Sunday, 30 May 2010

A week is a long time in politics....

A cliche often over used but for poor David Laws this really is appropriate. He was lauded by all following his performance in the Commons in the week, passionately and eloquently defending his £6.2bn spending cut plans. Even senior Labour figures were publicly impressed, and some believed he was beginning to outshine his boss, George Osborne.
However after just 17 days in his role of Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws was yesterday forced to resign from his post after it was revealed, once again by The Daily Telegraph, that he had claimed over £40000 in second home expenses whilst cohabiting with his long term partner. It's a sad state of affairs, particularly as it does genuinely appear that Laws was trying to protect his privacy and that of his lobbyist partner, James Lundie. Perhaps though Law, a millionaire by the time he was 28 after a glittering career in the City at JP Morgan and Barclays, could have taken a hit from his own pocket rather than putting through the claim if he were so keen to keep his sexuality in the closet?
No doubt a blow to Clegg and Cameron as the first 'old politics' scandal strike the very heart of a rising star of the 'new politics'. Both have focussed heavily on the need to clean up Westminster and therefore could not afford to back Laws, especially as Cameron has so publicly disciplined his own MP's accused of similar crimes during the last parliament. Both men did express their desire to see Laws return to the cabinet, perhaps when the dust settles; in the meantime he will be replaced by the current Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander, who worked alongside Laws and senior Conservatives during the coalition talks in May.

The above news closes a busy end to May for our new government which several big announcements including the publication of the full Coalition Agreement, the report on the first wave of spending cuts and the Queens Speech on Tuesday. Cameron then made his first key speech as PM in West Yorkshire, focussing on ending the benefit culture and rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Key points to come out of the coalition agreement include the following:

  • Parliamentary reform which will be lead by Nick Clegg. This will include a referendum on the Alternative Voting system, to be held in this parliament. Other elements will include the reform of the House of Lords, fixed parliamentary terms and the controversial move to change rules relating to the dissolution of parliament. Clegg compared the proposals to those of the 1832 Reform Act and vowed to act swiftly. However the announcement of the new peerages at the end of the week smacked of old politics with several Tory donors entering the house including Simon Wolfson, Chief Executive of Next, who is was a key signatory of the 'anti jobs tax' letter that played such a large part in the election campaign. Dolar Popat, who has donated c £200k to the Tories was also given a peerage. On the Labour benches John Prescott and Angela Smith were amongst the names entering the Lords, along with a number of Gordon Browns personal advisors.
  • Big changes were announced in Education this week also, with all schools now given the opportunity to apply for academy status. This is a change from the previous governments policy which only allowed failing schools to apply in an attempt to inject private money and improve performance. Initial fears are of a two tier system of education where struggling schools are left to implode and 'outstanding' schools turn into academies and increase their resources. The news has met with a mixed reaction within the education sector. Meanwhile it was also announced that any spending promises made since January 2010 by the Labour government will now be reviewed, threatening several school building projects across the country. The Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed at the end of the week that it would be impossible to continue with the current school building projects and go ahead with the proposals relating to academies. It is starting to become apparent that education is going to be a key department for change in the early months of the coalition. 
  • The changes relating to Health were largely expected with the announcement of changes to the way the senior positions in the NHS are appointed. There is to be an elected board of executives, although we await more detail of how this will work. There will be a reduction in administration costs within the NHS of 33% according to the agreement. The Tory proposal to rename the department the Department of Public Health seems to have been quashed. Some disappointing news though, the Tory pledge to build a new hospital in the North East to replace aging facilities in Stockton and Hartlepool has been scrapped. The £464m project, called Wynyard Park was backed by the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley prior to the election.
  • Royal Mail is backing the news after the coalition detailed its plans for the troublesome service. It announced that it plans to sell off Royal Mail, whilst retaining Post Office Ltd under government control. The policy, which was scrapped by Labour earlier this year will be controversial given the strength of the unionised workforce, market changes and the difficulty in finding a buyer for the business. Peter Mandelson was forced to scrap his own policy; blaming the lack of interest from the private sector. The coalition proposal has not ruled out the possibility of employee ownership.
  • European policy was largely as expected with a pledge that no further powers will be devolved to Europe during the lifetime of this parliament. a stark reminder to Nick Clegg, the most EU friendly of all senior political figures that he is dealing with a Conservative Party that still views Europe with enormous suspicion. 
  • Increase in Capital Gains Tax, this is a policy where we are awaiting more detail and already has caused ripples of discontent. CGT currently stands at 18%, much lower than the normal rates of income tax and therefore creating a convenient tax loophole that is exploited by many. The government is under pressure to ensure that those close to retirement age are not penalised as well as protecting small businesses. 
  • An interesting proposal is the changing of the laws around rape. The government is proposing that men accused of rape will, like victims, will be entitled to anonymity until such time as they are found guilty. The thinking behind this is that a large number of those wrongly accused find that their reputations are irreversibly damaged and that they are unable to return to their previous lives after the court case. However, the move has been widely critised by women's groups and those representing rape victims. One commentator noted that this was like going back in time by 25 years, and will stop women coming forward to report crime. A number of men have been convicted as a result of more victims coming forward when their rapist is identified, most recently in the case of John Warboys the 'Black Cab rapist'.
The coalition agreement covers some 400 legislative proposals in total, but still has a lack of detail especially on the Immigration Cap which we know will apply to all non EU citizens although we are still none the wiser as to how the cap will work or what the number will be. There are clearly still some areas over which the Tories and Liberal Democrats cannot find agreement, such as the Human Rights Act and Social Care and the interim solution here seems to be to set up a number of commissions. There are at least nine to be set up, many of which have one year to report back.

