Tag Archives: Better Together

Has Chuka Umunna taken leave of his senses?

Ill-judged: Blue-scarved Chukka Umunna should remember that Michael Heseltine did much to destroy the UK's communities as part of the Thatcher and Major governments.

Ill-judged: Blue-scarved Chuka Umunna should remember that Michael Heseltine did much to destroy the UK’s communities as part of the Thatcher and Major governments.

After the story in The Guardian there are only two things required of Chuka Umunna: Repudiation – or his resignation.

The article states that Blue Labour stalwart Umunna would call on Conservative heavyweight Michael Heseltine for advice if Labour wins the general election. If this is true, it is madness.

Heseltine was a leading member of the Thatcher and Major Conservative governments of the 1980s and 90s, pioneering the disastrous ‘Right to Buy’ initiative that sold off the majority of council houses without replacing them, leading to the current housing crisis and the Bedroom Tax.

More recently he authored the ‘No Stone Left Unturned’ plan which made 89 recommendations on ways of stimulating local growth – 81 of which were adopted by the Coalition Government, with little effect. The UK economy has been stagnant for many years, with productivity at around the same level as it was when the Coalition came into office; it seems any boost in GDP has come from other areas – possibly the reduction in wages brought about by the widespread abuse of zero-hours contracts to rob working people of their rights to a steady job and entitlements to holiday and sick pay.

Yet it is in this area – revitalising the cities and regions – that Umunna wants Heseltine to advise. It would be an utterly pointless exercise.

For any stimulation policy to work, it has to put money where it can be most effective – in the hands of the people who actually need it to pay for things they need. But Heseltine is a Tory – they take money away from the proles; they don’t hand it out to them. He’ll devise something that makes towns look very pretty in order to hide the rot inside as local businesses and residents go to the wall.

Not only that, but it seems Umunna has not learned the overriding lesson of the Scottish referendum campaign: Voters will not tolerate a Labour alliance with the Conservatives on any level at all.

One of the main reasons the SNP is polling so well north of the border is because of a myth propagated by its candidates and supporters, that Labour and the Conservatives are “in bed”, “in cahoots”, “in alliance” – choose the phrase you prefer. It isn’t true – Better Together was an alliance of convenience because both parties wanted Scotland to remain in the union; they have very little else in common (although the SNP has exploited the very few examples of common ground to great effect, also).

Now along comes Chuka, thinking he’s clever with a plan to be inclusive and revive the “big tent” policies of Tony Blair – another figure who is now widely reviled by the electorate – and confirming everything the SNP whisperers have been saying!

Is he trying to stab Ed Miliband in the back?

If not, then now is the time to deny the Guardian story and put Heseltine back in his box.

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Former PM picks fight with the SNP; SNP defends itself with lies

Hosie: Lies.

Hosie: Lies.

Say what you like about Gordon Brown, you have to give him a certain amount of credit for standing his ground.

Despite a constant campaign of vilification against him by the Scottish National Party and its supporters, he stood up and denounced them for failing the Scottish people yesterday.

In a speech in Glasgow, he accused the SNP of focusing on “the minutiae of Westminster insider politics” with Labour ahead of the general election, rather than “the big issues that matter such as ending poverty, unemployment, inequality and injustice in Scotland”.

He said: “Even if the SNP seem happy to spend their time talking about hung parliaments, post-election deals and coalitions, we [Labour] will spend our time talking about new Scottish jobs, new Scottish businesses and new Scottish technologies, and how we can benefit from leading a global economic revolution.”

These are arguments that hit home. The SNP is currently tying itself in knots on voters’ doorsteps, telling them that Labour in Scotland is a wasted vote, but they should support the SNP in order to see a coalition with Labour in Westminster – that most Labour MPs, candidates and supporters won’t accept anyway.

Still, the nationalist party’s deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, hit back, saying, “Given their toxic alliance with the Tories for the last two and a half years, people in Scotland would be forgiven for thinking that Labour’s focus is not what they can do for Scotland – but what they can do for their Tory allies.”

What?

