the shadow cabinet if not within the party at large) is the faction which predominantly voted for the victor, Ari Suchet, in the contest to replace Ed Miliband. Key figures include the Shadow Chancellor, James Wilson, and Jack Woods, who ostensibly sets the party’s local government policy agenda. This faction is strongly supportive of measures including a 60p top rate of income tax, a key plank of the Suchet leadership campaign, and of de-prioritising deficit reduction in comparison to other economic objectives - widespread re-nationalisation of industry and full employment being prime examples.
The second group is led by Suchet’s main rival for the leadership, Shadow Home Secretary Juliet Manning. The group’s key figures include Shadow Health Secretary, Bertie Wilson, and Manning’s own former bag-carrier turned Opposition transport supremo, Calvin Ward. This group of moderates, disparagingly referred to by the opposing camp as “Diet Tories,” has flatly rejected the leadership’s principal taxation and spending proposals, reportedly seeking to usurp the Shadow Treasury team by presenting its own set of fiscal analyses and working to “badger, bully and bribe” the leadership into accepting a more centrist approach.
Whether Ari Suchet made a critical mistake or delivered a masterstroke in appointing Juliet Manning, further to her role as Anita Redmond’s opposite number, to the office of party chairperson, remains to be seen. Manning is the woman with overall responsibility for the party’s campaigning strategy over the coming weeks, and is broadly seen as perhaps the Shadow Cabinet’s most effective communicator. But Manning’s “double-hatting” means that the “Diet Tory” camp now has significantly more influence and power than many on the left would wish for them to enjoy, and this appears to have resulted in an atmosphere of increasingly febrile tension between senior politicians and advisers within the Labour movement.
The Suchet camp argues that offering what our source described as a “bland, centrist, 1990s-style programme for government” will not mobilise support amongst key Labour voting blocs - trade unionists and the like - and is particularly concerned about the potential loss of seats in Scotland to the SNP. Left-leaning members of the shadow cabinet argue that a 60 per cent top rate of income tax, such as existed for 9 out of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in Downing Street, is not as extreme a concept as it is portrayed in the media - and would be a popular and effective means of raising revenues to safeguard public spending in the years ahead.
Conversely, the Manning-Wilson-Ward nexus, which has forcefully dominated the Opposition’s public-facing efforts for months but which remains outnumbered at key policy meetings, argues that any rise of more than 5% to the top rate of income tax would be political “suicide” - and has sought assurances, even then, that such a rise would be framed as a temporary, emergency manoeuvre. The two Wilsons, James and Bertie, have reportedly clashed over budget proposals, and crunch talks in the leader’s office - from which Juliet Manning has apparently been excluded - are being framed as “negotiations.”
Our source said: “I think Manning is looking at this from the perspective of the person who is in charge of running this campaign, and who has privately committed to resigning from that role if the party misses her so-called ‘grand slam’ target for public votes in 2014. She thinks that more taxes and higher borrowing will be impossible to sell to an electorate that booted Labour out of office four years ago in the middle of an economic crisis... she’s got her eye on reclaiming the Tory marginals.”
“In particular, she’s been spending a lot of time in Bedford, a constituency just up the road from her own seat, which flipped from red to blue in 2010 and has been a bellwether since 1966.”
“Suchet’s view is that the party is alienating core voters by continuing to embrace the relatively centrist economic consensus that has existed in British politics for around twenty years, and that the fresh challenge of ascendant SNP and UKIP candidates requires us to reinforce our position in the areas that we’ve historically been able to take for granted. The latest polling shows that we’ll lose ground in Scotland, and Ari is absolutely terrified of that.”
The ongoing policy disagreements are compounded, it appears, by a growing sense of mutual frustration with perceived missteps by senior party figures on each side of the divide.
“Manning was a key architect of the so-called ‘doughnut club,’ which sowed the seeds of the coalition’s downfall, and has rather let the idea of playing at conspiracy behind closed doors in Portcullis House go to her head. She was a founding member of the European Democracy Group without bothering to tell anyone in the shadow cabinet what she was up to; when she met with Matt Wrack [the Fire Brigades’ Union General Secretary] during the firefighters’ strike, she did it without minutes and without Ari being kept in the loop; and she’s caused a great deal of consternation in some local constituency parties by suggesting that Labour candidates should willingly step aside in the ten-or-so most vulnerable Lib Dem/Tory marginals.”
