David Cameron Has Done No Wrong

david_cameron_1

This week has, by his own admission, not been a good one for David Cameron. He has received unrelenting criticism for various aspects of the so-called Panama Papers, however very little of this criticism is actually valid.

The first point to note is that at no point has the Prime Minister broken the law. He has been engaging in tax avoidance, not tax evasion. To many this may sound like a pedant’s dispute over lexicon (a fact of which political opponents and the media alike have taken full advantage) however the fine line between them is the fine line of the law, and thus far Mr Cameron has stayed on the right side of it. Indeed, independent financial advisers have analysed the tax returns which he was bullied into publishing and verified that there has been no wrongdoing.

It is also important to note that many of the attacks have come not at his actions, but at those of his late father. It is wholly unfair to blame David Cameron for this, and equally unfair to criticise him for benefitting from this – he was his son, of course he benefited from his father’s wealth!

One argument pursued especially strongly by Labour is that it is these offshore loopholes only benefit the superrich. However this too is an invalid claim. Anybody with an insurance package and anybody with a pension almost certainly benefits from offshore activity, so this is by no means exclusive to the elites.

The most recent revelations have been a gift from David Cameron’s mother to him, supposedly to avoid paying inheritance tax. This is also entirely conventional and extremely common. Anybody wishing to criticise the concept of inheritance as unearned wealth is simply jealous. It is the aim of most parents to be able to leave their children a healthy inheritance, so the mere fact that she has achieved this goal is something for which she should be praised, not slated.

Why then is this such a big story? The short answer is that it sells newspapers. People want to read about a scandal involving senior politicians (just look at the ‘pig incident’, which turned out to be entirely untrue) so journalists spun this in such a way as to make him look like criminal of the century. Papers normally sympathetic to him, such as The Telegraph, have latched onto this story not because of the issue at hand, but to undermine Mr Cameron in the hope that it will influence the Brexit debate. Meanwhile other parties have jumped on the bandwagon calling for his resignation over what is a complete non-story.

Posted in Conservatives Tagged with: ,

The Acadamisation of British Schools is Not Just an Issue for The Left, it is a Problem for Us All

Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

Photo: EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA

After George Osborne’s most recent, and perhaps last, budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer, a myriad of issues were raised. One of the most contentious was the Chancellor’s plans to expand the academy project to include every school in England. Osborne’s plans focusses on taking schools out of the hands of local authorities and giving complete control, with no supervision, to the individual school.

The plans would also mean an end to parent governors as, to quote the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, “being a parent is not enough to be a school governor” and a more “business-like” approach should be taken with the appointment of school governors. Of course, teachers and teaching unions are in uproar; aside from implications that academies don’t work there are also fears from teachers and teaching unions about the pay that they would receive –  academies are outside national pay regulations for teachers.

Yet the concerns of teachers, at a time when teacher recruitment is at an all-time low and with a recent poll suggesting over half of all teachers wish to leave the profession, should not be theirs alone. The anxieties of the teaching community should be the concerns of us all. Whilst the issue may seem like it is solely for the left of the political system – and will surely be painted as such by the Conservatives – the government’s attack at the heart of the birth-right of every British person, to have a decent education must concern us all, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum. If the academy system worked, then the argument might be simpler – should the state have as much influence in the way that a school is run as it currently does? Yet the academy system has failed. The largest “chain” – the very word makes the children of Britain sound more like factory farmed hens than citizens – AET (Academies Enterprise Trust) is in a shocking state. 40% of all primary school children in schools run by AET do not get a “good standard of education”. It is even worse in secondary schools; nearly half of all pupils attend academies that are less than good. This is merely the tip of the iceberg – the second largest chain, E-ACT is doing just as badly with 23 academies rated “not good enough” by Ofsted.

The fact that we know this is solely thanks to Ofsted inspections. If the Education Secretary had got her way, Ofsted would not be able to tell us of this gross neglect by the government of educating the bloom of Britain’s youth. Morgan had attempted to block Ofsted from inspecting schools and publishing their reports removing a weakness for any opposition to point out the government’s failure. Osborne’s proposed plans to remove the ability of local authorities to supervise schools and the extinction of parent governors would be even worse than Morgan’s banning of Ofsted inspectors; it would mean bricking up Britain’s children behind a wall of failure.