There is no alliance between Labour and the Conservative Party. Any politician saying that is lying to their electorate. Stewart Hosie is a liar.

As Labour and the Conservatives have been at daggers-drawn in the House of Commons since the ConDem Coalition was formed in 2010, and Labour MSPs are not in any kind of alliance with Scottish Tories in Holyrood, it seems Hosie was referring again to the SNP’s watery claim that the Better Together campaign – in which Labour and the Tories worked for the Unionist cause – is indicative of a closer relationship between the two parties.

It runs against history, logic and sanity, but the SNP is committed to this lie and they’re damn’ well sticking to it!

Not satisfied with this display of foolishness, Hosie carried on digging: “The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to hold real power at Westminster and to deliver on the priorities of the people who live here – ending austerity, protecting our public services and investing in jobs.”

Firstly, the SNP is unlikely to hold any “real power” at Westminster after May 7 because the great majority of the British voting public don’t want it to.

Would you really put your country in the hands of an organisation that wants to weaken it terminally and then split it up?

That doesn’t make sense at all.

Hosie’s claims about austerity, public services and jobs are interesting, if only because the SNP only ever pays lip-service to these subjects. Its main campaigning platform is always that it isn’t as bad as Labour, which is a poor way to seek election.

All Labour needs to do is keep challenging these nationalists – and then pick up on the claims they make. The SNP’s claims about Labour will disappear like smoke in the wind – all Labour has to do is let in some fresh air.

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Did Labour really lie to Scotland about pensions? No!

Not lying: Gordon Brown, delivering his impassioned speech to pensioners in Fife last February [Image: George McLuskie].

Not lying: Gordon Brown, delivering his impassioned speech to pensioners in Fife last February [Image: George McLuskie].

It is time to debunk another myth that has sprung up about the Labour Party.

Even though it is only the fourth day since the Scottish independence referendum, adherents of the ‘Yes’ camp have been working hard to claim some kind of moral victory, on the grounds that the unionist parties and the ‘Better Together’ campaign lied to voters, aided by the media.

One such claim is that former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown falsely stated that Scottish people’s pensions might be threatened if Scotland broke away from the union. It has been presented as “Labour lied to us about pensions.”

Mr Brown voiced his fear in February, when it was reported in the Daily Record. “You are expecting, quite rightly, that you will get a British pension. But if there is independence, the British pension stops, the national insurance fund that you’re paying into is broken up,” the paper quotes him as saying. The report does not state that he was representing any particular organisation.

It continued: “Brown published figures showing the cash received across Scotland from the state pension, pension credit, winter fuel allowance and free TV licences.

“The statistics showed people in Scotland get a higher share of the UK pot, amounting to £200 more on average each year than their English counterparts – a total of £200 million for the country.”

Brown was said to have dismissed claims that an independent Scotland could make up the shortfall by relying on North Sea oil revenues. ‘Yes’ voters on the Vox Political Facebook page have claimed that Tony Blair took away all Scotland’s rights to North Sea oil before the Holyrood Parliament was set up, so it will be interesting to see how they tackle that part of the issue.

“He referred to a leaked document from SNP Finance Secretary John Swinney that also questioned the affordability of pensions after independence,” the paper added.

The ‘Yes’ campaign published its own claims about pensions, stating: “The Scottish Government has made clear that accrued pension rights will continue to be honoured after independence.

“So state pensions will continue to be paid as before. And so will public sector pensions – including civil service, armed forces, police, fire-fighters, NHS, universities, teachers and local government pensions. Some of these schemes are already administered by the Scottish Government.

“There will be agreement between the Scottish and UK governments as to the exact share of pension liabilities to be taken on by the Scottish Government – but it has repeatedly been made clear that no accrued pension rights will be lost.

“Private pensions will continue to operate as before. The Scottish Government will ensure there are suitable protections in place for final salary occupational schemes.”

As you can see, no mention is made of the £200 million shortfall mentioned by Mr Brown and so there is no statement about how an independent Scotland would cope with it.

Was he making it up?

