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A renewed (post-Brexit) ‘special relationship’?

Last week Parliamentarians commenced their summer break, and with a ‘zombie government’ in procession, not much is going in the world of British politics. But even so there are still several issues which continue to be scrutinised and debated, the major one being (you guessed it) BREXIT!

Brexit negotiations commenced in Brussels a few weeks ago now and as expected not much has been agreed but there is indeed much that needs to be compromised on. As Britain looks to seek trade deals outside of the European Union, it seems Britain will rely heavily on it’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, now more than ever.

UK/US Special Relationship: derived from Winston Churchill’s 1946 ‘Iron Curtain Speech’, the term describes the political, diplomatic, cultural, economic, military and historical relations between the United Kingdom and the United States.

As talks continue, politicians and commentators alike have been trying to hazard a guess as to what trade deals may be made with other countries and how quickly those deals would be able to come to pass. Undoubtedly because of the UK/US special relationship, trade with America would be top of the list. But what exactly would we be trading with them? One thing that has dominated the headlines this week is chlorinated chicken. *cringe*
Earlier this week, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said any trade deal with the US would ‘have to include agriculture’ which sparked fears for the arrival of imported US chicken washed in chlorinated water and hormone-fed beef. Contradicting Fox’s statement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated we should not allow chlorinated chicken to be imported or the UK.

“No. I made it perfectly clear, and this is something on which all members of the Government are agreed. We are not going to dilute our high food-safety standards or our high environmental standards in pursuit of any trade deal. Our position when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, and our position now, is to be a leader in environmental standards”

During his appearance on BBC Newsnight, Fox seemed to stand by his position in re-aligning Britain’s relationship with the US, saying there is “no health issue” with chlorine washed chicken and that concerns “lies around some of the secondary issues of animal welfare and it’s perfectly reasonable for people to raise that but it will come much further down the road.”

 

The House of Lords EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee warned that animal welfare standards could be undermined if post-Brexit trade deals left UK farmers competing against less-regulated foreign rivals. They warned that imports from lower-welfare countries could “undermine the sustainability of the industry or incentivise a race to the bottom for welfare standards – contrary to the wishes of the UK industry”.

What this demonstrates is that Brexit is more than just about the economy and immigration; it will have a life-changing impact on every single Briton and will be reflected even in the food we buy and the meals we eat. In a world where many are becoming health conscious (you only have to watch Netflix’s ‘What the Health‘ and rethink your whole diet!), how can we look after ourselves and how can we ensure the food we eat doesn’t have a long-term impact on our health? As we all know, chlorine is more widely used in swimming pools to keep them free of bacteria that can be used to harm us, but there is a BIG difference between swimming in it and ingesting it.

And it’s not only chicken we should be worried about – there are now fears from politicians in Scotland that sub-standard whisky could be imported if the UK strikes a trade deal with the US after Brexit.

The Scotch whisky industry is worth £4bn to Scotland and it is protected from sub-standard products by an EU definition of whisky – but this will change after our European divorce. Politicians in Scotland have thus written to the UK Government, asking for a legal definition of the spirit to be enshrined into law.

Scottish economy secretary Keith Brown said: “Aside from being a key part of Scottish culture and identity, our whisky industry supports around 20,000 jobs. The US made clear in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership discussions that they would support a relaxation of the definition of whisky, which would open the market up to a number of products which do not currently meet that standard”.

It seems where Brexit is concerned, NOTHING is safe…

 

Conservative Party divisions continue…

…and at the heart of those divisions is, you guessed it, BREXIT.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis announced freedom of movement between Britain and the European Union will end as soon as the UK withdraws from the bloc in March 2019. In response, Home Secretary Amber Rudd commented:

“We are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK.”

Liam Fox, a hard-line brexiteer has said keeping free movement after Brexit would not keep in line with the EU Referendum result of last June. However, Phillip Hammond has said free movement wouldn’t necessarily be curtailed straight after Brexit, reiterating the need for a transitional period and recommending that new trade deals and regulated movement of peoples isn’t done immediately after leaving the union.

It was only last week there were a few leaks made by cabinet ministers in regards to remarks made by the Chancellor, again sparked from divisions over Brexit so this week to see again another fisticuffs only demonstrates the deep emotions over the issue and proves just how difficult this divorce process will be, not just with our European counterparts but on home soil.

Ministers have been particularly vocal over the post-Brexit transitional period and how that should look like. Pro-Brexiteers in visage the free movement of people will and should be different on the day after we leave the EU in comparison to the day before. These comments come from Mr Fox (he seems at odds with everybody this week eh!) who dismissed the idea that there is a broad consensus n Cabinet that free movement would end in name only for three years after Brexit, as part of a transition deal with the European Union.

Critics such as newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, has expressed to the media that the latest schism “reveals a deep, unbridgeable chasm between the Brexit fundamentalist and the pragmatists. Businesses which might have hoped that Philip Hammond had pulled the Government back from a commitment to a catastrophic cliff edge, crashing out of the EU, have been misled. There is no Cabinet consensus for moderation. And the rumours of Boris Johnson being about to resign fuel the uncertainty”.

