Recently in Politics Category
On Thursday May 2nd yet again local authority elections failed to capture the imagination of the majority of the electorate. Amidst all the analysis of the rise of UKIP and the wider malaise of the three main parties, there has been an absence of analysis of the most troublesome statistic that rears its head at every election again and again; voter turnout. This raises a key question of whatever happened to your vote.
What's been happening in Parliament this week:
- Education Secretary Michael Gove criticises Birmingham LEA and names the best school in the city
- Shropshire MP Mark Pritchard calls for immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians
- David Cameron blames Labour for the Stafford Hospital scandal
- Birmingham MP Jack Dromey recites a hymn
I previously highlighted one of the most powerful speeches attacking Margaret Thatcher's legacy during the special Commons debate. But here's one from a West Midland MP who praised her.
Margot James (Con Stourbridge) talked about the condition Britain was in before Lady Thatcher came to power, and argued that "the policies that she pursued with such bravery and determination" made it possible for industry to succeed and create jobs.
The title of the special debate about Margaret Thatcher in the Commons this week was "Tributes to Baroness Thatcher". And most of the MPs taking part did just that - they paid tribute to the former Prime Minister, whose funeral is held next week.
But there were exceptions, including Walsall Labour MP David Winnick.
He said Margaret Thatcher's policies "caused immense pain and suffering to ordinary people" and warned that the Black Country and West Midlands were "devastated" by two major recessions which occurred during her time in office.
The House of Lords has endorsed the amendments added to the Crime and Courts Bill by the Commons last week - the measures that had caused some concern among bloggers that they might be caught up in press regulation (although, as I have argued, those concerns may not be justified in every case).
Proposals set out by Tory peer Lord Lucas to ensure smaller bloggers were excluded (and local newspapers too by the look of it) were eventually withdrawn and not voted on.
However, Justice Minister Lord McNally (Lib Dem) promised the Government would consider the concerns that had been raised, and might eventually bring forward amendments of its own to protect bloggers, once the Bill returns to the Commons.
Here is what he said in the House of Lords. I am quoting a long section of his speech, because I think people might want to know exactly where the Government is coming from, and he explains it pretty well. The promise he made is at the bottom, in italics.
Do our politicians know who is lobbying them?
I'm asking this because I was struck by one of the most remarkable examples of obfuscation I have seen, in a long article by Brian Cathcart, the executive director of the Hacked Off campaign.
The former Reuters journalist, now an academic at Kingston University, has published a piece entitled: "Hacked Off: What did we do? And did we win?". It concludes with the following paragraph:
"We do not regret accepting money to fund our activities from some people who did not want their donations made public. We understand and respect their desire to avoid the kind of hostile treatment that has been dished out to people who openly criticise the press, and we are grateful to them for their generosity. We are grateful too, to the very many generous people who have given money openly. We have been open from the outset about our funding."
You have to admire the chutzpah of anyone who can confirm the organisation he represents is not willing to reveal where it gets its money from and insist it has been open about its funding - in the very same paragraph. My best guess is that he means Hacked Off has always been open about the fact that it won't reveal the sources of its funding.
As MPs debated press regulation there was a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere about the fact that the plans agreed by the three party leaders, and now agreed by Parliament, explicitly included certain websites as well as newspapers.
This led to some concern that bloggers would be included in the new regulation.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, I think the full text of the amendments agreed by MPs should offer reassurance that the overwhelming majority of bloggers will not be included.
It's important to note that joining the new regulator - which means it has the authority to pass judgment on complaints made against you - is, strictly speaking, voluntary.
The trick is that amendments added by MPs to the Crime and Courts Bill mean that anyone who fails to join the regulator can then be hammered in the courts (on the grounds that they have refused to give people they treat unfairly the option of going to the regulator).
I'm told Birmingham City Council is keen to end the perception that it is at war with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and get back to a cross-party approach to economic development - which arguably is what we've seen with Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore working closely with Tory peer Lord Heseltine this weekend.
But Mr Pickles is in no mood to call a ceasefire, and had a dig at Sir Albert in his speech to the National Conservative Convention this week.
Apparently, council leaders who worry that Government cuts to their grants are going to damage services have got it wrong. The cuts make councils and their services better, says Mr Pickles.
Chancellor George Osborne is announcing radical plans to try to get Britain's economy growing by diverting billions of pounds to local partnerships of councillors and business leaders.
Local Enterprise Partnerships will take the lead role in promoting economic growth, using funding currently spent by Whitehall.
The proposals are likely to mean a series of national schemes are scrapped, but the money will instead be spent locally on measures to improve skills, provide apprenticeships, build better transport links, attract investment or other projects to support the economy.