For a possible answer, let’s turn to the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF). This independent organisation published ‘Scottish independence: The implications for pensions’ in November 2013.

On page seven of the document, it states: “The UK Government is responsible for the public service pension liabilities of unfunded public service schemes [unfunded means they are paid from general taxation; this applies to all state pension schemes], including the Principal Civil Service scheme and the NHS Scheme. At 31 March 2011, unfunded public service pension liabilities were £893 billion. This represents 93 per cent of public sector pension liabilities and 37 per cent of all UK pensions liabilities. The Scottish Government currently has responsibility for a small number of public service schemes, which represent less than one per cent of devolved activities. There are clear questions for the Scottish and UK Governments about how these liabilities will be divided.”

The language takes a bit of translating but this seems to be the issue to which Mr Brown was referring. State pension schemes are funded from general taxation, and the amount Scotland takes in pensions means it is subsidised to a certain extent by the rest of the UK.

It seems clear that the ‘Yes’ campaigners had no right to say that there would be no shortfall, if there remained “clear questions” on how state liabilities would be divided.

It could be argued that the statement “some of these schemes are already administered by the Scottish government” may also be misleading. How many readers were aware that this related to just one per cent of “devolved activities”, with the rest administered centrally?

That isn’t all, though. The NAPF document’s executive summary outlines four headline points of concern on which it was suggested that both the UK and Scottish governments needed to provide “greater clarity”:

“Under EU law, pension schemes with members in Scotland and in the UK could become ‘crossborder’ schemes and would, therefore, need to be fully funded at all times. A more demanding funding regime is likely to lead to the closure of defined benefit (DB) schemes [these are private schemes run by employers or sponsors]. At the very least, there should be a grace period (and an exemption) to help schemes manage any transition.

“There remains a lack of clarity about how the regulatory structure for pension schemes in an independent Scotland would work, and how any transition would be managed. Unpicking the current compensation regime would be extremely difficult and require careful management (over a long period of time). It is also likely to lead to substantial costs.

“The Scottish Government’s commitment to the introduction of the single-tier pension provides welcome clarity. However, there remain unanswered questions about how they will manage the abolition of contracting-out. It is important that employers are assisted in managing this process; otherwise there is an increased likelihood of more DB schemes closing.

“While the Pensions Paper sets out no immediate plans to alter pensions tax relief arrangements, a later Scottish Government may wish to make changes to the policy. Such changes would have implications for pension schemes administering pensions for Scottish, as well as English and Welsh, taxpayers. Any complexity in tax regimes is likely to add significant costs for employers and schemes, which are in turn likely to be passed onto pension scheme members.”

All of these had significant cost implications; none of these appear to have been addressed by the ‘Yes’ campaign in its documentation which, where it says anything at all, states only that these matters would be negotiated with the UK government.

In May 2014, three months after Mr Brown voiced his concerns, and six months after the NAPF published its document, UK pensions minister Steve Webb (Liberal Democrat) said that Scottish people who had “accumulated rights” would be entitled to current levels of the UK state pension on retirement, if Scotland voted ‘Yes’.

This was mistakenly taken by the SNP to support the ‘Yes’ campaigns claims about pensions. It did not. Mr Webb was saying that pension entitlement would be unaffected. But – as state pensions are ‘unfunded’ (they come from general taxation rather than a dedicated pension ‘pot’) he didn’t say who would pay it. Decisions on which government would pay that money had not been made. That is likely to have been a highly contentious issue if ‘Yes’ had won the day.

Furthermore, any payout of UK state pension would continue to be tied to the UK’s rules, meaning citizens of an independent Scotland would not receive it until they reached UK retirement age, no matter whether the Scottish government had changed the age limit.

So much for “independence offers the people of Scotland full control over the type of pensions system that they would like to see. It would be for the different political parties to outline their proposals, including the retirement age,” as the ‘Yes’ campaign had claimed.

It seems clear, therefore, that Mr Brown was right to raise these concerns and point out that issues needed to be addressed. It is appropriate to ask whether Mr Webb would ever have addressed these concerns publicly, had Mr Brown not raised them first.