The Chancellor has said there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, the Luxembourg PM Xavier Bettel has warned that Britain could have to pay a Brexit divorce bill of up to £54bn.

“It is now time for the European Union to make an analogy with the famous quote of Mrs Thatcher, ‘We want our money back'”

Downing Street expects to reveal plans for a new immigration system later this year, to be in place by the time the UK leaves the EU. Amber Rudd has also commissioned a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of EU migrants, as well as the possible impact of reduced EU migration. Whilst the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has hailed the report as a “sensible first step”, whilst critics have said the study, which is to be published just six months before Brexit, will come a year too late.

 

So much for enjoying the start of summer and listening to May’s call for “strength and unity” eh!

 

Other things you may have missed…

History was made this week as Brenda Hale became the first female president of the Supreme Court. Also another female judge, Lady Justice Black, became the second woman appointed to Britain’s highest court. Hale, a champion of diversity in the judiciary who joined the Supreme Court in 2009, has previously said, “Excellence is important but so is diversity of expertise”, and in 2015 warned the Supreme Court should be ashamed if it does not become more representative of the population. Her appointment is historically important as the Supreme Court has over the years been criticised for it’s lack of female representation in being primarily dominated by men. Hale’s new role shines a light on women being able to sit as judges in the UK’s highest court but we mustn’t sit idly – there is still long way to go in terms of wider representation, for instance appointment of judges from widespread ethnic minorities. Commenting on the announcement, the Bar Council said Hale’s appointment will “serve as an encouragement to all”.

 

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced plans to ban developers from selling newly built houses as leaseholds to protect homeowners from extortionate fees. Properties in the UK are either sold as freeholds or leaseholds, and those who buy leaseholds must pay fees to a freeholder, who owns the ground the house is built on. These fees – including service charges and ground rents – can increase by vast amounts every year, leaving homeowners paying thousands of pounds on top of their own mortgage payments. Under the proposals, ground rent would be significantly reduced and leaseholds on new builds banned. The planned proposal could prove to help the growing housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London, also giving first time buyers an opportunity to buy a property without the added hassle and cost.

With the way Brexit negotiations are going, we all could do with some good news!

 

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“Give our public sector workers a pay rise!”

The big news this week in the world of British Politics has been over the 1% pay cap on public sector workers. If you’re wondering what the heck is a 1% pay cap, take a seat while this blog post gives you the lowdown…

What is the 1% pay cap on public sector workers?

The cap, first introduced by then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in 2013 replaced a two-year pay freeze as part of a wide-ranging austerity package introduced by the coalition government. What this means is many public sector workers since the introduction of the pay cap have not seen a rise in their wages as the cap permits a 1% per cent annual increase in public sector pay. However the wages of those in the private sector has increased ever so slightly in comparison. Take a look at the diagram below…

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

AVERAGE EARNINGS GROWTH: 

Graph depicts percentage changes between the private and public sector. Source: Source: ONS – Annual % changes in three month average regular pay

 

So why all the fuss now? 

In line with recent tragedies in Manchester, Westminster, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and the fire at Grenfell Tower, our emergency services have been praised by politicians and civilians alike. Everyday and especially in dire times, our public servants go above and beyond which is why many politicians have called for their hard efforts to be recognised by lifting the 1% pay cap to ensure all public servants receive a pay rise.

Senior MPs such as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary, Michael Gove are amongst many Conservative cabinet ministers and backbench MPs  who are calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to consider lifting the 1% pay cap for public sector workers. Although Johnson and Gove did not out-rightly suggest the cap should be lifted for all 5.1m public sector workers, they have encouraged Theresa May to listen to an upcoming report by pay review bodies, which most likely will recommend the government lift the cap when it is published later this month. In the  Conservative Party manifesto, they had committed to keeping the cap until 2020.

The Labour Party  have also called for the cap to be lifted as they proposed an amendment to the Queen’s speech calling for an end to the pay cap, however it was rejected by 323 MPs in a vote in the House of Commons as the DUP voted in line with the Conservative Party as part of their informal coalition. In response to Labour’s defeated amendment, the leader of the Party, Jeremy Corbyn, commented:

“Tonight, the Conservatives had an opportunity to put their money where their mouth is, by ending cuts to our police and fire service and lifting the public sector pay cap.

“Although government ministers said they had learned the lessons of the general election and were listening to voters, it is clear that nothing has changed.

They had the perfect opportunity to walk the walk, but instead they marched through the lobby to show Tory austerity is business as usual.

While the money is there when the Conservatives need it to keep themselves in office, the rest of the country now face more devastating cuts to our emergency and other vital services.

The Conservatives clearly plan to keep working for a privileged few. Only Labour is ready to form a government that will work for the many.”

 

Despite pressures from the two major political parties, No. 10 Downing Street (where Prime Minister Theresa May resides) have confirmed there will be no changes to the pay cap. The Prime Minister’s spokesman has said they are “working through recommendations” from the public sector pay review bodies and would respond to those recommendations “in due course”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated that increasing public sector pay in line with the private sector would cost an extra £6.3bn a year. Some might say if Theresa May can find an extra £1.5bn to keep her position as Prime Minister, she could surely offer the same courtesy and allow public sector workers to have some stability through their pay. But hey, it’s not like we don’t have nurses and teachers leaving the profession, seeking employment across the pond and risking the future of our younger generation…

In addition to the 1% annual rise, some NHS staff also get gradual increases in their pay as they progress in their roles.

