Category: Post Election

Radiate Coinage – Hubert Huzzah

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The Deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative and Unionist Party can be criticised for a lot of reasons. The accusation that it is a bribe is roughly denied by the Conservative and Unionist Party. The claim that it should trigger payments to Scotland under the Barnett Formula are dismissed because this is additional money and not expenditure for issues for which the devolved administrations, as distinct from Westminster, are responsible. The Barnett Formula dismissal and the denial of bribery combine to suggest that the Conservative and Unionist Party have made a fundamental error of negotiation.

Big Data is all about bringing together large data sets from multiple sources, combining them, using statistical argument and data processing power to draw conclusions. It is as much about exploring the data as deciding what to do. The Conservative and Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party – the CUP and DUP – insistence that this is legitimately extra money that is additional spending can be examined through the ideas of Big Data. The existence of Electoral Law makes understanding the money correct incredibly important for the CUP and DUP and Democracy. The money needs to be additional to whatever would have been spent had the DUP not been part of the Government but also it needs to be money that is extra across the whole budget in order to fall outside of the Barnett Formula.

The Barnett Formula is a principle for calculation and a formula. Expenditure on issues for which the devolved administrations, as distinct from Central Government, are responsible is governed by the Barnett Formula’s principle. Any change in England will automatically lead to a proportionate matching change for the devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The principal issue is control. If Central Government directs and controls the expenditure then the expenditure falls out of the Barnett Formula principle but if the expenditure is controlled by the devolved administration then it falls inside the principle.

The first claim being made by the CUP and DUP Government is that the money is not covered by the principle which means that the expenditure is controlled by Central Government and is therefore exempt from being matched by payouts to other administrations. In essence the DUP must do as instructed with the expenditure.

This requires a particular interpretation of the actual Formula part of the Barnett Formula.

There are four parts to the Formula: 

F: the amount of extra funding in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland
P: the population proportion compared to England
E: the additional funding given to England
C: the extent to which relevant English departmental programme is comparable with services carried out by the Devolved administration 

F = PEC                                                                                                   (1) 

Once you know PEC it becomes possible to work out F. Which seems pedantic to say but it highlights how people understand mathematics. It also highlights how the CUP and DUP are seeking to reinterpret the Barnett Formula for their own purposes. The essential attempt at reinterpretation is to suggest that this additional money which would mean that the extent to which relevant English Departmental programmes can be compared ceases to have meaning. In essence the Barnett Formula is avoided by suggesting there is something exceptional about Northern Ireland and so the Barnett Formula can be ignored. 

The Barnett Formula was a 1979 innovation to help negotiate in Cabinet between Departments in the lead up to devolution of powers and, according to the House of Commons Library, has no legal standing or democratic justification. The danger for the Barnett Formula is that it is uniquely sensitive to negotiating positions: once you know PEC you can work out F. 

If the Government of the day gives £X to England or Scotland or Northern Ireland or Wales then it is possible to infer how much additional money the other three places might legitimately expect. The CUP and DUP have insisted that the money falls outside of the Barnett Formula and so those expectations can be driven by one thing and one thing only: the per capita amount. The extent to which relevant English departmental programme is comparable with services carried out by the Devolved administration is irrelevant to additional money outside of the Barnett Formula and so the expectation amount depends upon the strength of the bargaining position. It is a real example of a municipal market at work where each identifiable region negotiates with Central Government for additional money. For the CUP and DUP, committed to free market economics this is an obvious development that fits with their stated ideological stance.

What is clear from the CUP and DUP agreement is that the outcome is based upon negotiation not formulation. It is an outcome that can be applied across constituencies. By understanding the claim that the CUP and DUP make – that this is not a bribe or corrupt practice within either the letter or spirit of Electoral Law – the amounts given to the ten DUP Constituencies forms the basis for calculating what every single Constituency should seek to negotiate to achieve. This is money that is outside the Barnett Formula and so can only be calculated on the basis of a per capita basis. In other words, the Government only avoids the accusation of corruption by accepting an adaptation of the Barnett Formula.

The Government is, effectively maintaining that funding is not corrupt. Which suggests that all Constituencies – or at least those constituencies that argue for it – should receive a proportional funding allotment. In short, the CUP and DUP formula is a per capita allotment. Using the same principle as the Poll Tax, the CUP and DUP have devised a Poll Credit – a kind of reverse Poll Tax. In the same way that the Poll Tax was a tax levied on every adult, without reference to income or resources, the Poll Credit is a benefit disbursed outside of reference to equitable principles. What can be understood from the Benefit disbursement is that the Government consider an additional amount of financial support should be given to People who demonstrate those qualities that are admired by the CUP and DUP. In short it is a Tamworth Manifesto Formula.

The Tamworth Manifesto defined what it is to be a Tory. It is a document central to the ideology of the Tories for almost two centuries. It sets the Tories against a perpetual vortex of agitation and proposes reform to survive as being the central principle of Tory Ideology. That principle of reforming to survive has replaced the principle of the Barnett Formula with a Tamworth Principle. It is a principle that relies on expenditure only when necessary for the survival of the Tory Government. In short: it puts a price on Tory power and it is the price that the Tories would seek to pay in any negotiations.

The CUP and DUP will claim that the people of the United Kingdom will benefit from the Tamworth Formula. The benefit – the Poll Creditcomes about from knowing what the price the Tories are willing to pay for support in Parliament. We know it amounts to about £1.5Bn between ten DUP Members of Parliament. To be more precise, their constituencies. The Poll Credit would be the amount per capita – per head – the Tories are willing to pay for support. Using the Tamworth Formula with the known figures of £1.5Bn distributed to the DUP Constituencies as follows:

Infrastructure £750m
Roads £150m
Broadband £150m
Health Service £200m
Health Service Deficit £50m
Mental Health £50m
Community Deprivation £100m
Education £50m
Total £1.5Bn 

This equates to a Poll Credit per person of £3,985 based on the Electoral Populations of the DUP seats. The detail for the spending of that £3,985 is as follows: 

Infrastructure £1,992
Roads £399
Broadband £399
Health Service £531
Health Service Deficit £133
Mental Health £133
Community Deprivation £266
Education £133
Total £3,985 

Which comes from applying the Tamworth Manifesto principles. The DUP and CUP avoid the accusation that there is a bribe being offered or accepted. A bribe would be absurd: no Parliamentary Party would ever consider offering or accepting anything so corrupt. Particularly not when Public Money was involved. This Poll Credit is in addition to any planned spending – to avoid being regulated by the Barnett Formula

In short, the Tamworth Manifesto principles give a quantifiable and reasonable demand for each and every Member of Parliament to begin negotiations for additional spending in their Constituency. Not only does the additional expenditure in non-DUP Constituencies demonstrate that this is not a bribe, it also demonstrates that, for purposes of reforming to survive the Tory Party must entertain, seriously, negotiations with Members of Parliament for specific amounts of funding to be spent in their constituency. Within the constraints of the spending allocations defined by the DUP and CUP Confidence and Supply arrangement, Members of Parliament would be reasonable in seeking £3,985 per Voter in their Constituency. 

Disbursing £3,985 per voter, in additional spending, would be the sign that the Conservative Party has taken seriously the Localism Act 2011 and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act 2016. Going against the spirit of these Laws – that the Conservative Party sought, and put in place, during a Coalition and then again during a Majority Government would be a rejection of the core principle of the Tory Party as put forward by the Tamworth Manifesto. In short, the Government has unwittingly announced the starting price for the ending of Austerity. 

It is a long price list. The total value is £138,157,375,788 or about £138.2Bn. The figure is not exact as there are roundings of values and the total includes the money already given to the DUP. It amounts to about £69Bn of additional spending. That is over and above the expected budget. Because, anything else would be a bribe. The full list of Poll Credit amounts, listed by Constituency is several pages of figures. But it is instructive. Ranging from Na h-Eileanan An Iar, the cheapest, at £53,239,298 through to Bristol West, the most expensive at £386,699,750. This is not some reflection of the politics of each MP but of the Poll Credit principle that arises from the abolition of the Barnet Formula principle. Indeed, some MPs with the highest price include Theresa May at £298,924,238 or Leo Docherty in Aldershot at £208,339,956 or even Phillipa Parry at £94,070,366

The difficulty with these sort of notes is that it is difficult to show all 651 price tags without the text becoming tedious. Adding a formula into any kind of document, according to anecdotal evidence, cuts the audience by half. Turning it into an infographic obscures a lot of information. 

