Weekly Parliament Roundup: 6th -12th September
By Gloria Ganda
0.7% of national income to be given to foreign aid?
MPs have backed a new law which commits to spending 0.7% of national income on foreign aid. This means that roughly £11bn per year will be given to international aid and development after the Tories have finally backed the Liberal Democrat bill which is also supported by Labour. The legislation was opposed by just seven Conservative MPs and both the Tories and the Liberals are one step ahead of fulfilling one of their manifesto promises to put the 0.7% measure into law. Despite the majority agreeing to the new legislation, the Tories primarily were hesitant towards the legislation as they thought it was unpopular with their grassroots in the difficult economic climate which we are in. However, it looks as though the Legislation could soon come to force.
Polls tighten on Scottish Independence Referendum
With the Scottish Independence Referendum only days away (18th September), the polls are illustrating that for now, it is too close to call whether Scotland will be staying in or pulling out of the UK. Thus far, the No campaign is leading with 51% but the Yes campaign are closely catching up with 49%. Despite this, there are still 17% of voters who are still undecided. The no campaign is still reaching closer and closer, despite a week of intense political campaigning by pro-union politicians and repeated warnings from business about the dangers of independence. The ultimate decision heavily depends on the voters who are not yet decided but either way, we will be able to witness the fate of Scotland and their relationship with the UK on the 18th .
Boris selected to stand for Tories in Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Boris Johnson is set to make his great comeback to Westminster after being elected as the Conservative candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip on Friday night. Johnson defeated three other candidates on the short list following a secret ballot of party members in the constituency. He wants to return in team for a leadership contest which might take place if Cameron loses the general election next year. He stated that the process was “very enjoyable” and paid tribute to his three unsuccessful opponents. Furthermore, Boris denied that this was the start of a campaign to enter Downing Street and was instead the beginning of a battle to retain the west-London seat, which has a Tory majority of more than 11,000, for the Conservatives and stopping Labour from winning the next election.
Pick of the Papers
Examples to use for A-level Government and Politics exams. Click the links for articles and for more information.
Source: The Independent
A2 Topic: Welfare
AS Topic: Elections
Summary: Nick Clegg has launched 300 new policies in the pre-draft of his manifesto before the Glasgow conference which takes place in october. and it has emerged that Housing and childcare are the main priorities that the Lib Dems will prioritise if there is another hung parliament. Promising to build 300,000 homes a year and £2.8bn a year in expansion it is a key part of the Lib Dems’ dream to “ to help all families with childcare support and nursery education right the way through from the end of parental leave to the start of school.” The Tories to them “are more bothered about helping only some couples through a married couples’ tax break.”
Source: The Independent
AS Topic: Constitution/Parliament
A2 Topic: Welfare state
Summary: As the Yes Campaign is gaining more support towards the referendum date of 18th of September, Westminster has panicked, offering more powers to Scotland, including more tax powers, welfare powers and control over the welfare state. However, Osborne is still adamant over the Scots not allowing to enter a currency union with the rest of the UK if it leaves the union.
Source: The Independent
AS Topic: Democracy
A2 Topic: Crime and Order
Summary: The Lib Dems have promised to crack down on intimate photos being posted online without the consent of the person in response to hackers who posted intimate photos of female celebrities. They have also called for a ‘digital bill of rights’ in which the individual has their privacy protected as well as giving them more control over their personal data. Julian Huppart, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman has stated “Protecting people’s privacy is an essential part of building the society we want to live in, and when people violate that, there have to be proportionate powers available to hold those responsible to account.”
Source: The Guardian
AS Topic: PM and Cabinet
A2 Topic: Economy
Summary: As austerity measures continue to be implemented in the UK economy, Osborne has refused to comment on the thinktank Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) which has claimed that defence spending will fall to 1.8%, instead stating that “I think we need to continue to meet the 2% commitment,” adding that as chancellor he will always put Britain’s security needs first. This is in response to the growing threat of Isis in which two American journalists have been executed and a third British person is under threat.
