diversity

Government in May-hem

This week has been plagued by trouble and strife for Prime Minister Theresa May as she has had to put her ministers in their place as Parliament goes in to recess for the summer.

It all started with a leak from last week’s cabinet meeting in which Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond allegedly said public sector workers are overpaid. Umm….

Hammond had argued public sector workers are on average better compensated than their private counterparts due to receiving better pensions, and refused to deny reports that he told cabinet colleagues public sector staff are “overpaid”. Hammond’s comment on pay was the subject of one of two leaks from this week’s cabinet meeting, with the other alleging the Chancellor said driving modern trains is so easy “even a woman can do it” – a claim he has strongly denied.

When asked if he believes public sector workers are overpaid, the Chancellor said it was a “relative question” but “very generous” public sector pensions put these workers “about 10% ahead” of private sector employees. The comments come amid growing calls to lift the 1% pay cap on public sector pay, with concerns it is preventing the NHS from recruiting and retaining staff. Of course his comments were met with much controversy as in-work poverty has affected many public sector workers (including teachers and NHS staff) have felt the burn of the Tories austerity programme.

In an article in the Guardian, columnist Zoe Williams writes:

The chancellor might be a Brexit pragmatist (a Bragmatist?) but his sound economic sense only extends so far. He understands that maintaining links with our largest trading partner is preferable to suicide, and that’s good; but he doesn’t seem to have given any serious thought to what it’s like trying to live through seven years of “pay restraint”, what ramifications it might have for one’s ability to eat, pay rent and enjoy fripperies such as holidays, and raising children.

Hammond suggested the leaks over his supposed comments in cabinet were more motivated by differences over Brexit, saying “some of the noise is generated” by ministers who disagree with his aim of prioritising the economy in leaving the EU.

It’s no secret that the issue of Europe (Brexit) is divide the Conservative Party but these leaks could just be the tip of the iceberg. Some Conservative MPs are indecisive about May’s future as their leader and PM, with some looking towards other alternative leaders including Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Jacob Rees-Mogg. However, with the loss of the majority in the recent General Election, surely the Conservatives would want to stand united, now more than ever?

All cabinets leak but they mostly do it officially in the form of “guidance” to the media. But cabinet ministers leaking against one another is relatively rare. When it happens, it is almost invariably a sign of deep prime ministerial and cabinet weakness. It demonstrates May’s inability to keep her cabinet in check to respect and adhere to cabinet responsibility* as well as the elephant in the room – ministerial divisions over Brexit. A fragile majority, divisive issues, a weak prime minister and mischief-making ministers always make an unstable mix.

Cabinet Collective Responsibility: a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System, that members of the cabinet must publicly support all governmental decisions made in cabinet, even if they do not privately agree with them.

Some cabinet ministers believe the Chancellor is deliberately trying to ‘frustrate’ Brexit as pro-leave cabinet ministers seek to undermine, if not oust, the man they see as the biggest obstacle in the path of a hard Brexit.

“What’s really going on is the establishment, the Treasury, is trying to fuck it up,”
Unnamed minister tells the Telegraph

Pro-Brexit campaigners such as Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson regard Hammond as an irritant. On the one hand Hammond wants a sane Brexit but on the other hand they want the freedom to drive off the cliff at top speed and to do as such, they need him out of the way. With the chancellor removed, there would be no ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ to moan about the need to prioritise jobs and the economy; they could put slashing immigration first and indulge the ideological fetish that demands the eradication of the European court of justice from every last corner of British national life.

Following all the cabinet leaks and public back-biting, Prime Minister Theresa May has warned ministers that their continued bickering and divisiveness could result in Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn winning power. The speech was made at a summer reception for Tory MPs in which she instructed her party to have a break over the parliamentary summer recess and return to Westminster ready for “serious business” with “no backbiting” or “carping”, telling Cabinet ministers to show “strength and unity”.

Reports have also circulated a group of Tory MPs are planning to launch a leadership challenge against May in the autumn, with a letter of no confidence already in circulation but with only a small number of signatures so far. I guess George Osborne was right in calling Theresa May a ‘dead woman walking‘…

Former deputy Prime Minister, Michael Hestletine summed up the situation facing the Conservative Party in an interview with the World at One:

“This is a government without authority. This is a deeply divided government and what they know, what the Europeans know, and what our national press knows is every day there’s a more depressing headline.”

Let’s just hope the public isn’t surprised with yet another impromptu General Election after the summer break!

 

Another Brexit update

Brexit negotiations continued in Brussels this week and one thing everyone noticed was Brexit Secretary David Davis’ lack of paper work compared to his European counterparts.