Sometimes detail is necessary. For example, if the money were distributed by Party then the picture would be something like this:

Conservative £71Bn
Democratic Unionist Party £2Bn
Green £0.25Bn
Independent £0.1Bn
Labour £55Bn
Liberal Democrat £2.2Bn
Plaid Cymru £0.5Bn
Scottish National Party £5.5Bn
Sinn Fein £1.3Bn 

It is an inexact set of figures. Approximations of where bidding should begin. But this is the kind of political marketplace the Tories have created in order to pretend they are not being propped up with a bribe. 

 —

 

Picture: Item from the “Installation Works from The Chapman Family Collection 2002” (Jake and Dinos Chapman).

Guest post by Hubert Huzzah

Theresa May faces legal challenge regarding DUP ‘arrangement’

Image result for DUP Tory arrangement

Talks between the DUP and the Government “haven’t proceeded in a way that DUP would have expected”, sources have told Sky News.

Apparently, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is urging the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations and that the “party can’t be taken for granted”. It has been widely expected that the DUP will want more money for Northern Ireland as part of the deal.

A day before setting out her legislative measures in the Queen’s Speech, Theresa May has yet to secure a deal with the DUP to allow her Government programme to survive a Commons vote.

The talks have been ongoing since the Conservatives failed to win an outright parliamentary majority in a disastrous General Election on 8 June.

May says she is confident that the DUP will eventually back her, but a deal remains elusive.

The wider context of politics in Northern Ireland is adding to problems, and the government’s involvement in attempts to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont is under criticism. Many of us have said that this is problematic because May cannot claim impartiality in negotiations, since she is relying on the DUP to prop up her government. There are also worrying implications for the Good Friday Agreement, and many of us have been concerned that a Conservative and DUP arrangement may be in breach of the agreement, and may compromise the important peace deal.

Almost on cue, the Guardian reports that Theresa May is facing a landmark legal challenge over her proposed deal with the Democratic Unionist party on the grounds that it breaches the Good Friday agreement. 

An experienced legal team, which has been involved in constitutional challenges, is planning to apply for a judicial review of the deal once it is announced. 

High court judges would be asked to examine whether the pact breaches the British government’s commitment to exercise “rigorous impartiality” in the Good Friday agreement. 

The case, which could be heard in the supreme court because of its constitutional significance, follows warnings by politicians from all sides that the deal risks undermining the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said on Tuesday that the deal to support the Conservative’s minority government may not be sealed until after the Queen’s speech.

It is understood that the legal challenge has been in preparation for some time but that any action would be announced after the prime minister outlines the deal in the coming days. 

Lawyers are believed to have found a lead claimant to fight the case, similar to the role that the investment banker Gina Miller had when she won a supreme court ruling ordering ministers to introduce emergency legislation to authorise Britain’s departure from the EU in January.

It is understood that potential lead claimants have been warned to expect significant press attention – Miller has said the Brexit case made her the most hated woman in Britain – and that the claim will need to be crowdfunded. 

Lawyers are understood to be keen for the judicial review to be heard before the end of this year at the latest.

An announcement of a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP to form a minority government was expected last Wednesday but was delayed due to the Grenfell Tower fire, in which it was announced that at least 79 people died or are presumed dead. Many expect that number to rise.

Politicians from all sides have warned the prime minister that striking a deal with Arlene Foster’s party could put the fragile peace in Northern Ireland at risk.

Sir John Major said last week that a deal risked alienating armed republicans and loyalists, and cause resentment in other parts of the UK if the government made promises to spend large amounts of public money.

The Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, also accused May of not honouring the Good Friday agreement after meeting the prime minister last week.

The Guardian is also aware that a Northern Ireland law firm has considered a similar challenge. 

The legal challenge is likely to focus on subsection five of article 1 of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which states that the UK and Irish governments “affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.”

The phrase “rigorous impartiality” and what it implies is likely to be the crucial legal issue to be tested. 

In a commentary last week, Colin Harvey, professor of human rights law at Queen’s University, Belfast, wrote: “‘Rigorous impartiality’… is central to the Good Friday agreement and to the British-Irish agreement (an international treaty between the UK and Ireland). The concept flows from the complex right of self-determination on which the current British-Irish constitutional compromise is based.

“Any deal between the Conservative party and the DUP that infringed the above principles or strayed directly onto Good Friday agreement territory (such as, for example, ruling out a unity referendum) runs a real risk of being in breach of article 1 of the British-Irish agreement.”

 

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Grenfell, inequality and the Conservatives’ bonfire of red tape

Residents were trapped "screaming for their lives" as flames raged through a 27-storey tower block in Notting Hill in the early hours today

The Grenfell Tower fire reflects a colossal betrayal of working class people’s trust by the state. The Conservatives have emphasised “economic growth” at the expense of citizen’s welfare in their policies since taking office in 2010. This is a government that has rewarded the propertied class and punished the renting class (by inflicting policies such as the bedroom tax, and the welfare cap, for example). It’s a government that values and supports profiteering landlords, who have lobbied against essential safeguarding regulation, and one that has also imposed massive local authority budget cuts. 

It’s estimated that there are more than 700 tower blocks in London. These range from the brand new luxury apartments to the post-war council-owned buildings which were seen as a convenient cure to problems caused by the crumbling and unsanitary 19th Century slums.

Around 8% of Londoners now live in tower blocks. Some of the flats are bought for millions; others are relatively low-cost social housing, rented from a local council at a fraction of the private rate. Grenfell Tower itself was designed in 1967, building started in 1972 and finished in 1974.

Originally built as municipal housing as part of the slum clearances of the 1960s, it had 120 one and two-bedroom flats over 20 of its 24 storeys, and was renovated in 2016.

Grenfell House is in a neighbourhood ranked among the most deprived 10% in England.

The BBC’s Bethan Bell says

“Just two miles away – or four stops along the Circle/Hammersmith and City line – is 3 Merchant Square, a 21-storey tower that is part of a new development around Paddington Basin. The contemporary block was finished in 2016 and holds 60 apartments over 15 storeys.

It’s a different world. The penthouse apartment was sold for £7.5m. One-bedroom flats are at least £1m.

Surrounded by restaurants and bars, workers and residents can lounge on deckchairs on a newly-built floating park. Lunchtime yoga sessions are held and there’s a luxury fitness club.

There’s an enormous fountain and a bridge created by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, a nursery and winter garden.

But nice though these peripheries undoubtedly are, they don’t keep people safe from fire. For that, we must have a look at the specifications of the apartments in the tower. 

Once you get past the sales brochure description of 3 Merchant Square’s walnut cutlery drawer inserts and integral wine coolers, the adjustable mood lighting and heated bathroom walls, you come to the fire safety details: Every flat has not only ceiling mounted smoke detectors but sprinklers.

The International Fire Sprinkler Association (IFSA) says that automatic fire sprinkler systems are the single most effective fire protection measure available, and are able to make up for a wide range of other fire protection deficiencies.

There has never been a multiple loss of life from a fire developing in a building protected by a properly designed, installed and maintained fire sprinkler system. While fire sprinkler systems have been required in new high-rise residential buildings in England since 2007, it is not compulsory to retrofit them into existing buildings. So Grenfell Tower had none.”

It’s a tale of two cities.

The former chief fire officer Ronnie King, honorary secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety and rescue – which had recommended fitting sprinklers to buildings to save lives – has said the regulations “badly need updating” and “three successive ministers have not done it”.

“My own thinking is there was the red tape challenge and they don’t really want to put regulation on to businesses, adding a burden.

“It’s one of those that if you bring in a new regulation, you have got to give three up to get it.” 

This echoes my own comments yesterday

In 2012, David Cameron vowed to “cut back on the health and safety legislation “monster”, and to “kill off the health and safety culture for good.” The Conservatives’ Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.” The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”: 

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job. 

Among others.  

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.” I don’t see any balanced democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak. 

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks companies to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building. 

This “builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament.” It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public. Conservative ideology prioritises private profit over human needs. New Right neoliberalism is all about privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and a “small state” commitment entailing reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

The problem is that the government regards regulations as an inconvenience – as raising unnecessary obstacles to free market economics – business, growth, competition and “innovation”, while disregarding the fact that regulations actually serve important social objectives. 

The Conservatives have long argued that “red tape” impedes freedom and “damages productivity”. They have glibly assured us that the UK would be a better place with a lot of deregulation and fewer bureacratic “barriers” to business. The 2010-15 Tory Health and Safety “reforms” (that word is always a Conservative euphemism for cuts) have been motivated, for example, by a belief that: “good health and safety is important, but the burden of excessive health and safety rules and regulations on business had become too great and a damaging compensation culture was stifling innovation and growth. We want to protect people in the workplace while reducing the burden of unnecessary health and safety rules and regulations on businesses.”

The “red tape” that the Conservatives regard with such disdain consists of laws that provide essential public protections and rights that prioritise citizen’s lives. The freedoms being protected by this government are those of the rich to exploit the poor, of corporations to exploit employees and the public, of landlords to exploit their tenants and, to nick a sentence from George Monbiot, of industry to use the planet as its dustbin.

