Category Archives: Devolution

New power-sharing deal restores NI devolution – in order to quit Johnson’s UK?

Devolution: The Tories will be quick to celebrate the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. Has it not occurred to any of them that the Northern Irish hate Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal and now want to quit the UK altogether?

At long last – three years since the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal that ended the last Northern Ireland power-sharing deal, it seems MLAs are returning to Stormont.

The new power-sharing deal means devolved government in Northern Ireland will resume.

According to Boris Johnson:

Do you think he hasn’t realised that they’re all getting back together in order to take NI out of the UK?

What would be really damning is if they decided they won’t even reunify with the Republic.

Source: Stormont talks: Main NI parties agree power-sharing deal – BBC News

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Bid to halt NI abortion law change fails. How will Boris Johnson get the DUP on-side for his Brexit now?

How interesting – last week we were told Boris Johnson’s government was working hard to get the devolved government in Northern Ireland working again, to bribe the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into supporting his Brexit deal.

The idea was that, as the DUP is firmly opposed to the legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland – which will happen by law after the Westminster government supported it and could only be stopped if the Stormont assembly voted to do so, then the Stormont assembly must be restored.

It seems clear that attempts were made to facilitate this, but it was impossible for MLAs to agree on the election of a speaker so the attempt failed.

Now it seems Mr Johnson has no way of getting the DUP to support his deal, other than by making concessions.

Or will Arlene Foster’s party have a miraculous conversion to his way of thinking?

A last ditch attempt at the Stormont assembly to stop abortion law changes in Northern Ireland has failed, with the law set to change at midnight.

Unionist parties, who oppose the upcoming liberalisation, triggered the assembly’s recall with a petition.

But politicians were told the assembly could not do any business until a speaker was elected with cross-community backing.

That became impossible when the nationalist SDLP left the chamber.

As a result no nationalist representatives remained, meaning no new speaker could be elected and the sitting was suspended after less than an hour.

In July, MPs at Westminster passed legislation which requires the government to change abortion laws and extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland if devolution is not restored by 21 October.

Source: Abortion: NI politicians’ bid to halt law changes fails – BBC News

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Corbyn’s Scottish trip shows he means it when he says he’ll win back support

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“Gotta feel sorry for Corbyn. “Don’t mention Scotland! Drink this! Just Drink. The. Irn. Bru. Try to look happy.”

That’s SNP councillor Mhairi Hunter’s opinion of Jeremy Corbyn’s trip north of the English border – but it’s one that doesn’t seem to reflect the actual state of affairs at all.

Sure, we have the photographs of Labour’s new leader brandishing a bottle of Irn Bru and claims like that in The National, that Scottish Labour has told him not to mention the word ‘Scotland’ for fear of “playing to the nationalist agenda” (it seems he was advised by senior party insiders to refer to towns and cities rather than the country).

Others have been taking the visit more seriously. According to the FT, “Some Labour members think that his left wing views will make it harder for the ruling Scottish National party to portray itself as a champion of socialist values while pursuing centrist policies” (Scottish Labour’s opinion seems to be that the SNP are “New Labour in kilts”).

This, of course, suggests that moving Labour to the left of the political spectrum leaves more of the middle ground for the SNP. Won’t that imply a visible shift in that party’s policies, away from what the electorate thought it was, though?

Mr Corbyn himself seems to endorse that view. Asked how Labour’s anti-austerity stance differs from the SNP’s, he told the Daily Record: “We mean it.”

“We’ve learned the lessons of the economic strategies of the past and the way they haven’t worked. It does mean rebalancing our economy, it does mean maintaining the 50p top rate of tax, it does mean not cutting tax credits for the poorest people in our society.

“We want to invest in a growing, expanding economy across the UK and we fully support the powers in the Scotland Bill, and we are going to be working closely with the Labour Party in Scotland to try to defend the people of Scotland from the worst effects of the Trade Union Bill and, of course, the Welfare Reform Bill.”