 

 

david-davis.jpg

PA Images

Well at least he’s demonstrating why we’re leaving, it’s all that bureaucracy!

Davis has called on both sides of negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU to “get down to business” as the second round of formal talks began. The Brexit Secretary has said his priority is to “lift the uncertainty” for EU citizens living in the UK and Britons living in Europe, and the EU has also demanded there must be substantial progress on this issue – as well as on a financial settlement the UK must pay to the bloc and the question of the Irish border – before trade talks can begin. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier gave an update on the progress of talks in his closing speech, welcoming Britain’s detailed position. He indicated that both sides are now moving in a common direction, although there remains disagreement on points such as how to guarantee these rights, what rights future family members should receive and whether social benefits can be exported.

As one would expect, more volatility and areas of compromise are yet to come; Barrier highlighted the first round of talks was about organisation; the second about presentation; the third will be about clarification.

 

Also in Parliament…

The government has announced the increase in the state pension age from 67 to 68 will be brought forward by seven years to 2037, with the changes set to affect everyone born between 6th April 1970 and 5th April 1978. So much for early retirement then. Well at least it doesn’t affect the young(er) generation!

Announcing the plans yesterday, Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke told MPs the rising UK life expectancy means those affected can still expect to receive more over their lifetimes than previous generations, and insisted the government has a “responsibility” to balance pensions funding and being fair on future generations of taxpayers.

However, Shadow Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams has condemned the change, which would save £74bn by 2045/46, as “anything but fair”, while the charity Age UK has accused the government of “picking the pockets” of millions of people in their 40s.

The state pension age for men and women will be equalised at 65 at the end of 2018, before rising to 66 in 2020 and 67 in 2028.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Education Secretary Justine Greening has promised an extra £1.3bn in funding for schools in England over the next two years, after complaints from Conservative MPs who believe Theresa May’s failure to deal with concerns about struggling schools cost the government its majority in the General Election. However, the money is being diverted from other parts of the education budget, particularly from free schools and new buildings, rather than coming from extra cash from the Treasury.
Robbing from one hand to give to the other, no?

The Education Secretary was forced to argue in favour of the extra funding in cabinet meetings after reports of some head teachers begging for extra money, cutting lunch breaks and dropping less popular subjects.

In a partial compromise, Greening has also announced a delay in the full implementation of the controversial new national funding formula, which will see some schools receive more money and some lose funding per pupil.

 

Experts from the Commonwealth Fund health think tank have judged the NHS to be the best, safest and most affordable healthcare system of 11 countries ranked, just ahead of Australia and the Netherlands. It is the second time in a row the study, which takes place every three years, has found the UK to have the top health system. Of the 11 nations, the UK put the fourth smallest amount of GDP into healthcare, with just 9.9% invested compared to the 16.6% spent by the US. The news comes despite the NHS suffering the longest budget squeeze in its 69-year history, with the service suffering serious under-staffing problems. Nothing quite beats the NHS eh!

 

Former coalition Business Secretary, Vince Cable has become the oldest leader of a political party since Winston Churchill after being elected unopposed to lead the Liberal Democrats. Cable was the only candidate on the ballot paper when nominations closed at 4pm on Thursday.
Other possible contenders, including Jo Swinson and Norman Lamb, ruled themselves out prior to nominations closing, paving the way for the recently elected Twickenham MP to succeed Tim Farron, who resigned after the General Election.

At the age of 74, Cable is the oldest politician to lead the LibDems in its 30 year history but his election only opens up long-held debates over why we fail to see more young people, women and ethnic minorities being elected to such positions. And it goes even further – why aren’t these groups putting THEMSELVES forward in nominations? We always argue politics is always dominated by the pale, male and stale elite but is there any wonder when young people, when women and ethnic minorities aren’t putting their name on the ballot paper? Of course, there’s the issue of gaining support but surely in nominating yourself, we may then begin to see support for a number of candidates, especially those who have potential to be great political figures? It seems we still have a long way to go before we see true diversity across the political spectrum…

 

Leaders of the world unite!

Last week, world leaders from across the globe attended the G20 Summit in Hamburg. But what exactly is ‘G20’ and why was the summit held? G20 stands for ‘Group of Twenty’ and is an international forum that bring together the world’s leading and emerging economies. The G20 accounts for 85% of the world’s GDP* (Gross Domestic Product) and 2/3 of its population.

GDP: the total value of goods produced and services provided in a country during one year.