Monday 24th May saw the publication of the first wave of spending cuts announced at the Treasury by George Osborne and the aforementioned David Laws. As promised during the election campaign £6.2bn (gross) spending cuts were announced, making little more than a scratch on the surface of the current deficit but still managing to grab headlines with cuts such as the following:

  • Scrapping Child Trust Funds completely by the end of 2010
  • Reduction in ministerial spending, ministers will be encouraged to share cars and travel second class (although one of my followers did spot Teresa May and her leopard skin shoes in the 1st class carriage returning from the Police Federation conference on the South Coast to London last week....). However it later transpired that ministerial red boxes will have to travel by car for security reasons....
  • £80m cuts from Education QUANGO's
  • Reduction of 11% in costs from the Department for Business
  • Reduction in the number of extra university places from 20000 to 10000 this year
  • Scrapping Regional Development Agencies in the South of England
  • Several cuts in transport budgets, likely to lead to an increase in train fares
  • Huge 'wastage' cuts from the Local Government and Communities departments
  • £27m cut from the Olympics budget
The general theme of the cuts was, as promised during the election campaign, to cut government wastage. Across most departments we see proposals to cut spending on IT projects, administration, recruitment, consultancy and property costs. There is to be a freeze on all non essential public sector recruitment effective straight away.

So far things seem to be panning out as expected, and to be fair, as promised. The government is continually warning us that tough times are ahead and these initial policies are only the tip of the iceberg. What lies ahead in the next few weeks and months? All agree that the emergency budget on 22nd June will include deeper and more harrowing cuts in public spending and more than likely are increase in VAT to this space.....

    Wednesday, 26 May 2010


    Apologies for the lack of activity on the site. I am currently reading the Coalition Agreement, the Spending Report and the Queens Speech and will attempt to summarise all three and report back in the next few days.
    I will also look at some of the immediate changes that have been announced such as the invitation for all schools to take up Academy status....Any comments or thoughts you have on any of this weeks events please feel free to blog!

    Monday, 17 May 2010

    The waiting game....

    The weekend press was full of speculation regarding likely policies of our new LibCon coalition but it seems we will have a short wait to see exactly what the Queens Speech will contain next week. There was a briefing this morning from George Osborne from the Treasury although this wasn't specific in terms of cuts, it just confirmed the date of the budget will be June 22nd. As expected he made a point of stating that things were even worse than expected and that tough times are ahead because of the mess that was left behind; however he still insisted that the savings this year can primarily come from 'government waste' rather than an increase in taxes. He refused to be drawn on the expected rise in VAT, perhaps this tells us what we need to know?
    There is increasing dissent from all sides regarding the proposal to change the rules around the dissolution of parliament. The proposal is that rather than simply requiring a majority, i.e. 51%, of MP's to dissolve the house and therefore call an election 55% will instead be required. David Davis is the most senior Tory voice to oppose this, along with other member of the house; it's predicted this bill could have a rocky ride through the Lords.
    An arguably cynical piece below relating to means testing child benefit; not something we have heard as yet but thought to be a likely cut. The article contains individual quotes from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stating that they will not means test; will the coalition be used as an excuse to implement such a policy? See this link for the full article Child Benefit

    I will update with any further news as it comes through but as ever please do comment and post your thoughts.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Settling dust....