The government’s actions therefore should concern us all. Rather than putting the educational needs of the public first, they are attempting to prop up a failed experiment with the shattered remains of local authority power. Rather than attempting to help schools in cooperation with local authorities the government has given companies like AET millions (AET’s most recent turnover was about £275 million, mostly coming from the Department of Education) to shift the problem onto them. The government has to realise that the problems with the education system can’t be simply licensed out to private companies to sort out.

Osborne’s political career seems to have been burned with this budget. Aside from the complaints aimed at education reform, the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith over planned cuts to welfare benefits have mortally wounded Osborne’s standing amongst the party. Recent polls have indicated that the public at large and Conservative party members are no longer backing cuts to public expenditure in the same way they did prior to the election – possibly partly due to Osborne consistently missing his targets and the economy not imploding as a result. Therefore, more so now than ever it is time to start properly investing in the education of the next generation. Not by shifting responsibility onto individuals and companies that do not have the capacity or will to do the job properly. That is why the acadamisation of schools isn’t just an issue for those on the left of British politics. It lies at the heart of a fundamental ideal; do we want a say in the way our schools are run, our hospitals maintained and our roads improved through our elected government or are we happy to let them be run by unaccountable businesses that fail at their task? That is why this is an issue for every single person no matter the political creed.

Posted in Conservatives Tagged with: , , , ,

Boris Johnson and the Brexit Dance

Twenty years ago, John Major famously called the members of his cabinet who wanted Britain to leave the EU “bastards”. Though David Cameron has not used exactly the same word, the intent was the same when he cast aspersions on why one particular person had joined the “Vote Leave” gang. Referring to his own eventual resignation, Cameron stated that “I am not standing for re-election. I have no other agenda than what is best for our country.” The man in question is, of course, Boris Johnson. Yet for a man who stood for the SDP so that he could become President of the Oxford Union it is hardly surprising.

Following the 2015 Conservative victory, Boris Johnson seemed to vanish. Having returned to Parliament before the end of his mayoralty (breaking his “fingers crossed” promise not to do so) Johnson seemed fade from the public consciousness. He could be seen occasionally popping up in the background of PMQs or out on the hustings with Zac Goldsmith but the blonde political whirlwind lost his spin.

Yet as soon as Cameron had secured his EU deal, Boris was back. At the most politically well-timed moment, when the countdown to the referendum has just begun Johnson made a fateful decision; to go against all of his political background and opt for the Leave campaign. Whilst Johnson has always liked to be critical of the EU, he is a committed Europhile. Yet this position, this personal conviction that Britain should stay in a reformed Europe puts a blockade into Mr Johnson’s ultimate goal – the premiership. By opposing the Prime Minister, Johnson is essentially calling for a fight, a no hold bars battle of rhetoric deciding who is right and who has the powerbase to become the next Prime Minister. If Johnson had stayed on the same side as the Prime Minister, he would have merely faded into the background, perhaps showing up for the odd press event with Cameron up front. Yet more than this, Johnson is directly challenging not just Cameron but Cameron’s chosen successor – the Chancellor.

Osborne is Cameron’s right hand man and has been since before they entered Parliament. Together, they helped to transform the image of the Tories in the eyes of the public in a similar way that Thatcher had before him. Cameron is, surprisingly to some, on the liberal end of the Conservative party and as such would want a Europhile, liberal minded person to succeed him; the obvious candidate is Osborne who is a committed member of the Remain Campaign. Yet grassroots Tories and more traditionally “conservative” members of the party would prefer someone much more right wing than Osborne. By going to the Leave campaign, Johnson is making clear his intention to Osborne – that he will fight him and take the premiership that he thinks he deserves. He’s also sending a message out to his right wing supporters – that he will tackle the “modernisers” of the party and take the Tories back a good twenty years.

Yet even if the Leave camp don’t win, Johnson will still have scored himself a victory. He will have taken huge swathes of the Eurosceptic Tories to his bosom and shown that he can fight a national campaign. He’ll also be able to claim that he fought a fight to take Britain out of the EU and as such will stand up for Britain’s place on the global stage – making him an attractive prospect for UKIP’s “people’s army” and in a better position than the austerity prone Chancellor of the Exchequer to put forward a positive message for the Tories to the general public.

