public sector

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…

 

Advertisements

“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.