The G20 meets to seek co-operation on  economic issues facing major and emerging economies. The Group of Twenty is comprised of 19 countries, including the European Union. The countries are:

  •  Australia
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • China
  • France
  • Germany
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mexico
  • Russia
  • Saudi Arabia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Turkey
  • UK
  • USA
Image result for g20 2017

G20 Leaders at the 2017 summit in Hamburg, Germany

The Summit tends to meet once a year with this year’s event taking place in Hamburg, Germany. President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time last Friday, after which Putin claimed the US President accepts his denials of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election. Now with all the accusations and mounting evidence of Trump’s link to Russia, do we really believe the Russian and US leaders met for THE first time during the G20 summit? Either way, they did seem to get on pretty well…

UK Prime Minister Theresa May also held a meeting with Trump, who has subsequently said he expects a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK to be completed “very, very quickly”. Contrary to what Trump may believe, trade deals take a considerable amount of time to negotiate, regardless of any special relationships with foreign nations. May clarified that discussions were not about details of an actual trade arrangement but were rather more an opportunity to signal that she is looking beyond the EU for future economic relationships.

By the end of the summit, it was more G19 than G20 after the world leaders recognised Trump’s decision, in a joint statement, for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.  The Paris climate change agreement, known at the ‘communique’ commits nearly 200 countries to taking measures to reduce global warming. Breaking with tradition, a separate paragraph on the US’s stance on the Paris climate agreement and fossil fuels was added. Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel said she “deplored” the decision by the US to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, but said that all other nations agree Paris climate accord is “irreversible”.

 

Conservative re-launch?

Back in Britain, it’s been a year since Theresa May took on the premiership from David Cameron after the Brexit result last June and to commemorate the occasion, the Prime Minister has sought the opinions of other UK political parties on how to tackle issues such as Brexit, terrorism and social care.

 

In her speech above, she calls for her political opponents to “contribute, not just criticise”. Is Theresa May showing she cannot cope? Well the Labour Party seem to think so, saying it shows the Theresa May and her party have run out of ideas. The speech came amid rumours some Conservatives are plotting to oust May as party leader, although ministers loyal to the Prime Minister have dismissed the claims as “gossip”.
During Wednesday’s PMQs, Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary also picked up on May’s weakening power, showing Damian Green some sass and savagery as they both stood at the dispatch box whilst Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May welcomed the King and Queen of Spain during their state visit.

 

Brexit update

The UK government has published its central piece of Brexit legislation, the ‘Great’ Repeal Bill which will end supremacy of EU law in Britain. It will annul the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which currently gives EU law instant effect in the UK and prevent a legal “black hole” existing after Brexit. The aim for this legislation to is to convert all EU requirements into British law as soon as the UK exits the union.

However, Theresa May could face a constitutional crisis as the Scottish and Welsh governments have said they will not give their consent to the legislation. The bill is intended to “maximise continuity” on the day of the UK’s departure. It would see all existing EU laws converted into domestic law, allowing the government to decide which rules and regulations it wants to keep after Brexit. It is hoped this would give confidence to businesses, workers and consumers as any unexpected changes on the day of Brexit would be minimised. The bill contains a series of delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII clauses*‘ which means ministers will be able to make new laws without putting it to a vote in Parliament. Shock. Horror. Not only does this give ministers the potential to abolish some pretty important rights protected under EU law such as right to equal treatment and maximum working hours for workers, it arguably undermines democracy. There are limits as to when the Henry VIII clause can be applied – if a minister deems there is an urgent matter then no vote need take place – but as the two year Brexit window whizzes by, what wouldn’t count as urgent? Surely all political parties should be given a say, not least because they happen to represent a considerable number of people who partook in the EU referendum? And besides, who wants a one-party state?

Henry VIII clauses: enables primary legislation to be amended or repealed by subordinate legislation with or without further parliamentary scrutiny. Such provisions are known as Henry VIII clauses, so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539 which gave King Henry VIII power to legislate by proclamation.

Hours after the bill was published, the Scottish and Welsh leaders, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, issued a joint statement dismissing the legislation as a “power grab” by Westminster that attacks “the founding principles of devolution” and said they would not consent to it without substantial redrafting. Should Holyrood and the Welsh assembly withhold their legislative consent, the government could press on with the bill in its current form but the move may threaten a constitutional crisis by undermining the authority of the devolved governments.

In a further challenge to the government, Labour has said its MPs will not vote in favour of the bill, with Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer setting out five concessions the government must make to win Labour support, including protection of workers’ rights and environmental standards.