He was not lying to anybody. Labour was not lying to anybody.

Don’t let anybody lie to you about it.

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“It’s what?” – It’s a victory for a UNITED Kingdom, that’s what!

scotlandpunish

Scaremongering: Independence campaigners claimed Scotland would face Unionist retribution for daring to hold the referendum, if its people decided to stay in the UK. It seems this will prove untrue.

At long last, a democratic vote of the people has been won by Gordon Brown.

Nobody can say this was a victory for David Cameron. Even the Torygraph which, admittedly, has had problems with the Conservative leader of late, had little to say about his role other than to say that he had been humbled by one populist politician (Nigel Farage), and came close to being “permanently undone” by another (Alex Salmond).

If the thought of seeing David Cameron “permanently undone” makes you likely to lose your breakfast (especially if you have a vivid imagination), you probably won’t be consoled by the fact that the Torygraph editorial said the same about Ed Miliband.

It went on to say that Conservative spirits have slumped, and a UKIP win in Clacton could still finish off Cameron as a political force of any kind. Is that really likely, though?

Where the Torygraph comes well and truly unstuck is in its appraisal of Labour (quelle surprise). “We now know that Labour’s wafer-thin lead is good for nothing this far from the election,” it whimpers. Do we? Do we know that? We have just seen a campaign orchestrated by a former Labour Chancellor and boosted at the end by a former Labour Prime Minister save the United Kingdom from break-up. That seems more like a solid endorsement of the Labour Party.

“For all the cross-party sheen to Better Together, behind the scenes, it was a Labour operation from start to finish,” states the Torygraph editorial in self-contradictory overdrive. In that case, Labour’s “wafer-thin” poll lead is not only an accurate representation of British feeling; it undervalues Labour’s popularity.

“The question they must be asking themselves is this: what happens when the British public start paying attention in the last weeks of April 2015? And who do they have who can have the same stabilising effect that Gordon Brown had?”

Pardon?

Gordon Brown was the man who de-stabilised Labour’s campaign in 2010 when he was recorded describing Labour voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman”! Now the Torygraph wants you to believe he stabilised voters and voting intentions?

Perhaps it’s a sign of right-wing disarray. They don’t know whether they’re coming or going.

But let’s get back to the by-election in Clacton, which will be the next test for democracy in this still-united nation. The Telegraph (let’s dignify it with its proper title) wants you to believe that UKIP might win it, but doesn’t the referendum result indicate that the result must depend on turnout?

UKIP won its seats in the European election on an average turnout of around 34 per cent. Turnout for the referendum was 84.5 per cent. It seems clear that ‘populist’ politicians like Farage can only win if turnout is low and they mobilise all their supporters to come out and vote. It’s the same with any political organisation whose views are seen as (with apologies to Yes supporters) extremist; they rely on middle-of-the-road voters staying at home.

Lately, that has been exactly what has happened – and we have all seen what that gave us.

It seems the tide has turned.

Practical issues: David Cameron has made it clear that he plans to honour promises made by his Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats to devolve more powers to Scotland in the event of a ‘No’ vote. Many commenters on this blog and its associated Facebook page were determined to make the rest of us believe this was a lie; they should be eating their words around now, along with a little Humble Pie, perhaps.

The timetable is swift, with agreement on new powers over tax, spending and social security to come in November and the legislation in January.

Lastly, a note of caution:

David Cameron scuttled out of his hole after the result was decided,  to deliver a speech about the future.  He said: “We now have a chance – a great opportunity – to change the way the British people are governed, and change it for the better.”

Isn’t that exactly what he was supposed to have been doing for the last four years – and making a disastrous, hopeless mess of it?

He reckons his government is going to draw up new powers for Wales, Northern Ireland and England as well, and he has brought in William Hague to oversee the latter. So it’s going to be a self-serving disaster for democracy, then.

If there’s one thing we can trust Cameron and Hague to do, it is flushing our rights down history’s lavatory. For all we know, they don’t even understand the proper way to sit on one.

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