Though the Protection of Freedoms Act of 2012 has been considered by the Guardian’s Cian Murphy to be broadly libertarian but lacking a coherent vision, little more than “a list of legislative pet hates, mainly introduced by New Labour”, it has displayed the government’s intent on reversing the erosion of civil liberties which had mainly occurred under the leadership of Tony Blair with legislation such as the 2006 Terrorism Act.
An example is that control orders are to be replaced by TPIMs (terrorism prevention and investigation measures). These are to be more liberal than the previous control orders, with greater access to internet and phones. Moreover, people will not have to relocate as they did with control orders. However under TPIMs, people will still be subject to night-time curfews and electronic tagging. Liberty has branded TPIMs as “control order-lites” and says that they are “just the same” as the control orders they seek to replace.
The Freedom Act will also bring back the pre-charge detention limit to 14 days, from the 28 days to which it was raised by the previous Labour government. Whilst Human Rights Watch welcomes these developments, it has also criticised the coalition government for missing “an opportunity for bolder reform.” The pre-charge detention limit had garnered massive opposition in both houses following New Labour’s attempts to raise it to 90 days.
Being the world’s largest at 5million profiles, the Act will also begin scaling back the British DNA database. Though this has been met with opposition from Labour, and in particular Yvette Cooper who has said the government “are going too far on DNA retention and are going against evidence that shows it has a significant impact in bringing serious criminals to justice and exonerating innocent people”, this move has largely been welcomed. It shows a reversal of the erosion of civil liberties especially since the database had been held to be unlawful by the ECHR since the DNA of those who had never been convicted were also being retained.
Overview and analysis of the Coalitions education policy.
More than 1 in 4 of England’s state school students attend an academy school now. There are now 2886 academies compared to just 203 before the Academies Act 2010. Academies give individual schools more power by bypassing the LEA. The coalition argues this gives more funding direct to the schools (up to 10% on top of their budgets) and gives individual schools the ability to direct themselves in a way that is best for them. Labour says by encompassing all schools, not only failing schools the Coalition is benefiting more privileged societies and missing the point of an academy. Pressure groups like the anti-acadamies alliance see it as back door privatisation.
2. Free Schools
There are 149 free school across the country. 1 in 5 of the free schools has opened in an area where there are already unfilled school places, yet 9 in 10 of those free schools are over subscribed. The coalition saw it as a way to create more local competition and drive up standards. Shadow education Secretary Stephen Twigg has argued that the policy wastes too much money, trying to bring the issue back to the main political problem for the coalition. He claims the government has wasted at least 2.3m on free schools that have not even opened. £50m had been spent on free schools in the first two years of the coalition and Labour see’s it not only as costly economically but socially as well as affluent middle class parent groups set up the schools which can lead to social segregation.
3. Pupil Premium
Over Labour’s tenure in government the attainment gap between rich and poor grew 15% from 28% to 43% and 47% of free school meal pupils didn’t attain any GCSE grades higher than a D in 2006/7. This was despite per pupil funding rising 55% during the New Labour years. The Coalition government has attempted to narrow the attainment gap by introducing the pupil premium. This is £619 per ‘disadvantaged’ pupil that schools can receive, in 2013-14 they are looking to increase this to £900. The real impact of the pupil premium is minimal. The IFS said that the premium would be disproportionately beneficial to poor students in affluent areas whereas poor students in poor areas are worse off because funding is spread more thinly there. Ofsted also criticises the premium by saying it is being spent on the wrong things with only 1 in 10 schools saying it makes a difference.
4. Focus on traditional subjects
Gove wanted to replace GCSEs with the English Baccalaureate in order to focus on core subjects and improve England’s international ratings after we fell from 4th to 16th in science and 8th to 27th in maths over the New Labour years. Gove was however forced to u-turn on these plans in February amid growing pressure from the Lib Dems and select committees who saw it to create a two-tier system and reap little reward. Part of these changes also encompassed a desire to have only one exam board but the conclusion was that the plans were to rushed and risked the entire exams system.