2012 report by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) concluded that fire sprinklers could be retrofitted with tenants in place at a cost of about £1,150 a flat. Since the 24-storey Grenfell Tower contained 120 flats, it would have worked out at £138,000. That’s significantly less than the £2.6m spent on the cosmetic cladding and replacement windows

Architect and fire expert Sam Webb said: “We are still wrapping post-war high-rise buildings in highly flammable materials and leaving them without sprinkler systems installed, then being surprised when they burn down.

I really don’t think the building industry understands how fire behaves in buildings and how dangerous it can be. The government’s mania for deregulation means our current safety standards just aren’t good enough.”

Some of these issues were raised in a report following a fatal fire at a tower block in 2009 in Camberwell, in which six people were killed.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, said his predecessor in the role had accepted the report’s recommendations and put them into action.

He said: “The coroner did not recommend new planning regulations. The coroner recommended a change in the guidance. There is a lot of information out there and it is right that it is independently looked at by a judge-led inquiry.” 

When asked whether the government would retrofit sprinkler systems to tower blocks, he said: “I don’t think we can immediately jump to the conclusion that sprinklers is the issue here. We will do whatever it takes.”

An associate pastor of Notting Hill Community Church, Danny Vance, says “the poor are constantly neglected” in the city.

He said: “The disparity between rich and poor in this city is disgusting. This would not have happened to the £5m flats around the corner” [from the Grenfell tower].

Theresa May has announced a £5 million emergency fund for the survivors of the Grenfell inferno, amid angry protests over the government’s lack of appropriate reaction to the tragedy, and what survivors see as the slow emergence of information with regard to loved ones and friends who are still missing.

It’s worth considering that the Conservatives consistently spend close to the £19m general election spending limit on their campaigns. In comparison with the funding offered to people and their families who have lost loved ones and friends, their homes, and all of their belongings, it highlights a problem with our democracy. It is one of political priority. Much more money is spent by the Conservatives on staying in power than it is on pressing social need, reflecting the somewhat corrupt priorities of this government. 

The Labour party have said that the £5 million isn’t enough. It really isn’t. 

Grenfell Tower stands as a dreadful symbol of the failings of austerity for which the Conservatives are culpable. It’s an emblem of the intentional Conservative attacks on our poorer citizens. Tory MPs have sneeringly  rejected housing regulation; they implemented cuts to councils responsible for retro-fitting fire suppressants; they disregarded the coroner’s instructions after the 2009 Lakanal House tragedy; and plan to opt out of EU safety regulations. Conservative Kensington and Chelsea council have regularly blocked its ears to tenants’ well-founded anxieties

For many, the blackened husk of Grenfell Tower is a terrible and tragic monument to inequality. It stands as an awful accusation. It should not be the case that society’s most disadvantaged citizens suffer most from the mistakes of the powerful. The state should protect and value citizens’ lives – each life has equal worth, it is equally precious – and not remain indifferent to people who complain that their home is potentially a death trap, neglecting their fundamental concerns and needs. We live in a society where our government values property rights over more fundamental human rights. It’s a democracy for property-owners, but not for tenants.

Danny Dorling has highlighted that black and minority ethnic people in social housing are disproportionately housed in flats, to the extent that most black children in London and Birmingham are housed above the sixth floor. This is not to do with a shortage of housing, but is a reflection of the fact that not only are ethnic minorities more likely to be working-class by wage and occupation, but they experience discrimination – tacitly or blatantly – when allocated housing. Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour MPs are absolutely right to call for the use of empty homes in Kensington to rehouse locally those made homeless, and experiencing such devastating losses, by the fire. 

We live in a society where it’s become normal and somehow acceptable that the privileged class can buy their safety, their security, rights and their legal representation, while many working class people and those citizens who are vulnerable have none of these. 

Grenfell Tower is a charred and bitter testament to how our poorest citizens are placed at risk because we live in a society that values unfettered private profiteering, no matter what the cost to ordinary people, and the superficial and appearance over what really matters – people’s lives. The deadly cladding was added as cheaply as possible to improve the view for others, while the sprinklers, working alarm and fire extinguishers that would have saved lives were omitted. 

Emergency services personnel on top of Grenfell Tower in west London after the fire 
Related

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’

The Conservatives are forced to end austerity because they face a turning tide and electoral extinction

London protests as they happened: Demonstrators demand justice for Grenfell victims after day of fury and sorrow

 


 

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Sinn Fein’s MPs ‘will fly to London to take up their Westminster offices’ according to the Sun

The Sun announced this morning in an exclusive that the Irish Republican party will travel to the House of Commons to take up their seats – despite their century-long policy of abstention in the UK Parliament. 

Sinn Fein won seven seats in the Westminster general election, running on an abstentionist ticket that has always been the party’s policy. It’s unlikely that the Sun’s headline is correct. By abstaining from Westminster, Sinn Fein make a powerful statement – that they and the people who vote for them reject British rule and British interference.

However, there has been growing concern among the left nationalist parties in Northern Ireland about the implications of an alliance between the Conservatives and the right wing DUP.  That’s worth some discussion.


They go on to say: “Similarly, the Tory government must be obliged to acknowledge the DUP’s historical and current links with paramilitary terrorist gangs.”

“The DUP has consorted with the still active Ulster Defence Association terrorist gang since its creation in 1971. Notably, in 1975 the UDA bombed Biddy Milligan’s pub in London. Here in 2017, UDA terrorists are still killing UK citizens with guns supposedly supplied by the Ulster Resistance gang founded by the DUP.”

“There are other major civil society concerns with the DUP that ought to alarm all decent people. These include not least numerous instances of alleged corruption and discrimination: Brextit dark financing; RHI grants scandal; NAMA millions; Red Sky housing; and sectarian use of state funds funnelled to its supporters in the anti-Catholic Orange Order and often to UDA and UVF terrorist led “community groups” of various hues.”

The backing of seven Sinn Fein MPs would reduce the Tory majority to just four

The active presence of seven Sinn Fein MPs in parliament would reduce the Tory majority to just four.

Sinn Fein’s presence at Westminster will inevitably spark fears among the Conservatives that they are planning to break their boycott and join other opposition parties in opposing Theresa May’s Queen’s Speech. 

The Belfast Telegraph reports that a delegation of Sinn Fein MPs is traveling to London for a series of meetings with the Secretary of State James Brokenshire, other political parties and trade unions.

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader, Michelle O’Neill, said: “There is wide spread concern that Theresa May in seeking a deal with the DUP to remain in office will make the job of re-establishing the Executive more difficult.

“The British Government must demonstrate that they will treat all parties equally and fully honour the agreements. To this end I have sought a meeting with Theresa May as a matter of urgency.

“The deal at Westminster cannot undermine the agreements or the talks to re-establish the executive.

“Regardless of talks between the DUP and Tories all roads must lead back to an Executive, which delivers for all.”

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has warned Sinn Fein that the prospect of direct rule should scare Irish Republicans because the DUP now “have greater influence on the UK Government.” 

She said: “If others decide that they are not coming back into the devolved administration here in Northern Ireland then those issues will have to be dealt with at Westminster.

“It is really for Sinn Fein to decide where they want those powers to lie.”

Jeremy Corbyn has already unveiled plans to present an alternative Queen’s Speech next week – including pledges to keep the winter fuel allowance, protecting the pensions triple lock and scrapping the bedroom tax, which he hopes will entice enough Tory MPs to deliver a government defeat.

The backing of seven Sinn Fein MPs would reduce the Tory majority to just four – which would bring the Government to the brink of collapse. That’s why there are such fears, I suspect. Whether or not they are justified is another matter. This does, however, indicate that the government is feeling rather vulnerable. Though I am not entirely sure of the Sun’s motive for publishing their article.

A defeat for May would topple her premiership and give Corbyn the chance to form a minority Labour government.

A Sinn Fein insider has refused to rule out taking the historic step of taking seats, if Corbyn offered a referendum on Irish unification. However, it is unlikely that the seven MPs will.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said a referendum on Irish unity was inevitable as rival parties reconvened in Stormont yesterday to restore power-sharing talks following the six-months deadlock.

He said: “One thing we can say for certainty, there is going to be a referendum on Irish unity.

“I can’t say when it’s going to be, but there is going to be such a referendum.”

The parties face a deadline of June 29 before direct rule is imposed on Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire – who flew into Belfast to chair talks yesterday – said he believed a deal to restore power-sharing before the end of the month was possible.

He insisted, remarkably, that the DUP-Tory arrangement in Westminster was an “entirely separate” issue.

But tensions are mounting because of the DUP-Tory alliance, which puts the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy.