Ultimately, Johnson’s career will not be finished whether Britain leaves Europe or not. Johnson may seem to many like a clown, a buffoon yet Lord Black’s comment that he is a “fox disguised as a teddy bear” seems no less true now than ever. He is one of politics’ most able operators; a prime example was when Johnson’s father, Stanley appeared across the news the day Boris’s announcement was heard. Stanley Johnson made clear that Boris was taking a real political risk – his “career was on the line”. Might it be overly cynically to suggest the reason for this was so that those who might support a more Eurosceptic Boris for PM needed a little encouragement to believe his devotion to the cause was genuine? I think not.

Posted in Conservatives Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Jeremy Corbyn is on the Defensive

Jeremy Corbyn has begun the process of self-preservation as he tries to change the rules regarding leadership elections. Under the current system candidates need the support of 15% of Labour MPs to get their name on to the ballot paper, however the Labour leader is looking to scrap this parliamentary veto amid fears of a vote of no confidence. Although Corbyn was himself elected using this process, he only just received the support of the required 35 MPs, many of whom have publicly regretted backing the veteran left-winger, saying they only supported him to widen the debate. Therefore if his opponents inside the Parliamentary Labour Party are successful in precipitating another leadership election, it is highly unlikely that Mr Corbyn would be able to defend his position.

Despite the hostility he is facing from within the House of Commons, his popularity among the membership is sky-high, largely because he has recruited and mobilised socialists who were disengaged under Tony Blair’s leadership. This means that if he were allowed to stand in any leadership election in the foreseeable future, it is likely that he would win by an even bigger landslide than he did last September, thus virtually guaranteeing his leadership until at least the 2020 General Election.

These proposed changes will have longer term consequences for the future direction of the Labour Party. Corbyn’s successors will be of similar ideology to him as the barrier of the MPs’ veto will have been removed. The left wing branch of the party will continue to recruit more members, particularly with the rise of Momentum, while moderate members will become increasingly disillusioned, causing them to leave the party, further limiting the chances of success for a mainstream candidate.

Therefore if they want any chance of success in 2025, the NEC must block these reforms.

Posted in Labour Tagged with: , , , ,

Why Obama Will Not Replace Justice Scalia

On Saturday the world learnt of the death of US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was a Ronald Reagan appointee in 1986. At first glance the passing of the New Jersey-born judge seems as though the ideological balance of the Court will shift with an Obama nominee, who would inevitably be a liberal, replacing the conservative.

However in reality it is unlikely that Obama will be able to add a third Supreme Court appointment to his CV as a result of the combination of a Republican majority in the Senate and the imminent termination of Obama’s presidency. Therefore it is highly likely that the Senate will stall the appointment process and refuse to confirm any nominee offered by the President in the hope that his successor is the Republican candidate, who would replace Justice Scalia with another conservative. This would mean that the true impact on the balance of the Court will not be known until the General Election in November.

There is only one way in which then appointment will be made by Obama. He could act cautiously and nominate a moderate who may not be too objectionable to the Republicans, with each side aware that this option is preferable to the opposition winning the presidency and having a more extreme candidate on the Court.

However this is highly unlikely for two reasons. Firstly, no matter how moderate the nominee is, Republican Senators will be highly suspicious of anybody wanted by President Obama. Secondly, it would be political suicide for a Republican Senator, particularly in very conservative states, to be seen to agree with Obama on anything, let alone something of this importance.

Therefore it seems as though the Court will be a justice short for at least the next twelve months, and the effect of Justice Scalia’s death will not be known until the end of 2016. As for Obama’s replacement, their first job will be to do something President Carter did not get to do in four years.

Posted in US Politics Tagged with: , , ,

The European Referendum: Deja Vu?

This June will likely see one of the most debated about and contested referenda come to its conclusion. Europe has haunted British politics ever since Edward Heath led Britain into the Common Market. It helped return Harold Wilson to power in 1974; slayed Thatcher in 1990; weakened Major’s already brittle government and caused intense feuding between Blair and Brown over whether we should join the euro.

While the issue of Europe has decided parts of our politics for decades helping to make and destroy prime ministers, 2016 will mark the first time since the early days of our membership that a referendum has been held. Though forty-one years separate the two referenda, they are remarkably similar and may possibly yield the same result.

In 1974, Edward Heath was in trouble. After winning the 1970 general election, Heath had made a mess. He’d precipitated a fuel crisis after trying to take on the trade unions leading to a three-day week, with blackouts being imposed across great swathes of Britain. Heath had compounded the situation by making a disaster of the economy and taking Britain into the Common Market. Distrust and dissent grew among the general public and Heath’s own party; when he called a snap general election he truly was “judged on [his] record”. With five days to go, rebel backbench MP and former member of Heath’s shadow cabinet, Enoch Powell dealt the killing blow by siding with Labour.