The coalition has abolished the ‘no touch’ rule and increased fines on parents of children who truant. This is despite the fact that the introduction of fines and even prison for truancy led to no decline in the percentage who truanted during New Labours tenure. New powers have also been given to search pupils without consent and give same day detentions. Children’s rights charities challenge these changes but the general consensus is that they are a move in the right direction.
1. Tax – Difference
Labour argues that the Coalitions economic plans are hitting the ‘poorest, hardest’. The Conservatives have lowered the top rate tax to 45% and staged a decrease in corporation tax which is to be 20% by 2015. The corporation tax cut will cost the Chancellor 400m in 2015-16 and so he is taking a risk on business which links into a later point. The Labour party has said it would consider the mansion tax proposed by the Liberals. This was partly a political manoeuvre to appeal to the Liberals or cause tensions in the coalition but also to show they are the party on the side of the working class. Ed Balls claimed that the benefits of the rising of the personal allowance to £10,000 would be swamped out by the higher VAT and cuts to tax credits. Figures from the IFS supported this showing that one earner families would lose an average of just under £4,000.
2. The private sector – Difference
Osborne went about such a strong cuts agenda believing that the private sector would step in when the public sector left. The IMF has suggested the UK slow down its austerity or even look for a ‘plan B’ in the face of a ‘weak private sector’. Despite these warnings for the Chancellor, plans were unveiled earlier this year that as many as one in six civil servants would be moved into the private sector as government services such as the nudge unit and possibly the ONS become ‘mutualised’ so part owned by the private sector. You can make a synoptic link here about the commissioning of giving out disability benefits to private companies and the commissioning of the work programme to private companies. Also link it to Thatcherism. How this differs from Labour is tenuous and is basically that Labour has not announced any plans for this type of reliance on the public sector and it would be polar to their ideology. Brown said he did not want to ‘lean on the private sector’ before entering office as Chancellor.
3. Banking – Difference
The way to deal with the banks following the financial crisis is actually a clear difference between the Coalition and Labour. In Labour’s 5 point plan it says a £2bn tax on bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee for all young people out of work for a year and build 25,000 more affordable homes. The Coalition has steered away from anything to severe on the banking sector for example the cap on bankers bonuses through EU legislation was heavily opposed by Osborne. Furthermore, when Osborne announced he would ‘electrify the ring fence‘ between retail and investment banking, Labour argued this did not go far enough and Darling said there needed to be a ‘Chinese Wall’ to ensure a complete separation and protect tax payers from future problems seen from needing to bailout big banks such as RBS.
4. Cuts – Similarity
Prior to the election, Labour had said they would cut 20% in each department whilst the Conservatives said 25%. The difference is not huge and Labour had not specified what areas would be cut, nor had they ring fenced certain pots of spending. In the face of cuts to policing, local government and welfare, Labour has condemned the cuts but not said what it would do differently. It has not pledged to reverse any of the cuts either. Labour’s inaction is suggestive of passive agreement, the lack of a clear plan from the party makes it difficult to see how their cuts agenda would differ from the Coalitions. In a speech to the Fabian Society, Balls said he accepted every spending cut being imposed by the coalition and endorsed George Osborne’s public sector pay freeze, adding that it might need to continue beyond the end of the current parliament. Many see this as Balls trying to appear credible on the economy.
5. Investment – Similarity
Programmes like HS2 were initiated by the previous Labour government and survived through the Coalition. Both the government and opposition believe in investment in infrastructure projects and more projects like HS2 which can ‘help the North-South divide’ and aid future economic growth. In 2012 the government agreed for up to 40bn to be put towards infrastructure projects. Since then that figure has increased also it was recently reported that 1 in 4 projects is not set to finish on time, pressuring Osborne to speed up capital spending. Labour supports these projects and has only criticised the government for not spending more on infrastructure investment.
Can you think of any other points? Tweet us and share your ideas!