Mr Corbyn warned that the SNP plan for “full fiscal autonomy” would lead to “very, very heavy” austerity – implying that the nationalists have been misleading their electorate about the effects of their policies.

He told the Record: “If you go for fiscal autonomy, I don’t know what kind of austerity you are going to have but all I know is it would be very, very heavy. I want to see an end to austerity across all of the UK and that is what the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell did in his speech at the party conference on Monday.”

He made it clear that he rejects SNP claims that they are the only effective opposition to the Tories, and pointed out that Labour membership in Scotland it at its highest in years since he took over as leader.

“I believe we’re going to continue to gain support,” he said. “We’re going to do lot of campaigning and point out that what really matters to people is housing, is education, jobs, opportunities and opposing what the Tories are doing in the Welfare Reform Bill.

“We will do our best to get sufficient powers to the Scottish Parliament to try to reduce the impact of the disastrous welfare reform bill on the people of Scotland.”

And he repeated his position on Trident, saying his belief that it should be scrapped had been well known for years and would win popular support in Scotland.

Hmm. That’s six mentions of ‘Scotland’, just in the comments quoted here. Perhaps Ms Hunter and The National were mistaken?

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Ministers unveil plans to cut spending. They’ll hit the poor again because they’re lazy

Local authorities and their representatives have called for £60 billion of government spending to be devolved to them in order to achieve £20 billion of savings – a forlorn hope!

George Osborne, who called for proposals on how to make the savings in advance of November’s spending review, will go for anything that attacks the poor.

He knows his party, you see. Tories are rich and they are lazy – and they want to continue being rich and lazy. Therefore they support policies that support their wealth and indolence, and hammering the poor does that just fine.

There is a reason Tories support austerity – it transfers money away from the poorest in society (who can starve or freeze to death in the street as far as Tories are concerned – and have done so since the Conservatives took office) and hands it to the richest.

Osborne may offer a sop to the Local Government Organisation but This Blog does not expect him to alter course now.

George Osborne is to be given proposals from cabinet ministers on Friday about how they plan to cut their departmental budgets by 25% or 40%, marking the start of negotiations about how the government will slash £20bn in central government spending.

The chancellor set the deadline for submissions from departments with non-protected budgets for Friday, asking them to model the two different scenarios of cuts before November’s spending review.

The reductions will affect all departments except health, spending on education per pupil, national security and international development.

Source: Deadline arrives for ministers’ plans to cut spending by up to 40% | Politics | The Guardian

NHS Wales should be praised for employing agency nurses to keep care standards high

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The facts about health service pay: If NHS Wales is having to employ agency staff, perhaps it is because the Conservative Government does not provide enough funding for NHS employees. Maybe this is why so many have been lured abroad by higher pay and better standards of living.

A Freedom of Information request by the Welsh Conservatives has revealed that NHS Wales had to spend £190 million on agency doctors and nurses in the last four years. Shame on NHS Wales, right?

Well, no. This merely demonstrates the cack-handed way the Conservatives have been running the health service since taking office as part of the Coalition Government in 2010.

Does anybody remember reports last year that the Conservative-led Coalition Government had dumped 4,000 senior nurses since 2010, considering them to be “disposable” and “a quick way to save money”?

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said at the time: “We are facing a Europe-wide shortage of nursing staff and the last thing the NHS should be doing at this time is treating its highly experienced staff as disposable.

“We need to be doing everything we can to retain the skills we have in the NHS rather than using them as a quick and easy way to make savings.”

These words clearly fell on deaf ears in the Department of Health, which continued to cut nursing staff. Cuts in health spending in England are mirrored, via the Barnett formula, in funding provided to the devolved health services elsewhere in the UK, meaning that the Welsh Government has had to reduce money provided for other services in order to address the cut in spending – and service standard – caused by Tory changes.

That has taken several years to accomplish – as this blog has made clear in previous articles. The Westminster government’s grant to Wales has been cut by a massive 10 per cent since 2010.