The public sector employs millions of people both within central government and local government. This includes:

  • NHS workers (domestic staff, porters, administrators, nurses, doctors etc)
  • Teachers and those who work in education
  • Law enforcement and security
  • Social Services
  • Armed Forces
  • Police
  • Fire Service
  • Justice

And many more…

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the pay review bodies should consider a pay rise for public sector workers in line with the rise in average earnings across the economy.

Other things you may have missed…

Along with Brexit negotiations, the UK government has decided to pull out of the London Fisheries Convention which allows foreign countries to fish in British waters. The Convention was signed in 1964, before the UK joined the EU; withdrawal will take two years. Under the convention, vessels from France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands are permitted to fish within six and 12 nautical miles off the UK coastline. British vessels will also lose the right to fish in the waters of other nations. Environment Secretary Michael Gove says the withdrawal will let the UK “take back control of our fishing policies”. But Greenpeace UK warned the move alone would not deliver a better future for the UK fishing industry. Looks like the UK really is ‘taking back control’…

 

On the subject of ‘taking back control’…

The government has reportedly dropped its ‘have cake and eat it‘ approach to Brexit, as ongoing negotiations have caused the Department for Exiting the EU (DexEU) to now accept that Britain must choose between privileged market access and political control in Brexit talks with the European Union. This change of thinking within the government represents a clear departure from the early negotiating position set out by the Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech in January. May suggested that Britain would be able to negotiate a Brexit deal based on full access to the European single market without concessions over immigration and payments to the EU. Civil servants have reportedly since told government officials they face a choice between a deal based on preferential access to the single market but surrendering demands for independent immigration and leaving the ECJ, or a “taking back control” agreement cutting all ties with the EU but with a less favourable trade deal.

 

Pensions minister, Guy Opperman, has been criticised for his suggestion that millions of women under the age of 60 who face cuts to their state pension should take up apprenticeships in order to re-enter employment. His comments were made at a debate in Westminster Hall to discuss the changes to the law which will mean the state pension age will rise from 60 to 66 by 2020, delaying access to pensions for women born in the 1950s. SNP minister, Mhairi Black has campaigned frequently against the change in law and had told MPs if the Conservatives could find £1bn to strike a deal with the DUP, they could afford to give women the pensions they are due. Despite many ministers across the political parties arguing the changes are unfair, Mr Opperman says the government is committed to “life-long learning” and will make no concessions.

 

The German Green party, which had pushed for LGBT rights for decades, finally got their victory after the German parliament voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage by 393 votes to 226 with four abstentions. As it was a free vote, lawmakers were permitted to vote according to their conscience rather than obeying party lines. The vote which permits LGBT people to marry and adopt was called by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition allies the Social Democrats (SDP). However, Merkel voted against the move. Congrats Germany! 🇧🇪🌈

Who says this blog only comments on British Politics eh! 😉

May’s Coalition of Chaos

Hello readers! Before you say anything, I know, I am terrible at maintaining what is meant to be a weekly blog – don’t judge me! 🐵🙃 In all fairness I have been dealing with some heavy personal stuff these last 6 months but I have still been following the world of politics. All my commentary can be found on my Twitter – @JasziieeM

On the subject of politics….

This week Theresa May finally sold her soul, nope sorry, signed an informal coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party, or as commonly known DUP. This follows after May’s abysmal election result and failure to win the 365 seats needed in Parliament to form a government. If you’re puzzled, or have no clue what is going on, bear with as this post will try to explain EVERYTHING you need to know in bites-sized portions. Hold onto your seats folks!

Brexit negotiations 

It’s been exactly a year since the majority of the British electorate (well, only with a narrow majority) voted to leave the European Union. Article 50 – the official process which kick-starts the divorce proceedings – was triggered earlier in the year and official talks have begun in Brussels. As Article 50 has already been triggered, it means the UK has two years to negotiate and leave the European Union so we won’t be leaving just yet.

Last week Theresa May and her government set out their legislative proposals in the Queens Speech (see details below). One of the central pieces of legislation which was included in the speech is the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, which would convert EU regulations into UK law and grant parliament temporary powers to amend or appeal this legislation when Britain has left the EU and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Other measures the government have committed to do for the next two years include customs and trade bills, which put in place the legal framework to ensure the UK has an independent customs system in place and can make trade deals with other nations after Brexit. The proposed immigration bill would end European freedom of movement and make the status of EU nationals and their families subject to UK law. These bills serve as guidelines for the government’s intentions for Brexit and are due to be expanded once negotiations in Brussels have progressed.