-Iain Duncan Smith suggested wealthy pensioners should voluntarily hand back their universal benefit payments
-The commons public accounts committee said the Chancellors £310bn plan to boost economic growth through infrastructure projects was unrealistic about how much private capital there was and said that taxpayers could end up shouldering the cost. This follows IMF comments on a week private sector
-Gov proposing to encourage communities to drop opposition to local fracking in exchange for cheaper energy bills
-Surgeons commissioned by government to determine when patients should be offered treatment in acknowledgement of the postcode lottery
-A majority of the public believe the governments economic plans have failed according to a com-res survey
-EU votes for ban on pesticides
-Cabinet launches attack on ring-fenced NHS budget, uprising within the cabinet is being dubbed the ‘national union of ministers’ by the treasury
-Cuts may be hit hard on early years as Department of Education looks to cut 2.5bn but the schools budget remains protected
-Prisoners have to work harder to earn privileges, 10,000 is the 2015 target for no. of inmates working in jail
-largest privatisation programme since 1980 is to be implemented by coalition as 1 in 6 civil servants could be transferred into the private sector including the nudge unit and possibly the ONS. They are to become ‘mutuals’ like co-ops, part owned by workers, the private sector and government.
-Osborne faces being forced to set aside up to £9bn for a stand alone bank crisis fund for the EU after being cornered in Brussels, previous allies Germany and Sweden agree with the principle.
-The £5bn work programme will reallocate contracts to different private firms if the current private firms don’t get people back into work quicker
-Following awful radio interview for Miliband on VAT tax cut causing an increase in borrowing, the tories say it will lead to 18.8bn more borrowing
Judicial Review: “Frivolous”, “meritless” and “… a cheap delaying tactic” – says Justice Secretary Chris Grayling
The Ministry of Justice plans to increase legal fees on Judicial Reviews and put in place tighter deadlines for applications on planning permission decisions to reduce the number of Judicial Reviews.
From Channel 4 News
From the Today Programme
Some commentators have said Philpott’s lifestyle illustrates “all that is wrong” with the benefits system.
When asked if the Philpotts were a product of Britain’s benefit system, Mr Osborne said: “It’s right we ask questions as a government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.
“It does need to be handled.”
He said Philpott “was responsible for horrendous crimes, crimes which have shocked the nation”.
His comments came amid pressure from the Tory Right to restrict child benefit to two children per household.
Former Conservative leadership challenger David Davis told The Times: “I don’t think it is a good idea to make policy on the back of one story. But there is a strong argument to restrict child benefit whether it is to two, three, or four children.”
Government figures show that the vast majority of the 7.9m families claiming child benefits have just one or two children – some 6.7m families.
The number of claimants with three children is 901,685, while 239,055 claim benefits for four children and 86,235 claim for five children or more.
The HMRC figures do not break it down any further than that. However numbers obtained by a Freedom of Information Request last year show that the numbers drop significantly after five.
In May 2011 there were 8,780 claimants with six children, 3,200 claimants with seven children, and 1,080 with eight children.
The number of claimants with nine or ten children drops down to just a few hundred, while there were less than 100 claimants with more than 10 children.
The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has previously floated the idea of limiting benefits.
In the lead up to the Conservative Party Conference last year Mr Duncan Smith proposed a two-child cap on benefits.
He questioned whether jobless families should be able to expect endless support for every child they have, when working households have to make tough choices about what they can afford.
At the time, he was backed by Mr Osborne but the idea was quashed by the Liberal Democrats in the Autumn Statement
As a raft of changes to the tax system come into effect, the government and opposition clash over the winners and losers.
-New government backed mortgage guarantee – effectively the tax payer underwrites the risk of up to 20% of mortgage values
-Budget 2013 declared changes where you can now buy a home up to £600,000 with only a 5% deposit – the treasury says this will support building 190,000 new homes but it also risks creating a housing bubble and Labour calls it a ‘subsidised mortgage for the rich’ as they buy 2nd homes. Balls goes on to compare this to the bedroom tax which hits the poorest
-Help to Buy scheme reminds us of Thatchers Right to Buy scheme and is a loan scheme – Liberal peer Lord Oakeshott says the gov has done well with private housing but needs to turn to public housing situation
-Working parents get 20% tax relief on childcare costs which equate £1,200 per child
-Tax free childcare vouchers – 20% off first 6k of childcare costs
-£200m for low income families so 85% of childcare costs are met under new universal credit 2016 – more generous than the 70% under the existing tax credits system but the resolution foundation says only 4 in 10 low paid families will actually see this 85% met by the government and that the criteria means low income families may miss out
-400,000 more people are made eligible for the basic pension
-New flate rate of £144 a week means thousands more qualify including 85,000 women for the first time
-6 million workers to face higher NI payments as the practice of ‘contracting out’ the state second pension to employers is ended – basically with this if you were going to retire soon you could contract out your money to your pension scheme while paying less NI – this is ending – hitting richer people more.
