Brighton and Hove has benefited from a range of political parties

LemonAnyone interested in politics in the UK will be aware that tomorrow is stage 2 of the Tory Party leadership contest and tragically the loss of the first three candidates means that the remaining seven are all male. Although Esther McVey would have been a very concerning prospect had she made it through the first vote, it seems rather concerning that Andrea Leadsom has not made it through this far, given that she was a serious contender in 2016. Two weeks ago I mentioned that Wealden’s MP, Nusrat Ghani was supporting Jeremy Hunt and at that point Amber Rudd was claiming she would support all of the candidates, however since then she has also declared her support for Hunt. However a few days ago Chichester MP Gillian Keegan was on Radio 4 and spoke very positively about Rory Stewart. Of all of the seven candidates, Stewart is clearly able to bring to the table a new approach compared to the other contenders. I certainly hope he is successful in tomorrow’s vote and the final parliamentary vote on Thursday before the massive 120,000 Tory members get to choose who our next Prime Minister will be, potentially until 2022. Stewart has demonstrated that unlike the other six contenders, he understands the idea of engaging with people in a range of communities rather than simply playing to the audience that controls his prospects of winning. That to me displays a very much more positive approach.

It would be easy to assume that Parliament is closed down at the moment, given how much of the media is focused on the leadership voting. However last week there were a number of interesting discussions that took place. On Tuesday in the House of Lords there was a short debate on ‘Children’s Health: Vehicle Emissions’. In trying to follow what our local members of that house have to say it proves very challenging. Two people spoke during the debate that have local connections. Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb is not locally based but her name suggests otherwise, whereas Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch who also contributed lives in our city.

Jenny stated “the Government have made a lot of positive pledges on the environment in the past few years. I am now rather nervous, almost frightened, about the prospect of the winner of the clown convention at the other end of this building ditching all this environmental policy in a short-sighted attempt to prove themselves pro-business or anti-red tape…What are the solutions? I suggest that the Government make use of the remaining parliamentary time before the Summer Recess to bring forward urgent legislation to save us from our toxic air.” The reality is that a great number of businesses are keen for strong environmental policies to be established. A classic one being the value in persuading Government funds to be used to award public sector contracts to businesses close to where the work is being carried out. However the call for the Government to focus on matters such as the environment is critical.

When Maggie spoke she made a statement that whilst a very positive comment raised a detail that needs to be challenged “Thankfully, there are some good examples of local leadership on this issue around the country…. I am pleased that my own local council, Labour-run Brighton & Hove, which has one of the best bus services outside London, has targeted the funding to roll out cleaner, less polluting bus fleets. It has already delivered a 25% reduction in roadside nitrogen dioxide in the busiest areas and is continuing to upgrade its vehicles to deliver ultra-low emissions.” The reality is that our bus services have improved dramatically over many years and although the Labour Party has led the Council for 15 of the last 23 years, the last 16 years have required the largest party to gain support from at least one other party. On the theme of buses, two of the most significant people in such decision making have been Roger French and Tom Druitt and as Tom is a Green Councillor who at one point employed an ex-Lib Dem MP to help run his service and as far as I know Tom was not party political, it seems a bit rich to try to give credit to the Labour Party. However we can all be grateful for the outcome and call for more work to be done. As Maggie explained “Highways England has spent only £8 million of the £100 million of its air quality fund four years after it was unveiled” This would suggest that there are a number of opportunities available to improve matters across the nation!

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The penny that finally dropped after 1085 days

WTO BUSINESS-US-China-trade-disputesIt seems like good news that on 14th June this year, Liam Fox finally grasped that WTO terms for our nation outside of the EU would be a terrible mistake. He has stated this in slightly less precise terminology, presumably because he would rather not admit that after nearly 3 years he has only just understood what many of us spotted a long time ago. His comment was “The WTO now faces one of the biggest tests since its establishment and, with all its functions under strain, it could become an existential crisis.” Now to be fair the time it has taken for him to get to grips with this could be argued to have taken a great deal less time than 1085 days as it was as late as 3rd December 2018 that Mr Fox stated:

“Today I sent to the secretariat of the WTO the UK schedule for services. This is a necessary part of our leaving the EU and it marks a major milestone in regaining the full authority that comes with an independent seat [on the WTO]. This schedule replicates our current obligations as far as possible. We see this as a technical exercise that will provide continuity for business and, in future, we will work with other members on an ambitious agenda to liberalise international trade in services even further. In the long run, the biggest benefits of our independent trade policy will come from updating and improving the rules-based international system that governs global trade. The UK will play a pivotal role at the WTO and we will do so as a powerful and unabashed defender of free trade.”