“It’s an open secret that she thinks half of the shadow cabinet are idiots, and there’s a strong sense that she would actually feel more comfortable in some kind of coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats than in having to work with the left wing of her own party in government.”
Ari Suchet, by contrast, narrowly avoided a public spat with Johann Lamont, Labour’s Holyrood leader, when she tried to persuade the Scottish contingent of the party - apparently against all advice - to abandon the official Better Together campaign during the forthcoming independence referendum. Her public performances in interviews and speeches have been panned by irritated party spin doctors (most of whom appear to be getting their orders directly from the Chairperson’s office) and she has reportedly embarked on what one shadow minister called a “frankly barmy” campaign to persuade disaffiliated trade unions to rejoin the Labour Party fold - as they put it, “not really a bloody priority right now.”
There are also rumours of growing conflict at the heart of Labour’s election machine about the direction the campaign should take. Some reportedly favour a “softly-softly” approach, gently laying out some of Labour’s key pledges - a minimum wage of over £8 an hour, a £10,000 personal allowance, 10,000 extra police officers, an expansion of free childcare and a £7 billion funding boost for the NHS - whilst others have called for a hard-hitting, anti-austerity message which slams the Conservative and Liberal Democrat record in government.
On this, at least, compromise appears to have been possible: Manning’s team have commissioned a series of distinctive graphics for billboards and posters, which attack the government’s policies on everything from healthcare to VAT whilst setting out succinctly the Labour alternative. The first of these visual uppercuts has already launched, presenting a pro-European message with the support of a barbary lion. Others will follow, including an arrangement which portrays the sum of Tory defence policy as a white flag waving in a vacuum and another which depicts a literal “smoking gun” in an attack on government police cuts: “hyperbolic,” one of the party’s new advertising consultants admitted, “but effective.”
But whilst the campaign may be under control and proceeding in line with the parameters of what we’re told is a colossal Microsoft Excel file, it is clear that the divisions in the Labour Party, which have so far been largely kept behind closed doors, are beginning to boil over. An early campaign slogan concept was “united government for the United Kingdom” - perhaps the fact that the idea has been quietly dropped can be taken as a sign of the times at One Brewers Green.
Senior Labour source tells all on Lab-Lib negotiations
A look inside the dynamics of the negotiations from the perspective of a Labour moderate
There we have it - after a hung Parliament where the Liberal Democrats were kingmakers, the British electorate have decided they want another hung Parliament where the Liberal Democrats are the kingmakers. Only this time, they're hopping into the red bed.
It does seem like the natural choice: it does provide the United Kingdom with a stable and assured way forwards, many Labour and Liberal policies align, the previous coalition had soured the relationship between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats irreparably and most Liberal Democrat voters prefer the Labour Party as a political force.
We know now the negotiation is happening thanks to a joint statement from both parties declaring that they will be seeking a full coalition. We can also gage from the statement that the Liberal Democrats will be extending their influences. It is expected this agreement will be finalised soon. All is well, surely?
Yes and no. As usual, it's not so easy, and coalition is always a frustrating process - just ask the Conservative Party.
A Senior Labour MP, who did not tell The Times if they were part of the negotiations but certainly got a wider peek in than the British public aired their feelings. The overwhelming tone is positive, with the MP saying many moderates in the party felt the result of the election had delivered exactly what the Blair wing of the party had wanted: the Tories out, and Labour in - but with a moderating force that could temper the most extreme instincts of Labour's hard left leadership.
This source even said that if the talks were unsuccessful and if Ariadne Suchet stuck too hard to her guns, and stuck Labour out of government in the process, 'a vote of no confidence would be held within the party and we'd need to go for another election in six months.'
The source wasn't completely happy with the negotiations though, but some of that anger was directed to the leadership, who the source accused of 'conspiring' to get the Liberal Democrats into education and transport, Ministries many moderate Labour MPs wanted Labour politicians to hold.
When asked about whether the Liberal Democrats would successfully come out with a great office, the source was more tight lipped, but did reveal the Shadow Chancellor - James Wilson - would be stepping down, which could reignite clashes over the budget which had happened within the Labour leadership only months ago.