Source: The Telegraph
A2 Topic: Economy
Summary: Osborne has announced that rail fares can only rise in terms of RPI (retail price inflation) which went up by 2.5 points this summer. Talking to the Sun, the Chancellor stated that “Support for hardworking taxpayers is at the heart of our long term economic plan” and has said that train firms will lose the flexibility to raise fares, thus giving more certainty to railway travellers.
By Kevin Augustine
A modest revision guide I prepared for Woodhouse Politics students, with the specification and example questions, Revision Handbook
Compassion, not coercion, is the answer to Britain’s drug problem.
Over the last two weeks, the main talking point in British politics has been the televised debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage concerning the issue of Europe. As much as I hate to admit it, Nigel Farage came off far better, and Clegg was largely left mumbling about how Farage either loves Putin or was a conspiracy theorist who thought Elvis was still alive. It was clear that the two men are not obvious political allies, and that they are divided on almost every issue. I say almost, because there is one area on which the two men find consensus: drug policy reform.
Farage declared that the war on drugs had been lost ‘many, many years ago’, and that he supported full decriminalisation. I never thought that I would say this, but bravo Mr Farage. Completely at odds with his party, the Ukip leader has bravely gone exactly where he should be going. Ukip advertises itself as a Libertarian Party, and by supporting full decriminalisation of drugs in the UK, Farage is showing that this claim might not be totally off the mark. I’ve always been sceptical of the claim that Ukip were Libertarians, it seemed to me that they were Libertarian about issues they wanted to be (environment and taxation) and not so much about issues they didn’t want to be (same-sex marriage and drug legalisation), but perhaps with the announcement that Farage does support same-sex marriage, followed by this new announcement, they will soon genuinely be able to make that claim.
Likewise, in February of this year, Clegg announced, after a visit to Columbia, that, ‘if you are anti-drugs, you should be pro-reform’. Impressively, Clegg became the first party leader to stand up against our failed drug policy and say that things needed to change. Although some may see this as an attempt to differentiate the Lib-Dems from the Conservatives in the run-up to the general election, it is, without doubt, a step in the right direction. The general public have realised that British Drug laws aren’t working, with the majority of people agreeing that government’s approach to illegal drugs is ineffective, and now politicians are beginning to realise too.
I think that most people agree that drugs are an awful stain on our society, but this does not mean that criminalisation is the answer. People die at the hands of these drugs, but there is no evidence to suggest that making them illegal means that fewer people will take them. The country that spends the most money, by far, on its anti-drugs campaign is the United States, and yet, it leads the table for the highest cocaine use in the world, it leads the table for the highest cannabis use in the world, and it leads the table for the most people in prison for drug use in the world. Why? Wouldn’t you expect, given the amount of money that is spent on keeping people from using drugs, that the rates of abuse would be much lower? Portugal is another interesting case study. In 2001, drug use was decriminalised across the country, and yet, its annual prevalence of cocaine use is 0.3% compared to the US’ 2.8%, and its annual prevalence of cannabis use is 7.6% compared to the US’ 51.6%. Put simply, the United States’ drug laws are not working, but Portugal’s are. The United Kingdom is not far behind the United States, being third in the world for cocaine use and ninth in the world for cannabis use.
Some may argue that Portugal’s drug use has always been lower than that of the United States (or the UK), and that the decriminalisation was not what made the difference, but rather a difference of culture. The statistics again show that this is untrue. Portugal’s reformed policy lead to a reduction in drug related deaths, a reduction in drug use among teenagers, an increase uptake of treatment programs, and a reduction in HIV deaths due to shared needles. What we have seen in Portugal is not a wave of new drug users who have been enticed by their decriminalisation, as we have been warned about by our government, we have not seen more people dying as we have been told there would be, and we have not seen more young people turning to drugs. What we have been told is simply wrong.