Just like the Tories in 2015, Labour made a smart move over Europe. While Heath refused to hold a referendum on an issue that many people felt strongly about, he abandoned a large section of the public; the Eurosceptics. The leader of the Labour Party, Harold Wilson was in turmoil over the issue of Europe with the party split down the middle. Ultimately, he sided with the Eurosceptics faction led by Tony Benn. Benn suggested that a referendum should be held if Labour got back into power, so that the British people could finally decide whether they wanted to be in or out. Wilson made the stipulation, just as Cameron did, to renegotiate Britain’s deal with the EU before the referendum. Like in 2015, with the other main party refusing a referendum the result was perhaps inevitable.

Having won the 1974 election, Wilson began the process of the referendum. Again, Cameron followed in Wilson’s footsteps by dithering over whether to give cabinet ministers a say in which side they campaigned for; both Prime Ministers would eventually relent and allow their peers to campaign for either side. The majority of Wilson’s cabinet, including Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey and Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins campaigned for the In campaign; the only major In figure was the architect of the referendum – Tony Benn.

As Benn and Enoch Powell battled to be leader of the Out campaign, Wilson was joined by Thatcher’s Conservative Party and Steel’s Liberals. The eventual struggle was made much easier for Wilson than perhaps he had expected – with the In Campaign split between the hard left and the hard right neither could agree on a streamlined and consistent policy. It went so far that Benn refused to speak on the same platform as Powell, despite them being the most well-known members of the campaign.

The eventual landslide vote to stay in says much about the British public. After years of a broken government and broken promises, Wilson brought some semblance of order and the chance to vote on an issue they saw as important. Yet, while the vast swathe of people entered the campaign wanting to leave the fractious and incoherent nature of the Out campaign meant that they soon drifted towards the smooth, media pleasing In campaign.

Cameron should probably not be worried about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU; his path is seemingly clear. With Labour grudgingly agreeing to him and the Liberal Democrats on his side, the In campaign looks strong while the Out campaign is filled with fractures. Even if Boris Johnson joins the Out campaign, he won’t be able to unify the ideologically opposed groups that make up the various groups. Between sacrificing safety and the uncertainty of a Britain outside Europe, the British people are likely to repeat 1975 all over again.

Posted in European Union Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Affirmative Action: The Ultimate Hypocrisy

Affirmative action is firmly back on the political agenda on both sides of the Atlantic in 2016, with the US Supreme Court expected to make a ruling on Fisher vs. University of Texas, while Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats (remember them?) has confirmed reports that he will propose all-women, all-gay, all-disabled and all-BAME shortlists to his party’s conference.

Positive discrimination is the ultimate hypocrisy. The most well-known civil rights activist, Dr Martin Luther King was himself highly hypocritical on this issue. In his book Why We Can’t Wait he was supportive of it, saying “A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro.” This is in direct contradiction to one of his most quoted phrases, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Apply this to the topic at hand and it would become “discrimination cannot drive out discrimination”, yet that is what was being proposed by Dr King, along with numerous other campaigners.

Affirmative action is extremely offensive; if you are a heterosexual, white, non-disabled male then you are immediately disadvantaged. Take, for example, Mr Farron’s proposals; they include a pledge for half of all target seats to be contested by women and 10% by ethnic minorities. Yet we can be fairly sure that within that there is no guarantee that half will be contested by men and 90% by whites. To quote Dr King once more, he wanted people to be judged not “on the colour of their skin but the content of their character” and centuries of social progression brought us to this situation. Briefly.

Mr Farron claimed on The Andrew Marr Show that the Liberal Democrat candidates at May’s General Election were representative of the population, it was just that the eight the electorate picked happened to be ‘too male and too pale.’ Essentially what he is saying, therefore, is that the electorate is racist and cannot be trusted to pick its MPs so the Lib Dems have taken it upon themselves to rein in democracy.

The only democratic and non-discriminatory way for any party to choose its candidates is to use a pure meritocracy. At any rate, I am not sure the Liberal Democrats can afford to be picky.

Posted in Liberal Democrats Tagged with: , , ,

Should Tory MPs Listen to Members Over Europe?

