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Archive for January, 2011

Upcoming week in Westminster

January 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Highlights in Parliament this week include:

The Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill. The week gets off to a fast start as the contentious Health and Social Care Bill gets its Second Reading this morning. Remember, this is the Bill that will put GPs in charge of their own budgets. It is sure to be angrily opposed by the opposition who will claim that the Tories are stripping away public health care. And if we are to believe the Manchester Evening News, then the Bill will also see the maiden speech of the newest MP, Debbie Abrahams.

Opposition day on Wednesday. The two Opposition Day motions on Wednesday will target contentious issues for the Government. First, they attack Vince Cable’s Business, Innovation and Skills Department in light of the recent dissapointing growth figures. This is followed by criticism of plans to sell off England’s public forestry estate. Margaret Thatcher had similar plans in the early 80s, but quickly abandoned them. With public opinion firmly against such a proposal (see Saturday’s Guardian article), this could present an open goal for Ed Miliband and his team. Expect this to also pop up once of twice in Thursday’s DEFRA question.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. Yes, the PVSC is back in the Lords for days 15, 16 and 17 of the Committee stage. With the deadline looming for when the Bill needs to return to the Commons in order to allow for a May 5 referendum, expect late-night sittings and more threats of gillotine motions.

Consumer Credit Regulation is a popular theme this week. Thursday’s Backbench Business debate focuses on payday lending, and is led by Stella Creasy (whose twitter feed is always worth a read). Ms Creasy also has a Private Members’ Bill due up on Friday focusing on the same topic, but as it is fourth on the list, it’s unlikely we’ll see it debate.

What we will see debated on Friday is Anna Soubry’s PMB on anonymity for arrested people who are yet to be charged. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Ms Soubry outlined the inspiration behind her bill. A former journalist herself, she was shocked by the way in which a suspect in the Joanna Yeates murder investigation had his life displayed on the front pages of Britain’s papers, despite that fact that he was never charged. She told the show that in her day there was an unwritten law that the media did not give out names and addresses of suspects until they were charged.

We may also see the Gerry Adams situation sorted out as well as a statement on the political situation in Egypt.

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A hurting Lib Dem and the stagnant economy

January 31, 2011 1 comment

This post appeared on Lib Dem Voice this week:

For the first time since his election as leader of the Labour party, I found myself agreeing with Ed Miliband during Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

With his new Shadow Chancellor sat next to him and in response to the news earlier in the week that the economy had contracted by 0.5% during the final quarter of 2010, Miliband urged David Cameron to think again over the upcoming spending cuts and VAT rise.

To make matters worse for the Coalition, the outgoing director-general of the CBI accused the government of putting politics before growth. Sir Richard Lambert argued that “politics appear to have trumped economics on too many occasions over the past eight months”.

And I have to agree. Yes, the deficit needs to be addressed, but the economy also needs to be given time to recover and grow. Unemployment is still increasing, inflation is rising and wages are stagnant. The problem is that it’s very hard to sort both problems at once.

The Coalition seems to have become obsessed with the deficit—something that was true of Osborne and Cameron in the run up to the election—and has taken steps to reduce it. So far, these steps have primarily comprised slashing public spending by almost a fifth and increasing VAT to 20%.

These policies have started to take grip now and their effects will be seen in GDP figures during the coming years. What we are yet to see, however, are any policies for encouraging growth. Yes we have a Green Investment Bank on the (distant) horizon and a lot of talk about encouraging small businesses, but there is no equivalent to the relatively speedy action taken on the deficit.

By attacking the deficit so quickly, the Coalition risks stifling growth for years to come. Two of the determinant factors for GDP are government spending and consumer spending. But the measures so far introduced will decrease both of these.

By cutting government spending, you reduce government contracts. Government contracts are vital in encouraging growth as the money feedbacks into the economy. Firms make money, they contracts create jobs. People get paid, and then people spend their money and pay taxes. Welfare costs increase.

By increasing VAT, at a time when the cost of living is increasing and wages are stagnant, the spending power of consumers is decreased. Less money is spent, demand is lower, and there are less jobs and lower growth.

The reductions in public spending will remove just under half a million jobs from the public sector. The Coalition is confident that the private sector will more than pick up this tab. What is the basis for this confidence? As Sir Lambert asked “where’s the growth going to come from?”

The old saying “you have to spend money to make money” is surely never truer than when applied to governments during recessions. The deficit needs to be brought under control, but it is a question of timing.

The Lib Dem manifesto reflected this sentiment:

“We must ensure the timing is right. If spending is cut too soon, it would undermine the much-needed recovery and cost jobs. We will base the timing of cuts on an objective assessment of economic conditions, not political dogma.”