When asked if the Labour Party would support electoral reform, the source made it clear that supporting electoral reform would be the Labour position, but seemed less enthusiastic about electoral reform themselves. Warning of the battles that could lie in the coalition ahead, the source had assured us that many other Labour members - including a very significant chunk of backbenchers - agreed. So constitutional reform does appear to be on the agenda, but whether it could pass is an entirely different matter.
“Get some of what you want or get nothing at all,” Manning warns Labour
In a stark warning to Labour MPs, the Blairite-in-chief turned Ari Suchet’s right-hand woman, Juliet Manning, has told the party that if it gets behind the proposed coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, members will get “some of what you want” - and that if they fail to fall in line, they “risk getting nothing at all.”
Manning’s reincarnation as a team player is the last thing anyone would have expected for the acerbic, slightly scowly moderate who formerly stood at the core of a centrists’ cabal within the Labour frontbench: Juliet, who has not seen her own children for some years and who was said during the general election campaign to openly regard many of her colleagues as “idiots,” is not inclined towards displays of sentimentality. But of late, she has become indispensable to the new Prime Minister - just about holding back the onslaught of criticism that might have been coming Ari Suchet’s way after a pretty disastrous campaign, and deflecting most of the blame by accepting it herself (and trying, but notably failing, to resign.)
Now, Manning has thrown herself headfirst into conflict with some of her best allies within the party: telling them that the proposed coalition agreement, which some see as giving away too much for too little in return, represents “the best that we could have achieved given the considerable constraints of time and resource.”
That latter comment will have been seen as a barbed dig at frontbenchers who were asked to provide supporting documentation for the negotiating process - and who, apparently, did not comply.
A packed meeting of Labour MPs, held in the dead of night at Portcullis House, saw Suchet and Manning orate at length to persuade colleagues that giving limited ground on nationalisation, taxation, voting reform and key cabinet posts is a price worth paying to secure a Labour-led government in office for the next five years.
“The Liberal Democrats will not support what they cannot support. No agreement with them means that they vote against those things anyway; and no other alliance of parties, except the unthinkable prospect of cooperating with the Tories, gives us the majority we need to get the bulk of our manifesto implemented,” Manning told those gathered. She reportedly appeared tired and frustrated during her five-minute speech - or “tirade,” as some have put it - and accepted that “[the deal] is not perfect, but it is the best option on the table.”
“And it is not realistic to believe that voting it down will mean that the whole thing can be torn up and started afresh. It’s been negotiated in good faith, and you put our party in the position of a minority government with no more substantive a mandate than Dylan Macmillan to implement its policies.”
The problem for Manning is that few will know what to make of her intentions. There are those on the left who feel suspicious that significant concessions to the Liberal Democrats are an easy win for a faction of the party which always preferred the prospect of working with Meredith Hansen-Charles as a “moderating influence” over actually winning an overall majority. Manning’s allies in the centrist wing of the PLP will suspect that she has fallen to lust for the trappings of high office, and that her loyalty to Ari Suchet - which has puzzled commentators for months - is no longer serving the party’s best interests.
Opponents of the deal have been few in number, led principally by Bertie Wilson - seen by many, until recently, as the presumptive nominee for the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. But their vocalism appears to have caused alarm in the higher echelons of the new government; hardly surprising, for should the deal fail Ari Suchet may be the third consecutive Prime Minister to break records with the brevity of her tenure.
New NHS Chief eyes “five-year plan”; urges action on social care “crisis”
Simon Stevens, the new Chief Executive of NHS England, has said that the Health Service faces a “historic test” and that he plans to publish a new five-year plan later this year setting out how the Health Service will meet its new challenges.
In a speech to the NHS Confederation, Stevens – who became the NHS’s seventh Chief Executive on 1 April – said that a combination of a tight Budget since 2010, an ageing population, and deteriorating public health was going to place huge pressures on the NHS going forward. He also said that the service needs to up its game on mental health and that social care “remains the single biggest health related challenge in this country.”
He welcomed the government’s increase in the NHS Budget this year, but said that unless such an increase could be delivered year on year the NHS would need to change to continue to deliver current or even higher standards.