Interesting times.

 


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Conservatives forced to say they’ll ‘end austerity’ because they face electoral extinction

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I think it’s safe to say that election opinion polls are no more useful than paying heed to Boris Johnson on a brandy binge, solemnly casting the runes and making wide ranging wishful but witless declarations. Theresa May made a decision to hold a snap election because Labour were polling badly, she saw an opportunity to increase the Conservative’s majority. She looks rather weak, wobbly and vapid now.

David Davies has loyally taken one on the chin, claiming it was his idea that May called the very ill-advised snap election. I didn’t know that Mr and Mrs May took him on walking holidays with them. That’s a bit weird and implies a kind of kinkiness that doesn’t bear thinking about.

Two of May’s close senior advisors were pushed onto their swords, too, in a bid to divert the blame for such a dreadful election result for the Tories. I wasn’t aware that the government permitted spin artists to write their policies as well as putting them through the PR machine. Still, the privileged class have always sacked their servants whenever they need to re-channel their own accountability.

I’d be more convinced that a sincere change in Tory campaign approach was due by the sacking of the wedgie and dog whistle king, the lizard of Oz, Lynton Crosby. He should go and take Murdoch with him.

The right-wing tabloids also announced the Conservative aim to “destroy” the Labour party, in savage, squawking and despotic headlines such as “Squash the saboteurs” and “Blue murder”. Brendan O’Neill gleefully announced the end of the Labour party in the Spectator back in February. The midstream media predictions and Tory plan backfired spectacularly, though many on the left were very anxious at the time.  

Media soundbites bite back hard

Here is a small sample of comments from journalists, now having to eat the toxic bile they spat out, wearing their disguise of professional contrarians. They were just glorified and well-paid trolls after all, attempting to stage-manage our democracy:

Jason Cowley, The New Statesman, March 30

“The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming. From the beginning we were opposed to the Corbyn leadership but, in the spirit of plural debate, happy to open our pages to him and his confidants. Our view was that Corbyn was ill-equipped to be leader of the opposition and, indeed, an aspirant prime minister…There was nothing in his record to suggest that he could remake social democracy or under­stand, let alone take advantage of, the post-liberal turn in our politics. The decline of Labour pre-dated Corbyn’s leadership, of course, but he and his closest allies have accelerated its collapse into irrelevance.”

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times, April 30

“Corbyn’s cadre await the rout with open arms. A growing sense of puzzlement pervades Conservative campaign headquarters. Is their traditional Labour opponent at general elections really fighting to win? Or is something else going on? Obviously the individual Labour candidates will be trying their utmost to get the most votes they can. But the Tories have the peculiar sense that the Labour leadership is not properly trying.”

Dan Hodges, Daily Mail, April 29

“I’d been hearing increasingly wild stories about feedback on the doorsteps. One Tory MP told me any seat with a Labour majority of 8,000 or less was a target. Labour MPs said they were drawing that line at 10,000. Then I was told about the Bunker Project. So great is the potential scale of the meltdown, Labour moderates have identified a select group of MPs whose seats must be defended at all costs. They will receive additional financial resources and extra activists.”

Sebastian Payne, Financial Times, March 17

“The opposition leader has taken his party deep into the realms of unelectability and irrelevance. Some say he is a nice man, trying his best in a difficult job that he never wanted. That would be true if he had stepped aside by now for someone more suited to the role. Even Mr Corbyn must realise how incompetent he is at leading a serious political party.”

Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph, January 6

“Corbyn’s Labour Party faces electoral annihilation. Their poll ratings will deteriorate even further when the public finally starts to pay attention properly in the run-up to the next election. Corbyn would be lucky to get more than 26 per cent of the vote – and the Tories will be back over 40 per cent for the first time since John Major…The truth is that it is no longer possible for any sensible Labour politician to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet while retaining their self-respect.” 

Suzanne Moore, The Guardian, January 11

“This is painful to watch. Labour now dwells in a kind of limbo. Nothing can move forward until he goes, and he will only go in an electoral wipe out…What vainglorious egotism, this willingness to kill a party for the thing he loves. One fundamental of populism is simply that it is popular. He is not.”  

Nick Cohen, The Observer, March 18  

“The Tories have gone easy on Corbyn and his comrades to date for the transparently obvious reason that they want to keep them in charge of Labour. In an election, they would tear them to pieces. They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state, the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA, and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement, while presenting itself with hypocritical piety as a moral force. Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.”

The death toll of the meanstream media resonates with the chimes of freedom.

 

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The view through the Overton Window: the landscape of politics is fundamentally changed

The election results were a surprise to many, including some of those who support Labour. But Corbyn’s real achievement has been that the political landscape has changed forever. It’s a luxuriant and verdant pasture that defies the laws of neoliberal gravity – it’s a new land without the clutter of elite economic enclosures.

Ever since they won a small majority in 2015, the Conservatives have struggled to pass further austerity measures. They were forced to abandon planned cuts to tax credits and disability benefits. Philip Hammond dropped the proposed increase in National Insurance on self-employed citizens only a week after the Budget.

Now, Theresa May announces to her ministers that austerity is over. Take a moment to let that sink in. Corbyn’s aim when he put himself forward as Labour leader was originally to shift the debate about our economic organisation and to challenge the neoliberal orthodoxy.

Austerity is an intrinsic feature of neoliberalism, and has been presented as our only choice of economic organisation, since the Thatcher era. Blair’s continuation, albeit a watered down version, tempered with a handful of social protections to spare us from the worst ravages of unbridled capitalism, seemed to consolidate an “end of history” consensus that it was the only viable option. Of course it isn’t and never was. 

Corbyn has succeeded. The consensus is no more. What an extraordinary achievement. His alternative narrative has demolished the rights’ defining ideology and their reductive economic model of enclosure. 

Ed Miliband was hated by the Tories, especially because of his manifesto promise of a progressive, tax among other things, and the mainstain media hated him because of his intention to implement the Leveson recommendations. I think we should give him some credit for planting seeds in a ground that wasn’t quite fertile enough back then for the growth of a perenial bipartisan politics to flourish. It has now.  

Theresa May is poised to bring to a close seven years of ideologically driven, painful and pointless austerity after Conservative MPs warned that they would refuse to vote for further cuts. Gavin Barwell, her new advisor, explained that a key reason the Conservative party lost their majority in the election is because it “struggled” to convince people that their “quality of life” would improve under the Tories, while Jeremy Corbyn “tapped” into their concerns.

However, as we learned, it takes rather more than “convincing” rhetoric and “tapping into concerns”: it requires a genuinely alternative narrative and policies that demonstrate a commitment to the promises made. Corbyn did all of that.

Barwell has told the prime minister: “We are in danger of being deserted by the millions of working people who have deserted Labour because they don’t feel we are on their side.  

“They feel they [the Tories] are the party of BHS and not the NHS – by BHS I mean the corporate, awful revolting people like that Phillip Green and the dodgy guy he sold it to.”

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The Conservatives have finally realised the inevitable: that their ideologically fueled austerity programme has made them pretty much unelectable by large sections of the population. What they hadn’t expected, though, is that young people would mobilise to participate in democracy and register their disaffection and alienation as a consequence of seven years of Tory-inflicted punishment and loss.

An attempt to re-brand the party because of the election result, however, is unlikely to be successful. The Conservatives have never been particularly accountable and transparent, and the public won’t forget the last seven years of punitive austerity that the Tories have now revealed to be neither necessary nor “in the public [or economic] interest.” Given that people have died as a consequence of the relentless austerity programme, such political expediency is highly unlikely to be forgiven.

The Conservative manifesto attack on pensions, the “dementia tax” and proposed winter fuel cuts also demonstrated to everyone that they had no respect for a section of the traditionally more right leaning electorate. If anything should have triggered the recognition that the Conservatives are callous and indifferent to the needs of the electorate, it is their utterly brutal treatment of disabled people for the last few years, leaving many of us suicidal and in utter despair. A moral boundary was crossed with impunity. It was always inevitable that other social groups would be targeted for damaging cuts to their lifeline support sooner or later.

There’s a big difference between having your hand forced to present an image that is simply more palatable to voters and facing difficulties in pushing controversial policy through the legislative process because of a diminished majority, and actually having a genuine motivation to make changes that genuinely benefit the public. Historically, the Conservatives have always been inclined towards authoritarianism, with a view that “there’s no gain without pain”. Their gain, our pain, that is. As for the declaration that austerity has ended, well, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The prime minister spent yesterday apologising to her cabinet and backbenchers, saying that she took full responsibility for losing the party’s Commons majority and running a poor campaign. “I’m the person who got us into this mess and I’m the one who will get us out of it,” she told a meeting of the 1922 Committee last night.