So, what is the answer? Compassion and care for drug users. We need to treat drug use, not drug users, as the problem. We need to offer treatment and advice, and try to make sure people are not in a bad enough state that they resort to drug use in the first place. We know the causes of drug abuse, and we know that people in poverty are much more likely to resort to using hard drugs. Income inequality is another factor behind drug use; we know that the worse a country scores on the Gini Coefficient (a measurement of income inequality), the more likely they are to have a drug-taking population. Interestingly, one country that bucks the trend here is Portugal, where there is high income inequality yet low drug use. Any guesses as to why?
The British political landscape is changing. In 2010, we saw the first hung parliament since 1974, showing that the people of the UK are disillusioned with the main two political parties. The smaller parties are rising fast, and these are the parties who are pushing for radical drug law reform. It is only so long until the main parties catch up. I say, the sooner, the better.
The Impact of the NSA files on the Coalition’s civil liberty record
The NSA files leaked by Edward Snowden to Glen Greenwald (former Guardian journalist) from June 2013 exposed the extent of international surveillance by, supposedly democratic governments, across the world. The leaks found Britain’s intelligence agency (GCHQ) working in conjunction with the National Security Agency (NSA) to bypass each other’s national laws for the sake of internet and communications surveillance. The leaks revealed that not only under the Coalition but under Labour, governments had been acting without any consent, collecting ‘meta data’ on mass, without even cabinet ministers’ knowledge.
Many feel that the NSA and GCHQ have gone too far and that collecting hundreds of billions of international internet and telephone data items is a threat to their civil liberties. Edward Snowden, a self-proclaimed libertarian, perhaps with similar views to the conservative party on migration and welfare, did not intend to harm people’s safety; he also insists that he has not leaked information to Chinese or Russian officials. On an internet forum he once stated that leakers of classified information should be “shot in the balls”. But after being revealed the extent of the surveillance; he knew that citizens should be properly informed.
After looking at the government’s failure to implement surveillance law in the past, it is clear why this information was kept secret. Under Labour, the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), a government initiative which meant internet and telephone providers are to store email and telephone contacts for twelve months received strong criticism from the Conservatives . And yet, while in government Theresa May proposed furthering the IMP under the Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the snoopers charter) which would require Internet and mobile providers to keep records of each user’s internet browsing, voice calls, emails, mobile phone messages and even internet gaming for twelve months.
This legislation has not been enacted into law, as even the deputy PM Nick Clegg withdrew his support April last year. He stated that, he had “a number of serious criticisms – not least on scope, proportionality, cost (estimated £1.8 billion), checks and balances, and the need for much wider consultation” . A survey on YouGov found that 71% of Britons “did not trust that the data will be kept secure”, and half described the proposal as “bad value for the money.” Therefore the bill was dropped.
However the NSA leaks, revealed after the Communications Data Bill, are much more widespread and intrusive than the Data Bill would have been. Many have criticised the Conservative’s reaction to the leaks, 70 leading human rights organisations have written an open letter to Cameron in anger of the government’s minimal reaction. Also they criticised the detention of David Miranda another Guardian Journalist under the Terrorism Act 2000 . Nick Clegg has been critical of the government in light of the NSA leaks, and Ed Miliband states that “Labour will make substantial changes to the oversight of British Intelligence agencies.”
The leaks show that the UK government has acted irresponsibly with no accountability. They say ‘if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’; maybe this should be said to our government.
Is the economy rebalancing as proposed?
It is coming up to 4 years since Osborne decided the UK economy needed to be rebalanced. By ‘rebalancing’, he proposed a self-sustainable and largely export led economy. An economy that no longer relied on the financial services of the City, which appears to benefit suited men who know better how to ruin an economy better than those on Downing Street know how to fix one. Moreover Osborne pleaded for an economy with a higher propensity to save as opposed to one which will pay the price for further unsustainable private and public debt. Four years on, there seems to be a lack of policy aimed towards accomplishing a rebalanced economy.