-Ending this contracting out will generate an extra £5.5bn in national insurance contributions
-Funding for Lending scheme gives banks cheap funds in return for commitments to lend to business and households but there has been a 2.4bn contraction in lending in the past year. Scheme is to be extended and ‘put on steroids’ as the credit creation programme is failing small business
-State backed business bank is to be created as credit is not getting through to smaller banks. Designed to widen sources of finance for small business, this spring it will invest £300m alongside private backers
-Project Merlin was an agreement between the government and 4 major high street banks about banking activity incl. lending and pay and bonuses
The coalition government promised to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion’ to what extent has the coalition delivered on its civil liberties agenda?
During New Labour’s time in power we lost many civil liberties. Blair justified such authoritarian measures as a necessity for more security; even Ed Balls now recognises that Labour got the balance between national security and civil liberties wrong. The coalition embarked on an ambitious policy of undoing these human rights infringements; however they have failed to meet their own targets and in some cases, caused even greater damages to our freedoms.
The coalition’s plans for secret courts, which were recently pushed through parliament, are a heightened example of the coalitions failure to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties’, rather, they are adding to it. The Justice and Security Bill, refers to “closed material proceedings” which mean that in the trial of terrorist suspects and serious criminals, the accused would not be present, nor would their lawyers or the press and the public. The victim is left unable to question or challenge the evidence or even find out why they lost. This is undemocratic and terrifying. This wasn’t mentioned in either the Liberal Democrat or Conservative manifesto, or in the Coalition Agreement. The coalition have no mandate to threaten habeas corpus as they are and the resignations of Jo Shaw MP and Dinah Rose QC, who represented Binyam Mohamed, express the dissatisfaction with the coalitions attacks on civil liberties. The coalition has failed to deliver here because the right to a free and fair trial and equal and open justice, principles which have been a pivotal in British justice system for hundreds of years, are under great danger. The coalition has had some success in other aspects where they have rolled back the power of the state. The Identity Documents Act of 2010 reversed the introduction of Labour’s ID cards (Identity Cards Act 2006) and removed the profiles of one million innocent people held on the national DNA database. The coalition was by praised campaign group Big Brother Watch for reversing the authoritarian scheme.
Though the coalition got rid of control orders, they did just replace them with another very similar policy; Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures. The coalition has failed to roll back the power of the state in this instance because TPIM’s include electronic tagging and an overnight residence requirement, heavy restrictions on where they go, but still allows for restrictions to be imposed on who they can meet and where they can go, including foreign travel bans. The main problem is that TPIM’s will still be initiated by the Home Secretary and will be run outside of the criminal justice system of investigation, arrest, charge and conviction. Liberty believe that the TPIM’s “place dehumanizing sanctions on people based on suspicion rather than evidence.” This is a violation of civil liberties and has been instituted by a supposedly liberal government. Although there are some circumstances where the coalition have reinstated civil liberties back into the law, they have not entirely “reversed the substantial erosion” like they pledged to. One such example is the Protection of Freedoms Act (2012). Introduced by Home Secretary Theresa May, the Act concerns many fields such as biometric data, regulation of surveillance and counter-terrorism measures. The Act benefits civil liberties as it removes the ‘stop and search’ regulations of the Terrorism Act 2000. The Terrorism Act was one of Labour’s most controversial acts and the stop and search powers were so extreme that they were ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
The government plans to cut £350 million from legal aid meaning it will no longer be available for tens of thousands who cannot afford legal representation. Ken Clarke believes mediation can be used in less serious cases. The legal aid reforms could affect the right to a fair trial (Article 6, Human Rights Act 1998) because one may not be able to take a particular person or issue to court due to lack of funding available. The Coalition believe the British legal aid system was too ‘generous’ and put this exaggeration before the needs of the most vulnerable in society. It is in effect an attack on civil liberties. When questioning whether the coalition has delivered on its civil liberties agenda it’s interesting to note that the coalition has gone even further in some cases. In the case of the Intercept Modernisation Programme, the coalition has actually continued the “substantial erosion of civil liberties”. This is because the IMP previously applied to terrorism alone but has now been extended into other conventional crimes. Rather than giving back civil liberties the Coalition is continuing to further hinder them. A success of the coalition’s record on civil liberties is the extension of the Freedom of Information Act (2000). This shows Clegg is keen to expand our right of access to information held by public authorities.