However, although this was only just over six months ago in fact it was back almost a year ago that according to the Department for International Trade “The UK’s goods schedule was submitted on 24 July and the 3 month certification period has now finished. Whilst some members still have reservations about some of our proposals, this will not affect businesses’ ability to trade and it will not stop the UK from striking new trade agreements.”

So just under 11 months since his Department submitted a goods schedule, the penny has dropped and the reality of the limitations of the WTO has finally been grasped by the man who back in late September 2016 stated:

“Through the WTO the UK has helped pushed through the trade facilitation agreement which, once implemented, could add over £70bn to the global economy annually, of which £1bn will come to the UK. As a newly independent WTO member outside the EU, we will continue to fight for trade liberalisation as well as potentially helping developing markets trade their way out of poverty by giving them preferential access to our markets. The UK is a full and founding member of the WTO, though we have chosen to be represented by the EU in recent years. As we establish our independent position post-Brexit, we will carry the standard of free and open trade as a badge of honour.”

Of course at that stage it was clear to me that unless there was a way of trading outside of the world, that the global economy is limited by the number of nations and the financial arrangements within the world. However perhaps that simply indicates my own limited understanding of life!

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Unicorn, mirage and placebo democracy

voteIts a challenge to read about a Parliamentary debate which raises concerns about referenda and their role in democracy when that debate is taking place in the House of Lords which has so many of its own problems when it comes to defining democracy. However many of the active members of the House of Lords are people with substantial credibility even though they are not elected and not accountable even by the slimmest form of process such as a vote every 5 years or so and a selection by a very small number of entirely unaccountable party members. I found it fascinating to read about the Brexit Party complaining about their lack of access to data on voters during the European and Peterborough elections last month given that when I was standing in 2012 for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, that the same characters never once spoke up for the Independent candidates who had the same barrier (and were elected in a third of the places!).  However they are correct to suggest that the democratic process is deeply biased in favour of the two big parties and the first past the post system is strongly in their favour.

The Lords debate which took place on Thursday was entitled “Referendums” and was started by Clive Soley who was a Labour MP elected from 1979 until he stepped down in 2015 at the election. He began by asking “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the increased use of referendums on the functioning of representative democracy in the United Kingdom.” and he then went on to say “By and large, referendums do more harm than good. There are, of course, exceptions. If you have a position where maybe you want to reinforce a constitutional change that has been widely discussed and then largely agreed it can make sense” The debate was ended by George Young, who was a Tory MP from 1974 to 2015 and despite the many challenges to the value of the 2016 referendum, Young summarised many of the statements and then did a verbal U turn by stating

“I do not know if any noble Lords listened, as I did, to Lord Sumption’s insightful Reith Lectures on law and the decline of politics. His assessment of the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is well worth quoting: “A referendum is a device for bypassing the ordinary political process. It takes decision making out of the hands of politicians, whose interest is generally to accommodate the widest possible range of opinion, and places it in the hands of individual electors who have no reason to consider any opinion but their own”. He went on to say that: “A referendum obstructs compromise by producing a result in which 52% of voters feel entitled to speak for the whole nation and 48% don’t matter at all”, and that this was, “the authentic language of totalitarianism”….I believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said, that there is a valid case for referendums on certain issues, for example on self-determination—whether people want to stay under the jurisdiction of this Parliament…More generally, in a representative democracy it is important that citizens are engaged in politics…Referendums can take this engagement with citizens to a higher level. Citizens can directly vote on matters and see that their participation has real policy implications. They can see direct changes on issues that matter to them. Referendums can indicate public support for policy decisions and, if well-managed, can maintain the public’s faith in democracy. If less well-managed, they can have the opposite effect…I note with interest that recent statistics show that public support for referendums has fallen from 76% before the 2016 referendum to 55% now…Many noble Lords have this afternoon displayed their discontent with referendums, and about the one in 2016. There have been accusations of “wrongdoing”, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and that the referendum was “ill-informed” or “irresponsible”. My own view is that there was in fact a case for the EU referendum and I believe the result was valid.”

and then he goes on to do another U turn at the end of his statement by saying

“That committee went on to argue, as many noble Lords have argued this afternoon, that there must be appropriate time for debate and political discourse, and the questions put to the public should be carefully considered. The UCL report suggests, as noble Lords have done, that referendums should be held at the end of the decision-making process, so that eligible voters can choose between developed alternatives. This seems to me a sensible ideal, even if it is not always possible to achieve and certainly did not happen with the EU referendum.”