The Prime Minister has received criticism from his party for suggesting that MPs vote with their heart in the upcoming EU referendum and not campaign to leave the EU “because of what your constituency association might say.” But was this criticism justified?

At face value it appears as though he is asking them not to fulfil one of their main roles – representation. While it is true that in normal circumstances it is the job of MPs to represent their constituents’ views on legislative issues, an exception applies here. Because it is a referendum, and so each member of the electorate is able to vote, they do not need to be represented by their MP. Therefore MPs (backbenchers, at least) are under no pressure to campaign or vote for the side generally supported by their constituents.

However by the same token, MPs have the right to base their decision on any factor they like. As with most voters, their vote will be largely sentimental and based upon the effect the referendum will have on their own lives and job. It is the imminent review of constituency boundaries which has prompted the Prime Minister to make these comments as the number of constituency boundaries will be reduced by 50, meaning that many MPs will face reselection. If they campaign to stay in the EU then this will antagonise many grassroots party members, threatening their livelihoods.

Therefore, while it was not unreasonable for the Prime Minister to urge MPs to “do what’s in your heart”, it may well be that, for many, getting reselected is in their hearts.

Posted in Conservatives Tagged with: , , ,

Should the Greens be Given PPBs?

The Green Party has launched an official appeal against the BBC Trust after it decided not to allow it any party political broadcasts (PPBs), while UKIP has been given three.

A BBC spokesperson said the criteria for determining the award of PPBs ‘reflect parties’ current and previous electoral support’. Presumably the justification for the discrepancy is twofold – firstly, despite UKIP and the Greens both winning one MP at the General Election, Natalie Bennett’s party won less than 30% of UKIP’s almost 3.9 million votes. Going back another 12 months from the election and UKIP’s dominance over the Greens was even greater in the 2014 European elections where the Eurosceptic party won 24 MPs to the Greens’ three, with three and a half times as many votes. Therefore the BBC is looking beyond the House of Commons to determine its decision.

The second reason UKIP may have been viewed more significantly by the BBC is their role over the next few months. As the largest party campaigning unanimously for Brexit, they will play a significant part in the build up to the referendum, while the Greens, who are in favour of significant reforms to the EU (although of a different kind to those being sought by the Prime Minister) will have a limited influence, thus not giving them the status of a ‘major’ party.

What will concern many onlookers is the apparent right wing bias ahead of May’s local elections. Smaller parties tend to do better in these elections meaning that the combined vote of the Greens and UKIP will increase. However if UKIP receives significantly more publicity and a bigger broadcasting platform then they will have an unfair advantage in winning these protest votes.

Has the BBC got it right? No. While UKIP’s role in the referendum is important, this should not be used to the detriment of other parties by extra propulsion in completely independent elections by an impartial broadcaster.

Posted in Green Party, UKIP Tagged with: , , , , ,

Cameron Must Make Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary

David Cameron is starting to see why announcing that he would not stand for a third term in office was a bad idea. This announcement effectively fired the starting gun for a five year leadership campaign which could be as divisive to the Conservatives as the upcoming EU referendum.

Potential candidates must now differentiate themselves from the competition, and this is causing open splits in the party, with Boris Johnson describing George Osborne’s £130million tax deal with Google as ‘derisory’. There is no doubt that this is an attempt to expose his fellow leadership contender as weak on tackling tax avoidance, a particularly sensitive issue among voters given the government’s austerity programme.

It is less likely that such public confrontation will occur between Osborne and Theresa May since they are both Secretaries of State. This is why Cameron must make Mr Johnson a minister to ensure that he is bound by the Ministerial Code (although anything other than Foreign Secretary will be seen as a great dent in his prospects as the two other main contenders hold Great Offices of State). It is inevitable that some sort of government position will be given to Johnson once he steps down as Mayor of London in May, but if he does not succeed Philip Hammond then there is no guarantee that the quirky MP will follow strictly the convention of Collective Cabinet Responsibility.

Johnson may find more opposition than just the two veterans in the Cabinet, with the likes of Sajid Javid and Nicky Morgan expected to put their names forward for the leadership which is certainly in the Prime Minister’s interests. If he can contain disputes to the Cabinet Room then there is a chance that any premature campaigning will be resisted.

Mr Cameron will be kicking himself for what he said in his kitchen before the election, but he will be thanking his lucky stars that Labour is in no position to criticise.

Posted in Conservatives Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,