Many EU nationals residing in the UK have pondered their position post-Brexit and Prime Minister May aimed to provide reassurances this week as she revealed plans to allow around 3m EU citizens living in the UK to stay after Brexit under a new “UK settled status” that would grant EU migrants who have lived in Britain for five years the right to stay permanently, with access to healthcare, education and other benefits. Those who have lived in the UK for less than five years will be allowed to stay until they are eligible for settled status, while those arriving after the cut-off date – expected to fall somewhere between April 2017 and March 2019 – will have two years to either obtain a work permit or return home. May described the proposal as a “fair and serious” offer, as it was announced at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also described it as a “good start” in the Brexit negotiations. However, the plans are dependent on EU nations guaranteeing the same rights to the estimated 1m Britons living in Europe.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party however, has accused the Prime Minister of using people as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations.

General Election 2017 

After appearing on many interviews stating she would not call a snap election, Theresa May did a u-turn (one of many) and called a snap election, at the advice of her advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill who have since resigned after many Tory insiders blamed them for the tragic election results.

#GE2017 took place on 8th June 2017 with Theresa May and her advisors wanting to take an opportunity for the Prime Minister to increase her majority, and in her words ‘strengthen her hand’ ahead of Brexit negotiations. This comes as before the announcement of the snap election, Labour’s popularity ratings in the polls were low.

Screenshot 2017-06-30 at 02.05.16

Voting intention, Source: BBC GE2017 Poll Tracker

It was anticipated that Theresa May and the Conservatives would win the snap election with a landslide majority (that is 74 seats), possibly bigger than that of Thatcher’s premiership but the polls got it oh so wrong yet again. You’d think these journos and pollsters would learn their lesson from 2015 General Election!

During the campaigning in the run up to polling day Labour aimed to turn their position around in the short period of time they had and by George did they do just that! The Party adopted the slogan ‘For the many, not the few’, secured endorsements from Grime artists such as Skepta, and Stormzy and even from friends across the pond like Bernie Sanders and Danny DeVito. Their use of social media worked a treat too, with many of their campaign videos and work from the group Momentum gaining millions of views. Some of their manifesto pledges included:

  • Scrap student tuition fees
  • Nationalisation of England’s nine water companies.
  • Re-introduce the 50p rate of tax on the highest earners (above £123,000)
  • Income tax rate 45p on £80,000 and above
  • More free childcare, expanding free provisions for two, three and four year olds
  • Guarantee triple lock for pensioner incomes
  • End to zero hours contracts
  • Hire 10,000 new police officers, 3,000 new firefighters
  • Moves to charge companies a levy on salaries above £330,000
  • Deliver rail electrification “including in Wales and the South West”.

Full details of the Labour Party Manifesto can be found here.

Meanwhile the Conservative Party’s election campaigning took a toll for the worst when Theresa May announced she would scrap free school meals and introduce a dementia tax* in a bid to tackle the demands of social care across the UK.

Dementia Tax: a proposal to make elderly people pay for care in their own home unless they have less than £100,000 in assets, as it would force them to use up the value of their residential property for the first time. At the moment, if you have more than £23,250 in assets you have to pay for your own care. This means pensioners’ life savings can be drained while they languish in a home. The Tory policy will replace this with a much higher ‘floor’ of £100,000 instead.

Theresa May had failed to mention the higher floor of £100,000 when the social care policy was first introduced. When questioned by members of the press as to whether this was another u-turn, she denied it was such.

Some of the other manifesto proposals by the Conservative Party include:

  • Deliver a smooth and orderly departure from the EU
  • Increase NHS budget in England by £8bn a year by 2022/23
  • An extra £4bn on schools in England by 2022
  • Restating commitment to bring net migration down to tens of thousands
  • Balance budget by 2025
  • Replacement of triple-lock pension pledge after 2020 with double lock

Full details of the Conservative Party manifesto can be found here.

She had also gone as far as to accuse European leaders of interfering with the General Election (possibly a way of saving her own back?).  She had accused leaders in Brussels of trying to sabotage Brexit and that the European press had misrepresented Britain’s stance on the issue.


Throughout the campaign, commentators had noted the personality politics that was emerging; the constant comparison between Theresa May and her team vs. Jeremy Corbyn and the coalition of chaos. It was also an election filled with soundbites: strong and stable; no deal is better than a bad deal; me and my team; coalition of chaos; strengthen my hand; Brexit means Brexit. It was so bad that many on social media where even playing Theresa May/Conservative Bingo during live debates:

Image result for theresa may bingo

Source: The New European

It seems beyond Brexit, Theresa May wanted to secure her own mandate – remember, she wasn’t really elected by the public, nor her own party in all honesty as she was made Prime Minister by default after Andrea Leadsom had pulled out of the leadership race after David Cameron resigned over the Brexit result. And of course, with the Labour Party still under strains with questions over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership prior to the election, it would have been a wasted opportunity if May didn’t call the election. But it was a decision that would cost her dear…


Post Election Results

Election results began to come in throughout the early hours of 9th June 2017 and exit polls suggested a hung parliament. Exit polls are an opinion poll of people leaving a polling station, asking how they voted. In British politics, they are usually accurate and this time around there were because lo’ and behold, we have a hung parliament!