With Parliament being hung, the Conservatives don’t have much of a say, and austerity will all but end because they won’t be able to get further cuts through the legislative process with the ease they experienced previously. The DUP, who the Conservatives will depend on for their majority, have long opposed aggressive spending cuts, despite their controversial roots and extreme social conservatism. Their manifesto called for the abolition of the “bedroom tax” and the maintenance of universal pensioner benefits and the state pension “triple lock”.

Sources have said that Theresa May accepted that the electorate’s tolerance of austerity was “at an end” after Boris Johnson, David Davis and a series of Tory MPs told her that she had “misjudged the public mood.” So it is only the prospect of facing electoral annhilation and “minority related difficulties” that has prompted the so-called U-turn on austerity.

However, I wonder when May will apologise to the public for her party’s last few years of painful and pointless idologically driven austerity programme? Telling her MPs who lost their seats that they “didn’t deserve it” indicates that she still clings to power for the sake of power – authoritarianism – she clearly doesn’t understand democracy and does not respect the needs and wishes of the public.

Voters strongly signaled that they are tired of excruciating budget cuts. May has announced to her Ministers that austerity has ended solely because Jeremy Corbyn presented a viable and resonant alternative narrative for voters.

After accusing Labour of “magic money tree” economics, the Tories are now forced to reluctantly divert their own magic money away from the privileged 1%.

The Labour party’s anti-austerity manifesto helped propel Labour to its highest share of the vote since Tony Blair’s landslide victory in 2001.

There has already been some backlash, however. Fraser Nelson was bastard signaling on behalf of the beneficaries of neoliberalism yesterday on radio 4, telling anyone who was listening to his tedious tirade that “we have to balance the books”. He even defended the devastating cuts, controversially claiming that the decision to limit public expenditure has somehow helped the poorest citizens. 

He’s part of the grotesque pro-neoliberal parade, they are currently out in force, telling us it’s okay that we have such a grossly unequal society, that people can’t meet their basic living needs and that working people need to use foodbanks, because the wealthy want to pay less tax and take more of our public funds to park offshore. Selfservatism at its most transparent and it’s very very ugly.

This privileged establishment mouthpiece thinks it’s acceptable that disabled people die prematurely and without dignity because of cuts to their lifeline support, that young people can’t afford a place of their own; that students have to take out the equivalent of a small mortgage just to study for a degree and extend their almost non-existent opportunities; that elderly people are faced with policies that stop just short of a government recommended euthanasia programme, just so the bleating, hectoring minority of beneficiaries of neoliberalism like him, with ridiculous affected accents and a culture of entitlement, pay less tax.

Nelson won’t like the fact that the run-up to the election also exposed a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to base emotion, particularly in the painstream media, and has been disconnected from the details of policies on offer. The Conservatives and the press ran campaigns based on telling people who they should and should not vote for, attempting to stage manage our democracy.

Politics was reduced to fear, smearing, lying and gossip-mongering about individuals. All of the media used the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals were ignored. The media have fueled a post-truth approach to politics, which differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of fact by rendering it of “secondary” importance. The electorate responded, and it’s hard lines for those media hard headlines. Farewell to the authoritarian Tory domination of authoritarian festering fake news.

The targeted dark ads campaign, which reflect a longstanding political misuse of psychology and personal data, were also doomed to fail for the very same reasons. People really don’t like to be told what to think and do, after all.

While post-truth has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. Over recent years, we have been propelled into a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda aims of the day. But now, the public are starting to see this and are resisting the attempts at micro-management of their perceptions and voting behaviours. 

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Corbyn has established himself as a plausible, respectable, authentic and decent potential prime minister, despite the press gang telling us we shouldn’t under any circumstances see him that way. In the end, the likes of the Spectator, the Sun and Daily Mail did him a favour in scraping their evidently bottomless barrel of totalising ruthlessness, hatefulness, outrageous accusations, lies, half truths and misquotes. They went too far in telling people who they should vote for. Authoritarianism doesn’t work once people see it for what it is.

The Tories have tripped themselves up and lie winded and chaotically sprawling for all to see. They have lost their step on the road to hard Brexit, and lost their momentum. They won’t be able to implement their manifesto, and will struggle desperately to get any new austerity measures through parliament. Even the DUP won’t support more cuts.

But none of this will undo the damage already done.

In contrast to the Conservatives, Labour costed their detailed manifesto meticulously, though it needs a little more work to ensure that the Institute of Fiscal Responsibility (IFS) see it as fully viable. However, the IFS have endorsed it overall, so far.

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Barry Gardiner, shadow trade secretary, today spelled out a good Labour line for “achieving the benefits” of the single market: putting jobs and the economy first allows Labour to savage every authoritarian Brexit move that makes people poorer.

Quite properly so. Meanwhile, Labour can now get on with preparing for government.

An old spiritual that sounds so fresh in a new political context of hope.


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The DUP: history and controversy

Former DUP leader, Peter Robinson, (left) in paramilitary uniform, 1986.

The following story, first published in the Irish Times on 16 May, is of a massive donation to the DUP, which reads like a John le Carré novel – but voters need facts, not fiction.

What connects Brexit, the DUP, dark money and a Saudi prince? By Fintan O’Toole

If Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction. 

To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from. 

We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council

Mystery

The mystery is not why someone seeking to influence the Brexit vote would want to do so through the DUP. Disgracefully, Northern Ireland is exempt from the UK’s requirements for the sources of large donations to be declared. The mystery, rather, is who were the ultimate sources of this money and why was it so important to keep their identities secret. 

The Constitutional Research Council is headed by a Scottish conservative activist of apparently modest means, Richard Cook. It has no legal status, membership list or public presence and there is no reason to believe that Cook himself had half a million euro to throw around. But the DUP has been remarkably incurious about where the money ultimately came from. Peter Geoghegan (sometimes of this parish) and Adam Ramsay of the excellent openDemocracy website did some digging and what they’ve come up with is, to put it mildly, intriguing. 

What they found is that Richard Cook has a history of involvement with a very senior and powerful member of the Saudi royal family, who also happens to have been a former director of the Saudi intelligence agency. In April 2013, Cook jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments with Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. The prince, whose address is given as a royal palace in Jeddah, is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75 per cent of the shares. Cook had 5 per cent. The other 20 per cent of the shares belonged to a man called Peter Haestrup, a Danish national with an address in Wiltshire, whose own colourful history we must leave aside for reasons of space. 

No casual investor 

Prince Nawwaf, who died in 2015, was no casual investor. He had been Saudi minister for finance, government spokesman and diplomatic fixer before becoming head of intelligence. His son, Mohammed bin Nawwaf, has, moreover, been the Saudi ambassador to both the UK and Ireland since 2005. When Five Star was set up in 2013, Prince Nawwaf was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. It seems rather remarkable that he was going into business with a very minor and obscure Scottish conservative activist. But we have no idea what that business was. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved. 

It may be entirely co-incidental that the man who channelled £425,622 to the DUP had such extremely high level Saudi connections. We simply don’t know. We also don’t know whether the current Saudi ambassador had any knowledge of his father’s connection to Richard Cook. But here’s the thing: the DUP claims not to know either. And that is at best reckless and at worst illegal. 

Arlene Foster told the BBC in late February that she did not even know how much the mystery donor had given the party. Then the party, under pressure, revealed the amount, but insisted that ascribing the donation to Cook’s Constitutional Research Council was enough and people should stop asking questions. Then, in early March, Jeffrey Donaldson told openDemocracy that the DUP did not need to know the true source of the money. 

But this is simply untrue. The UK electoral commission is clear: “a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified”. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal. 

The DUP has harmed Northern Ireland and endangered the union it exists to protect. How much did the lure of dark money influence that crazy decision? Any self-respecting voter would want to know.

Related
Fintan O’Toole: Church control of hospitals maintains myth of charity

 

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So, who are the DUP? – Kitty S Jones

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is more closely ideologically aligned to the Conservatives than previous coalition partners the Lib Dems, who have ruled themselves out of propping up any minority government. But who are they?

The DUP is a right-wing unionist political party in Northern Ireland. It was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, at the height of the Troubles, who led the party for the next 37 years. Now led by Arlene Foster, it is the party with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Following the 2017 general election, the party has agreed to support a Conservative minority government, following a hung parliament, on a case-by-case basis on matters of “mutual concern”. The DUP have historic links with the Loyalist terrorists.

As social conservatives, they are a party that arose in part to oppose the civil rights movement and nationalism in Northern Ireland. 

Conservatives and the DUP have ties that go back many years. When Enoch Powell was expelled from the Conservative party for his extreme racism and highly divisive politics, he moved to Northern Ireland. 