 

Also in Parliament…

Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an investigation into intimidation and abuse suffered by parliamentary candidates during the General Election campaign. The announcement came as an unprecedented debate was held in the House of Commons on the issue, during which MPs provided first hand accounts of anti-Semitic attacks, racist abuse, slashed tyres and death threats. Ahead of the debate, Conservative and Labour  MPs traded blows over who is to blame for the increase in abuse, with Tory MP Simon Hart accusing pro-Corbyn group Momentum of giving “implicit consent” to attacks on Conservative candidates, while Labour said the Tories put “vitriolic personal attacks” at the heart of their campaign.

Of course, these attacks on members of Parliament date further back to just recent elections as pointed out by Diane Abbot MP.

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism called for new laws and tougher discipline by parties, with a report by the group finding women and ethnic minority candidates are particularly at risk.
The growth of new media has not helped and in a world where we are taught to be more tolerant, how much of this rings true? It’s no secret Britain is a diverse and multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country so why then do our representatives get so much hate and stick? Some have blamed Brexit for the surge in hate crimes but what about incidents prior to the referendum? The general idea of Britain is that it is (c)onservative in its beliefs and traditions, so is very patriotic, believes in a small state with minimal intervention, protection of private property and upholds law and order. But what does this have to do with the hate and abuse MPs receive? Well it may have to do with right wing extremists who are hostile to immigration, particularly with the recent terrorist attacks that have taken place across the globe. Add into the mix the lingering misogyny amongst these groups and you will see women, particularly ethnic minority women are more likely to face the full force of these abuse and racist attacks. The rise in social media over the years exemplifies the situation and only makes it easier for these anonymous trolls to spout such spite. The difficulty in tracking down these perpetrators is that very often they are anonymous and so cannot be easily reported but perhaps this is up to social mediums to use their resources to shut down accounts?

Labour MP Paula Sheriff highlights “It is not about a particular party or particular faction. It is about the degradation of political discourse online.”

Another thing to consider would be how the mainstream media (news channels, newspapers etc) reports such incidents rather than amplifying it as the Sun Newspaper has done very often.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will look at the nature of the problem of intimidation, considering the current protections and measures in place for parliamentary candidates, reporting back to the Prime Minister.

 

Other things you may have missed…

Labour MPs have begun their inquiry into diversity in the cultural sector in an aim to boost working class representation in the arts. The panel was chaired by Labour MP Gloria de Peiro who said there was a “definite glass ceiling when it comes to the acting profession” and cited research by the London School of Economics that showed only 10% of actors said they came from a working class background and from the Sutton Trust that showed 42% of Bafta winners went to fee-paying schools.

The panel was also made up of Deborah Williams, executive director, Creative Diversity Network; Lee Mason, a drama commissioner at Channel 4; John Cannon, a casting director at BBC Studios; Cassie Chadderton, head of UK Theatre; David Mercatali, the chair of Stage Directors UK Diversity Working party; and Labour MP Tracy Brabin. Williams, who created the diversity standard for the BFI and is now overseeing Project Diamond, the biggest project monitoring diversity across all areas of British broadcasting, said perceptions about the TV and theatre roles black actors “can and should play” needed changing.

 

Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris has been suspended from the party after she was recorded using racist language at a meeting of pro-Brexit MPs at central London’s East India Club. Morris, who has represented Newton Abbot in Devon since 2010, is under investigation over the comment, which she has described as “totally unintentional” and has “apologise[d] unreservedly”. Announcing the suspension, Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the “totally unacceptable” language. The suspension of Morris could put more pressure on May’s minority government, which is relying on the support of Democratic Unionist (DUP) MPs after losing a majority in the General Election. ?Such language should never be used, especially by a public figure elected to represent a wide range of people, regardless of their colour or creed, which begs the question as to whether suspension goes far enough. When Ken Livingstone made his comments about Hitler and Zionism, many called for his expulsion so surely Anne Marie Morris should also be given the same treatment and persecution…?

 

Plans for a statue of former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher have been blocked by the government over fears it would be vandalised by left-wing activists. A planning application has been submitted to Westminster city council requesting permission for the erection of a 10ft statue depicting Thatcher in a “resolute posture looking towards parliament with a stern gaze”. However, formal objections have been lodged by the Royal Parks Agency and the Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport. They say that they have not received assurances that the project has the permission of Baroness Thatcher’s family. There are also concerns in Whitehall that it will be repeatedly targeted by protesters. The £300,000 work was commissioned by the Public Memorials Appeal shortly after the former Prime Minister’s death in 2013.

Should there be a statue of Britain’s first female Prime Minister in Parliament Square? Or is it right plans for the statue were blocked given the controversy during her premiership over policy such as poll tax and privatisation of core industries?