When the economic recovery began in 2009 the conditions seemed to be in place for a manufacturing exports-led resurgence. The pound depreciated significantly during the financial crisis, providing UK manufacturers with a competitive edge. And with domestic spending still slow, it wouldn’t have been surprising for UK firms to look to overseas sales for growth. Manufactured goods are the dominant element in international trade – accounting for 75% of all UK exports. However as expected it is the services industries which have driven the UK recovery. Service output has now passed its pre-crisis peak, whereas manufacturing production is languishing nearly 10% down on its early 2008 level.
Moreover, whilst the UK has many successful manufacturing firms, our strengths are concentrated in a small number of sectors – aerospace, pharmaceuticals, high-value engineering and car production. Britain does not have the broad manufacturing base which has allowed Germany to be so successful in expanding its exports to Asia and other high growth emerging market economies. However economists at Citi reckon the UK’s exports have risen by 182%, in cash terms, in the last 10 years – five times faster than the UK’s exports to advanced economies. Within that, exports to China have risen six-fold since 2002, and exports to India are nearly five times higher. Goods exports to emerging markets now account for nearly a third of our goods exports, up from 17% in 2002. However with the emerging market economies slowing down, our hopes of rebalancing further may be even more dependent on the Eurozone’s recovery than they were before.
Over the recovery, the private sector has created 1.5 million jobs – predominantly in services – greatly offsetting the reduction of about 500,000 in public sector employment. This ideological approach to rebalancing has been working, although it has been isolating those in the public sector greatly whose lack of skills and the lack of private sector employment in regions such as the North East mean they have added to the inconsistent shift from public to private sector growth.
The UK economy is rebalancing – but not as we expected. Rebalancing is happening within the services industries rather than in favour of the manufacturing industry. As long as this is accompanied by export success and rising employment, as it has been so far, we should welcome and support Britain’s services-led recovery.
Weekly Parliament Roundup: 10th March – 16th March
New Budget to be announced by Osborne
George Osborne will be announcing his 5th and final budget on Wednesday. Conservative Backbenchers want more tax cuts for middle earners and they also whish for changes at the level at which which the 40p tax rates kicks in. However, he insists that his priority is to increase the personal allowance on which no income tax is paid. Furthermore, Osborne apparently said that if more people pay 40p tax rate. This is supposedly good news for the conservatives and will boost aspirations as they’ll feel like they’ve succeeded. There might be some big increases in the growth forecast but there is still little room for manoeuvre and Ed Balls has recently accused the conservatives of failing to stem the UK’s cost of living Crisis.
Michael Gove calls Eton filled Tory inner circle ‘Ridiculous’
In a recent interview, Michael was asked if he was comfortable being Education Secretary taking into consideration the fact that there are so many old Etonians within Cameron’s inner circle. As a reply, he exclaimed that the whole thing was ‘ridiculous’ and that he didn’t know any other advanced country in the world that would allow this kind of situation to exist. It is unsure what Mr Gove meant by this remark but he stated that he wished to emphasise the fact that the need for state education needs to be improved. Gove’s Eton remark is however partially true as there is a need for Parliament to be more diverse in terms of educational backgrounds.
Miliband ‘unlikely’ to call EU referendum
Ed Miliband has admitted in an article for the Financial Times that Labour would be unlikely to hold an in/out referendum on membership of the EU if he becomes Prime Minister. He claims that setting an ‘arbitrary timetable’ for a referendum would ‘inflict huge uncertainty on business and undermine Britain’s influence abroad’. The only reason why Labour would call an in/out referendum is if there were any significant transfer of powers to the EU but he suggests that this is ‘unlikely’. Peter Mandelson stated that Miliband’s decision concludes in him thinking that he has shown ‘judgement and courage’ whilst adding ‘I think he’s gone out and made the political weather on a major issue and I think as a result it will strengthen him and help him win the next election.’