As a unionist, Powell accused the Heath government of undermining the Government at Stormont. He opposed the abolition of the devolved Parliament in 1972. Following his departure from the Conservatives, Powell was recruited by the Ulster Unionists to stand in the seat of South Down, winning it in the second election of 1974. He continued to serve as an MP in Northern Ireland during some of the worst years of the Troubles. Powell strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave Dublin a formal say in the running of Northern Ireland for the first time. In a heated exchange in the House of Commons on 14 November 1985, the day before the agreement was signed, Powell accused Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of “treachery”. 

In 1997, Lady Thatcher said Powell was right to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement, as she spoke of her regret over the deal.

He believed the only way to stop the IRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, governed in the same as its other constituent parts. 

His campaign manager was Jeffrey Donaldson. Donaldson said, “I worked alongside two of the greatest names in Unionism in the 20th century.

“Between 1982 and 1984 I worked as Enoch Powell’s constituency agent, successfully spearheading Mr. Powell’s election campaigns of 1983 and 1986.”

Donaldson is the longest serving of the DUP’s MPs.

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.  Pacemaker Press Intl

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order” during the Troubles, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

It’s often a forgotten detail that the British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

Government files declassified in 2015 show that the government thought the DUP may have used the Ulster Resistance as “shock troops” during protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The DUP is firmly opposed to the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Their leader, Arlene Foster, last year vowed to maintain the province’s ban on abortion, except where the life of the woman is at risk.

Official party policy does not provide an exception from their position on abortion even for victims of  rape. The closest they’ve come to concession on the issue was leader Arlene Foster agreeing to “carefully consider” a High Court ruling that said banning abortion for rape victims was against British and European human rights laws.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said gay relationships were “offensive and obnoxious” in 2005 and in 2007 said he was “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism”.

The party blocked gay marriage law despite it winning approval by Northern Ireland’s parliament in 2015. They used a legal tool to prevent same-sex unions passing it to law after it passed a knife-edge vote in the Assembly. 

Gay marriage divisions threatened to derail this year’s power-sharing talks in Stormont when the DUP refused to back down. 

The DUP’s former environment minister described climate change as a “con.” There are also creationists within the party.

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Ulster Resistance Flag ‘C’ Division, bearing the Red Hand of Ulster emblem

During the Troubles, the DUP opposed attempts to resolve the conflict that would involve sharing power with Irish nationalists/republicans, and rejected attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland affairs. It campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the 1980s, the party moved to create a paramilitary movement, which culminated in the Ulster Resistance.

Back in March, an election was triggered in Northern Ireland. The DUP had slumped in public opinion polls after it emerged that they are linked to a major financial scandal. The Renewable Heat Incentive, known locally as the Cash For Ash scandal, was set up under DUP politician Arlene Foster, and appears to have been badly mismanaged, resulting in a loss of some £400 million to the Northern Irish taxpayer.  

After Foster refused to stand down, Sinn Fein walked away from the power-sharing agreement, thereby triggering the election. 

Foster said she was willing to support a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme that will cost taxpayers up to £500m and has triggered the current political crisis.

But the Democratic Unionist party leader said she was not afraid of elections to a new Northern Ireland assembly, while acknowledging that any campaign would be rancorous and “brutal”.

Lord Hain said today that the Conservatives have not been neutral regarding Northern Ireland (NI) since Cameron’s government, and have been headed towards “backroom deals” with the DUP for some time. This has all served to undermine the Balance of Powers at Stormont, and risks jeopardising the peace process in NI. As it is, the Assembly, estabished in 1998 following the Good Friday Agreement, is in crisis and has been for months.

The proposed DUP alliance will not help that situation one bit, nor can the Conservatives claim any neutrality in any interventions, since they are so dependent on the DUP to prop them up, permitting them stay in office. But it is power for the sake of power, rather such an alliance serving the national interest.

Northern Ireland’s political settlement is currently teetering on the edge of collapse. If that is to be prevented, somehow the DUP and Sinn Fein need to reach an agreement, re-establishing the Balance of Powers and they probably need support, to be encouraged into doing so. If the British Government is in a formal arrangement with the DUP that will, to put it mildly, greatly complicate the process. How can the Northern Ireland Minister possibly appear to be neutral in any negotiations?  To risk peace in Northern Ireland for the sake clinging onto power is despicable.

 Article 1 (v) of the Good Friday Agreement commits the “sovereign government” to exercise its power with “rigorous impartiality.” 

As says: “Only by quibbling over the precise meaning of “sovereign government” can a deal between the DUP and the sovereign government in Westminster be understood as anything other than a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.  The spirit of the agreement is abundantly clear: Britain is meant to be impartial between the Northern Ireland parties. It is not acceptable to be Perfidious Albion just to let a broken Prime Minister stagger on for a few more months.  By even contemplating this deal Mrs May is playing with a blow-torch in a petrol station.”

 


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Osborne’s tax credit omnishambles reveals the profound elitism of the Tories

Chancellor George OsborneI don’t know a single person on low pay that is happy about the Conservative proposals to cut their tax credits and subsequently, their living standards, further. This policy was deliberately left out of the Tory manifesto, and when asked directly if his government was going to cut tax credits, Cameron chose to lie and said no. Now the Conservatives are claiming that this policy, never declared before the election, is suddenly somehow a “central plank” of the budget. The claim that Conservatives had declared cuts to welfare doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, either, because they claim to be a party that is all about “making work pay”. 

The Conservatives are claiming that the cuts were “democratically voted” through in the House of Commons, yet their majority in the lower House may not have happened at all, had they been honest prior to the election and declared their intention to cut people’s tax credits. 

Furthermore, the cuts were presented in the form of secondary legislation – as a Statutory Instrument – which notoriously receive little scrutiny and very limited debate time in the Commons. Statutory instruments are intended to be used for simple, non-controversial measures, in contrast to more complex items of primary legislation (known as Bills.) The Government always ensure they have a majority on any Statutory Instrument committee and the MPs are chosen by Whips. This enables government to push through their legislative programme with very little scrutiny, exacerbating a lack of democratic transparency and accountability of the Executive.

The threats issued to the Upper House from the government arose because the Conservatives are facing probable defeat on what is an extremely unpopular reform, even amongst their own party ranks, and are truly remarkable, showing a contempt for democratic process and a lack of willingness to engage in genuine, transparent democratic dialogue.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) asked George Osborne to specify how he will reach targets announced in the budget, given that the poorest had been the hardest hit by draconian benefit cuts already. The IFS said that the worst of the UK’s spending cuts are still to come.

I said at the time that it’s not that Osborne can’t answer the IFS challenge: he won’t.

David Gauke, the Treasury secretary at the time was pressed repeatedly on the BBC’s Daily Politics to explain if the Tories would detail their planned welfare cuts beyond the £3billion previously specified.

He replied: “We will set it out nearer the time which will be after the election.”

Pre-general election television comments have exposed Prime Minister David Cameron’s lies about his party’s proposal to reduce child tax credits. During a special episode of BBC’s Question Time, aired in April, presenter David Dimbleby asks: “There are some people that are worried about you cutting child tax credits, are you saying absolutely as a guarantee that you’d never have it?”

To which the Prime Minister responds: “First of all child tax credit we increased by 450 pounds…” Dimbleby interjects: “And it’s not going to fall?” to which the PM clearly replies: “It’s not going to fall.”

As Simon Szreter, Professor of history and public policy at the University of Cambridge, points out about the party claiming “A Britain that rewards work” as its slogan:

It is a measure of just how much George Osborne’s post-election attack on tax credits represents an assault of genuinely historic proportions on Britain’s poor that his PM has made reference to the 1911 Parliament Act in his railing against popular protest and his fear of blocking measures in the House of Lords. Let us remember why the act was brought in by the Liberal government of Asquith and Lloyd George.

The landed wealth elite, including men such as George Osborne’s direct ancestors, the Anglo-Irish baronets of Ballentaylor, dominated the House of Lords. They rejected the elected government’s policy – democratically tested at the bar of two general elections in 1910 – to impose new progressive forms of taxation on the super-wealthy to help fund such basic social security measures for the working poor as pensions and the first National Insurance Act.

He goes on to say:

Mr Cameron is darkly mentioning the Parliament Act of 1911 to cow the House of Lords into compliance because the upper chamber is no longer exclusively the club of the wealth elite as it was in 1911. The alternative, as Mr Cameron’s timely recollection of the 1911 Parliament Act reminds us all, is for parliament to ensure that the financial elite pay their way more fully in our society, a case that is all the more compelling considering their undisputed role in punching a hole in the nation’s finances in 2008.

The problem today is not control over the House of Lords. Today’s financial elite have found that it is much more efficient to exert their control over the House of Commons itself. This they do though a Tory party that is almost entirely funded by them and whose administration is safely in the hands of a chancellor who fully appreciates the importance of looking after the interests of the nation’s wealth elites. After all, he is the future 18th baronet of Ballentaylor.