Along with this set of strange views there was another comment about democracy in the House of Lords by Lord Brooke of Alvethorpe “I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Soley for introducing this debate. It is a great pity we have so little time. One of the reasons for that is that we do not organise business democratically in this House. Maybe others will have the guts to try to turn it over, and maybe we will use a form of referendum to determine what we should be talking about, our priorities, on which days we should speak on them and for how long. If we can do that for ourselves, we should then be prepared to trust the people out there and do it for them”

The irony is that whilst Clive Brooke was a Trade Unionist and therefore understands the nature of democracy within Trade Unions, that he has never been elected as a law maker. However his comment makes a great deal of sense and explains one reason for the title to this blog.


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Unsustainable Development Debate

DFIDOn Tuesday in the House of Commons Rory Stewart, currently the International Development Secretary commenced a debate on Sustainable Development Goals which covered a huge amount of themes and it was clearly a vital discussion. However at the end the sense of what is happening appeared to be something of a damp squib as Harriet Baldwin ended the debate stating “We have published this week the main messages from the UK voluntary national review. Obviously we will save for the high-level forum some of the details of the report itself, but my understanding is that publication is imminent. I am not able to specify precisely on which day it is coming out, because I am not sure whether that has been decided; as the hon. Gentleman knows, beings way above my pay grade decide such things”

It is always concerning when Ministers don’t know when their own publications are being published. The fact is that the document includes a huge number of contributions and it is part of our nations attempt to strengthen its focus on supporting other more vulnerable nations. Although there were many contributions from a wide range of MPs the only Sussex MP to speak was Lloyd Russell Moyle who made a number of contributions. One of which related to a matter that other MPs had pointed out raising their concerns that the next Prime Minister may well bring International Development to an end. This is particularly concerning if our next Prime Minister is Johnson as his supporters include Priti Patel. Lloyd stated a number of the prospective Conservative Prime Ministers are talking about slashing it and that the lead candidate is even talking about abolishing the whole Department for International Development? We must say no to that and that we will not let that happen”

This however came after a very significant statement that sadly Harriet Baldwin chose not to respond to

“Does my hon. Friend find it appalling, as I do, that British fighter jets using British ammunition and flown by people trained in Britain on routes that are set out in Saudi control centres where British personnel are based end up bombing British-paid-for aid in Yemen? That country is suffering one of the worst humanitarian disasters we have seen in 100 years, and something being done in the voluntary national review to change our policy on Saudi Arabia and Yemen would be one instance in which we could actually see progress. Does he agree that if that is not done, it will show the Government’s commitment to peace and international justice for the sham that it is?”

It is clear we need to ensure that future debates that take place actually turn this important issue into action!

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Government accepts criticism from next PM but not from other people!

GovernmentThe level of criticism directed at the Government by a number of the candidates campaigning to become leaders of the Government is not modest. Indeed some of the MPs who wish to lead the Tory Party or who support candidates who are in the contest have been very up front about their anger and disrespect towards members of their own party. Yet according to this news report when an expert from within society Niamh Eastwood, the director of Release, the UK’s charitable centre on drugs and drug laws was being considered for sitting on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and after she had been approved internally within the Home Office, that Victoria Atkins, the Parliamentary under secretary for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability vetoed her because she had previously criticised the Governments approach to drugs.

The argument that is being used is that following the appalling decision to appoint Toby Young to the Office for Students and the reaction to that appointment, that the Government is now much stricter on who they will appoint to their various committees and advisory bodies. The fact is that Toby Young wrote deeply offensive tweets that covered themes such as sexism, anti gay and also claiming that wheelchair ramps being installed in British schools were a symptom of “ghastly inclusivity.” Indeed bizarrely Boris Johnson who is one of the most popular candidates in the party leadership election campaign is a big fan of Toby Young, despite these tweets. Meanwhile the tweets from Niamh whilst critical of the Government and claiming the need for provision that not everyone would support, did not in any way criticise or offend anyone outside of the Government or the Home Office.

We clearly need our Government to grow up and start to work out how to accept criticism over its policies whilst at the same time electing someone who will not welcome deeply offensive people into senior roles.