Hung Parliaments occur when no political party has secured enough seats form a majority government – in the UK 326 seats are required for a party to outright form a government and in this case, the Tories had only managed 318 seats whilst Labour secured 262 seats, 30 more than they had previously had, increasing their percentage of the vote to 40%.

Although Labour had lost this election, it was still a victory for them in many ways as Jeremy Corbyn as well as many other Labour MPs increased their majority in their constituencies, more young people than ever before turned up to the polls swaying the vote with traditional Conservative areas like Canterbury going to Labour for the first time in history. The election also proved Corbyn’s agility to remain as leader of the Labour Party, suppressing any doubts in his opponents and many of the media’s minds.

With hung parliaments, a number of scenarios could happen…

  1. The previous government (in this case the Conservatives) may decide to remain in position whilst they try to form a coalition with another party in order to make up the numbers and thus command a majority government.
  2. The previous government (or the party with the most votes) may decide to govern with the minority of Members of Parliament (MPs) – this is known as a Minority Government and what Theresa May has currently decided to do. Well partly. More on this in a bit…
  3. If the incumbent government (the Conservatives) is unable to command a majority and the PM decides to resign, the leader of the largest opposition party may be invited to form a government and may do so either as a minority or in coalition with another party or parties.
  4. If no party is able to command a majority to govern, another vote may be put forward to the electorate. Yes, another General Election.

As Theresa May was short of 14 seats to gain the majority she so desired, she decided to enter an informal coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The DUP are a unionist (pro-UK) political party based in Northern Ireland and is now the fifth largest party in Parliament; its 36% share of the vote in Northern Ireland resulted in 10 MPs being returned to Westminster. The party is led by Arlene Foster and are traditionally (c)onservative on many social issues in which they oppose same-sex marriage, and are anti-abortion.

The alliance between the two parties has caused much controversy with the opposition party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, arguing a deal with the DUP goes against the Good Friday agreement and would “jeopardise the neutrality, the non-partisan stance, that a prime minister and a secretary of state must have in relation to Northern Ireland’s politics”.

More on the history of the DUP can be found here.

Queen’s Speech

Ahead of the Queen’s speech last Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May promised to run her minority government propped up by the DUP with “humility and resolve”.

“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent”

Her legislative plans which were outlined in the Queen’s Speech is as follows:

  • A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses.
  • New bills on trade and customs will help to implement an independent trade policy, and support will be given to help British businesses export to markets around the world.
  • Legislation will be introduced to ensure the United Kingdom remains a world leader in new industries, including electric cars and commercial satellites. A new bill will also be brought forward to deliver the next phase of high-speed rail.
  • Reform of technical education to ensure people have the skills they need for the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future.
  • Increase of the National Living Wage
  • Legislation will be brought forward to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse.
  • Reform of Mental Health legislation.
  • Proposals will be brought forward to ban unfair tenant fees, promote fairness and transparency in the housing market, and help ensure more homes are built.
  • A new law will ensure that the United Kingdom retains its world-class regime protecting personal data, and a proposal for a new digital charter.
  • Legislation will also be introduced to modernise the courts system and to help reduce motor insurance premiums.
  • A full public inquiry into the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower to ascertain the causes, and ensure that the appropriate lessons are learnt.
  • Ministers will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces, meeting the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent of national income on defence.
  • Proposals to ensure that critical national infrastructure is protected to safeguard national security.
  • Review of counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Continued support for international action against climate change, including the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The package outlined above, is primarily dominated by Brexit with many of the Tory manifesto’s most contentious proposals abandoned, including the plan to to cut winter fuel allowances and the proposal to get rid of free school lunches. Many critics and commentators noted the thin nature of this years Queen’s Speech. Jeremy Corbyn told MPs  it was a “threadbare legislative programme for a government that has lost its majority and apparently run out of ideas altogether”.

 

An article in the Economist also describes the Queen’s Speech as ‘scaled down’, highlighting the strains Theresa May will have to face in the next two years, particularly with Brexit negotiations. However, more attention was given to the Queens choice of attire which resembled the EU flag…

Image result for queens speech 2017 attire and eu flag

It seems the Queen paid more attention to her choice of outfit than to the speech she was reading! Considering she was in a hurry to get to the Ascot races in time, perhaps Dennis Skinner’s annual quip was welcomed…

Theresa May has also taken the unusual step of having a two-year parliamentary session on the grounds that it covers the timetable for leaving the European Union. Still clinging onto the notion of strong and stable eh? The Prime Minister insisted in her statement that it would be a “busy legislative session with a number of Bills geared towards making a success of Brexit”.

This week, MPs have voted with a majority of 14 to support the Conservatives in their agenda for the next two years with the DUP giving the Conservatives their backing following the ‘confidence’ and ‘supply’ or informal coalition (whatever you want to call it) deal that was struck earlier this week (more on this below…)

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has shown his no-nonsense approach with his new found confidence after the election result a few weeks ago by sacking shadow ministers Andy Slaughter, Catherine West and Ruth Cadbury followed by the resignation of shadow transport minister Daniel Zeichner after they defied the leadership to back an amendment put forward by Chuka Ummuna on Brexit. The amendment had called for Britain to remain in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, in defiance of official Labour Party policy.