Eric Pickles' department has spent 40 days considering whether it is "in the public interest" to release government estimates for the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to enter the UK - but it still can't make up its mind.
The Government does have figures giving an estimate for the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to migrate to the UK when the EU transitional controls end next year. Mr Pickles confirmed this in a television interview in January, although he also suggested he didn't have much confidence in the figures.
I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking to see them, and on February 11 I received a reply confirming "The Department for Communities and Local Government holds information that you requested".
As we report, Ministers are attempting to make it possible for fire services to outsource their services - despite the failure of attempts to outsourcing policing in the West Midlands, which prompted widespread opposition.
The official line is that this is about encouraging public sector employees to take over the running of services by forming employee-led mutuals. This is sometimes described as the John Lewis approach to running public services.
But I publish below the letter from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to the Regulatory Reform Committee setting out the proposal, which makes it clear that a mutual would be only one of the options open to fire services if the measure goes through.
The Government does have estimates for the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria who could come to the UK once restrictions are lifted - but it is currently refusing to tell the rest of us while it decides whether revealing the figures would be in the public interest.
But responding to a Freedom of Information request asking for the numbers, an official said: "Your request . . . raises complex public interest considerations which must be analysed before we can come to a decision" on whether to release the numbers.
More than 50 senior Conservative activists, including chairmen or deputy chairman of the Birmingham Ladywood, Edgbaston and Erdington constituency associations, have written an open letter backing same-sex marriage.
Senior members of the Stourbridge and Halesowen & Rowley Regis constituency associations in the Black Country have also signed the letter.
There has been a lot of publicity about a letter signed by 22 current and former chairman of Conservative constituency associations asking the David Cameron to delay or scrap the proposal.
But senior Conservative activists who back the proposals, to be debated tomorrow evening (Tuesday February 5), have now spoken out.
Has Birmingham been unfairly targeted for funding cuts by the Government?
This is one of the major bones of contention between Labour, including city MPs and the council's Labour leader Sir Albert Bore, and the supporters of the Government.
But the figures seem to me to throw doubt on any suggestion that the city is receiving larger cuts in Government grant than other authorities. The cuts suffered by Birmingham - as a proportion of total grant - are similar to those experienced by other councils.
Should Prince Philip be King Philip?
This is the question posed by Birmingham MP John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley), in a Commons motion calling for an end to "sex discrimination" in the monarchy.
One change to the law is already making its way through Parliament. The Succession to the Crown Bill, which had its first reading in the Commons in December, will end the practice of boys leapfrogging older sisters in the order of succession.
We have a detailed interview with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles lined up for Thursday's Post, in which he insists local authorities - and not the Government - are to blame for cutting services.
But he was also on outspoken form in the Commons on Monday when he was questioned by a Midland MP, as Hansard records:
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the former Labour MP for Redditch in Worcestershire, says her party is getting it wrong over benefit cuts.
George Osborne announced in last week's Autumn Statement that he was increasing most working-age benefits by just one per cent. This is a cut, in real terms, because it's below the level of inflation.
It's a political trap for Labour. Mr Osborne even announced he was planning to enshrine the cuts in a Bill, when there is no apparent need for legislation - except to force Labour to vote against it, allowing Tories to say Labour is on the side of benefit claimants.
Former Birmingham MP Lord Fowler is among the Conservatives backing same-sex marriage.
Norman Fowler has the MP for Sutton Coldfield for 27 years, and served as Transport Secretary and Party Chairman.
He's one of the supporters of a group called Freedom to Marry, which is campaigning "to win the freedom of same sex couples to marry, and to ensure that religious freedom is protected".
Politicians won't decide what our newspapers are allowed to print if Lord Levenson's proposals ever are put into effect.
In fact, we have no idea who will actually decide. Nor do we know the criteria they will use to determine whether newspapers have misbehaved or not.
Some opponents of Leveson's ideas exaggerate the extent to which "politicians" will be empowered to influence the content of newspapers.
But I suspect supporters of his proposals are guilty of a little wishful thinking, as they assume that a new body will stamp out the behaviour they consider to be unethical. In fact, we have no way of knowing what it will do.
Let me explain why I say all this.
Why should newspapers be regulated and not news websites or blogs? Lord Leveson's answer is partly that while some bloggers can and do carry out "valuable and professional" work, readers don't particularly expect them to - they expect the internet to be an "ethical vacumn", so that "People will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy".
He also argues that people discuss things they see in newspapers, while apparently they don't discuss things they see online.