Even Conservative MPs, such as Heidi Allen, have pointed out the hypocrisy of the proposed tax credit cuts. But as I’ve pointed out previously, the slogan “making work pay” has a lot in common with the 1834 Poor Law principle of less eligibility, rather than it being a genuine statement of intent from the Tories. Unless of course, you ask “Making work pay for whom?”

Further cuts to provisions, services and welfare – support for the poorest – is unthinkable and untenable, especially when there are other choices that the government could have made.

For example, the prime minister made it clear that lavish tax cuts for the better off will be the £7bn prize for returning him to Downing Street. This came after a £48bn in public service cuts, the like of which the country has never known.

“The people whose hard work and personal sacrifices have got us through these difficult times should come first,” Cameron said.

So who exactly worked hardest and took the heaviest burdens – and what exactly will be their reward? Certainly not those who made most sacrifices – the same low earners whose working tax credits and benefits George Osborne will happily cut again by another £12bn.

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Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

There is no such thing as a ‘one nation’ Tory: they always create two nations

Conservatism in a nutshell

The word “Tories” is an abbreviation of “tall stories”

Government turns its back on international laws, scrutiny and standards: it’s time to be very worried

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Concerns have been raised by lawyers and legal experts that Conservative ministers have quietly abandoned the longstanding principle that members of the government should be bound by international law.

The rewritten ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement, sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers, has been quietly edited. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law. 

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Legal experts say key issues affected by the change could include decisions about “whether to go to war or use military force, such as the use of drones in Syria, any decision made by an international court about the UK and any laws not incorporated into English law, such as human rights legislation and the Geneva conventions.

Ministerial code changes between 2010 and 2015.
Photograph: Government handout – courtesy of the Guardian

This comes as the UK government is facing another United Nations inquiry regarding widespread allegations that the Conservative welfare reforms breach the Human Rights of disabled people. It also comes following the government announcement this week that there are plans to scrap the Human Rights Act by next summer, to replace it with a controversial “British Bill of Rights.”

Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s special rapporteur for housing, found the bedroom tax to contravene human rights and in 2013, she called for the Tory “spare room subsidy” to be suspended immediately. In a wide-ranging report she also calls for the extension of grants to provide more social housing, the release of public land, build-or-lose measures to target landbanks and increased private rented sector regulation. None of these are recommendations which the Conservatives have been remotely willing to entertain, instead they have directed hostility towards the United Nations.

The Conservatives have already taken away access to legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, in a move branded contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. Last year, Grayling, then the Justice Secretary, was accused of turning legal aid into an instrument of discrimination by a court, because of his attempt to introduce a residency test to legal aid access, a move which exceeded his statutory powers when he devised it.

He has also tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop him abusing his powers again and again. Judicial review is the mechanism by which citizens can hold the government to its own laws. With the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the justice secretary tried to put it out of reach.

Grayling, suffered a defeat in the House of Lords vote on his plans to curtail access to judicial review, which would have made it much harder to challenge government decisions in court.

Peers voted by 247 to 181, a majority of 66, to ensure that the judges keep their discretion over whether they can hear judicial review applications after a warning from a former lord chief justice, Lord Woolf, that the alternative amounted to an “elective dictatorship”.

He has tried to restrict legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example.

It’s very worrying that this is a government that wants to leave Europe behind and sever the connection with the European Convention on Human Rights.  It’s a government that wants to do as it pleases, free from international scrutiny and what it clearly sees as the constraints of international law and the judgments of international courts.

The Conservatives have demonstrated an eagerness to take away citizens’ rights to take their case to the European court, with many of their actions clearly based on an intent on tearing up British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the state.

The Guardian reports that a legal challenge against the change will be lodged on Friday by Rights Watch, an organisation which works to hold the government to account. Yasmine Ahmed, its director, said:

“This amendment to the ministerial code is deeply concerning. It shows a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK government towards its international legal obligations.”

In his preamble to the new ministerial code, David Cameron says: “People want their politicians to uphold the highest standards of propriety. That means being transparent in all we do.”

However, I reported last year that in terms of international standards of conduct, the Conservatives are not doing well. Transparency International flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption

The Cabinet Office has of course denied there was any intention to weaken international law and the administration of justice by omitting the phrases from the new code.

A spokesman said:

“The code is very clear on the duty that it places on ministers to comply with the law. ‘Comply with the law’ includes international law.

The wording was amended to bring the code more in line with the civil service code. The obligations remain unchanged by the simplified wording. The ministerial code is the prime minister’s guidance to his ministers on how they should conduct themselves in public office.”

However, a Conservative party policy document promises that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. In order to help achieve these aims the document says:

“We will amend the ministerial code to remove any ambiguity in the current rules about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the UK.”

Lord Falconer, Labour’s shadow lord chancellor, said:

“If this is what ministers are planning to do it is shocking. We are a country that prides itself on operating in accordance with the rule of law. That has always meant both domestic and international law.

This is a message we have sent out both internally and externally. If we are now regarding compliance with international law for ministers as optional that is staggering. If ministers breach international law it will no longer be misconduct.”

The Guardian cites Ken Macdonald QC, the former director of public prosecutions, who said:

“It is difficult to believe that this change is inadvertent. If it’s deliberate, it appears to advocate a conscious loosening of ministerial respect for the rule of law and the UK’s international treaty obligations, including weakening responsibility for the quality of justice here at home.

In a dangerous world, the government should be strengthening its support for the rule of law, not airbrushing it out of the ministerial code. On every level, this sends out a terrible signal.”

Ironically, on the same day that the new code was quietly released, the attorney general, Jeremy Wright, gave a keynote address about the importance of international law to an audience of government lawyers at the Government Legal Service International Law Conference.

Wright said:

“The constitutional principle to respect the rule of law and comply with our international obligations is reflected in the ministerial code – which applies to me as much as to any other minister. The code states that there is an overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law, including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life.”

It is not clear whether or not the attorney general was informed about the changes to the ministerial code at the time of his speech. Both the Cabinet Office and the attorney general’s office have declined to answer this question.

Tory ministers are a major source of national embarrassment when they denounce the European Court of Human Rights whilst instructing the rest of the world, including other European states, to respect our collective international human rights obligations and “the rule of law.” Human Rights legislation exists throughout the free world. Free speech, the right to a fair trial, respect for private life and the prohibition on torture are values which distinguish democratic societies from despotic states.

There is no justification for editing obligations to upholding international laws, human rights or for repealing the Human Rights Act: that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the vulnerable from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law.

Update: Former head of government’s legal service says obligation that ministers must comply with international law – dropped from revised ministerial code – had irritated PM: No 10 ‘showing contempt for international law’


I don’t make any money from my work and I am not funded. I am disabled because of illness and struggle to get by. But you can help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others, by making a donation. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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Austerity Is a Choice, Labour Must Offer Another – Jeremy Corbyn

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Austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity. When the Chancellor rose to his feet at the emergency Budget in July, and when he does so for his Spending Review in October, what is being put forward is an ideologically-driven rolling back of the state.

The analysis published today by the TUC reveals how the Budget gives money to the rich, but takes away from the poor.

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This is the Conservative project, dressed up in the post-crisis language of budget deficits and national debt for extra impetus. Inequality doubled under the Thatcher government, and her heirs seem to be doing all they can to ensure that legacy is extended.

The Budget showed austerity is about political choices, not economic necessities. There is money available: the inheritance tax cuts announced in the Budget will lose the exchequer over £2.5billion in revenue between now and 2020. What responsible government committed to closing the deficit would give a tax break that only applies to the richest 4% of households?

The Conservatives are giving away to the very rich in inheritance tax cuts twice as much as reducing the benefit cap will raise by further impoverishing the poorest, and socially cleansing many towns and cities.

Another choice was to cut UK corporation tax to 18%, which at 20% is already the lowest in the G7, lower too than the 25% in China, and half the 40% rate in the United States.

The Treasury estimates that this political choice will see our revenue intake from big business fall by £2.5billion in 2020. That’s nearly twice the amount saved by cutting the tax credits available families with more than two children.

In such circumstances, Labour must be clear: we oppose the Budget, and we oppose austerity. As a group of 40 economists wrote to the Observer a few weeks ago, “opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF”.

The language of “bringing down the deficit” is non-controversial, it is the method (austerity) that reveals the Chancellor’s agenda as just a cover for the same old Conservative policies: run down public services, slash the welfare state, sell-off public assets and give tax cuts to the wealthiest.

I stood in this race because Labour should not swallow the story that austerity is anything other than a new facade for the same old Conservative plans.