‘Feminists need a good slap’ says ex Tory aide
Stewart Green, an aide to a Conservative MP has resigned after calling feminists ‘‘whingeing imbeciles’’who ‘‘need a good slap around the face’’. Stewart told his Facebook friends he was “sick to the back tooth” of “wretched women MPs who seem to be constantly going on about there not being enough women in frontline politics”. He rattled on further by adding that, ‘’This country has been a gradual decline southwards towards the dogs ever since we started cow-towing to the cretinous pseudo-equality demand of these whinging [sic] imbeciles.” Additionally, he referred to a woman last year who refused to take his offer of a seat on the bus as a “fat ginger b****,” whilst adding, “I am absolutely sick and tired of this feminism nonsense. It really has gone too far’’
*** Economy update – March 2014 ***
The tide has somewhat turned in the Conservatives favour. Less than 18 months until the General election and the economy seems to be resuscitating. Better late than never I suppose. With Mr Osborne revealing his last budget for this Parliament next week, the Tory party are trying to map out their economic stance. It is clear that the 2015 general election will be laden with tax and spend policies, as the main parties not only try to prove that they are economically credible but that their policies seek to benefit the hard working.
The first three years of the coalition were characterised by flat lining growth, missed targets, a loss of Britain’s AAA debt rating and a triple-dip recession scare. However, the latter part of 2013 saw improvements in almost all macroeconomic sections. Economic growth for 2013 measured up at 1.8% compared to the sluggish 0.3% of 2012. Osborne insists that his “long term economic plan is working”, with economic growth complemented by increased investment and fast pace job creation in the service sector. Despite Osborne’s “long term” economic plan, Labour still maintain that the government is not meeting its longer term goals as the majority are yet to feel the benefits of this recovery as their wages are eroded by inflation and battle with the so called “cost of living” crisis. Not to mention, the economy is still smaller than it was pre-crisis and this recovery has taken far too long. Economists have started to water down expected forecasts for the economy as low productivity levels stifle economic growth.
Unemployment figures have also fallen to 7.2%. As we approach the 7% figure earlier than expected, the Bank of England has revised its earlier decision to raise interest rates when unemployment falls below 7%. Significantly, youth and long term unemployment have also fallen, an issue that poses the most threat to the economy. Rachel Reeves, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, believes unemployment levels are still too high and that there is still more work to be done. The fall, although welcomed by the Labour Party had the caveat “the government must not be complacent”. Miliband insists wages are £1,600 less than what they were in 2010, and that 13 million people are living in poverty. As unemployment continues to decrease, so does the spare capacity within the economy – what this means is that the economy needs to grow by a faster rate in order to deter inflationary pressures. Inflation is now close to the Bank of England’s inflation target (2%) as it dropped to 1.9% in December to January. Although wages have only risen by 1.3%, some expect wages to rise at a similar rate of inflation, and with plans to raise the minimum wage to £6.50 in October this seems likely to happen before May 2015.
Both Labour and Conservatives have committed themselves to running a budget surplus in the next Parliament but this is very difficult to visualise since the deficit still remains at £111bn. The Lib Dems have accepted the Conservatives’ plans to eliminate the deficit but say that they would go about it in a much ‘fairer’ way; through a mixture of higher taxes and cuts in government expenditure. Just a few months ago, the Lib Dems proposed to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,500. What this would mean is that the first £10,500 earned would be tax exempt. The Tories have now claimed this policy as their own. Cameron says that he will prioritise tax cuts for the low paid in an attempt to shake off the perception they are out of touch, protecting the rich.
It is still premature to conclude that this upturn is down to fiscal conservatism and austerity, but confidence in the economy is key, and with people spending more and businesses increasing investment it is likely that the economy will continue to strengthen in the lead up to the election. All the parties know what the next election will be fought on, as Bill Clinton once said, ‘it’s the economy stupid’.
David Cameron discusses the UK economy, immigration and the threat of UKIP.
PCCs: Powerful, Capable Crime-fighting?