And in a statement (http://bit.ly/ftdlT6) issued at the beginning of 2010, Vince Cable responded to news that the economy had grown by 0.3% that:

“This news underlines again the folly of rushing into rapid cuts which could push the economy back into recession and inflict further structural damage on the UK, making it harder to sustain our credit rating and creating an even larger budget deficit.”

Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to these matters, either the Lib Dems in the cabinet have changed their minds, or economic policy is being dictated to them by the blue side of the coalition.

The misguided notion that by tackling the deficit first you can encourage growth because market confidence will be that much stronger ignores the importance that consumer spending plays in economic growth. It also misses the more human consequences that high unemployment and rising prices accompany.

To make matters worse, both the stagnating economy and the deficit reduction tactics will hit the most disadvantaged hardest. As a member of a party founded on equality and fairness, this is a bitter pill to swallow.

Categories: deficit, economy, vince cable

Is Gerry Adams still an MP?

January 26, 2011 2 comments

Did Gerry Adams know just how much of a fuss it was going to cause when he decided to run for the Irish Parliament?

Adams, as the leader of Sinn Féin, has of course never sat in the Commons, despite being an elected Member, as he refuses to swear the Oath of Allegience to the Queen.

Adams could, if he chose to, remain an elected MP and serve in the Irish Parliament, but has expressed his reluctance to do so.

He wants to resign.

The problem is, MPs cannot resign.

Erskine May, the Parliamentary bible, sets out this long-standing rule:

“It is a settled principle of parliamentary law that a Member, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish his sit”

There are a few ways around this. Firstly, Adams could take the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty’s three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, or of the Manor of Northstead. These roles are purely nominal and can be given to any Member who applies to the Chancellor for them. Upon appointment, the Chancellor can then take away any Parliamentary privileges.

During Prime Minister’s Questions today, David Cameron seemed to suggest that Adams had taken on one of these rolls. However, Sinn Féin press releases countered this and when Nigel Dodds, leader of the DUP, asked a point of order for clarification, the deputy Speaker was unable to give a straight answer.

Applying for these positions would be an odd step for Adams, as he would have a position bequeathed to him by the British Government.

The other options are that he could be appointed to the House of Lords – which of course is highly unlikely.

The more entertaining option is that Adams could turn up at Parliament and try to vote. As he has not sworn the Oath, he would be ejected from the Commons and have his membership revoked (he would be treated as if he were dead).

This could create some great pictures.

Adams will undoubtably want to solve this problem before the Irish General Election, whenever that may be. But for now, it seems that he remains a Member of Parliament – list of MPs.

Coalition Wrong to Claim That EMA is Ineffectual

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

This week saw more student protests in Westminster as Labour brought an Opposition Day debate on Educational Maintainance Allowance  (EMA) to the House of Commons.

The Coalition announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review last Autumn that EMA would stop at the end of this academic year, with no new applications for the support accepted from January 2011.

Just under half of all 16-18 year olds in full-time education received EMA during 2009/10, and the full £30 per week was claimed by 4 out of every 5 students who were in receipt of the support.

I do not argue that Labour’s educational legacy should be protected. Shamefully, during their 13 years in power social mobility stalled and decreased. The famous Blair cry of “Education, education, education” rings through time as a reminder of another promise broken.

But to scrap EMA – without having an alternative on the table – is a reckless move that will impact upon some of the most disadvantaged children in our society.

It’s not perfect. Some may say that it acts as a bribe to keep kids in schools (thereby keeping unemployment levels lower than they otherwise would be).

Others argue that the 100% attendance record required to receive EMA means that students who either have caring duties or troubles at home wills struggle to fulfil this most stringent of criteria.

The Government argue that EMA has proven ineffectual.

As well as using the now old line that the previous Government left us with no money to spend, they say that evidence shows that “only 12% of young people overall receiving an EMA believe that they would not have participated in the courses they are doing if they had not received an EMA.”

The Coalition use this as a way of justifying the removal of EMA. We are told, consistently, they have plans to replace it.

But we have not been told what it will be replaced by. Wednesday’s debate was a fantastic opportunity for Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, to introduce his plans.

But it seems that he has none.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, has been drafted in to help improve access to education, but it seems that he is struggling to get the support he needs.

On last nights Question Time he said that the money available for the replacement isn’t anywhere like enough.

My concern is this. While the Lib Dems who still care about access to education struggle for more, what of the one in 10 recipients of EMA who wouldn’t have stayed on without the financial support?

However much criticism the Government may want to throw at EMA, by scrapping it before coming up with a replacement they have left talented children from underprivileged backgrounds with no way of remaining in further education.

For shame.

Categories: Education, EMA, Gove