And what has happened to our highly-qualified NHS staff members in the meantime? It seems they have been attracted abroad by foreign health services that treat their workforce with more respect.

Vox Political commenter karenmarieuk, responding to a recent article, told us: “My daughter now lives in South Africa and is treated by British staff at both her GP surgery and her local hospital.”

She asked: “Why do our health care professionals have to emigrate to earn the respect they deserve? Our nursing staff are canvassed regularly by Australia, being offered incentives such as housing and vastly improved lifestyles as well as pay that puts the UK to shame! This is just one country from many.

“When, I wonder, will the UK stop this mass exodus and try keeping staff here?”

When indeed? Never, under a Conservative government.

The Welsh Tories have shot themselves in the foot (again) with their ridiculous claims following this FoI request. The total amount spent on agency staff by NHS Wales comes to 1/120 of funding every year, to be compared with the 10 per cent cut from Conservative and Conservative-led Westminster governments.

Conservative politics has caused the problem, not a Labour-run health service.

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A Conservative victory: Now our suffering begins in earnest

150508NHSgone

If you thought you had it bad under the Coalition then, as someone once said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

The Conservative victory in last night’s election has left many of us reeling – not just because of its disastrous implications for the future of the UK and its citizens, but because nobody saw it coming.

Some have blamed ‘shy’ Tory voters. These are selfish little liars who skew the polls by denying any intention to vote for the Nasty Party. In the case of yesterday’s vote, many will have done so against their own best interests.

So why did they do it? The most likely reason being touted overnight is the success of the Conservative Party’s big scare tactic: The lie that Labour would go into a coalition with the Scottish National Party in the event of a hung Parliament. Cameron made vague claims that this would hit everybody in the wallet and Middle England – already burdened by a £4,000 per year loss of earnings thanks to Tory austerity – turned into a tribe of ‘shy’ Tories.

With the polls duly skewed, there was no way for Ed Miliband and Labour to know that their strategy wasn’t going to work for them, so they carried on. Britain fell into the Tory trap and now David Cameron has a slim majority.

And we are all in deep, deep trouble.

For supporters of the SNP, the disappointment must be the most bitter. Still, they supported a party with the most contradictory message of all – vote SNP in Scotland because Labour is bad, so that the SNP can go into coalition with Labour MPs from everywhere else because Labour is good.

It seems likely the most straightforward reason they voted SNP is because they had been whipped into a frenzy of righteous indignance about the independence referendum, believing the SNP propaganda that Labour was “in cahoots” with the Conservative Party – not just over the referendum but on general policy as well; ‘Red Tories’ was the SNP brand on Labour.

(Of course, others responded by labelling the SNP ‘Tartan Tories’. It is ironic that all this bickering resulted in the real Tories seizing power.)

So Scottish voters believed an SNP lie about Labour, and the knock-on effect was that English (and some Welsh) voters were convinced by a Conservative lie about Labour and the SNP. This created a domino effect which eventually meant that every single Scottish seat could have gone to the SNP, and the UK would still have ended up with a Tory government.

Is Nicola Sturgeon proud of herself? She seems to be. One is led to wonder how her party will respond to Tory legislation, when Parliament resumes.

Interestingly, Jon Craig (of Sky News) tweeted: “Tory at East Renfrewshire count: ‘Nicola Sturgeon has won more votes for the Conservatives in England than she has for the SNP in Scotland.'”

If anything, the election has demonstrated that Conservative/Coalition policy has created an atmosphere of division in the UK, greater than at any time in our history. Nationalism is on the rise, with Scotland keen to secede from the union and the UK as a whole heading for a referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.

The SNP result should also signal the death-knell of the First Past The Post voting system in this country – although its demise is likely to be protracted (the Tories will fight tooth and nail to keep it). Where’s the fairness in a system that can deliver 56 seats to the SNP with 1.5 million votes, and only one seat to UKIP, with nearly four million votes?