DUP Deal – signed, sealed, delivered

Earlier this week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed to support Theresa May’s minority government on a vote-by-vote basis – a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – on the condition that £1bn in extra funding goes to Northern Ireland over two years.

Of course the arrangement faced backlash from politicians in Scotland and Wales as well as within May’s own party. Seems like Theresa May found that magic money tree after all…

The informal coalition means the DUP’s 10 MPs will vote in favour of the Conservatives’ Queen’s speech later this week, giving the Prime Minister an effective majority of 13 and ensuring her government’s legislative agenda passes in the House of Commons. Remember, this is not a coalition like that of 2010 with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. This agreement with the DUP means they are only tied to supporting the government in key votes, such as the Budget and Queen’s Speech, but not necessarily in other measures.

So where will the DUP’s new found income go?

 

  • Health: A minimum of £250m, with £200m directed to health service transformation and £50m towards mental health provision. It will also receive £50m to “address immediate pressures”
  • Education: £50m to “address immediate pressures”
  • Infrastructure: £400m for projects including delivery the York Street Interchange, plus £150m to provide ultra-fast broadband across Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s capital budget is currently about £1bn per year.
  • Deprivation: £100m over five years targeted to deprived communities
  • VAT and Air Passenger Duty tax: Agreed to further consultation
  • Corporation tax: Agreed to work towards devolving the tax to Stormont
  • City deals and Enterprise Zones: Agreed to “comprehensive and ambitious set” of city deals and “limited number” of Enterprise Zones

 

 

Other things you may have missed…

Tim Farron resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats following what he called his conflict between his politics and his faith.

His resignation comes as he was repeatedly pressed by the media during the general election campaign over his position on varying issues including homosexuality.

“From the very first day of my leadership, I have faced questions about my Christian faith. I’ve tried to answer with grace and patience. Sometimes my answers could have been wiser.

“The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader,” he said in a televised statement.

“To be a political leader – especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 – and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

Favourites to take over the leadership include Lib Dem veteran, Vince Cable and Ed Davey.

 
A cyber attack on Parliament has compromised up to 90 email accounts, prompting the Westminster digital security team to shut down access to MPs and peers’ accounts. While the attack was contained, early investigations suggest “significantly fewer than 1% of the 9,000 accounts on the parliamentary network” have been targeted. The 9,000 email accounts belong to government ministers and other MPs and peers, as well as other staff and civil servants, but it is not yet known whose accounts have been compromised. A parliamentary spokesperson has revealed the affected accounts “did not conform to guidance” regarding password strength.

 
After all the efforts from public sector workers, especially in recent tragic events, the Labour Party bid to end the 1% cap on public sector pay but were defeated by the government by 323 MPs to 309 – giving the Prime Minister a majority of 14 as all 10 DUP MPs voted against the amendment, in line with the ‘confidence and supply’ deal agreed with the Conservatives. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had tabled the amendment to the Queen’s Speech in the hope some potential Conservative rebels who opposed the pay cap would vote against the Prime Minister.

The vote followed confusion over the future of public sector pay after Downing Street earlier signalled it could lift the 1% cap. A senior Number 10 source said the Prime Minister had “heard the message” of the General Election and the Government understood “people are weary” of austerity measures. But, within hours of that statement, Downing Street insisted there had been no change to the Government’s policy.

 

Phew, that was a lot to get through! Be sure to hit the ‘Get involved’ button and let me know what areas of British politics you’d like covered in next week’s blog post.

Theresa May in denial?

Is is it too late to say Happy New Year? Hello readers! It’s been a while since my last post and A LOT has happened. I mean 2016 was a crazy year for politics and no doubt the craziness will continue into 2017 with Brexit and President Trump. I’m sure you will have all missed my political charm and wit, covering politics in a simple manner but let’s just say i’ve taken a back seat to observe. I hadn’t planned this post and it’s quite personal of me to use ‘I’, something I rarely do on this blog but Prime Minister May has been saying quite a few things about the NHS which in the last few years has been personal to me.

This week, the NHS was once again (as it always is) the major topic of discussion as it was revealed the Red Cross have had to introduce volunteers, calling the slow demise of the NHS as a ‘humanitarian crisis’. During Wednesday’s PMQs, Theresa May denied the claim by the Red Cross, calling it ‘irresponsible and overblown’, although she does acknowledge the pressures the NHS continues to face. With that in mind, why then does the Prime Minister not think that continued failures to reach waiting time targets, to failures in diagnosing patients in time is not a humanitarian crisis when her government has failed to provide the funding the NHS needs?

As a carer for my mother, I have spent countless times in hospital, stayed overnight for weeks and seen for myself just how much pressure doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are under. Every single staff member, from porters to domestic staff to nurses and consultants have felt the result of an underfunded, understaffed NHS. Everytime my mother has needed a nurse to change her fluids or give her medication when required, there is no one around. The usual response is ‘we’re attending to more serious patients’, making my mother feel she is not worth the attention, as if her life is meaningless. You see, everyone’s life matters, it shouldn’t be a case of picking and choosing but this is what years of Tory austerity has done. I can count the number of times my mother has pressed the alert bell, waiting and waiting for a nurse or a HCA to come and attend to her. Two hours later and someone finally arrives. It’s too late, i’ve already changed my mother. I’ve already given her medication.