In a veiled criticism of the so-called “Lansley reforms”, Stevens told the audience that he wanted to look again at how hospitals use private providers, contracting, and commissioning. A former health adviser to Tony Blair, he told the audience that “independence and autonomy are integral, but there is a good reason we don’t have an American style free for all in the UK.”
Stevens was more directly critical of what he called “a complete lack of action on social care,” saying that extra funds at the Budget were welcome but inadequate. “We are on the precipice of a complete crisis in social care, but governments for decades have been ignoring it.” He said that proposals to cap the cost of care missed the point because there isn’t sufficient money in the system, attempts to find a sustainable funding solution have failed. He said that the crisis in social care was undermining the NHS, with patients who should be able to go into long-term care were stuck in NHS beds because no long-term care isn’t available or people can’t afford it. “I as Chief Executive am powerless to stop this disaster, but if someone doesn’t stop it, the social and political consequences are going to be incredible.”
Stevens said that he plans to publish his five-year plan in October, but declined to say whether or not he would be seeking more money from the government to fund it.
Lords flexes its muscles on Immigration Bill as Reform Bill looms
The House of Lords has shot what commentators are calling the first shot of the upcoming fight in the Upper House on the Reform Bill, proposing wrecking amendments to the Immigration and Asylum Bill that would seek to severely restrain the Bill's powers that allow the government to implement an amnesty for unregistered immigrants.
It is unclear how the government will respond or if the Lords will press the issue, although a number of high profile crossbenchers and Labour peers have thrown their weight behind the amendments, saying that "the Lords needs to send a clear message that it will stand up for good Parliamentary scrutiny against an overbearing government."
The amendments would require a long consultation on any proposed amnesty, an explicit approval by both the Commons and the Lords before any such amnesty could come into effect, and would 'sunset' any proposed amnesty at a year. The amendment's proposer, Lord Johnson, told the Times that they were "common sense amendments to fix overreaching legislation from the House of Commons - the Lords will always be the guardian of good lawmaking against an executive seeking to centralise too much power. We are not undermining the policy, but we are making sure that MPs have real control over this rather than the revolving door of Home Secretaries."
The Electoral Reform Society has criticised the move, saying it is a "naked attempt to undermine democratic reform by holding up completely unrelated legislation."
Scotland's close shave
In the end, the result was closer than Better Together had hoped six months ago, but better than they had feared a week ago. Winning by 9% in a two-horse race would in Westminster be seen as a landslide, but in the big question of the future of the Union it looks like the narrowest possible victory.
The reasons why No’s victory was so much slimmer than it looked at the outset of the campaign will probably be poured over for years. In short, many of those undecided at the start of the campaign opted for Yes. But almost all those undecided by the end opted for No.
What should have been the scene of the Yes campaign’s greatest triumph – Glasgow – ended up the scene of its biggest disappointment. While it won the city, it did so on so slim a margin as to make barely any difference to the national result. And everywhere No expected to win, and in particular in rural heartlands, the No campaign flourished.
Westminster politicians were slow to come to the attention of the possibility of Scotland voting Yes. But their ultimate attention may be the thing that finally turned the dial (although not all interventions were helpful).
Two people deserve particular credit: the Leader of the Opposition, who was by far the most prolific Westminster campaigner for the No campaign and probably played a large part in mobilising conservative No voters to come out and vote; and the Health Secretary, who as the most senior Scottish Wesminster politician played a key role in wooing wavering left-wing voters, including those in Glasgow, back to No.
That said, it is fair to say that the influence of Westminster’s travelling band of politicians was mixed. Friendly fire from the Conservative side in the final few weeks served as a reminder to Scottish voters of the kind of political culture they had the opportunity to leave. Macmillan’s comparison of the Scottish economy to Venezuela – whatever you think of it – played perfectly in the hands of those who claimed the No campaign talked down Scotland’s prospects. And the Prime Minister, although making what may have been a decisive intervention by the end of the campaign, was a little too absent from the national discussion on the future of the country she governs.
At precisely the time that politicians on both sides of the debate should be uniting to think about Scotland’s future, the focus seems to have moved off of Scotland and onto the kind of petty politicking that almost cost the campaign in the first place. While Scotland has settled this issue for a generation, what hasn’t been settled are the punch and judy politics that turned many Scottish voters off of Westminster in the first place.