(This Writer supports neither party, as previous articles on this blog make all-too-clear. Facts are facts.)

It will also be interesting to see what impact – if any – the Coalition’s ‘individual voter registration’ has had on the number of people who voted. Also, how many people didn’t bother to vote “because it never changes anything”?

Come to that, what about all those people who were forced to move out of affluent areas because they couldn’t pay the Bedroom Tax (which will, of course, continue)? Did they move into Labour constituencies?

We could be looking at interference in the electoral process on an industrial scale.

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Feel free to disagree with the free pass this image gives to Scottish voters if you like; the claim about voters in England is absolutely on the button.

Overall, the situation is best summed up by ‘Grumpy David’ on Twitter: “Seriously, who’s looked at the last five years and gone yeah, more of that please?”

What of the future?

Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK tweeted that a Tory victory would mean neo-feudalism is on its way in England, the union will be broken (with Scotland seceding), and the UK will leave the EU. He also predicted an economic crisis within a year.

Europe will be a major issue for the Conservatives now. With no Liberal Democrat partners to blame for government decisions, Cameron will be exposed to attack from his own backbenchers – many of whom are raving Europhobes.

Everyone on benefits will suffer, including those in work. Rachel Martin tweeted: “If exit polls are accurate I advise you not to be poor, not to be ill, not to be old and not to be in need of a job.”

The Tory victory means the end of the welfare state as we know it: People who deserve compassion will get none. Instead they will suffer £12 billion of cuts. Many thousands will die for the sake of a few pennies.

And the NHS? Privatised. With the provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that will lock that privatisation into international law. Here’s Jacob Richardson: “Imagine seeing rape crisis shelters being closed and children’s palliative care being sold off to Virgin Healthcare, and wanting more of it.”

Workers’ pay will take a hammering – and our ability to protest and get a fair deal will be removed, along with the rest of our rights according to the Human Rights Act. They will be replaced by a ‘Bill of Rights’ telling us more about what we can’t do than what we can.

The Labour Party will need to get its act together quickly. Probably the best thing to do is get right back out to the general public and get confirmation of why the vote went to the Tories. Was Labour policy too close to the party’s arch-rivals, as some have surmised? Did people feel Labour wasn’t offering a genuine alternative? There will be a conflict between the neoliberal Blairites and traditionalists, and it is important that traditional Labour wins. If there’s one thing to learn from the SNP victory, it’s that a genuinely left-wing, anti-austerity platform delivers a massive victory at the moment.

The Liberal Democrats have been destroyed as a Parliamentary political party – and rightly so. The message for others to take away is that any form of compliance with Conservatives is fatal. The Tories will shift blame for anything bad onto their partners and contrive to win more votes.

UKIP is also a spent force. Despite increasing its vote share, its representation in Parliament has been halved. Voters will see this and abandon.

The SNP has taken on the role that the Liberal Democrats enjoyed at the 2010 election. They were the darlings of the voters this year but will lose out when it becomes clear that they cannot deliver a single promise – and, in fact, their victory in Scotland ensured that they would not be able to do so.

Finally, what can we do – the public?

We need to watch the Conservatives – and any of their known collaborators – hawkishly. We need to build up information about them, their policies, and any other interests – including and especially those that are less than legal (and there will be a lot of this). They won because the public believed them. It is important to undermine that trust with the facts.

We need also to ensure that the Liberal Democrats do not stage a comeback. That party betrayed the people and must be consigned to history. Again, we need to monitor the behaviour of its members and work to make sure the public is not gulled into a false sense of trust.

And it would be good to start thinking about the kind of country we would create, if we had the chance – and what steps we could take to build it. This may seem like pie-in-the-sky at such a dark point in our nation’s history, but it is only with careful and clever planning that anybody achieves anything.

We are in a very dark pit at the moment – dug for us by the Conservative Party. At least we can take heart that, from here, the only way is up.

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Labour’s new policies show it has been listening

He means business: Ed Miliband announces Labour's plans for business and industry at Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands.