It’s easy for politicians and chairmen and women alike to make decisions or make comments when you’ve never experienced what it’s like to be on the receiving end. In hospitals, it’s a fight. Nurses and doctors/consultants are arguing with each other. Nurses take their frustrations out on HCAs. HCAs take their frustrations out on domestic staff and soon enough, the patients bare the brunt of it all because while these staff members are able to go home, albeit after a long, hard shift, it’s the patients who remain in hospital. Day in, day out, seeing different doctors, hearing different conversations in the middle of the night, hardly if at all getting any sleep. Not helped by the patient in the next cubicle who is using the commode or crying for help as you lie helplessly, thinking why your health has come to this. I’ve seen it all, and I can tell you now, it’ll only get worse before it gets better.

Changes need to be made if we want to truly save our beloved National Health Service. And it’s not good enough for the government to put the blame on GP surgeries.

BBC Interview with Dr Chaand Nagpaul from the British Medical Association (BMA)

The problem isn’t because GPs aren’t doing a good enough job, (from personal experience, it’s about how you push for treatment), but it’s down to the fact that as a job, it isn’t attractive to qualified doctors. Typically, GPs are old, male and of asian descent. Am I right? All my life, I have never been treated by a GP from another ethnicity or age bracket, always over 60. Now, I have no problem with that, as long as you know what you’re doing and you provide myself and my family with the right treatment, that’s ok. But there’s a problem further down the line. What happens when these old doctors retire? Where are the next generation of GPs? Most likely in hospitals or abroad, that’s where!

If you have a look on the BBC article ‘GPs being made scapegoats for A&E pressures, says BMA‘, there is a case study from Dr Matt Owen from Manchester who qualified as a GP three years ago.

“I would say demand for a seven-day week is actually not high.

“I do work extended hours on the weekend. On Sundays, it is not uncommon to be sat in my consultation room for 12 hours (08:00-20:00) with as few as five patients for the whole day.

“However, there can be a shortage of appointments and access to the GP Monday to Friday.

“The problem here is actually a shortage of GPs. No-one wants to be a GP because GPs are overworked, overused and over-regulated.”

If our government is to have a grip on the NHS and the its looming demise, it needs to

  • Provide incentives for young, up and coming qualified doctors to work in GP surgeries
  • Fund social care services
  • Stop prioritising wars over the NHS
  • Stop cuts to education

Of course, the Tories would rather privatise the whole service and be done with it.

It seems to me that our government doesn’t give our NHS staff enough credit. Lest we forget, the NHS isn’t just limited to hospitals; it’s part of a wider social care system that covers nursing homes, mental health services, home physiotherapy, dentistry, eyecare, the list goes on and on. NHS services explained… 

As I said at the beginning of this post, I hadn’t planned to write this and my absence has been due to me constantly being in and out of hospital so I like to think this will provide and insight into what i’ve witnessed. There are great doctors and nurses out there, some could do better and some are just under a lot of strain. But as a whole, from staff to patients, they all need support and it goes back to what the government will do. It’s not good enough for Theresa May to ignore the failures of her party, or her Health Secretary to continue to fail to work with doctors and unions to help improve working conditions. The NHS needs a Prime Minister who can acknowledge and act to protect the NHS from any more downfalls. The NHS isn’t a business, it’s a public service. It accounts for millions of lives every single day, it is not something to toy with it, so please, Mrs May, stop denying what’s right in front of you and start taking control.

I’d like to remain optimistic and believe our beloved NHS can be saved, but it’s going to take more than a miracle to reverse the damage done by the Tories since 2010. First of all the government needs to take the above points into account and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt really needs to hold a better relationship with doctors and doctor’s unions. Finally, NHS staff must work together, please don’t take your frustrations out on each other or your patients. Remember why you got into the health profession in the first place. The NHS was never built to make profit but to help others, and improve our quality of living. Let’s continue to keep it that way so our children and great-grandchildren can also benefit from such a service.

Scotland Votes No

For the last two years, both the Yes and No campaigns have tirelessly tried to persuade the people of Scotland to either back independence or the union. From numerous debates and watching polls with tension, in the last few weeks before the announcement of the results, it looked like Salmond was to achieve his lifetime goal of independence. However, it was all too good to be true as the referendum result was a No majority, with only 3 cities in Scotland, including Dundee and Glasgow, backing the Yes campaign. Could the last minute intervention from Gordon Brown have helped? Possibly.

End of an era: Alex Salmond looking defeated as the election results were announced on Friday morning

But at least the Queen is happy. I mention HRH because last week  (or should i say for quite a while), there was a debate as to whether she should state her views on the Scottish independence issue or not. Of course many thought she shouldn’t as she is not elected by the demos (that’s us) and thus can not influence such a political matter. However she did make a slight comment in which it was interpreted as her backing the No campaign as she hoped voters would “think very carefully about the future”. Of course she would make some intervention. Protecting her role as Queen and the 300 year old History between the two countries, how much more traditional can you get!?