I don't agree with these conclusions. People may regard a personal blog differently to something that looks like a professional news website, but I do think there are many websites which readers take seriously. Readers also do discuss things they see on the internet.
It seems to me that there is a case for greater regulation of the news media but I can't see any reason why some websites (eg those associated with newspapers) should be regulated differently to others (eg those which are online-only news services) if both are presenting themselves as professional, reliable news sources.
See page 736 of his report. I reprint his comments below:
Edit - wait a moment. Paul Bradshaw (here's his blog) has pointed out that Leveson does seem to state that websites should be included later on in his report. Apologies if I got it wrong, but he does seem to contradict himself a little. Anyway, here's the text from p 736:
Andrew Mitchell's resignation letter:
It is with enormous regret not least because of the tremendous support and loyalty you have shown me during recent weeks that I am writing to resign as your chief whip.
Black Country MP Tom Watson should be allowed to call Michael Gove "a miserable pipsqueak of a man" according to one colleague.
Chris Bryant (Lab Rhondda) called for a rethink of the rules governing which insults MPs are allowed to throw at each other.
Apparently, MPs have got away with calling each other "hooligan" and "idiot" - but when Mr Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) called the Education Secretary a pipsqueak in 2010, in a row over the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future project, he was silenced and his microphone was turned off.
The TV cameras didn't catch what Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield) said in the House of Commons yesterday but Labour say they are certain he told Ed Miliband he never did swear at police officers.
However, Mr Mitchell did admit swearing when he met representatives of the Police Federation last week, as we report in today's Birmingham Post:
Chris Jones, Secretary of West Midlands Police Federation, who was present at the meeting, said: "He told us that he did say under his breath 'I thought you lot were supposed to f****** help us.'
"That was from his own lips."
As Andrew Mitchell meets Police Federation officers in his Sutton Coldfield constituency, there have been repeated calls for him to reveal exactly what he said to police officers guarding the gates to Downing Street.
Labour leader Ed Miliband, in Bristol yesterday, said: "We still don't know what he said, what he said to our brave police officers, aned h has got to come forward with an explanation."
In fact, Mr Mitchell, the Chief Whip, has set out his side of the story. It appeared in a column by Matthew d'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph last month, which states that Mr Mitchell denies calling anyone a "pleb" or suggesting they "learn your place", but states: "The Chief Whip admits that he then said, muttering to himself, but in earshot: 'You guys are supposed to fxxxing help us'."
All was explained in his speech to the party conference. Am I imagining things or was he having a sly dig at the lefty Lib Dems? Mr Pickles said:
In my Ministerial office, I've placed reminders of what it means to be a Conservative.
A bust of Disraeli.
A poster of the great Winston.
A momento of the magnificent Margaret.
George Osborne's speech in Birmingham today will be remembered for his announcement that the Government is pressing ahead with £10 billion cuts to welfare, but it also contains news of an extra £200 million to support the nation's top research and development businesses, including Jaguar Land Rover.
The Chancellor will announce an extra £200 million of Government funding for the Research Partnership Investment Fund, which supports university capital projects. The Fund was launched at Budget 2012, with £100 million of funding but has been heavily oversubscribed with an overwhelming number of high-calibre bids.
Here are some of the announcements that have emerged so far at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham:
- Provide £270 million funding so that councils can freeze council tax for a third consecutive year. This would be a 2.5 per cent real terms cut in 2013-13, and an 11 per cent cut over three years. Require a referendum for any council planing an increase above two per cent in 2013-14.
- Cap rail fares at RPI+1 per cent in 2013 and 2014, costing £300 million over the next two financial years (2013-14 and 2014-15).
A lesson in spin-doctory: a Conservative Party briefing note aimed at Tory press officers and politicians at the party conference in the ICC contains a list of "hostile questions" they may be asked by the media, as well as the preferred answers.
Here's an extract:
Q: Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in Andrew Mitchell?
Here are some of the highlights of Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour conference today:
My conviction is rooted in my family's story, a story that starts 1,000 miles from here, because the Miliband's haven't sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years.
Both of my parents' came to Britain as immigrants, Jewish refugees from the Nazis. I know I would not be standing on this stage today without the compassion and tolerance of our great country. Great Britain.
And you know my parents saw Britain rebuilt after the Second World War. I was born in my local NHS hospital, the same hospital my two sons would later be born in. As you saw in the film I went to my local school. I went to my local comprehensive with people from all backgrounds. I still remember the amazing and inspiring teaching I got at that school, and one of my teachers, my English teacher, Chris Dunne, is here with us today. Thank you Chris and to all the teachers at Haverstock.