The particularly Conservative, but Coalition nonetheless, plan to remove the Human Rights Act shows the erosion of civil liberties is set to continue. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling wants the Human Rights Act to be scrapped; this would rid the ECHR convention from British law. The Home Secretary, Theresa May wants to go further and proposes leaving the court as well as the convention. Both of these senior Conservative ministers have no regard for the rights which the HRA gives citizens. These liberties include rights to freedom, free speech and freedom of religion. Each is fundamental and losing the Act would be a terrible blow for civil liberties in the UK. Cameron says he would be making much quicker progress on removing the HRA if it wasn’t for the opposition it has been met with by his Coalition partners; so there are some liberal tendencies remaining in the Liberal Democrat Party. One cannot be fooled by such a pledge to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. What would the Bill of Rights entail that the Human Rights Act doesn’t already cover? Clearly Cameron plans to include restrictions on civil liberties in the Bill of Rights or there would be no need to introduce it. One of the most influential changes Nick Clegg has made during the coalition is reducing the pre charge detention limit from 28 days to 14. This is a step in the right direction. There has been some progress toward reversing Labour’s authoritarian tenure
The coalition is yet to meet their promise. In terms of secret courts, the coalition seems less concerned about national security and instead worried about what happened under Labour happening again. Embarrassingly the government had to admit British intelligence services had been complicit in rendition and torture. Civil liberties were supposedly an aspect of policy where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats saw eye to eye… Unfortunately this hasn’t proved to be the case as reform is slow and minimal. The Coalition has failed to deliver on its civil liberties agenda.
Upon entering office, Osborne said he wanted the UK’s AAA credit rating to act as a ‘benchmark’ for his performance as Chancellor. Compared to Osborne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander at the time described the credit rating as ‘not the be all and end all’. Moody’s downgrade of the UK’s credit rating to AA1 and many other services comes at a painful time for the Chancellor, for whom the Spring budget will be crucial in appeasing backbenchers and fellow ministers already looking around for a replacement.
Following 2 years of u-turns and delays, with 70% of budget cuts yet to come into force yet, Osborne is reluctant to make another u-turn on the governments economic plans. Promising ‘we won’t change course’ Osborne seemed out in the cold among his Tory peers until Cameron came to his semi-rescue responding that the credit rating demonstrated that ‘we have to go further and faster on reducing the deficit’.
However, recent discussions on the 2015-16 budget proposals have highlighted frosty relationships in the cabinet as Cable, May and Hammond among others argue with Osborne over his proposals. The estimated £448m cut to the Home Office is equivalent to 9,800 police officers and the proposed £1.4bn cut to local government many argue will eventually lead to councils only being able to provide services they are legally required to.
As the ONS confirmed its figures for 2012 Q4 it was a reminder for the Chancellor of targets missed. The 2011 budget forecast that investment would be +2.9% while instead it was -0.6%. Furthermore as Osborne planned to ‘rebalance the economy away from a reliance on government and household spending’ it was projected that household consumption would decrease 1.7% while instead it rose 1.8%.
Another sad story for Osborne this week were the results of his high tech enterprise zones. 24 zones promised to create 30,000 jobs by the end of parliament however after a year of being set up, only 1,700 jobs have been created and some zones have barely any tenants.
Looking forward, Osborne in meetings with backbenchers was warned several times not to repeat the ‘omnishambles’ of the last budget and after coming under fire for making each budget a different fiscal plan creating uncertainty in the economy, it’ll be interesting to see what the Chancellor proposes on 20th March.