He means business: Ed Miliband announces Labour’s plans for business and industry at Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands.

The Labour Party has announced a series of new policies intended to improve conditions for both small and large industries in the UK.

They are the latest in an apparently-unending flood of new policies to be placed before the public since the ‘long campaign’ began in earnest at the beginning of the year.

It seems likely that they follow on from a series of in-depth public consultations, such as ‘Your Britain’, that the party has always said would contribute to the shape of its 2015 manifesto.

For once, it seems, a political party was not lying!

Labour announced yesterday, “Ed Miliband will emphasise that Labour’s plan for creating wealth does not rely on just a few at the very top but on boosting productivity in every business and sector of the British economy.

“[He] will declare that Britain needs a better plan for prosperity than the Government’s failing plan which relies on allowing the most powerful and wealthy to do whatever they want.”

Crucially, the party is emphasising that “this modern industrial strategy is a different approach for Labour than in the past because it seeks to support working families not simply through tax-and-spend redistribution but by building a more inclusive prosperity.”

Here are the key points, as described by Labour:

Labour will back small businesses and new entrepreneurs who will provide the growth and jobs of the future.

·         Cutting business rates

·         Improving training and apprenticeships

·         Promoting competition in energy and banking to ensure market efficiency, lower bills and better access to finance

·         Handing more economic power to every part of the UK with £30 billion of devolved funding

Labour will back our biggest exporters which need certainty to invest:

·         Staying in a reformed EU and not taking risks with our membership

·         Building a strong economic foundation with a tough and balanced approach to cutting the deficit

·         Making long-term investment by implementing the Armitt Review recommendation for a National Infrastructure Commission

·         Guaranteeing Britain has the most competitive rate of corporation tax in the G7

·         Promoting long-termism by changing the rules on takeovers

Labour will back our big employing sectors such as retail and social care by tackling undercutting, with firms coming together to raise productivity and standards: 

·         Industry led bodies to raise productivity, like we have now in the car industry

·         Banning exploitative zero hours contracts

·         Raising the National Minimum Wage closer to average earnings  – £8 an hour by 2020

·         Offering tax breaks to employers who adopt the Living Wage

·         Making it illegal to undercut by exploiting migrant workers

Labour will back every sector of the economy by ensuring the public sector plays an active part in driving up productivity by: 

·         Recognising its role in supporting cutting-edge innovation and research

·         Making strategic investment and procurement decisions

In a speech at Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands, Mr Miliband was expected to attack the current situation under the Conservative-led Coalition government: “When working people are held back, the country doesn’t prosper as it should. When families don’t have money to spend, it holds back our economy.  When there is so much insecurity in the economy, businesses can’t plan for the long term. When people don’t have the chance to develop their skills and pursue a promotion, our companies become less productive and less competitive in the world.”

He was expected to promise support for both small and large businesses: “The jobs of tomorrow will come from a large number of small businesses, not simply a small number of large ones. Our plan recognises that. We will have a fairer tax system, keeping corporation tax the lowest in the G7 for large businesses, but also cutting and freezing business rates for smaller ones. We will create a British Investment Bank, supported by a network of new regional banks and more competition in business banking on the high street, to help small businesses grow. And a new Small Business Administration to co-ordinate work across government to help small businesses succeed.”

There are also plans to decentralise power, moving it away from London, and to help businesses plan for the long term.

That’s a lot of information to absorb in one go. What do you think of it?

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Electoral Reform Society criticises Tory plans for England-only votes

electoral-reform-soc

Thanks to Tom Pride for flagging up this story: The non-partisan Electoral Reform Society has criticised William Hague’s announcement of the Conservative proposal for giving English MPs the only say over England-only legislation, saying such important constitutional changes should be decided by the public, not just by MPs.

Darren Hughes, Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It may seem like the most natural thing in the world to give English MPs a veto over laws that affect only England. But the truth is this proposal would have huge implications for the way we are governed. It’s impossible to isolate this issue from wider constitutional questions about where power lies in the UK. We need to answer those questions in full, but that process cannot take place behind closed doors.”