It looks like the next steps for Scotland will be further devolution. This would, if the parties are willing to take it, an opportunity to put aside the divisions of the referendum – in Westminster and in Scotland. All the interested parties have very different ideas of what Scotland’s devolution settlement should entail – from “devo-max” to Labour’s more modest proposals for more control over income tax. But there is no need for the binary choice between these options, as there was in a referendum. Compromise is possible, and it may be the only answer to bring Scotland back together and avoid another referendum a few years down the line – and one that could be an even closer shave, if not worse.
BYRNE BACKS “BREXIT”
A guest editorial by the Shadow Home Secretary, Douglas Byrne
In 1945, the guns fell silent and the bombs ceased to fall. The Second World War had ravaged the world for six years, and nowhere had the sledgehammer force of total war wreaked more damage than in the continent of Europe.
Most European countries had been overrun; in the west by the Nazis, in the east by the Soviets. France had fallen and been liberated, Germany had conquered and been conquered, Poland had been divided in two and an iron curtain had fallen across the continent. Even the United Kingdom, which had resisted invasion during the Battle of Britain, had seen its cities reduced to ruins by the Blitz and had bankrupted itself in fighting for freedom. In 1939, Britain was still the pre-emiment global superpower: by 1945, its position of primacy had been usurped by the United States and the Soviet Union.
As the world was divided in to two spheres, the communist east and the capitalist west, it became quickly apparent that just as the legacy of the First World War had been the Second, the legacy of the Second might well be the Third. Europe rose as one and declared “no more” - no more bloodshed. Europe could never again fall.
And so the dream arose that the economies of Europe would become increasingly interdependent and interconnected, making a future war nigh on impossible and strengthening the continent’s individual identity in the face of American and Soviet domination. To an extent, this was inevitable: global trade was to become a fact of life, and the formation of institutions such as the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would bind nation states together across a fabric of international law and order. The countries of Europe, however, were disunited in their vision for how future harmony should be achieved.
Those that had borne the brunt of the war on land - Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Germany (or the part thereof not subjugated to socialism) - saw political integration and the pooling of sovereignty as going hand in hand with economic cooperation. Plans were laid for the foundation of a single European army and a political federation to control it: the Inner Six, as they became known, formed the European Coal & Steel Community, which would go on to mutate into the European Economic Community and later the European Union.
By contrast, many of the countries on the peripheries of Europe - Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the British Empire herself - opposed supranational integration, favouring the creation of a loose association of free-trading states. The European Free Trade Association was formed in 1960.
For some years, the EEC and the EFTA competed as much as they cooperated. But it was behind the former that the impetus for growth and development was forged, and within a decade EFTA had begun to shed member states even as the EEC grew. Britain would join the EEC in 1972, with its membership confirmed in a public referendum the following year. The Conservatives brought Britain into what was then the common market, and Labour was almost unanimously opposed. For the avoidance of doubt, in 1973 - I voted yes!
Over the following twenty years, Europe began to move closer towards the political union that it is today. There were positive steps and there were steps in the wrong direction. Margaret Thatcher achieved two phenomenal reforms in the EEC; first, she claimed the British rebate, which paid the United Kingdom back for the enormous sums of money it was spending on the subsidisation of continental farmers through the uneven and unfair common agricultural policy. Second, she pushed through with considerable force the Single European Act, completing the transformation of the common market into a single market.
But in the 1990s, things began to go awry. The fall of the Berlin Wall had opened up Europe to a great many countries in the east, which were distinctly poorer than their western counterparts. The consequence of the accession of these states to the EEC was bad for all parties; struggling post-Communist economies suffered a brain drain as citizens practically fled to the west, and western societies began to feel the strain as unchecked inwards migration placed pressure on infrastructure and public services.
Then came the Maastricht Treaty, which solidified the formation of the European Union as a principally political entity. The areas of foreign policy, military, criminal justice, and judicial cooperation would now be areas in which the new EU could exercise considerable power and influence.
Meanwhile, John Major’s proposals for a “hard ECU” were rejected in favour of what would become the single European currency - the Euro. And so began the establishment of a two-track Europe, with the inner countries restrained by a shared monetary policy somehow expected to cater for a huge number of different and disparate economies, and with the outer countries - such as Britain - becoming increasingly isolated around the table.