    For the first time today it feels as if things are returning to normal....out and about I didn't overhear a single conversation about politics and the BBC's 'BREAKING NEWS' banner has gone from announcements such as 'BROWN RESIGNS' to 'Nick Herbert gets Policing Minister'.  Hmm not quite as sexy is it?
    David Cameron chaired his first coalition cabinet meeting since WWII and things looked very cosy with Nick wedged between a couple of Tories and Dave vice versa. Lovely. All the papers have used the wedding analogy and things look reasonably cosy two days in...but that is not our concern. My interest is policy - what is happening, which promises are being kept and/or broken and how it is affecting us day to day.
    Things are still reasonably sketchy, and most of todays information came from radio and TV interview soundbites from the new cabinet ministers. Things to watch out for.....Olympics budget will not be protected....LibDems can abstain on new nuclear power station, which are unlikely to be built as they won't be government funded.....persistant rumours that VAT will increase to 20% and that employees NI will increase as per Labour plans in April 2011.....
    Perhaps no huge surprises as we know we are in for tough times in the next few months and years but lets see what else comes through in the next few days as we move away from the media frenzy to more mundane Westminster affairs and eagerly await the Queens Speech on May 25th.  

    The Department for Children, Schools and Families with its bright rainbow logo has already been renamed today by Michael Gove. It is back to the Department for Education (cost of renaming and rebranding??)  we understand that as per the Tory manifesto the majority of Sure Start centres will close in order to save money in this department. Speaking to a worker in our local centre yesterday she was nervous about the future, which she believes is assured until 2011,  as these centres are, in my experience, widely praised and provide an excellent support network for families and mothers in communities all over the country as well as being of particular value for immigrant families; often providing the first interaction outside of their ethnic community. They also provide services such as nutritional advice, English lessons for non native speakers, baby massage courses, new mother support groups and stay and play sessions for under 5's. Let us see what transpires here....Comments and thoughts welcome as ever!

    Wednesday, 12 May 2010

    Policies starting to filter through....

    Following the Cameron-Clegg press conference at 1420 from the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street we are starting to see a fuller picture of what the new coalition holds, policy wise. One observation that the country is being run by 'characters from a Richard Curtis movie' did make me laugh, indeed it was very much a love-in with lots of quips and witty comments. However, pleasantries aside - what is actually going to happen and what impact will it have on our daily lives; so far we know pretty much the following:

    • 3rd runway at Heathrow to be scrapped - good news for environmentalists? 
    • £1million inheritance tax threshold scrapped, sticking at £325k for now - bad news for property millionaires who might die soon? 
    • Implementation of a 'plane tax' another one for the greens, but doubtless meaning an increase in airfares?
    • Changes to the Child Trust Fund, a given really but likely to mean scrapping the vouchers for middle income families and retaining for lower income families
    • From April 2011 minimum tax threshold will increase to £10k
    • Spending cuts of £6bn to be found this fiscal year, money to be raised through cuts, not increasing taxes- hard times ahead for all?
    • And the 'jobs tax' the crux of the Tories entire campaign, rather quietly it looks likely that the increase in NI will take place in April 2011 although the increase will only apply for employees, not employers...a nod to those businessmen that backed Cameron with their letter writing campaign?
    • The cap on non-EU immigration will be implemented, despite the difference in immigration policy between the two parties - still no detail though on how this will be implemented. Surely a huge challenge? 
    A really interesting change to a five year fixed electoral term, personally I think this is a great idea in the name of democracy and open government. But the question still remains - will our two foppish heroes still be buddies come the third Thursday in May 2015?

    Lots more detail likely to come through in the coming days; but please post your thoughts on what we have so far...

    See link for the full policy document:

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    New PM at Number 10

    Finally, it feels as if the election is over. We've just seen David Cameron enter Number 10 for the very first time, along with his wife and closest political advisors. We now know that he is entering into a formal coalition with the Liberal Democrats; although as yet no news on policy, cabinet positions and exactly which manifesto promises (on both sides) will be broken to make way for a 'stable government'. Rumours abound that the increase in the inheritance tax threshold will be the first thing to go; no doubt a popular move for the majority but what about those for whom this was a key factor in their decision making? But surely the biggest question we have to ask is how do LibDem voters feel? Excited at their first opportunity in generations to influence the front line of government, or betrayed by Nick Clegg who is aware of how uncomfortable so many of his members will feel having to work with a party to which they feel ideologically opposed? Initial comment on social networking sites seems to suggest disappointment from LibDem voters who see them as a party committed to reform, pro European and with a liberal attitude to immigration. Will this new period of government at Number 10 lead to a resurgence for the Labour Party? Liberal lefties coming home, under a new, fresh leader -who will definitely be called 'Ed or Miliband' according to one senior figure in the party.
    Meanwhile, lets watch closely over the next few days at what immediate action our new government takes....