“A citizen-led Convention would put people, not politicians, in the driving seat when it comes to settling our constitutional future. It’s the only way to answer these difficult questions and come to a settlement that commands legitimacy and respect. It’s time to put an end to these back-room deals and unilateral announcements, whether it’s the Conservatives in England or Labour in Scotland. Let’s give citizens a chance to decide where power should lie in the UK.”

So the Electoral Reform Society is supporting Labour’s call for a constitutional convention, and saying it should be led by citizens, not politicians.

What are the chances?

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Labour plans ‘biggest devolution of economic power and funding for generations’

Ed Balls: He wants to put £30 billion worth of infrastructure funding into the hands of local government.

Ed Balls: He wants to put £30 billion worth of infrastructure funding into the hands of local government.

Today’s most interesting election announcement comes from Labour, which is promising to deliver “the biggest devolution of economic power and funding to England’s city and county regions for generations”.

Plans to devolve £30 billion of funding over five years – including funding for housing, transport, business support, employment and adult skills – will be at the heart of the next Labour government’s Spending Review, if elected in May.

A Labour Treasury will allow city and county regions which come together in combined authorities to keep 100 per cent of extra business rates revenue generated by additional growth. They will then be able to invest this to support further business growth in their regions.

All areas will be able to access these freedoms and areas which choose not to have an elected Mayor will not get a second-class deal.

It’s a clear attack on George Osborne’s plan for a “northern powerhouse” – Labour is asking, why just concentrate on ‘The North’ when so many other areas outside London need help due to Tory economic mismanagement?

It is to be hoped that Labour has not forgotten its support base in this business-friendly frenzy. Will this funding be used to promote the Living Wage, for example? Will it be used to create the new work demanded by its jobs guarantee – and will they be permanent, well-paying careers?

“Local areas will be in the driving seat on key decisions affecting their local economies – with new powers over back-to-work schemes, to drive house building, and to integrate, invest in and plan transport infrastructure,” said shadow chancellor Ed Balls, ahead of today’s announcement. It seems Labour has picked up a trick from the Tories – if this scheme fails anywhere, they will be able to blame it on local government. Hmm.

“And we will also let city and county regions keep all the additional business rates revenue generated by growth… We will not only back our great cities, but our towns and county regions too. Not just urban areas, but also rural areas.”

So there is much to recommend this plan – if a Labour government in Westminster can co-ordinate successfully with local authorities, of all colours, in the regions.

Or is this building castles in the air?

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‘New Scottish powers’ Bill published – but is it any good?

The Smith Commission, which included members of the SNP [Image: PA].

The Smith Commission, which included members of the SNP [Image: PA].

Today’s big news has to be the publication of draft legislation to give the Scottish Parliament more powers – in line with the recommendations of the Smith Commission and three days ahead of the government’s self-determined deadline, Burns Night.

As Vox Political has previously reported, the Smith Commission was set up to find ways of enacting the promises made by the UK’s unionist political parties in what has since been dubbed ‘The Vow’. It reported back in November with recommendations that, in fact, added and expanded on those in The Vow. Scottish Nationalists condemned the report, claiming the opposite – that promises had been “watered down”.

It is worth noting that the Smith Commission gave equal representation to members of all main parties in the Scottish Parliament, including the SNP, and its recommendations were supported unanimously.

The new draft legislation is written in a form that seems to go out of its way to demonstrate that it is taking nothing away from either the Smith Commission recommendations or The Vow. It is available for download here.

This blog is not going to offer an opinion on the draft legislation at this time. Instead, readers are invited to download the document, compare it with what was offered, and then provide an informed opinion in the ‘Comment’ column.

Be aware that “It’s a load of pish” is not an informed opinion; if you disagree with any part of what is on offer, you should state where the offending passage can be found and how it diverges from what was promised.

Does the offer live up to the promise?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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