With a 14% average turnout to the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November 2012, is it really any wonder that news regarding PCCs has disappeared from the mainstream media and government agenda. Simply put – no one cares; a notion reflected in the poor turnout. However, despite the obvious lack of attention from media outlets the Commissioners, and their £100k pay packets, have been busy at work fulfilling their jobs of helping to guide the police and create that all important community link. Or have they? This article will aim to assess the work of the PCCs up to now, whether they have been effective in aiding communities, or if they’ve been a waste of time and resources.
For many areas, the introduction of PCCs has brought many welcomed changes and benefits. It seems like the majority of the 41 elected have taken their job seriously and introduced schemes, which benefit their community. The PCC for Cheshire, for example, has launched a mobile surgery so that he can speak to people at the heart of the community to find out the main concerns and issues that need to be tackled. Further to this, Avon and Somerset have introduced an online service called ‘TrackMyCrime’ so complainants can track what is happening to their reported crime and receive real time updates from officers. Both of these examples show how the PCCs have made the police part of the community as well as more accessible, fulfilling some of the original aims.
However, as is inevitable there are plenty of criticisms and complaints about the current crop of PCCs. In individual cases there have been claims of expenses fiddling or claiming expenses they were not entitled to. Clive Grunshaw PCC for Lancashire, for example, has been investigated by the IPCC on two occasions for alleged expenses abuse. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded the evidence suggests he was not seeking financial gain because he did not claim on 28 occasions when he could have, despite making 37 incorrect claims elsewhere. But while there were no financial ramifications for Mr Grunshaw, the PCC for Norfolk Stephen Bett had to pay back £3000 that he claimed. Mr Bett amassed a sum of £4947.75 for driving to and from work, something that “did not seem consistent with the objective of his commission which says it cut costs for Norfolk’s police service.” Mr Bett, though still holding the belief that he was entitled to the money decided to pay back some money so as not to “tarnish the reputation of policing in Norfolk.”
Further criticisms include the ability to hire and fire chief constables. This was a power that had received criticism leading to the Home Affairs Select Committee, mainly, coming to the defence of the PCCs. They said that although it was easy for a Chief Constable to be removed, there are strict protections in place to prevent any unjust firings. This doesn’t however make up for occasions such as in Gwent where Chief Constable Carmel Napier retired while under pressure from commissioner Ian Johnston, or in Avon and Somerset where Chief Constable Colin Port decided not to reapply for his job. (The full story can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-23387324 )
So while many PCCs have been very effective at fulfilling their job description, others have had criticisms raised or appear to be taking advantage of their position, representing a very mixed bag. This is somewhat like the political reception too. The Coalition is still very much in favour of the PCCs. Despite the poor turnout in the elections and the problems that have occurred, Theresa May in particular described them as a success saying that “crime is falling” as a result.
Labour, on the other hand, have been big critics of the Commissioners. In their eyes this was simply a way of politicising the police and many, including former ministers Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke, have called for the PCCs to be scrapped entirely. Furthermore, a report that suggested the scrapping of the job was backed by Ed Miliband who described it as a “real plan for the next Labour government.”
The conclusion here is somewhat predictable. As a whole the concept of PCCs seems to be unpopular, which isn’t surprising when the public see examples of fiddling expenses and the ‘sacking’ of Chief Constables. Yet it certainly isn’t all bad. Many PCCs have started to make a positive impact on their community in many ways, perhaps without people taking notice yet. The effectiveness of PCCs is very much on an individual basis and whether the PCC for a particular area has the drive to achieve what they want to. It’s extremely difficult to conclude whether the PCCs have been worth it or not, this is probably a very individual thing depending on what view you hold. All that can be said is if people started paying more attention to their PCC, as the mainstream media has neglected to, they will get a clearer idea whether they have been worth it or not.
If you’re looking for some more information this page provides a good overview of the PCCs (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19504639 ). Watch the video below and you can see what happened when Hitler became a PCC…