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A cloud cuckoo Government Department (Home Office)

Knife CrimeOn Monday the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali asked the Home Secretary “What steps he is taking to tackle the rising level of knife crime” Because Sajid Javid was too busy campaigning to become the next Prime Minister to answer the question, one of his junior Ministers, Victoria Atkins responded with the following statement:

“Just some of the actions we are taking to tackle knife crime include: strengthening the law through the Offensive Weapons Act 2019; establishing the national county lines co-ordination centre; consulting on a new duty to support a multi-agency public health approach; launching the £100 million serious violence fund in the spring statement; and providing new lesson plans to schools as part of our #knifefree campaign. We take careful note of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s recent comments about knife crime levelling off, and I am sure we all support the police’s efforts to tackle this.”

All of these are of course valid responses but they are not sufficient and indeed Rushanara followed the question up with “I thank the Minister for her answer, but there were 18,000 assaults and 17,000 robberies involving a knife or a sharp object in the year ending 2018. The Government have cut police officer numbers by 21,000, and two weeks ago there was a murder in Tower Hamlets due to a knife attack. Does she agree that the Home Secretary is not fit to be the next Prime Minister, considering that he has lost control of law and order in his Department?”

The reality is that Atkins has been in her role since November 2017 and Javid has been Home Secretary since April 2018. Previous to her role as an MP Atkins was a Barrister and she even stood as PCC in 2012 so she has had many years to consider how the Government works and the severe impact not only of police cuts but as an MP she has seen the impact on education and youth provision made by her Government. Although it is only one example, this morning it has been revealed that one school in East London is applying to Children in Need for funds to retain the pastoral care for their children. Whilst that is not related directly to knife crime, it is clear that it does relate to the way in which communities are struggling to retain support for vulnerable people and it is vulnerable people that are being focused on by criminals for matters such as County Lines. Now of course a national coordination centre is a vital way of coordinating the policing of county line type issues, but prevention such as through pastoral support in schools and youth agencies is a much more important focus. To claim that “the Government, working with the police, local authorities, the medical profession and educationalists, are doing everything we can” is deeply troubling from someone who should know much better and indeed is a Minister for the Government. We need the Government to admit it needs to do a great deal more, and of course they can point to the positive things they are doing, but given that the next Prime Minister is promising to release £9.6bn to people including senior police officers who earn over £50,000 a year as a tax relief arrangement, to limit the extra spending for police forces and their partners to deal with serious violence to 1% of this promised tax relief shows how little understanding this political party have regarding issues that effect the whole of our society.


Posted in Community Safety, Justice Issues, Parliament and Democracy, Police & Crime Commissioner, Policing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Telegraph journalists need to experience the real world

Liberal Elite Snobs.PNGOur Government claimed almost a year ago that austerity had ended, even though the cuts to police, education, NHS, low income benefits and local government are still impacting the deepest bones of our society. However if suddenly the Government discovered that it had £9.6bn available to use to remove some of the pain, there are lots of ways they could use those funds to remove problems that impact most people or even all of us. However if an arrogant and dishonest Prime Minister candidate claimed instead that he had found the money down the back of a settee and he would give it directly to the top 3million earners in the UK, it should send a clear message to even the most out of touch journalists that his public policy approach is deeply flawed. Of course there are many people earning £50,000 upwards including possibly some high profile journalists who save or invest little and spend most of their income, so cutting taxes for this group of people would not be entirely bad for parts of the economy, but if the rest of society is to be denied the same benefits then one should be questioning if this approach is suitable given the massive inequalities that already exist between the richest and poorest in our nation. But in any case by investing 10bn in say policing, or early years education or local government the whole of society would benefit so most people would question if this offer to appeal to a small number of relatively wealthy people makes any sense. However and there is a big However, calling those of us who can see the major flaw in this approach ‘liberal elite snobs’ when people like Ross Clark and his fellow Telegraph writers are highly elite and definitely snobs seems a bit rich. Of course they may not be liberal in their thinking, but they are also not very well connected to the nation that supports them so well. So perhaps Ross and his mates should spend some time with people who earn a great deal less than £50,000 and who serve society in a setting that rarely sees the Telegraph newspaper at the local fish and chip shop or in the local GP surgery.

Posted in Economics, Education, Health Reform, Housing, Journalism, Parliament and Democracy, Policing, Welfare Reform, Youth Issues | Tagged , , | Leave a comment