We must close the deficit, but to do so we will make the economy work for all, and create a more equal and prosperous society. Bringing down the deficit on the backs of those on low and average incomes will only mean more debt, more poverty, more insecurity, more anxiety and ultimately more crisis.

We must invest in a more productive economy. Our national infrastructure – energy, housing, transport, digital – is outdated, leaving the UK lagging behind other developed economies. In the Budget, the Chancellor cut back public investment even further.

You cannot cut your way to prosperity. We need to invest in our future. And that takes a strategic state that seeks to shape the economy so that it works for all.

That is the choice for Britain and the choice that Labour must offer.

Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour MP for Islington North and Labour Party leader.

This article was originally published on 7.09.15

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 

Debunking the myths on Commons procedure and the Welfare Bill part two – Peter Kyle MP

Many thanks to Peter Kyle MP for this explanation of his decision to abstain on a vote for the second reading of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.


The Welfare Bill

Last night I abstained on a vote for the Second Reading of the Welfare Bill. I did this after a lot of thought and I want to explain why. There’s already some myths about what was being voted on last night and also misunderstanding of parliamentary procedure and I want to tackle all these issues, too.

When I first read the Bill it became abundantly clear what the government was up to. They had lumped together measures that Labour – and many of you – would wholeheartedly support with other policies that we would rightly hate. These are the games they are playing simply to divide the left – that’s right, they’re playing games with welfare simply to get one over on us.

On the issues that I support in this Bill, the three most significant are the creation of three million new apprentices (many are the higher and advanced ones included in the Labour manifesto); lowering of rents for social housing; and more investment into the ‘troubled families programme’ which has its origins in the early intervention policies I worked on in 2006 and 2007. Each of these measures would directly benefit us in Hove and Portslade and I want them as soon as possible.

Then there are some really terrible policies that will damage not just our community but society too, such as scrapping targets on abolishing child poverty, and cuts to funding for people with disabilities or living with cancer or Parkinson’s disease, or are declared unfit for work. These I obviously oppose with all my heart.

So you see my predicament: people have suggested to me that it is a matter of principle that I should have voted against this Bill. But for me, as someone who has worked so hard to end youth unemployment, it is also a matter of principle to vote for the very apprenticeships that will help me honour my pledge to you. To vote against that part of the Bill would mean I also vote against my principles. I also see the suffering of people in arrears in social housing, it would have also meant breaking my principles to vote against help for them, too.

So, as a way forward, Labour tabled what is called a ‘reasoned amendment’. This is a way of stating which parts of a Bill you oppose and which you support when you abstain. It enabled me to not vote for or against the overall Bill, but instead make a public statement about why that course of action was taken and which parts I supported and opposed.

And there’s more. There are three more stages that this Bill must pass through in the House of Commons before it moves to the House of Lords. The next is Committee Stage (which is what I just sat on for the Education and Adoption Bill) where you can scrutinise the Bill line by line and table amendments to each section of it. Labour have already published some of the amendments we will seek to introduce at this stage and I’ve included them at the bottom of this update. Each one of these will have to be voted on by MPs and you should all lobby the MPs who are on this committee to support them. All it would take is for two or three Tories to do the right thing and the amendment will become law.

Then the Bill returns for its Report Stage, and finally it’s Third Reading. At these points it is still possible for me to vote against the entire Bill if I believe that is the only course of action left. After that, the Bill passes to the Lords where the government lacks a majority and the Labour team there can try to bring further influence.

Some people have said on social media that I am now supporting cuts to Tax Credits which contradicts an interview I gave to the Argus recently, so let me clear this up: cuts to Tax Credits are not included in this Bill, they will be introduced later in the year by another parliamentary procedure called a ‘statutory instrument’ and I will vote against them. The only time I will vote for cuts to tax credits is when wages are already at a level at which they are no longer needed, not before, as the government are doing

There’s one more myth doing the rounds that I’d like to debunk: Labour could not have won the vote last night because not a single Tory voted against this Bill. Some people are suggesting that because not every Tory voted last night, we could have beaten them. The truth is that if it had looked like we were going to vote against the Bill the government would have simply forced all the ministers and cabinet to break free of meetings to come and vote. It is a heartbreaking truth but because we lost the election we cannot beat the government unless Tories vote with us.

I won’t pretend that this has been easy for me because it hasn’t. Because we lost the election we don’t get to choose the battles we fight or the battleground. The Tories chose to put all these conflicting policies into one Bill to make it difficult for people like you and me. They are hoping that the general public’s lack of awareness of the intricacies of how laws are made will force the left to split and for Labour to crumble yet further after our defeat.

I told you during the campaign when I wrote about other tough issues like my Israel / Palestine visit that I would not dodge difficult decisions but I would always be available to explain myself, to listen, and to learn from your perspective and experiences. I didn’t reach the conclusion to abstain simply because the whips told me to.

For me, it was the only way I saw of moving forward while being true to my principles even though I knew a lot of people would be shocked and concerned upon reading the headlines. Believe me, I’d rather that hadn’t been necessary.

I want to get going and solve the tough challenges we face, like youth unemployment and the cost of housing and families that need support, and I want to oppose the vindictive nature of the way this government are using welfare reform to demonise the poor and vulnerable. I will do both with all the strength I have, even though sometimes it will mean taking difficult decisions that risk upsetting the very people I have gone into politics to help. I knew this job would have its difficult moments and this is one of them. I’m doing the best I can to deliver positive change on your behalf even though it is the Tories who are dealing the cards in parliament.

I’ve had my say now, and I’m really looking forward to hearing what you think, so please post and share your thoughts and experiences and I’ll do everything I can to respond to as many as possible.

All the best, Peter.

Here are some of the amendments Labour will try to have included in the Bill:

  • An amendment to prevent the Government abolishing the targets for reducing child poverty;
  • The Government are also trying to delete child poverty from the remit of the ‘Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’ so that it becomes just the ‘Social Mobility Commission’. An amendment will prevent that taking place; 
  • An amendment which will mean that the household benefit cap would not apply to persons who are responsible for a child under 2 years old, are a carer, or are in temporary accommodation because of domestic violence; 
  • A new clause which will require the Secretary of State to report each year on the impact of the household benefit cap, particularly on child poverty;
  • An amendment which will require the level of the household benefit cap to be reviewed every year, rather than only once in a Parliament. The review would be based on the new clause above requiring the impact of the benefit cap on child poverty to be assessed each year;
  • An amendment which will require the Social Security Advisory Committee to review the Discretionary Housing Payments fund each year to ensure that sufficient resources are available. Discretionary Housing Payments are used to support those who are unfairly affected by the benefit cap; 
  • An amendment which will set the target of full employment as 80 per cent of the working age population – in line with the Labour Government’s definition and recent research which shows that this would be an ambitious target. The Bill includes a process for reviewing progress towards ‘full employment’, but does not define what is meant by that; 
  • An amendment to require the UK Commission on Employment and Skills to assess whether the Government’s target for apprenticeships is being met, so that the Government can be held to account. There is significant concern among businesses and others that the quality of apprenticeships is being watered down in order to increase the numbers; 
  • An amendment which will require the resources which are being dedicated to helping troubled families to be clearly set out; 
  • An amendment which will ensure that interventions to support troubled families are focused on helping people into work; 
  • An amendment to prevent the Bill restricting Universal Credit for three or subsequent children even when the third child is born before 5 April 2017;
  • A new clause preventing the restrictions to tax credits applying to three or more children where a third child is born as a result of a multiple birth, where a third of subsequent child is fostered or adopted, where a third child or subsequent child is disabled, or where a family with three or more children moves onto tax credits or universal credit in exceptional circumstances – including but not restricted to the death of one member of the family, the departure of one parent or loss of income through unemployment – which would be set out by the Social Security Advisory Committee. It also sets up an appeals process for all cases covered by this clause; 
  • An amendment preventing cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for the WRAG group of around £30 a week. People who are in the WRAG group have been through a rigorous test which has deemed them not fit for work, for example because they have Parkinson’s or are being treated for cancer;
  • An amendment requiring the Government to produce a plan to offset the impact of lower social rents on housing associations. Labour supports the reduction in social housing rents, which will help low-income families and bring down the housing benefits bill. However, we must protect against impacts on the ability of housing associations to build new affordable homes and maintain their existing properties;
  • An amendment which subjects the four-year benefit freeze to an annual review subject to changes in inflation.

    ___

    See also: Emma’s statement on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill


    Michael Meacher MP said:

    It is extraordinary that the Labour party could have got itself into such a muddle over welfare reform (which is Tory-speak for crippling welfare cutbacks) when Osborne’s sole motive for this bill, which had its second reading today, is to create divisions within Labour and label it as the party of shirkers.  The bill is awful.