So what happens now? Well firstly Alex Salmond has announced he is to resign as First Minister 😦

My first thought was why resign? I mean yes, his campaign didn’t succeed but is that the message of a leader – when we fall at the first hurdle we should give up? His resignation also shocked me because as a man who has always stood up to the ‘demons’ of Westminster, by resigning is he not just giving central government the satisfaction, Cameron included? It may have been inevitable that a No vote would have resulted in Salmond not returning to Westminster, especially after all the backlash which occurred during the tv debates, but isn’t that what politics is all about? Like i said, i was very shocked and to some extent disappointed in that Scotland’s First Minister has decided to reign in the ropes but with Nicola Sturgeon, his second in command, being his most likely replacement, i’m sure she will be a great person for the job.

Now back to Scotland as a nation. Well, since they ditched the idea of independence, the No campaign did promise more devolved powers and it seems that’s what they’ll get – devo max. What this means is that Scotland can control its own affairs in terms of policing, and taxes, including its economy. But what is devo max exactly? It is being posed as the biggest constitutional change since Ireland got home rule as Cameron promised an extension of powers to Scotland over taxes, spending and welfare policy. However, this also opened up the ‘West Lothian’ question – that is whether English MPs should only vote and make decisions on matters on, you guessed it, issues primarily concerning England. There has also been an expanision of this idea if you like to cities such as London. That is whether City Hall, the body which represents the capital, should be given more powers to better represent the ever-growing population in the capital city. Although in theory it may sound like a good idea, there comes a point where one may debate the need for Westminster politicians. Could this be the way forward for British politics? Despite huge focus being on Scotland in the last few years, there is no doubt that the referendum result has got people thinking about the way we demonstrate our democratic abilities, both us normal folk as well as politicians alike.

Unsurprisingly, Salmond disagrees, believing No voters had been ‘tricked’ by the Better Together campaign.

Whether it’s the sound of a desperate man or an attempt to tell the No voters ‘I told you so’, it may seem the SNP leader has a point. This is because at present, all three main political parties still disagree over the process in which devo max will be laid to Scotland, but do agree that it will happen. So not another empty promise it may seem? Let’s hope so anyway, for the Scots sake.

If anything, the referendum has showed Britain that political participation is still present today, despite austerity and lack of representation. With the stakes high for politicians as the general elections looms, i’m sure we will be hearing much more about devolved powers being transferred not just to Scotland but major cities as well such as London.

British politics and our constitution could change, possibly for the better but will it be sustainable? Is the union as safe as we may think despite the No vote? Just a penny for your thoughts.

For more information on devo max, click here and for latest developments on Scotland post referendum, click here

David Lammy – Next Mayor of London?

The MP for Tottenham announced earlier last week that he is to seek the Labour nomination for London Mayor in 2016. It seems h faces stiff competition as Tessa Jowell, the former Olympics minister; Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary; Margaret Hodge, the chair of the commons public accounts committee; and Diane Abbott, the former shadow public health minister, are also seen as possible candidates for the Labour nomination. Who will win? *Dun dun dun*

Hopeful? David Lammy, MP for Tottenham announced he is to stand for the 2016 mayoral election

Hopeful? David Lammy, MP for Tottenham announced he is to stand for the 2016 mayoral election

Could Lammy have an advantage? Well, with his admirable response to the London riots in 2011, which started in his constituency in Tottenham, and his highly praised  book ‘Out of the Ashes‘, which examined the causes of the riots, he could be in a chance of winning the election. Let’s not forget the fact if he wins the whole thing, he’ll become the first black Mayor of London – a turning pint? Maybe, maybe not. When asked what will happen to his role as MP, he did state he would step down in order to thoroughly carry out his new role. Least he’s not like Boris trying to take on two jobs…

He’s decided to run in order to tackle London’s ever growing housing criss. In a statement, he said:

“People I meet around the city are facing desperate problems of overcrowding, poverty and homelessness as a result of the housing crisis. London’s lack of homes is starving Londoners of the opportunities they should enjoy in this city, and depriving London business of skilled employees who can no longer afford to live and work in the capital.”

It also comes as he has published a report on this exact issue, setting out several proposals to ensure that the 63,000 homes a year that are needed in the capital are actually built. The proposals include:

  • Checking whether London’s greenbelt (that’s all the grass, unoccupied land and stuff) sites provide a public benefit. If not, they could be used for building homes.
  • Redefine ‘affordable housing’ so the definition of ‘affordable’ – so is linked to average earnings in each borough.
  • Introducing a programme of rent controls to protect tenants, limiting rent rises and creating a compulsory London Landlords Register.
  • Launching a government-loan scheme for developers to build shared ownership properties.

In the words of Mr Lammy himself, “Moving forward as a global city, there is no doubt that we must build more homes.” Hopefully whoever does win the election to be held in May 2016, let’s hope they have a good strategy to solve the housing crisis and stick to it. There’s no doubt that the role of Mayor of London comes with a great deal of responsibility. Who wins? You decide…