The Treaties of Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon followed, and by the turn of the 2010s the European Union had become a force which presented serious problems for a huge swathe of the British population: the rise of UKIP is a symptom of increasing British discontent with the EU.
When I spoke to men and women who had spent their whole lives in the fishing communities of Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, they expressed their frustration at the rules of the EU common fisheries policy - which restricted their access to what they saw as their own waters, and which they argued seemed to be unevenly applied. When I spoke to farmers in Bedfordshire, they told me of their anger at the subsidisation of French farmers by UK taxpayers through the common agricultural policy, even as British agriculture benefitted almost nothing from the regime.
In the working-class communities of northern England, people feel upset and frustrated with what they see as the gradual loss of the British identity: the loss of sovereignty to Brussels, and the derogation of the British Parliament. Most of them could not name the Presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament; and virtually none of them had any idea of how the three interacted.
I spoke to a business owner in Kent who was dependent upon Europe for much of his trade, but who was also frustrated by the rules of the customs union which mean that Britain cannot go out and strike free trade deals with other countries. He said that a free trade deal with the Commonwealth realms and with the United States, with developing economies such as India, Hong Kong and Singapore, could help his business to boom: but EU rules meant that the UK could not operate nimbly enough to make this possible.
But I also had the privilege of speaking to students at the University of Chichester in my own constituency, and they explained to me that they saw Europe as a world of opportunity: they liked the freedom to travel visa-free across 27 other European countries, and the freedom to live and work where they chose. They felt that access to the single market was pivotal for the British economy, and they argued strongly in favour of the European student exchange programmes. They also spoke passionately about the role of European cooperation in preventing conflict, which some suggested was particularly important as we face up to an increasingly resurgent and aggressive Russia.
It is clear to me that the country has an unclear and divided view on Europe. We are frustrated by its foibles and by the lack of accountability in its institutions. We want to make our own way in the world, to an extent. But we believe in the principles of free trade, we believe in access to the European economic market, and we believe in a close and enduring partnership with our European allies - recognising that together we are stronger and more prosperous.
My conversations with others have informed my own view, which is that whilst Britain embraces and will always embrace Europe, it is ambivalent - and in some quarters openly hostile - to the EU.
Conservative Party policy is to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union, which the Liberal Democrats once themselves backed and which Labour claims is possible only if a credible plan for leaving the EU is put forward. The Conservatives have no collective possible on whether we should leave or remain; some of us will argue for the former and some for the latter, in an open, expressive debate which reflects the broad church of our party. I am on the pro-leave wing of the party, and I have my own views about how we can take advantage of the opportunities which come with withdrawing from the European Union.
My view is that we should rejoin that alternative institution that I mentioned earlier - the European Free Trade Association - as its fifth member state. We would retain membership of the European Economic Area and the single market, but would be exempted from the EU’s stated aim of “ever-closer union,” and would be outside the customs union - thus able to negotiate our own free trade deals with the United States, the Commonwealth and emerging economies around the world.
What the EFTA might look like if Britain rejoined the institution it helped to found
We would be outside the common agricultural and common fisheries policies, regaining control of our waters and ending the days of vast farming subsidies being sent from British taxpayers to other European countries. We would negotiate new rules on European immigration, including a new mechanism to limit access to in-work benefits for new EU immigrants.
Our economy would continue to trade openly with Europe, even as we expanded the bounds of our trade policy to embrace the rest of the world. Britain could become a global hub for free and fair trade, and we would establish a new Department for Global Trade & Development to work rapidly on eliminating tariffs and quotas between countries.
We would be exempted from subordination to common EU defence, security and judicial policies, retaining the independence of our legal system and eliminating the role of European Court of Justice in overruling our courts. We would also save money: between 2009 and 2014, EFTA countries spent 1.8 billion Euro on the single market. This year, we are sending £11 billion to Brussels in net terms.
I’m backing Brexit because I believe that we can have the best of both worlds: with Europe but not of it; partners but not subordinates. I believe that we can have access to the single market and the extensive economic benefits without being subjected to the political unification project at the heart of Europe’s agenda. I believe that we can reclaim British taxpayers’ money even as we grow our economy and step out into the world. I believe in Britain, and I believe in Brexit.