    General feeling is that an announcement is imminent. More and more senior Labour figures publicly stating that they do not believe a Lib-Lab pact can work. Smiling faces from Tories, glum Labour faces....
    Is GB moving out as we speak?, will Clegg & Cable have cabinet posts? Will Balls and Miliband declare their candidature for the Labour leadership?
    We should soon be able to see just what this new government is going to mean for the British public.

    Monday, 10 May 2010


    1700 from 10 Downing Street. Lib Dems and Labour to start formal talks to discuss a 'progressive coalition' - Brown resigning as leader of the Labour Party. Removing himself from the situation to allow conversations to begin. New Labour leader by September conference.
    Liberal Democrats now talking to both main parties - even more interesting days ahead.....

    Interesting article from Saturday's Independant


    Interesting article from Saturday

    Still waiting...

    So, nothing to add in terms of the fundamental point of this blog because we don't know who our government will be; and as such what policies are going to be implemented and when...However, politics is definitely the key talking point amongst friends and acquaintances at the moment - everyone is keen to know how the situation will resolve itself and how the new government will look and operate. As I write the LibDems are going back to the Tories for further clarification on a number of points, according to David Laws from the Liberal Democrats. Apparently Peter Mandelson and co are still waiting in the wings although it seems a matter of days before Gordon leaves Downing Street for the last time.

    Some initial thoughts though away from the hullabaloo at Westminster. Much talk about the changes in child tax credits that the new government seems sure to abolish, hurting a good deal of people although the feeling seems to be that this is an essential loss during these tough economic times and with an enormous deficit that needs clearing - other freebies that we are sure to lose - Health in Pregnancy Grant and Child Trust Funds; nice to haves but rather generous?
    After spending a lovely though rainy weekend on the South Bank in London it dawned on me how little the arts were mentioned during this election campaign. In the heady, easy days of 1997 New Labour was able to schmooze our creative greats and offer free museum entrance to all in their manifesto. Surely this will sadly be reversed in this next parliament? What do we think? A shame, but again a no brainer to save money?

    Things to muse on as we await further information from the talks.....

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    The morning after....

    Unlikely to be the only post of the day as things seem to be moving very quickly but everything seems to be up in the air. As I see it, Clegg sticking to his word and more likely to back the Conversatives although not perhaps in a formal coalition - but Brown appearing to be holding on and will attempt to speak to the Lib Dems, although Lib/Lab still wouldn't give a majority!
    Earlier on this morning and in the midst of the confusion there was still a lot of politicking and spin going on especially from Mandelson and May squabbling about terminology and exactly 'who lost the election' - neither conceding their disappointment.

    Little reaction on the BBC from the public themselves, just some soundbites in Leeds hoping for a better time for small businesses and hard working families - it could be a long wait until we know how relevant policies will pan out.

    Most interesting aspect for me is whether Clegg, who so far has appeared to be straightforward in sticking with his election statements (the only one who has been in a situation where he has had to....) will use electoral reform as a tool when speaking with Cameron later on today and latterly when the emergency budget is revealed in 50 days time....

    Thursday, 6 May 2010

    Polling Day

    Just spent the morning at the polling station, quite a convivial atmosphere and a seemingly good turnout. Uplifting to see representation from so many different parts of the community here (Tooting) and so many elderly people - makes you think about how many elections they have taken part in - are they as cynical as my generation? Lots of interesting comment and banter on Facebook and Twitter and genuine engagement from my peers at least. This is a verbatim comment from a 20-something lad on FB though 'sack votin they say they'll do all this n never do any of it' . Hmmm.

    Wednesday, 5 May 2010


    I don't think I am alone when i say that I am cynical about British politics. I shouldn't be - I am relatively young at 33, have a good job, lovely home and a good standard of living and most importantly have a young baby who is the living embodiment of the future. Furthermore, I love Britain - I am positive about this country and proud to be British. So I should believe in our systems and processes and trust our governments - but I don't. i am tired of it all.
    I have been able to tune into this election more than ever before and am fascinated to see what unfolds tomorrow, polling day. But more importantly I want to know what happens from May 7th onwards. How many promises are kept? How quickly will whoever lives at 10 Downing Street be vilified, how long will the honeymoon last? What will 'change' mean? What will a 'fairer Britain' look like?
    The aim of this blog is to create a history of the next parliamentary term in order to see exactly what impact government has on Britain in the 21st century. I will look at policies, election promises, the economy and our foreign standing but i will also attempt to consider just how this next government influences our society and how Britain and Britons function on a day to day basis.....See you on May 7th for the big result!